Plight of rural people in Gambia must be addressed

28Oct 2021
The Guardian
Plight of rural people in Gambia must be addressed

Mr President, during your Meet the People's Tour - a constitutional requirement tour- that allows you to meet and listen to views of ordinary Gambians on issues affecting them, priorities areas should be identified for action.

By Lamin Darboe

Mr. President, we have been keenly following the tour through the newspapers, television and of course on social media. However, what has mainly been the centre of discussion in the rural Gambia is the lack of clean and potable water, poor road networks, and lack of gardens for women farmers among a host of others.

It's therefore important to let you know that access to safe, affordable and reliable drinking water is a basic human right. After more than four years of your government, one would have hoped that by now the issue of water shortage in some communities in the country should have been a thing of the past. Your government should have some years back assessed the needs of Gambians especially on the issue of water shortage with a view to addressing them. Addressing the issue of water shortage in the country should be a priority.

Mr. President, on the issues of the road network, your government is doing well in this aspect. However, more is needed especially around the Kiang area. No one needs to tell you that these are people that have been marginalised for the past 22 years of the Jammeh regime for the simple reason that they opposed his administration.

Mr. President, there are big settlements within the Kiang and Kabada areas. In the past decades, the previous governments have given little attention to improving the rural road network in the country. Therefore, we hope that your government would work closely with the local government councils in addressing these challenges for our local dwellers and also rehabilitate feeder roads and streets in the

Urban areas.

On the issue of fertiliser, it has been reported that your government has bought a lot of fertilisers for this year's rainy season. However, in some areas some farmers have complained that they didn't receive any fertiliser while others say the places where the fertilisers were sold were too far from their destinations, hence accessing them has become a challenge. We hope that this would also be addressed before the next rainy season.

Mr. President, as farmers across the country are expecting a bumper harvest especially on groundnuts, it's therefore significant that you work with your team in coming out with a good price for groundnuts ahead of the trade season.

Mr. President, on health, your government has made significant progress in the health sector by providing 80 ambulances, constructing six health centres and bringing 216 Cuban doctors including specialised ones for major diseases but Gambian health workers should be motivated and their allowances should be paid on time.

Mr. President, your government is facing serious challenges in the communication system. The internet service is poor and expensive compared to many countries in the subregion.

Gamcel should be rescued financially with its poor network which has resulted in many of their customers pulling out.

Both Gamtel and Gamcel need to be restructured to modernise their technical service and get partnership with foreign investors to save them from being out of business.

Finally Mr. President, in recent times, there were coups in Mali, Chad and Guinea Conakry and Sudan failed coup. To avoid coups, African leaders should respect the two-term limit. Had Alpha Conde respected the two-term limit, he would not Have been overthrown.

Both AU and ECOWAS parliaments should enact a law for heads of state to respect their constitution and stick to the two-term limit, so that after retirement, they will be entitled to all the privileges as a respected former statesman and get immunity.

If heads of state over stay and condone corruption and nepotism, coups will be rampant in Africa

Good Day!

In the four years 2014-17, some 1.7 million people risked their lives by fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea for Europe, a journey in which over 13,000 have died or have gone missing.

This report is a contribution to understanding what the proper policy responses to this movement of people should best be.

The Gambia, thousands of whom have been seeking a better life in Europe - often called the 'back way'.

This study asks: Why have so many young Gambians become irregular migrants and what can be done to help them and The Gambia manage this exodus and promote national development?

Evidence suggests that addressing these questions involves analysing issues lying at the root of this migration.

Until recently, Gambian migration was to a large extent the result of repressive government policies and the lack of political and civil rights.

The democratic election of a new government in December 2016, which swept away 22 years of often brutal and repressive rule, means that the prospects for Gambians are much brighter now.

But not all Gambian migration was the result of political repression and many young Gambians are still leaving the country.

Unless and until The Gambia improves job prospects and agricultural livelihoods - which also involves seriously addressing climate change - large-scale migration from the country is likely to continue.

Young people are leaving because of the lack of jobs and opportunities in rural and urban areas, the lack of adequate support to farming which is being badly affected by climate change and because they see a better life in Europe.

But the other side of this is that migration can be a development strategy and a livelihood choice for people, who have a right to migrate for economic purposes if they choose.

The right to movement and the right to leave and return to one's own country are fundamental rights, but often overlooked in the debate about migration and development.

Indeed, Gambians who have migrated are contributing to the development of their country by sending back remittances to their families.

These remittances averaged US$181 million a year during 2013-15, equivalent to around 20% of GDP, one of the highest proportions in the world.

Thus the relationship between migration and development is complex. ActionAid holds the view that the human right to seek safety, security, dignity, and sustainable livelihoods is inalienable and indivisible, and therefore calls for the humane treatment of - and reasonable assistance for - all those who are compelled to seek survival and protection.

While the new government is committed to addressing many challenges the country faces, not all of its policies, nor those of The Gambia's donors, are positive and some others are missing.

The government needs to focus on prioritising support to agriculture - where 70% of Gambians earn their livelihoods - which means addressing the needs of small-scale women and men farmers and adapting to climate change.

Northern governments - which have primarily caused climate change - should also be doing much more to help address this in The Gambia.

And although it is mainly men migrating, the scale of migration is also having an impact of women - especially women farmers who constitute a growing proportion of the country's agricultural workforce. This means that The Gambia's agricultural policy must increasingly focus on benefitting women farmers.

