Home Again 1.4 :-) – On Amran and Gambian Writing

Asalamu aleikum linguerites and linguerians (finally got a name for you guys)! I hope you are all doing good and , ermmm, have been waiting for Home Again number 4. Now when I write 1.4 , 1 stands for the 1st month of the holiday and 4 represents the number of the blogpost. Compris? Oui? OK, on avance! Now when I started writing this post, I realised I did not have a fitting title. Then thoughts of Balafong came into my mind and I felt I had found the best title for this post.

      Linguerites and linguerians, I present AMRAN GAYE. Monsieur Gaye is one person behind the epic Balafong initiative. I am proud to say we went to the same school (Reverend J.C. Faye Memorial High School). Though we never really got to interact, I easily remembered who he was when we became friends on Facebook. Sometime last year, while busy clicking on links being exchanged by my FB friends, I happened to find myself reading a ‘note’ of his. I fell in love with the writing at that instant. I sent him a message asking for tags on his subsequent notes. I was glad he promised to do that, but what marked me the most was his nice personality, which I am still trying to describe with words. His writing is nothing you would see daily. Amran’s writing is a mix of English and Wolof, and any Gambian would easily relate to his articles and stories. This is  one brain The Gambia should be proud of. I, personally, look up to Amran, especially in the literary world. If you are young, love writing and need inspiration to take it to another level, you need not look any further than Monsieur Gaye here. When one gets involved in something in The Gambia, people(and sometimes the person himself) are quick to associate them with reknowned people in that area. One might easily want to refer to Amran as ‘The Gambian Shakespeare’ or ‘The Gambian Chinua Achebe’. I say he is Amran Gaye, a Gambian. I am of the conviction that every Gambian should be proud of the smart, talented and young people we have, and give them all the support they need.  Yesterday, I was lucky or blessed to read something from him again. This article is on the ‘election season ‘ in The Gambia. I like to describe myself as being apolitique, but when I read this article, I couldn’t help smiling. I had one more reason to keep on being inspired by Gambia’s own. In most cases, articles of a political nature are biased, as you would read in Amran’s article. This latter comes in a different tone and with a completely different flavour. Now I wouldn’t spoil the whole deal for you by saying all that’s in the article. With Amran’s permission, I would like to share with you linguerites and linguarians. Before that, I would encourage you to read more of Amran and other Gambian writers’ articles, stories and poems. You will be proud! I guarantee that 🙂 . I’m posting links to his pages, where you can gain access to his writing. Click and start smiling.


