Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Re Commuters and Drivers

Saikou Jammeh
(OPINION) - As the editor, I had declined several invitations to respond to views expressed in this column. Kaabefoo is designed for the reader, exclusively and I would have held on to that position, had Abdoukarim of Tallinding not pushed me into a corner.  
In the last edition of Daily News, he wrote about his Nuiminka friend, who he doubted, will have a ‘lift’ to carry home a bulky one thousand dalasi worth of cash as majority of car owners nowadays lack the compassion to lift stranded commuters. 

Gladly, at least on this occasion, I, too, will have a story to share, without it being someone else’s say-so. Matter-of-fact, anyone familiar with the Mandinka cultural dances, will agree with me that it is never bad in the ‘Sewurubaa’ when the ‘TangtangKutiroo’ puts down his drum, descends onto the dance floor and flows along with the clapping of women.

This is not the same as when the cash strapped Jaranka old men ambushed JalibaKuyateh. The kora maestro was in the heat of his show in Jarra, collecting the precious, hard-earned monies of the women gardeners, for his brilliant performance.  

Unhappy that their women were giving Jaliba the monies they were anticipating to use in procuring another wife, they broke into the ticketed show, put off the lights and made away with the monies.

Their deal was leaked when they were sharing the fruits of their hard labour as some old men were heard crying: knonnaataninluuloodinnaa(give me my share of D15). Jaliba is reachable on 911 for confirmation.
On a more serious note, Abdoukarim, before going further, I have to admit that the topic you touched on – drivers and commuters - is quite significant. A sober reflection on it has forced me to revisit my music library for one of my favorite musicians, now politician, YousouNdure.

The very song I was looking for, was not far. I will just share with you the verse in which the music icon warned the present generation that: ‘lusunyumamyeadeffee, yaw nganeeloluubahuul, ngahahako (you destroy the ways of our forefathers saying they are not good). According to Yousou, it is more devastating when what is destroyed is not substituted with something that carries greater weight. 

This scenario is playing out in Gambia. The predicament facing commuters is not just about car owners refusing lift to commuters, but invites a fundamental question: What happens with our transport industry? I am not a politician, but a journalist, so I will set the record straight. 

Once upon a time, there was an active Gambia Public Transport Corporation. As the name implies, it was a public transport service responsible for ferrying people and goods. Most of the roads were not as motorable as they are today, but the transport services were more efficient. This is a paradox, isn’t it?

But, what is clear for anyone with functioning eyes in his head to see, is that it is Yahya Jammeh’s government who, in its mission to rid the country of the rampant corruption of the former government, sucked away the blood of GPTC, cut away the vein and flesh, leaving it with skeletons. 

Obviously, if corruption at GPTC means providing efficient public transport services and honesty means the lack of that, or substituting GPTC with a makeshift one, whose activities are more clouded, then The Gambian public prefers the former. 

Ceasefire for now. When I was young, there were not many cars in Nuimi. The most common  means of transportation was donkey and horse carts. So, we had no problem of “lift”, as most Nuiminkas, including myself were ID/HDs, (International Donkey/Horse Drivers). It was better there than in Jarra where your highways were on the top of trees, just like monkeys’.  

In Nuimi, there was abundance of canoes. In fact, when I was returning to Brikama, from my roots where I was taken  when I was young, I had a memorable cruise across the river, I arrived in Banjul in just under 25 minutes. I was an assistant captain, too. The majority of Nuiminkas were captains, so a ‘lift’ was not an issue with us.

Nowadays, despite the relative abundance of cars in Nuimi, it appears that very few people actually own  a car. I pity the young ones what can they travel on. They have done away with carts and canoes, rushing after cars that would just blow dust into their eyes and even dirty the students’ uniforms.

Abdoukarim, one of the main reasons I left my beloved grandmother in Brikama and transferred to Serrekunda which I had not fancied, but came to love so much, was because of the transportation problems. My story is similar to that of many Brikamarians enrolled at Nusrat, at the time. There were no effective bus services for students, like before. 

Back to your point, Karim, this does not say that privately owned vehicles were not plying the roads. They were. However, my colleagues and I, male students in particular, rarely get lifts home. We end up scheming with female students; boys would hide  and a few girls would ask for a lift. Once a car pulls over, one girl gets in, the boys emerge from the hideout and enter, too. We brawled with some drivers in order to remain in the car, some just wear a frowning face, fussing at every noise we make in the car. 

Yes, we enter with razor blades, damage seats as a punishment for those that, if it were not for the girls, would not have given us a lift. I know what I did was wrong, but should I say sorry? I had this belief that vehicles registered with GG (Gambia government) would be more compassionate, for we thought that what belongs to the government, belongs to all. But how wrong I was!

At first, I thought drivers were keen on offering lifts to girl students because of that ‘women’s first’ principle. How naive I was! There were ulterior motives, but I will not even go there because most of the drivers were the Jarankas, who escaped the Baboon’s attempted annihilation of Jarra during the Jarra-Baboon deadly clashes over mango fruits.  

Abdoukarim, you have to bear in mind that we are living in a capitalist state. Drivers are under no obligation – moral or legal - to give us lift. It’s a way of life that forces each to try his or her own. In the end, there will be unnecessary traffic jams, which could have been avoided had we stuck to the tenets of our communal life.
To cap it, Abdoukarim, our transport industry is rubbish because, seemingly, The Gambian government, among other things related to domestic politics, is heeding to the dogmas of the IMF and World Bank, which never worked for us. 

Why would IMF say the state should not be involved in sectors such as transport, and we listen, even when it is fundamental that the state intervenes in providing such essential services? 

Why would IMF ask us to increase fuel prices and government heeds, even when it is clear to both IMF and government that fuel increases will translate into hikes in the prices of our basic commodities and of course, there is no increased salary  to commensurate the high cost of living? 

Answer: Yahya Jammeh’s government is a reflection of the Jarankas because, in spite of its public outburst against the West, it is very submissive to the backers of Western good - IMF and World Bank. Just like the able bodied men of Jarra who were shipped away and sold into slavery, without them putting up any resistance in the way Nuimi’sKuntaKinteh did.  

Author: Saikou Jammeh, editor, Daily News   Wednesday, May 16, 2012

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