Recently, events at the University of the Gambia have made news thanks to the gallant and brave students who decided they’ve had enough. They decide they have had enough of recurrent tuition increases without any increase in the quality of education at Jammeh’s so-called university (he called it his baby and University), substandard facilities and most disheartening of all an inept and corrupt leadership. I watched with bated breath as updates trickled in minute by minute thanks to Facebook and constant updates from our very vibrant diaspora news outfits.
What confounded me most is that despite findings substantiated by NDEA which points out how Kah was mis-governing the university, our Chief Professor His Excellency Sheikh Professor Dr Alhaji Yahya AJJ Jammeh(hhahahaha) turned a blind eye on the agency’s conclusions and even went as far as awarding Kah the highest national honor for his services to the university. Persecuted and prosecuted Ali Gumbo Touray ,a gentleman and a true patriot got acquitted of the charges of giving false information to the state. Any rational person would have thought he would be compensated for the many months he sat home, fired from his job running back and forth to court, but unfortunately not a word came from the president’s office to remedy the situation .Looking at it all one may wonder why such a dysfunction will be allowed to fester at Gambia’s first and only university. But the Gambia University is dysfunctional as long as it had Kah at the helm and as long as Jammeh continued to turn a blind eye to his financial gluttony, administrative malfeasance among other misdemeanors.
I attended Gambia University a couple of years ago straight out of Nusrat high school (better equipped than UTG)and my experience of the facilities and systems in place there depressed me to a point that I decided to move to the United states. I left for better education because the Gambia University was nothing but a glorified high school masqueraded and glorified as a university. There was and still no functional library except books that have since outlived their usefulness and gone out of print before some good Samaritan decided to clear out his/her garage in the West and donate some books to University in the service of the notion that an outdated book is better than no book at all. There is no academic advisory or tutorial services. There is a computer lab which is accessible to students only if they have IT lectures and most students have to depend on the local internet cafes to write their essays or use their friends’ lap tops. You have one or two professors (if there is any at all) on the faculty and maybe only one had ever written a research or peer reviewed journal published in any academic journal.
My decision was only confirmed when I moved to the states and alas what a sea of difference, I have access to academic counselling about what I wanted to study, access to tutoring, full one on one access to my professors and anything else I need to succeed in my academic quest. Comparing the decay and dysfunction at the University is like comparing the day to night. In fact I wonder how my friends I left behind with the squalid conditions are able to graduate with flying colors and move to Universities in the West and still do amazingly well. Despite the squalid conditions they get employed at IDB,world Bank,IMF and still do amazingly well. I salute them.
One would wonder why Kah who had done most of his alleged education in the West has not done anything to provide a conducive environment to hard working students of the Gambia University. When he came, he portrayed himself as a top notch professor, he came to give back to his mother land; he portrayed himself as a brain gain for the Gambia. So, the so-called professor properly defined, is a “main-eater”. He is the carnivore of our university. In other words, he is the high roller who scavenged on all the fat-cow contracts, employed relatives, glamourous and over inflated foreign trips and money and funds declared missing in the past few weeks by Gambia’s auditor general. Yet he walks around head held high, unquestioned by the system that put him there in the first place. He gorged on the university’s unaccounted millions, flapped haughty wings in tales of impunity, whether in the country or in his VC’s office or Presidency. He lived large and mainstreamed while the rest of the student body and lecturers snorted, isolated and neglected as islanders. It was corruption writ large with a president that only let him blossom and brag about how untouchable he is because he got the presidents back.
When his fall came, it came unexpectedly .The gallant students took over .Even the arrival of PIU officers, ministers of Interior and higher education couldn’t stop them. They were just un-stoppable. Even the day light brutal gunning down of their comrades years ago in April 10/11 student demonstration couldn’t instill fear in them. The story that says this best is one written by Edward Gibbons in his all-time classic, The Decline and Fall of Roman Empire. He narrated the story of Emperor Maximin, a coarse,brutal, low and greedy fellow who rose to the apogee of Roman pomp and power. He struggled with a sense of inadequacy, and decided to kill anyone who knew him when he was nothing and helped him along the way. The same psychology is played in Shakespeare’s bloodiest play, Titus Andronicus, where Titus gave up his right to the royal throne to another man. That man played along with a scheme to kill Titus, so as to justify his hollow manhood. Gambia government, unsophisticated as always and inept at dealing with emergencies of this sort fired him immediately and rolled out a press release retiring him and thanking him for his dedicated services to the University when all and sundry knew professor has lost the battle and fell un-graciously in a very ‘spectacular fashion’ .