Now I share the article that did it for my weekend! Read to the very end! 🙂

 Election Season 2011

It is election season again in Gambia. Once more the papers are filled with campaign accusations and counter-accusations, defections and threats and warnings, and endless promises. Camps are created, enemies branded, and bitter words exchanged.  For a while we will not be able to hear over the din, and then it will pass.
The question in the air, the most important, on which everything depends: Are we better off now than we were before, or has our condition as a country worsened? Many things have changed, this is beyond dispute. Yet “nothing has happened”, some people will have  you believe. All the supposed changes are merely fantasies. We are much worse off, the country has gone to the dogs. Or they will maintain use of the “previous regime” excuse. Yes, they will concede, there have been changes, but most of them are projects started in the previous regime, only completed by this one.  And then at the other extreme we have the new realists, the ones who would have us believe nothing good happened in the country before ’94, and that we only began on our journey of redemption from that blessed date. That we only started living then, only started to be able to hold our heads high and say Yes, I am a Gambian. Doubtless the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes, yet who are we to believe, we who seek after it?
Quite apart from the usual grammatical mishaps and misadventures in our newspapers, the writing with much to be improved, they also suffer from the fallacy of the multiple camps, their agenda clearly either pro-government – fauning and gushing over every trivialty, filled with poems with titles like “You are our heart and soul and savior” – or decidedly anti-government, unable to see anything good of even the government’s best-intentioned acts, viewing its every move with a deep-seated and injured cynicism. The few that attempt to walk the middle ground do not do a very good job, their enthusiasm and criticism both muted, in the interests of an attempted fairness which in the end cannot be fair, and falls far short of its intended aim.
It is clear that there have been improvements, since the change of regime. There are examples one can point at. The University Extension Program, later to become UTG, the University of the Gambia. So much depends on a visa, in Gambia, on getting one’s passport stamped, permission to leave, to go abroad and discover oneself and one’s fortune. Say what you will about the University, about the quality of its programs, but concede this at least, if you’re being honest: it helped. It lowered the high bar – the one that separates those who can afford a university education abroad from those who cannot – a little, for the first time gave a chance to people who would not have had one previously. Then came GRTS. We groaned and grumbled about its lack of good programming, the language of its presenters, its irrelevance when it came to news, but secretly we all harbored a secret addiction to it. Family Matters and Fresh Prince. Derik, the taciturn German detective, and Miss Bucket-pronounced-Bouquet, with her aristocratic pretensions and her long-suffering Richard. Extra Touch and Goudi Samedi, the evening school plays filled with pregnant teenagers and villanous semesters spreading AIDS. Maria De Los Angeles, and Esmeralda. For the first time we had national television, a screen in every saal that allowed us a collective experience every evening between 6 and midnight, a local experience we shared as Gambians. No longer did everyone have to flock to the home of the neighbor with a satellite dish to watch sporting events – now you could stay in your own living room and with the help of an inexpensive antennae watch in comfort.
Sometimes it seems as if political views are a fashion accessory, in Gambia, a thing we throw on almost as an afterthought to match the cut of our life cloth. Tell me what kind of person you are, what you are currently doing with your life, and I’ll tell you what side of the fence you fall on. Disgruntled youth in Banjul, unemployed and lusting after Babylon but able to find no way out of the country? Anti-Government. High-level employee of the Government, taking a nice salary home, with the kids in private school and yearly holidays abroad? Pro-Government. Struggling mother in Serekunda, depending on the party for handouts and low-level positions for your kids after they graduate? Pro-Government. College Student abroad, head giddy and filled with ideas about democracy and the proper ruling of a country, in the Western style? Anti-Government. Old woman in Kotu, believer in the ancient god-given mandate of kings and their right to rule unopposed? Pro-Government. Relative or friend to someone who was arrested, sacked or somehow slighted by the government, with no chance at recovering their position? Anti! The same, but with a chance at being pardoned and re-assimilated into the party? Pro! And so on and so forth – the political parties’ ideals and agendas do not matter so much as our position in relation to them, and the position of the people we love.
And every year the budget speech is published in the papers, with the Pro-camp assuring us that everything is even better than last year, while the Anti-camp claims it could not possibly have been worse, that with great haste we continue to go down the path of a terminal decline which will make the lives of every Gambian hard  to the point of being unbearable. Everyone wields numbers, everyone swears to the truth of their claims. Who are we to believe? Every now and again a politician from an opposing camp “defects” to the ruling camp, ask that we forget everything they have told us so in the past, that it made no sense and they have at last come to their “senses”, as if they were under a spell. One suspects there are defections in the other direction, though not as publicized. These defections, these switches and shrugging off of old alliances and oaths are the trade of our political realm, and money and power are its coin. Who are we to believe, us concerned citizens?
Over time I have begun to think that perhaps our problem is not that we live under a dictatorship (a contention both for and against which there are many convincing arguments). It appears to me that the problem is deeper than that, and descends into the very nature of our society. The separation of the public from the private is something any political system must contend with: how to ensure that the public servant’s private ambitions do not interfere with the job they are given, so they advance the country’s interest along with (or sometimes, one would hope, even in opposition to) their own. It is a hard problem, and one no country has completely solved (look at the corruption scandals that occasionally crop up even in the affluent countries of the West). It doesn’t help in our case that we are such a poor country, where every public servant supports not only themself but also an evergrowing cast of friends, relatives and neighbors; and a culture that actively encourages the kind of conspicious spending that is not sustainable on a government salary alone.
We may only be on our second president, it is true, while other countries are far beyond that number – Gambia as a country is still young. Perhaps we are only in the beginning stages of our political evolution, and these are mere growing pains that we will look back on as a caution, as a time to which we do not wish to return. See, we will say to our children, this is what we were, but how we have changed, how better we have become. As we approach another election season I hope this is the case, and when it comes time for we the youth to inherit the reins we are become perhaps a bit more advanced along this path.
                                                            THE END
I can already see the smile on your face. I can also relate to that pride and admiration that’s threatening to burst through your chest. I TOLD YOU IT WAS GREAT. Now get clicking on those links and support Gambian writing. Merci mes chers!  Catch ya laterrrrrrrr!!! 🙂

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