Coup de Grace: Part 2 The Gambia at 55:
The Paradox of Independence and Republic Day?
by Alagi Yorro Jallow
Mamudu: The country’s first generation of leaders battled to give the Gambia that dates February 18, 1965, declared as Independence Day, the Gambia as a constitutional monarchy that remained part of the British Commonwealth headed by the Queen, but in 1970 became a presidential republic replaced Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, thus eliminating the post of Governor-General. Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara became the first leader of the Gambia, serving initially as Prime Minister from 1962 to 1970 before a reign as President from 1970 to 1994.
Mamudu: It is alarmed at the lack of space for history in our national consciousness. Even some social media commentators, political scientists, pundits, and politicians degraded the date in their political theories. Is there anything political to celebrate on February 18? Why we don’t venerate April 24, 1970, a date on which the ordinary Gambians had the sovereign republican status, the Gambia began its self-discovery of political emancipation. It was April 24, 1970, the baton and instrument of self-rule and sovereign republic (the 1970 Constitution adopted; when it renounced the Queen as head of state.), granted, free from its colonial masters, the British. For most Gambians, it was like removing the shackles of slavery and walking like a free man. It was like the breath of fresh air for a released prisoner that had been confirmed in prison for a long time. Gambians celebrations and expectations knew no bounds. They were like those that dreamed dream as told.
Mamudu: We know the story of April 24, 1970, and the Gambia. The Day of Gambian republicanism and sovereignty! Can we remember that of February 18, which has been made to suppliant the Gambia’s Day of Republic for Independence?
Mamudu: If there are issues of togetherness today, February 18, 1965, kickstarted the blessings and woes of the Gambia road to self-rule with the voice of conscience of Edward Francis Small “Taxation without Representation,” the “Bread and Butter” demonstrations, strikes and hunger strikes against penny day labor! What horror! How inhuman! Freedom now, and not a day later. Thus, the British arranged Independence. However, the arrangement was complicated. There were the representatives of the colonizers on one side of the negotiating table. There were the representatives of the freedom fighters on the other side of the table. On the side of the colonizers, the idea was that pre-independence and post-independence should be the same. No change. On the side of the freedom fighters, the idea was that they would seek first political freedom without economic freedom. Once they had political freedom, everything else would be added to them. Thus, both opposing sides of the table were agreed that they were working for a common goal that would satisfy all participants in the negotiations. They met in London, and wherever they met, the colonizers and freedom fighters agreed that pre- and post-independence would be the same, and they would first seek political freedom, after which everything else will be added unto them. The ruling elite on both sides was satisfied. Thus, in February 1965, a flag was designed, and a song was devised, and the nation was born in which the colonial powers stayed on while Gambians waited for everything to be added to their political freedom without economic freedom.
Mamudu: What were the things to be added to them? Employment, salaries at regular times. Food and drink. Housing and roads and bridges. Schools and hospitals, teachers and nurses, and doctors. However, who were going to add these things to our political freedom? The departed colonial powers? If they could add it to our freedom, why didn’t they do so before Independence? Can they be asked to come and add them now? No, too late. The leaders of the liberation must add these things now that we are free.
Nevertheless, don’t the colonial powers owe us? Can’t we demand reparation now? However, our leaders are not suffering. If anything, they look like the colonial powers, they are fat like them, with rounded necks of many fat layers of skin. They are the colonial powers re-incarnated!
Mamudu: At Independence from the colonialists in February 1965, the Gambia, as a nation, has remained under self-delusional leadership with no clear agenda to move beyond the boundaries of economic and political freedom, ethnicity, and religious diversity. Little was known that the colonialists had succeeded in breeding an internal structure, with a robust colonial orientation to further the collateral damages they had done to our cultural orientation and the polarization of the divisions that ought to serve as our uniqueness and hence our bride.
Mamudu: Without delay, after the first government without self-rule- the pieces of evidence of self-delusion kind of Independence started playing out, which cumulated in the decimation of some of the then nationalists who fought for Independence. Rather than going forward, Gambians were dragged backward, leaving the masses hopeless and helpless. One thing that characterized that period was the popular but few elements of colonial breeds that continue to dominate the Gambian polity with no mercy for the masses. It was a rule of power in place of authority, a rule of the few for the few, a rule of imposition with no room for opposition. It was in that era that the Gambia was battered and shattered with the ripple effects now manifesting even with the coming of republican democracy.
Mamudu: Check that date in 1965: But the Gambia has chosen that date, instead of the customary positive April 24, as our Republican day. What is on a date? Are we satisfied with the life we have been living under the shadows of February 18 and its Angels? Do we feel like asking what was going on in the minds of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara and his men when they picked February 18, 1965, as the exact date for governance the Gambia: What significance recommended that date to the British apart from the debit it posted in 1965 to the balance sheet of our national unity? Politicians and public policymakers ignored April 24, Gambians were all asked to stay at home, like some war-ravaged community of the afflicted. Furthermore, did our kids miss anything by not celebrating April 24, in grand style over the past years?