The University of Gambia was founded in 1996 via an extension arrangement with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Until recently with the coming of relatively two universities it was the only university in the West African country of Gambia. In March 1999, the university was separated from Saint Mary’s by an Act of the National Assembly of Gambia. At that time the university started awarding its first degrees in Humanities and Social Studies, Economics and Management Science, and Nursing and Public Health. In his address for the new students for 2015, Professor Muhammadou M.O Kah(now fired) “informed the new intakes that the university has continued to evolve to respond to the challenges and need for access to quality higher education to those that meet their requirements from The Gambia and beyond” (Ceesay).Optimistic and great plans articulated by a seemingly ambitious Vice Chancellor who wants to turn his un-equipped and badly run university into a world class University .The questions that quickly stares at you is; is there a political will from Jammeh’s government who gives more money to Senegalese musicians and wrestlers than finance his dream of turning his badly run and very ill equipped University into a world class university?
Recently Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) had a news story of the inauguration of a three-story building for The University of Gambia medical school. Vice president Dr. Isatou Njie Saidy spoke on behalf of the university president. The president’s dream for the relatively new university was to transform it into a world-class university. His vision showed fake renewed determination in that there is no better investment in and for Gambia than education.
The process to transform a new university into a world-class university is daunting though not entirely impossible. However, many books and researches have been written on the subject. In looking at these, one can decipher the plan for the university and how the plan can be implemented.
In the Huffington Post, Deepak Sama, Professor of South Asian Religions and Philosophy at Case Western Reserve University, addresses what makes up a great university. He asserts that great universities are characterized by fostering, permitting, and encouraging argument among its members. To be a great university, it must have students and faculty who are willing to engage one another. All members of the university must be ready, willing and able to question any and all assumptions.(Sama).However this is the very opposite happening at Gambia University where the faculty and staff are polarized, demotivated and favoritism and tribalism is the order of the day.
On similar lines, Jamil Salmi, who is the World Bank Group’s Tertiary Education Coordinator and author of “The Challenge of Establishing World-Class Universities”, says that a great university should have three factors that distinguishes it from its competitors. International universities need a high concentration of talented teachers, researchers and students (Salmi). They should recruit students and faculty without concern for national borders to attract the most talented people. Secondly, the institution should have the proper funding with sizable budgets. Rather unfortunately the Gambia government which should have invested money for operational spending and research is busy commemorating July 22n anniversary costing tax payers millions of Dollars and giving luxury cars to Senegalese wrestlers and musicians instead of increasing the pay of teachers and University lecturers to improve the quality of education in the country.
In addition, the university would have to contract research from public organizations and private firms. Lastly, earnings would also come from endowments, gifts, and tuition fees. The third main point he emphasized is that great universities must have a combination of freedom, autonomy and leadership. In conclusion, Salmi says that low and middle-income countries need to understand that there are trade-offs involved in building an elite institution. Most of the world’s elite institutions began as small teaching colleges that over time, with financial stability and thoughtful leadership, grew into the envied institutions they are now. As always, tragically the leadership situation on the ground at the University is pathetic, we have a president who brags about building a forts class university and yet is unwilling to put in place a world class leadership, infrastructure and better remuneration for lecturers. Instead a better bulk of government spending goes of APRC musical Jamborees, wrestling and other posteriorities instead on priorities.
In the book titled Global Perspectives on Higher Education, Volume 25: Building World-Class Universities; Different Approaches to a Shared Goals, the authors point out universities should focus on competitive funding schemes, internationalization, and governance reform. Internationalization can be addressed through curriculum reform, student and faculty mobility, and cooperation and partnership in administration:
Countries and those overseeing their higher education systems need to carefully assess their needs, resources and long-term interests and design their strategies based on their national and institutional models. There is no universal model or recipe for making academic excellence. International experience might be helpful to provide experience and lessons; however, a simple policy copying exercise may not transpose effectively from one country or university to another” (Seeram).