Women and families left behind by migrating husbands can be at greater risk of poverty, discrimination, gender-based violence and vulnerability from conflict and disasters.

Specific approaches are needed to understand and address these emerging trends.

The Gambia shares historical roots with many other West African nations in the slave trade, which was the key factor in the placing and keeping of a colony on the Gambia River, first by the Portuguese, during which era it was known as A Gâmbia. Later, on 25 May 1765,  the Gambia was made a part of the British Empire when the government formally assumed control, establishing the Gambia Colony and Protectorate. In 1965, the Gambia gained independence under the leadership of Dawda Jawara, who ruled until Yahya Jammeh seized power in a bloodless 1994 coup. Adama Barrow became the Gambia's third president in January 2017, after defeating Jammeh in the December 2016 elections.  Jammeh initially accepted the results, then refused to accept them, which triggered a constitutional crisis and military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States, resulting in his exile.  The Gambia  officially the Republic of The Gambia, is a country in West Africa. It is the smallest country within mainland Africa  and is surrounded by Senegal, except for its western coast on the Atlantic Ocean. The Gambia is situated on both sides of the lower reaches of the Gambia River, the nation's namesake, which flows through the centre of the Gambia and empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It has an area of 10,689 square kilometres (4,127 sq mi) with a population of 1,857,181 as of the April 2013 census. Banjul is the Gambian capital and the country's largest metropolitan area.  The largest cities are Serekunda and Brikama.  

The Gambia's economy is dominated by farming, fishing, and especially, tourism. In 2015, 48.6 per cent of the population lived in poverty.  In rural areas, poverty is even more widespread, at almost 70 per cent.

The name "Gambia" is derived from the Mandinka term Kambra/Kambaa, meaning Gambia River (or possibly from the sacred Serer Gamba,  a special type of calabash beaten when a Serer elder dies).  Upon independence in 1965, the country used the name the Gambia. Following the proclamation of a republic in 1970, the long-form name of the country became Republic of the Gambia.  The administration of Yahya Jammeh changed the long-form name to Islamic Republic of the Gambia in December 2015.[19] On 29 January 2017 President Adama Barrow changed the name back to Republic of the Gambia.  

The Gambia is one of a very small number of countries for which the definite article is commonly used in its English-language name, other than cases in which the name is plural (the Netherlands, the Philippines) or includes the form of government (the United Kingdom). The article is also officially used by the country's government and by international bodies. The article was originally used because the region was named for "the Gambia [River]." In 1964, shortly prior to the country's independence, then-Prime Minister Dawda Jawara wrote to the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use requesting that the name the Gambia retain the definite article, in part to reduce confusion with Zambia which had also recently become independent.  At present, both Gambia and the Gambia are in common use.

Arab traders provided the first written accounts of the Gambia area in the ninth and tenth centuries. During the tenth century, Muslim merchants and scholars established communities in several West African commercial centres. Both groups established trans-Saharan trade routes, leading to a large export trade of local people as slaves, along with gold and ivory, as well as imports of manufactured goods.

By the 11th or 12th century, the rulers of kingdoms such as Takrur (a monarchy centred on the Senegal River just to the north), ancient Ghana and Gao had converted to Islam and had appointed to their courts Muslims who were literate in the Arabic language.  At the beginning of the 14th century, most of what is today called the Gambia was part of the Mali Empire. The Portuguese reached this area by sea in the mid-15th century and began to dominate overseas trade.

In 1588, the claimant to the Portuguese throne, António, Prior of Crato, sold exclusive trade rights on the Gambia River to English merchants. Letters patent from Queen Elizabeth I confirmed the grant. In 1618, King James I of England granted a charter to an English company for trade with the Gambia and the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Between 1651 and 1661, some parts of the Gambia — St. Andrew's Island in the Gambia River including Fort Jakob, and St. Mary Island (modern day Banjul) and Fort Jillifree — came under the rule of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia (now in modern-day Latvia), having been bought by Prince Jacob Kettler.  The colonies were formally ceded to England in 1664.

During the late 17th century and throughout the 18th century, the British Empire and the French Empire struggled continually for political and commercial supremacy in the regions of the Senegal River and the Gambia River. The British Empire occupied the Gambia when an expedition led by Augustus Keppel landed there following the Capture of Senegal in 1758. The 1783 First Treaty of Versailles gave Great Britain possession of the Gambia River, but the French retained a tiny enclave at Albreda on the river's north bank. This was finally ceded to the United Kingdom in 1856.

As many as three million people may have been taken as slaves from this general region during the three centuries that the transatlantic slave trade operated. It is not known how many people were taken as slaves by intertribal wars or Muslim traders before the transatlantic slave trade began. Most of those taken were sold by other Africans to Europeans: some were prisoners of intertribal wars; some were victims sold because of unpaid debts, and many others were simply victims of kidnapping.[25]

Traders initially sent people to Europe to work as servants until the market for labour expanded in the West Indies and North America in the 18th century. In 1807, the United Kingdom abolished the slave trade throughout its empire. It also tried, unsuccessfully, to end the slave trade in the Gambia. Slave ships intercepted by the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron in the Atlantic were also returned to the Gambia, with people who had been slaves released on MacCarthy Island far up the Gambia River where they were expected to establish new lives.[26] The British established the military post of Bathurst (now Banjul) in 1816.