Habib has just written an important article on Self-Improvement. Thanks Habib! Self-improvement is the fundamental principle that should motivate every human being, and is most clear in the desperate desire of most parents to see that their children have better opportunities and lives than they did. Today on TV, videos were shown of about 500 people rescued from another sinking boat in the Mediterranean. Among them was a mother with a two day old baby born on the boat from Libya. What motivated this heavily pregnant woman to risk her life and that of her unborn baby on a dangerous one way trip cross the sea? The hope that she and her child would have a better life in Europe.

So many African countries have been let down by their leaders since independence. It is a sad fact that while there were very few opportunities for the vast majority of people under colonial rule, the poor became so much worse off under their own leaders. Before Jammeh, this was not the case for any Gambians. Our late President Jawara was not greedy for personal wealth and led a very liberal government. One of his initiatives was called “Tesito” (Mandingka for help yourself). He meant that we as Gambians should think and work in terms of self-improvement instead of depending on foreign aid and investment. This concept of self-help was the foundation of America and the idea that anyone could make it and be rewarded for their efforts. It still holds true as an ideal and many of our diaspora are living it today.

However, many Gambians at the time, and since interpreted Tesito an invitation to grab whatever they could lay their hands on for themselves and their families. There is a Wollof saying “boor ayoot, duggai ah aye”, meaning there’s nothing wrong with the king, but it’s those around him.  The PPP have been blamed for much of the corruption of the latter years of the regime but from that time corruption and looting became the norm. Any one honest who tried to do their job properly was both hated and feared. It extended to almost every area of the country. A few maintained their integrity but the vast majority failed or were driven out. Edward and co saw the rottenness of our society and took action to remove that regime and make a fresh start. Sadly the same people took advantage of the new regime and corrupted Jammeh in particular. They taught him how to cheat and steal public funds. To quote the late Dixon Colley editor of The Nation, “same problem, same people, same result”.

IF Gambia is to change, our moral values MUST change. Helping ourselves must be the recognition that it does not mean looting everything within our reach, especially in public office. This is like everyone grabbing a piece of the national ship for themselves then wondering why it sinks. A country is a combination of different people who live in a common geographical area and co-exist for the common good. Laws exist to stop a rich and powerful few taking advantage of their positions to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest. This might seem obvious, but so many of our leaders, notably Jammeh have disregarded and neutralized these laws. Hence our present situation. Reports suggest that he was not born in Gambia or of Gambian parents but he grew up in our midst and now embodies the worst of Gambian culture. He is home grown out of our culture and values.

In conclusion?  Gambians on the ground MUST change their attitudes to stealing from public office. It is not “worrsak”, but THEFT. For many, salaries are so low that they have no alternative, but without changing our thinking there will be no change in our country and our children will live in a worse Gambia than today. It is wrong to steal and cheat. Change will come when each Gambian recognizes this and decides to change themselves. It will not happen easily or soon, but the future begins with our decisions today.

Written By A Concerned Gambian

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