Alagi Yorro Jallow
In Gambian life, there is no creativity, no aspiration, no vision, no mission, no genius, and no dream beyond joining Mansa-Kunda civil service or political appointments without any particular attachment to a public service ethos.
There are two types of Gambians: those in government employment and those awaiting their turn in government appointments. Forget all the talk about the size and potential of the Gambia’s economy. Forget all the talk about business, entrepreneurship, innovation, and the rise of a vibrant new demographic of creators defying the odds to crystallize into a 21st-century transnational elite.
That is all puff and powder for there is only one business in the Gambia and it is called “The Gambia Government Civil Service”. Everybody is just really waiting for and on government appointments. Every other sector and sphere of Gambian life and all the players in all those private spheres and other sectors are merely waiting on and for their turn in government employment.
The sum total of national life is nothing but an endless footsy playing between those in government and those outside, hoping to cajole them to be let in or scheming to shove them out and take their place. Either by election or appointment, a Gambian has no greater definition of success and life fulfilment than a political office, no matter how paltry and insignificant.
This atrocious national sociology of course has consequences. It is at the center of the Gambian tragedy. At the personal and national levels, it stifles growth, initiative, and development because the citizen and his nation are defined exclusively by prebend. The citizen destroys all regenerative and innovative possibilities because his or her creative energy has only one purpose: profit from government prebend (if he or she is already in government) or aspire to profit from government prebend (if he or she is awaiting his or her turn in government).
The Gambia is the only place where the path to building a global business brand, powered by genius, innovation, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and drive can be abandoned midway to serve as a Permanent Secretary or Special Adviser on Miscellaneous Matters in the Presidency. The owner of a flourishing innovation hub or a growing e-commerce outlet will drop all that creative energy and suddenly become a Permanent Secretary or Special Adviser to the President or Minister.
Sarcastically, only in the Gambia, do not be surprised to wake up to news that Gambian business tycoon Mr. Muhammed Jah CEO of Qcell and Quantum Net is abandoning the Qcell Group to run to become Special Adviser to the President. Instead of joining Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos on a panel in Dubai, do not be surprised to hear that the CEO Mustapha Njie of TAF Africa Homes Construction has accepted an appointment as Special Advisor to the President on mega infrastructural projects.
In essence, any Gambian great news on the innovation front is only great until government appointment happens to it because every other sphere of agency in the Gambia is tentative and aspirational in a move towards government and mediocrity and corruption.
It is true that many of the Gambia’s most accomplished abandon potential global brands for life in government because of the belief that they will loot with impunity and divert public funds and government patronage to their businesses.
They forget that all their stealing and looting has never taken any of their businesses to a truly global dimension because no truly global brand can be built on a foundation of such brazen rottenness. The money they steal and infuse into their businesses is only Pyrrhic victory.
There is also of course the story of businesses private enterprises innovative business brand that government office happened to and destroyed. The business people are not the only class affected by this Gambian disease. Generations of the country’s brightest minds go to government, when they leave government, they do not return to any worthwhile ventures and activities that could uplift the country because they understand that life in the Gambia is divided into two strict phases: life in government and life spent awaiting life in government.
I live in a part of the world where people have time for short spells in government appointments before returning to other spheres of nation building. Academia is a very popular destination for people after government office. They come and join us in training the next generation. Look at journalism and mass communication schools in the US and Canada. Very often, people quit influential government spokesperson positions to become Deans or Chairs of such schools or programs. They don’t have to be academics. Universities negotiate with them based on their profile and experience.
You come to the Gambia and you get smart people (names withheld) brilliant first-class minds that any school of journalism or mass communication in the country or abroad should be privileged to engage as Dean or Chair. What are they doing? They are roaming social media to maintain relevance in preparation for any possibility of returning to government anytime. One of the Gambia’s best minds now understands that there is only life in government and life spent awaiting a return to government.
There are as accomplished Gambian scholars falls into this category. Before they discovered the tragic duality of Gambian life, they are actually bright minds on the rise in the United States. Now, they too are roaming social media, carefully curating their nuisance value to maintain visibility ahead of the possibility of a return to government at time given chances, accompanied by their fellow vermin.
Think of Mamudu; think of Fatoumatta in some innovative new program in any of our Universities. No matter what you think of them, they would serve Gambia’s future excellently in such stations. Sadly, they are like fish out of water, unable to conceptualize agency and nation building outside of the sphere of government crumbs.
I have used Maimuna and Fatoumatta to illustrate the crematorium of talent and innovation that is the Gambia. Once you leave government, you are pretty much useless to the Gambia because your brain is colonized by the singular desire to return to government. You cannot even sustain a business after life in government. Look at Fatoumatta and Maimuna, thrashing around like somebody high on Vicodin because there is no life for them outside of government. They are desperate to return. We need to revamp civics to achieve this mental rewiring.