In contrast, Philip G. Altbach wrote in his article titled “The Costs and Benefits of World-Class Universities” that no one really knows what a world-class university entails. Everyone is trying to reach world-class status without knowing how to get there. He infers that no one really knows how to define a world-class institution. According to him, the money needed to achieve the goal is around 500 million dollars with “clever leadership and much good luck.” To achieve world-class status, the university must have excellence in research, academic freedom, adequate facilities, and adequate funding. With each of those requirements in place, “most countries, even large and wealthy ones, only one or two world-class universities are possible or even desirable. Most nations simply cannot afford to support such institutions.”
The fuzziness of the concept of a world-class university—combined with the impossibility, so far at least, of measuring academic quality and accomplishment makes the struggle difficult. Indeed, it might well be that the innovative energies and resources of higher education should be focused on more realistic and useful goals.
Despite the challenges and the millions of dollars involved in building a world class University, I believe Gambia University can attain world-class status with focused and efficient leadership from the Government of Gambia and the administrators of the University of Gambia down to the lowest paid cleaner. First and foremost; the government should open up Gambia to the outside world, work on its grave human rights record and polish the image of the country to the outside world, which will attract more qualified academics and a diversified student body by attracting international students which helps many universities around the world to raise money as international students pay more in tuition fees. Since Gambia is a small country with barely any natural resources to raise the much needed capital to build and sustain a world class university, the government of Gambia should stop the anti-West and anti-gay rants it has been engaged in for a while and start a more mature, productive and cooperative partnership with essential development partners like the European Union and The United States of America.
Gambia doesn’t have a gay problem, the problem we have is a government using gay issue as a distraction to mask the cuts in funding as its refusal to accept the proposal by EU to legalize gay marriage when that is far from the truth. The real issue is Human rights violations and arrests without trial and enforced disappearances. The Gambia’s economy heavily depends on tourism and yet the enemy of the growth of tourism in Gambia is Jammeh who tarnishes the image of the Gambia to the outside world thanks to his great rants against gays and lesbians at the UN, interviews with international media and inflammatory speeches and accusations on the national media. Thriving tourism in the past few years has helped Gambia sustain its economy and tame the teeming unemployed youth population who roam the beaches in search of tourist friends to give them money and eventually way out of the impoverished West African country to the West. When he deployed the military on the Gambia’s pristine sandy beaches to combat bumsters menace, the military personnel themselves turned ‘bumsters’ and the trends persists. As the anti-gay arrests and rants continue the western embassies began giving travel warnings to their citizens and the tourists came less and less and the impact has been profound on the economy and lead to an exodus of the country’s youth population. The numbers of youths fleeing poverty and unemployment at home has led to Gambia exporting more illegal immigrants to Italy than war torn Somalia, Nigeria and Eritrea put together. One wonders how a small country like the Gambia with only about a million people in light of the recent exodus .What is driving people out of the Gambia including women and children to risk their lives in the Mediterranean. Are we at war? Definitely we are not at war but are we at peace either with such a mass exodus taking place on our soil. Like one of my good “kebas or kotos’ “say not being at war doesn’t mean we are at peace”. The most recent drama coming out of Banjul is the determination and control of foreign currencies by the president’s office. Interesting times in Banjul. May we continue to live in interesting times!
Alhassan Darboe is a US based Gambian Journalist and passionate lover of philosophy. He was the winner of maiden Black History Essay competition organized by the American embassy. Alhassan had worked with Today newspaper in Banjul.
Altbach, Philip G. “The Costs and Benefits of World-Class Universities.” Academe 90 (2004):
20-23. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
Ceesay, Alieu. “UTG most significant achievement in 50 years – Vice Chancellor Kah.” Daily
Observer 16 Feb. 2015: 1-2. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
Ramakrishna, Seeram. “World University Rankings and the Consequent Reactions of Emerging
Nations.” Building World-Class Universities: Different Approaches to a Shared Goals.
Global Perspectives on Higher Education 25. Qi Wang, Ying Cheng, and Nian Cai Liu,
eds. Boston: Sense Publishers, 2012: 117-128. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.
Sama, Deepak. “What Makes a University Great? Audacious Irreverence, That’s What!”
Huffington Post 20 Jun. 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2015.