Nothing quite captures the ugliness of our infrastructural underdevelopment so tellingly like when it rains. Walking, after a downpour, along Kairaba Avenue, that swanky thoroughfare lined with banks, office blocks, restaurants, fashion shops and the like, doing millions of dollars’ worth of transactions everyday, where one would have expected a first class road, proper drainage and footpath, pedestrians find, instead, that they often have to negotiate between stepping on the slurry sand and a puddle. And motorists do their negotiations with the yawning cracks and potholes on the roads.
Everywhere one looks there are pools of mud, or debris washed up into relief, forming a landscape of sodden squalor. Pedestrians get the worst of it: shoes getting stuck in the mud; the occasional drenching from thoughtless drivers who splash through the dirty water that settle on the roads; or wading through the sludge because there is no other way of getting from one side of the road to the other.
I have just come out of my staff room (I run a vocational training school), and one of my lecturers had his rain boots in a bag because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to go home without getting his shoes all muddied up. In many parts of our country, during the rains, the roads, such as they are, become quite simply impassable to pedestrians and vehicles. If you want to know a person, it is often said, go to his home. When I look around, with honest eyes, I see that home is not pretty.
And the visual eyesore appears to be a metaphor for the wider national malaise; which gives credence to the lie that we are ‘shithole’ countries. We give them cause to call us names; and appear to have settled into a default ‘victimhood’ mode; feeling sorry for ourselves and being ruled by the idea of our poverty. ‘We don’t have resources’, ‘we don’t have capacity’, we don’t have this or that – the constant refrain of our lack of progress.
Yet, give me any government position, and within a few years, you would see the big house, perhaps in Brufut Heights, and the fancy car (Mercedes-Benz M class?), showing ourselves up to the world that we are mere hypocrites: saying one thing and doing another. Apparently, when Che Guevara went to Congo in 1965, following the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in 1961, to train the Congolese brothers in guerrilla tactics, he left disappointed.
Listen to the opening line of his book, ‘’The African Dream”: ‘’This is the history of a failure’’. We have been lying to ourselves for, God knows, how long. Would it be too much to ask, that by the next rainy season, our elected councillors would, at least, ameliorate the worst affected areas in their wards?
The infrastructural deficiencies seem to have their mirror image in the attitudinal vulgarity we see around us. I do not own a car, so I commute daily to work using public transport, and some of the encounters I have had with pedestrians, fellow passengers and taxi drivers have left me wondering if this is the same Gambia I grew up in, in the 80’s and early 90’s. Public politeness seems to have waned – and where politeness vacates, coarseness occupies. Many are quick to take offence, and even quicker to dish it out. Selfishness, that is, showing total lack of consideration for other legitimate interests, has become an entrenched clause in our public interactions. And such self-referentiality, unsurprisingly, is often deaf to logic, objectivity and empathy, making it virtually impossible to resolve conflict, inherent in any social dynamic, peaceably.
It seems that we are not sure any more, how to behave in public. We don’t seem to act toward one another as people belonging to the same group. Sub-identities, such as ‘I am a Wollof’ or ‘I am a Mandinka’ appear to hold more sway in our sense of self, than the national identity. Social trust is at its lowest. Inarticulate hostility wafts in the air spreading its nasty smell in the social fabric, creating a kind of existential edginess in the public space, where it doesn’t take much for an argument to break out between two people.
This is Yaya Jammeh’s deeper, unquantifiable damage to our society. He encouraged the baser instincts of our being, turning brother against sister, neighbour against neighbour, sowing a boorish divisiveness that has deformed what I call the civil imagination.
People casually trade expletives as if they were mere alt-greetings. On a single day on Kairaba Avenue, I witnessed three accidents, minor ones, but all as a result of drivers showing impatience or ignorance of traffic rules. The urban, dear reader, is far from urbane. Considered, measured, sophisticated judgment has no purchase on the current mood. Having lost democracy for twenty-two years, we have rediscovered it as I-can-do-what-I-want attitude or self-righteous populism. Maybe this is a necessary phase of the healing process.
But, would it be too much to ask, again, for the two municipalities, KMC & BCC, at least, to introduce a structure of traffic wardens and proper road signage, to bring a semblance of order to the traffic flow. What we have is ‘functional anarchy’. And for the authority issuing driving (‘drivers’ is American) licences, I will invite you to sneak a peek at what NAQAA is doing.
The National Accreditation and Quality Assurance Authority, the regulatory body of all tertiary-education training providers in this country, has come up with an interesting idea for weeding out the good from the bad: training providers whose licences have expired are now required to go through a test or an assessment before their licences are renewed; whereas previously, all that one had to do to renew a licence was simply to write a letter to that effect, with an attachment of the photocopied expired licence. With this new system, I hear that many unsuitable licensees are being weeded out.
Likewise with vehicles licences, when they expire, particularly with taxi drivers, the applicants should be re-tested, under stricter standards, not forgetting the attitudinal bit, and gradually, as experience has demonstrated, the good will be weeded out from the bad.
All the monetary pledges our country has received and will in all likelihood continue to receive from various sources around the world will come to nothing without sound policies on our part (oh, dear, had it been a simple case of policies, it would have been easy: we have so many talented people. The problem is one of honesty, love of country and self. The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, would have psychoanalysed us as people who hated themselves, subconsciously. No wonder that ‘foreigners’, as we often say, ‘make it’ so easily in our country while we wallow in complaints. We would sooner enslave ourselves to them than to our own). Shame.
by Momodou Mboge