Barrow at the Independence Day parade.

The country’s first generation of leaders battled to give The Gambia that date February 18, 1965 declared as Independence Day. The Gambia as a constitutional monarchy remained part of the British Commonwealth headed by the Queen, but in 1970 became a presidential republic replaced Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, thus eliminating the post of Governor General.

Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara became the first leader of The Gambia, serving initially as Prime Minister from 1962 to 1970 before a reign as President from 1970 to 1994. I am alarmed at the lack of space for history in our national consciousness. Even some social media commentators, political scientists, pundits and politicians degraded the date in their political theories said, officially that there was nothing to celebrate on February 18. They would rather venerate April 24,1970 a date in which the ordinary Gambians had the sovereign republican status, The Gambia began its self-discovery of political emancipation.

It was the day it was given the baton to be its own master (the 1970 Constitution adopted; when it renounced the Queen as head of state.), free from its colonial masters, the British. For most Gambians, it was like removing the shackles of slavery and walking like a free man. It was like the breath of fresh air for a released prisoner that had been confirmed in prison for a long time. Gambian celebrations and expectations knew no bounds. They were like those that dreamed dream as told.

You know the story of April 24, 1970 and The Gambia. The day of Gambian republicanism and sovereignty!  Can you remember that of February 18, which has been made to suppliant the Gambia’s day of Republic for Independence?

If there are issues of togetherness today, February 18, 1965 kick-started the blessings and woes of The Gambia road to self-rule with the voice of conscience of Edward Francis Small “Taxation without Representation”, the “Bread and Butter” demonstrations, strikes and hunger strikes against penny a day labour!

What horror! How inhuman! Freedom now! And not a day later. And so, the British arranged independence. But the arrangement was complicated. There were the representatives of the colonizers on one side of the negotiating table. There were the representatives of the freedom fighters on the other side of the table. On the side of the colonizers the idea was that pre-independence and post-independence should be the same. No change. On the side of the freedom fighters the idea was that they would seek first political freedom without economic freedom. Once they had the political freedom everything else would be added unto them.

Thus, both opposing sides of the table were agreed that they were working for a common goal that would satisfy all participants in the negotiations. They met in London and wherever they met the colonizers and freedom fighters agreed that pre- and post-independence would be the same and they would first seek political freedom after which everything else will be added unto them. The ruling elite on both sides were satisfied. And so, in February 1965 a flag was designed, and a song was devised, and the nation was born in which the colonial powers stayed on while Gambians waited for everything to be added to their political freedom without economic freedom.

What were the things to be added unto them? Employment, salaries at regular times, food and drink. Housing ,  roads and bridges, schools and hospitals, teachers and nurses and doctors. But who were going to add these things to our political freedom? The departed colonial powers? If they could add it to our freedom, why didn’t they do so before independence? Can they be asked to come and add them now? No, too late. The leaders of the liberation must add these things now that we are free. But don’t the colonial powers owe us? Can’t we demand reparation now? But our leaders are not suffering. If anything, they look like the colonial powers, they are fat like them, with rounded necks of many fat layers of skin. They are the colonial powers re-incarnated!

At Independence from the colonialists in February,1965 The Gambia, as a nation, has remained under self-delusional leadership with no clear agenda to move beyond the boundaries of economic and political freedom, ethnicity and religion diversity. Little was known that the colonialists had succeeded in breeding an internal structure, with strong colonial orientation to further the collateral damages they had done to our cultural orientation and the polarization of the divisions that ought to serve as our uniqueness and hence our pride.

Without delay, after the first government without self-rule- the evidences of self-delusion kind of independence started playing out which cumulated in the decimation of some of the then nationalists who fought for independence. Rather than going forward, Gambians were dragged backward leaving the masses hopeless and helpless. 

One thing that characterized that period was the popular but few elements of colonial breeds that continue to dominate the Gambian polity with no mercy for the masses. It was a rule of power in place of authority; a rule of the few for the few; a rule of imposition with no room for opposition. It was in that era that The Gambia was battered and shattered with the ripple effects now manifesting even with the coming of republican democracy.

Check that date in 1965: But The Gambia has chosen that date, instead of the customary positive April 24, as our Republican Day. What really is in a date? Are you satisfied with the life you’ve been living under the shadows of February 18 and its angels? I feel like asking what actually was going on in the minds of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara and his men when they picked February 18, 1965 as the exact date for governance of The Gambia. What significance recommended that date to the British apart from the debit it posted in 1965 to the balance sheet of our national unity?

Politicians and public policy makers ignored April 24, Gambians were all asked to stay at home, like some war-ravaged community of the afflicted. And did our kids miss anything by not celebrating April 24, in grand style over the past years? We used to look forward to the pomp of February 18. As school kids, we would practice march past, compete in-house for space to represent our schools at the main Independence anniversary event.

For school kids, it was a date you looked forward to celebrating the togetherness of our nation. At our school level, we used it as our day of freedom. It used to be the most important day in our country. It was a date that reminded us that the nation once had leaders who wrenched our collective destiny from the vice grip of foreign predators and destroyers.

But February 18 is no more. The regime of Yahya Jammeh killed its beauty and its essence. Even the only activity the government used to give the date, Guard of Honour, has been subjected to the exclusivity of the State House and to the whim of whatever recluse inhabits the hole. You have to be really powerful and a member of the club of our rulers to witness and be part of the celebrations. That is the new Gambia.

What is it really with The Gambia? We are never clear about the sanctity and sacredness of anything. There is nothing we cannot shift. We shift values and redefine beauty. The way we have degraded our Independence Day is exactly the way we have taken down everything good in our history.

And things are getting worse. They are not getting better. There cannot be redemption where the flow of the national stream is focused on the arid. The desert takes, so says the Ghanaian author Ayi Kwei Armah. The desert does not give, it takes, it sucks vitality from the fecundity of the forest. We have poisoned everywhere and everything. And we think we can build survival on our current mound of waste and wishful forgetfulness. No. If you take The Gambia so seriously as to take sides in the war of thrones going on across mafia camps in the country, when you read that February 18 celebrations correctly and very well, you will sit back and reassess your own mental balance.

This cannot be allowed to continue. We liberated ourselves from a foreign colonial power only to empower a local colonial power over us! Never! So, in the early hours of July 22, 1994 radical young and highly spirited soldiers decayed the essence of civil liberties and political freedoms The Gambia known for and declared a new day, another day of freedom and liberation. There would be work. There would be money. There would be milk and honey. There would be no bribery and corruption. Nobody will take ten per cent on anything. Let us celebrate because why? Because the blood needed to wet the tree of freedom and liberation has finally been truly and tragically shed.

And for decades, they had no clue what to do to add everything to our economic and political freedom. And it was not for lack of money and the means to do. It was a case of lack of leadership. Or a leadership that succeeded where the country failed. A leadership that got everything leaders all over the world get but the country got nothing. A leadership of parasites bent on the destruction of The Gambia. A leadership that is continuously short-changing The Gambia. All that any right-minded Gambian can say is to tell these present set of leaders to leave The Gambia alone. Get out of the country’s things and let the country sort itself out. It can do better without this present crop of leaders. Leave The Gambia alone.

To be continued.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

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