Demba Jawo
Demba Jawo

It is quite apparent that most Gambians regard the ongoing extravagant celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the July 22nd’ Revolution’ as not only unnecessary but a sheer waste of scarce public resources. Of course while President Jammeh and his small circle of enablers have quite a lot to celebrate, but the vast majority of Gambians hardly have anything worth celebrating. They are mere spectators in a situation in which they have almost been completely sidelined and allowed very little say.

While there has no doubt been some noticeable infrastructural development in the country since the advent of the “Revolution”, but the quality of life of the people seems to have deteriorated within the last 20 years. There is no doubt therefore that a vast majority of Gambians would have preferred their personal freedoms, including being free to openly manifest their support for the political party of their choice as well as celebrate the Muslim feast on the day of their choice without being arrested and harassed simply for doing so.

Another issue that most Gambians had with President Jammeh’s address during the celebrations was for sounding like the Grand Imam of the country rather than its political head. Instead of confining himself to the political arena, virtually his every sentence was punctuated with talk about our belief in Islam and the Almighty Allah as if he was addressing the nation from the pulpit. There appears to be some role confusion as regards what he should say and where and when to say it. May be someone needs to remind him that as a secular head of state, it is not his role to assume such a spiritual position.

The Gambia being a secular state, it is certainly not the role of its leader to be using his official position to preach Islamic religious virtues, which is the role of the Imams and the numerous other Islamic scholars we have in abundance in this country.

Indeed even during his last address to the UN General Assembly session, he sounded more like the Grand Mufti of an Islamic Caliphate rather than the head of state of a secular state like the Gambia. This is no doubt why his friends at the Supreme Islamic Council gave him the title of Nasirudin, which he has surprisingly decided to drop from his lengthy titles.

It has been observed that President Jammeh and his APRC administration is giving so much emphasis to Islam disregarding the fact that the Gambia is a secular state where all religions are supposed to be treated equally. Therefore, giving such prominence to one religious denomination by the head of state seems to negatively impact on the harmony that had existed between the different religious denominations in this country since time immemorial. Indeed, such a posture is no doubt giving more ammunition to the radical Islamists to take advantage and make life unbearable for adherents of other religious denominations in the country, knowing that the authorities are likely to turn a blind eye to their provocations. This trend certainly does not seem to auger well for religious harmony in our dear country.

To add to all that, it is alleged that President Jammeh’s invited Islamic Televangelist Dr. Zakir Naik was paid over a million US Dollars for his trip to the Gambia. One can imagine how far such a huge amount would have gone in tackling some of the multiple problems facing the country rather than pay that to someone whose preaching has no relevance to the daily hardships that Gambians are faced with.

A good case in point is the increasing number of young Gambians dying while trying to cross the Sahara Desert and then the Mediterranean Sea on their perilous journey to look for greener pastures in Europe, apparently because of the hardship they are faced with at home. Therefore, rather than spend such amounts on importing preachers, it could have been used to create more employment avenues for the young people.

This is certainly yet another indication that we have got our priorities quite wrong as a nation. Rather than pursuing what would help uplift the daily lives of our people, we tend to go give priority to things that have very little relevance to them.

There is absolutely no doubt that Dr, Naik would not preach anything new to Gambians, and in any case, our own Islamic preachers are much more familiar with what obtains in the country and as such, they are in a much better position to preach something more relevant to the daily trials and tribulations faced by Gambians than Dr. Naik would ever do. Therefore, why waste any amount to bring him over to the Gambia?  Of course if he wanted to come on his own, like many other preachers had done before him, he is free to come, but certainly not at the expense of the poor Gambians.