Discipline is no doubt the cornerstone of any development strategy, and with its absence, no society can ever achieve any modicum of development. This, unfortunately, is the bane of almost every facet of life in the Gambia, and as long as discipline is not instilled in the society, it is hard to see how Gambians can excel in this highly competitive world, let alone expect President Yahya Jammeh to ever realize his untenable dream of transforming the country into the economic super power of Africa.
However, discipline, like most other virtues, must be a top/bottom approach rather than the reverse. When it does not exist at the top echelons of the society, then it is impossible to impose it from the bottom. That unfortunately is the reality in the Gambia where gross indiscipline seems to pervade every sector; from the very top echelons of the society to the very bottom, and hardly anything is being done to curb it.
During a recent visit to the Gambia, I personally experienced gross indiscipline as well as saw its negative effect on the society. Just to quote a few examples of the numerous encounters I had with the vice; during a visit to one of the local banks to carry out some transaction, the girls at the reception desk were busy chatting amongst themselves and admiring some wares on sale while the customers were waiting on the queue to be served.
I observed that it is a similar situation in almost all other places which provide service to the public. For instance, when I decided to visit the trade fair at the Independence Stadium as early as possible in order to avoid the crowd, and arrived at the Gamtel/Gamcel stand at about 10am to buy something, I found only the night-duty watchman and he said he was waiting for those on duty who were supposed to be at work by 8am, but they never turned up until at about 11am. Of course there were no apologies for turning up late as to them, it was just something normal and it was up to the customers to either wait for them or go away. They apparently did not see or care about the correlation between the success of the business and their lackadaisical attitude to work, as long as at the end of the month, they will receive their full salaries.
However, when such indiscipline is manifested at the very top echelons of the society, it usually costs the public quite dearly. A good case in point is the two ‘new’ ferries; Aljamdu and Kansala, which were bought almost three years ago and are still anchored at the Banjul wharf, apparently because they are not suitable to operate on the route. One can imagine the millions of Dalasis of public money that may have been spent in purchasing them only to be left idle and deteriorating for this long without benefiting the public who continue to cross the Banjul/Barra stretch in unseaworthy ferries which are now dubbed as ‘floating coffins’, with no doubt a disaster of unimaginable proportion waiting to happen.
In any other civilized country, whoever had been responsible for such waste of public resources would have accounted for it, but in the Gambia, as long as anything involves President Jammeh or members of his cabal, then no one would dare to question it let alone demand for an explanation.
Still on the Banjul/Barra ferries, the last time I visited the Gambia, I pointed out in an open letter to the management of the Gambia Ports Authority about their unhygienic conditions and the lack of sanitation on board for the people who use them on a daily basis. While this time round I observed some slight improvements, but the situation is still far from satisfactory.
However, to compare the situation at the Banjul/Barra ferry crossing with what obtains elsewhere, I had the opportunity to use the ferry at Foundiougne in Senegal to cross the Saloum River to Fatick while on my way to Dakar, and apart from the absence of the chaos and disorderliness associated with the Banjul/Barra ferries, the services at that place are also much more superior. In addition to the noticeable cleanliness of the ferry and its punctuality, there is also maximum security guaranteed to all the passengers by providing each with a life-jacket.
One would therefore wonder why, taking the poor mechanical conditions of the Banjul/Barra ferries, the Gambian authorities have not seen it fit to provide safety gear such as life-jackets on board the ferries. This is not only another apparent manifestation of indiscipline at the very top, but also lack of regard for the safety and welfare of the people who use those ferries on a daily basis.
Unlike the chaos and disorderliness that obtain at the terminals at both Banjul and Barra where vehicle owners are often said to pay bribes in order to cross or risk spending several nights on the queue, at Foundiougne, vehicles cross on a first come, first-served basis which hardly leaves any room for bribery and corruption. While in the Gambia certain individuals, particularly militants and supporters of the APRC are often given priority over all other motorists, at the Foundiougne crossing, all vehicles must join the queue and can only cross when it is their turn to do so. That is an example of discipline.
Another notable thing in the Gambia is the frequent power cuts which also seem to last forever. We can still vividly recall during celebrations of the July 22nd “Revolution” in 1996, President Jammeh, then as Chairman of the AFPRC, promised that if by the next July there was no 24 hour electricity supply throughout the country, there would be no celebrations of the “Revolution”. However, almost 19 years later, the situation has become even worse. It therefore sounds like a big joke to hear him constantly talk about transforming the Gambia into an economic super power by 2025 that would surpass such economic giants like Dubai and Singapore. It would have indeed made more sense for his regime to first tackle such socio-economic problems by guaranteeing Gambians the most basic services before making such untenable pronouncements.
There are also the numerous irritating road blocks and military check-points which cause so much unnecessary disruption in the people’s movements. One would really wonder what such check points are intended to achieve apart from contributing to the air of frustration and despondency that seems to grip the whole country.
Another matter of concern to most Gambians is the sorry state of the capital, Banjul. I can recall that when I first came to Banjul in the mid-60s as a school boy, then the city was very neat and orderly, with most of the streets paved and swept on a daily basis by gangs of municipal workers.
However, today, one can hardly see a paved street in Banjul, and even the few streets still left with some traces of tar, potholes; some the sizes of craters, can be seen all over, with rubbish heaps virtually everywhere. At the same time, virtually all the public amenities that the city used to boast of have either now been relocated to the Kombos or left to deteriorate.
Also, while there used to be almost daily rubbish collection by the municipality, it is now no longer the case. Residents are nowadays compelled to find alternative means of disposing off their trash rather than wait for it to be collected by the infrequent rubbish trucks.
Therefore, one would wonder what the Banjulians have got in return for their almost total submission to the ruling APRC which now controls the city’s three constituencies as well as all the municipal wards.