Thursday, May 30, 2024

Too late

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By Talib Gibran

I love watching movies. If the storyline intrigues me, I can watch it a hundred times. If it’s a series, even if it is up to 30 episodes a season, I would binge-watch it. For years, books and movies served as alternate reality for me. I think now the quality of books has dropped or my mind just got more critical while movies keep either going too far into the future or displaying excessive sexual content. My alternate reality has crumbled and my actual reality, The Gambia per se, is a simulation. In those movies and books, especially if it’s centred on crime, I get lost in appreciating both the ingenuity of the criminal and the thoroughness of the investigators. From the crime itself to pursuing suspects and establishing motives, you cannot help but admire the painstaking approach to crime-solving. However, when the storyline bore me to death, I just stop watching or reading it. Now let’s talk about reality.

We were all shocked when an unidentified person opened fire on three police officers last week. Two of them died while the third survived but with life-threatening injuries. The fact that we thought it was a civilian makes the case rare, if it ever happened here. The reverse is usually the case. I covered the Faraba riot in 2018 when police gunned down protesters and the images are still glued on the walls of my mind six years later; lifeless bodies, smell of bullet and cartridge and a procession of angry civilians burning down compounds of elders they believed were in bed with the enemy. There are other cases prior to that incident with more casualties. It is not rare. But I do not think a civilian has ever picked up a gun and shot a police officer. The rarity of the incident occasioned some ridiculous theories about the shooting. I have read every piece of writing I saw on the shooting, listened to every audio I received and watched every interview available online. But like the movies with terrible storylines and what I do about them, I just want to stop following this one too. It’s either I am horrible at understanding police work even after watching and reading about it or this whole spectacle makes no damn sense. I hope the right person is in custody because if he’s not — and there are very compelling arguments that he’s not — then all this time we could be mingling with the actual killer, or he/she is probably long gone. That threatens my actual reality, The Gambia, despite it being a simulation. But as typical of Gambians, we have successfully politicised a frightening double homicide because we don’t enjoy talking about anything else but politics. Our president said he’s a political animal and that has set the ball rolling for the birth of little political animals in the country who are broke and hungry but still spend hours arguing about whose party has the best chance in 2026 election. What a bunch of idiots! Would you even be alive then? That hunger you’re ignoring to blindly follow around politicians would be the death of you.

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Prior to the shooting, even our blood stopped flowing for a while to talk about FGM. It was a moment that showed the best of us and, rather sadly, the worst of us. This country is on a collision course with the sun and we had time at bantabalu, in mosques, on the streets, in homes and in offices to waste our energy on whether a girl’s clitoris should be cut or not, even after the law stated it should not. If you want to assess the stupidity of Gambians and their pitiful desire to remain backward, ask them their views on something considered religious or cultural. The FGM discourse and the murderous intention to de-criminalise the practice was indicative of how deeply troubling we have fallen off as a nation. Few days ago, I bought a bag of “American rice” for D1,750; a price soaring towards the unaffordable threshold for average Gambians but you wouldn’t hear about it. The country is in a mess; violent crimes, corruption, drugs, diseases, and serious underdevelopment but we would rather comfortably speak about clitoris than addressing the most urgent issues bedevilling our nation. And for the parliamentarian, Horrible Saho, having benefitted from taxpayer-funded vehicle costing more than three million dalasis, had the temerity to stand on that floor out of nowhere and turn the entire country’s attention from pressing matters. All I could think of was to feed him with so much fentanyl until he implodes into nothingness. But we have many Horrible Sahos in our midst who would always claim having knowledge and experience serving in different capacities. Truth be told, years always come with experience. Unfortunately for him and many other Gambians in positions of power, only years came; experience and knowledge stayed behind. The disappointment is even bigger with the young people whose line of thinking is older and more dangerous than the old people in power. We keep protesting that the country is gerontocratic; that the old ones just refuse to go and want to rule forever. To be honest, that is exactly what I want. Let them stay because based on what I saw during the FGM debate, we are safer in the hands of the old ones than the young ones. The young ones who are constantly dealing in drugs, stealing public resources, abusing and leaking unconsented sex tapes of women online just to destroy them. If that’s the crop of young people waiting to take over, then I would rather be far away from here when it happens.

This is a very unpopular opinion but democracy has made Gambians lazy, especially the men. When we wake up until we sleep again, it is politics and political discussions. It is UDP vs NPP. It is Darboe vs Barrow. What is even more tragic is a Gambian somewhere in Europe or America opening a WhatsApp chat group where he regularly sends audios to comment on everything. The rest of us who are here and are part of that WhatsApp chat group — stupid and aimless — would religiously follow whatever that person says about the situation in the country as if we’re not aware of it. We would bicker, insult and even cause violence just to ensure whatever that person says is the truth. The whole world is moving ahead while Gambians run around irrelevant issues like a cat following a laser in a dark room.

I am only optimistic about this country when I see pictures of it. Every other thing here makes me want to run and hide. Religion and pessimism don’t always go together. But as far as this country is concerned, I am pessimistic and I am religious. Maybe I am not religious after all. I believe The Gambia deserves better things and better Gambians. We have vast arable land which we could have used to feed our people but we’re selling it all to real estate agencies and individuals who would keep it undeveloped until it appreciates while the poor struggle for housing in urban areas. We should have passed the anti-corruption bill but the parliamentarians removed a clause which questions illicit enrichment rendering it toothless. We should have built better and more roads to ease the transportation nightmare. We should have controlled prices of basic commodities and raised our standard of living. We should have a better salary scale which would ensure people save some money and not finish their salary even before it comes due to loans. We should review our civil service and root out inefficiency and poor work ethics. We should empower businesses and invest in skills acquisition so that Gambians will not find The Gambia so inhabitable that risking their lives in the Mediterranean becomes more appealing than staying. We should be making laws to protect women and girls from abuse and violence. There are thousands of things that we can do at every level to make this country better for everyone and not spend weeks on the clitoris of girls as if it makes us horny like we’ve been bitten by a Brazilian wandering spider. But no, we will not. It is late for that. It’s like a fish swimming in a lake; grabbing every little thing that floats around as it enjoyed a stunning wonder of nature. But what the fish didn’t realise was that an osprey had been scanning and watching it afar for minutes, waiting and waiting for the right moment. The unsuspecting fish would occasionally skip out of water and into the air before dropping back in while the osprey watched. When the osprey was sure the fish had moved into a dangerous territory, it started descending with speed and focus. Eyes wide and fixed on the prey and the sharp talons pointed to the target. Just a meter away from hitting the water, it dawned on the poor fish that a deadly predator is within a clutching distance. But the speed of its swimming or the agility of its movement wouldn’t save it this time. It is too late. In a matter of seconds, the fish was wriggling in the talons of the osprey which even started pecking it alive while flying to the treetop. It is too late for The Gambia. Brace for impact!

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