Alieu SK Manjang
In his recent appearance before the lawmakers, the Minister of Health Dr. Amadou Samateh ascribed the shortage of drugs in Gambian public health facilities to the influx of foreigners from across the border to Gambian health facilities.
According to Dr. Samateh, 25% of drugs in the country’s health facilities are consumed by foreigners who visit these facilities with Gambian identity cards. He further laments the inability of his Ministry to address this problem as visitors from across the border arrive with our ID cards, ‘which makes it impossible to deny them’’. While this trend presents a mounting challenge to the Ministry of Health, the solution to the problem requires the cross-cut intervention of different state apparatus and government institutions.
The presence of this unwelcoming phenomenon calls not only for a cautious review of the established migration and citizenship laws of the country but also the elimination of the illegal issuances our national document. The realization of this requires honesty and the manifestation of patriotic spirit from the concerned authorities under whose purview these documents are issued.
Considering the country’s scant economic resources, the weak resource mobilization capacity and the excessive dependency on foreign aid and remittance as well as on taxes revenues to finance its social program, the easy paths to the Gambian citizenship and the unpatriotic approach to the issuance of national document would ensure the inability of subsequent Gambian governments to respond to the growing needs of the rising population.
This constitutes a compelling economic and social rationale for making the acquisition of the Gambian national documents tougher and stricter. Given the composition of the Gambian economy, the birthright to our citizenship, as being advocated by some, and the inexpensive issuance of our national documents would only warrant the existence of poor and inadequate social services to the Gambians, and it would only multiply the challenges of providing basic needs for the people as well as certifying indecent living standard for the citizens. In the presence of this reality, it is institutionally illogical, economically unsound, and politically suicidal to admit more people to our political community when the struggle to feed and meet the soring needs of the existing members is the order of the day since the independence to date.
Migration and citizenship laws in the developed countries are informed by these very rationales and the commitment of polities to ensure that social and economic rights, which are automatically enjoyed by virtue of acquiring national documents, of every citizen are respected to the fullest. Strict migration laws in these countries are compelled by the tests of providing adequate and quality social services (especially social insurances and security) and by ensuring decent living standards for their citizens. It is not surprising that every global economic and financial crisis is shadowed by modifications and adjustments of citizenship and immigration laws in most of Western countries. This also explains why most of the Western countries are considering tougher migration laws despite their growing aging population, and the low fertility rate among their nationals, which constitutes a threat to the health of their economies.
Despite this policy rationale in relation to migrations in richer countries, migration and citizenship discourses in a relatively underprivileged country like the Gambia are not only driven by tribal and ethnic undertones (i.e. certain tribes are targeted and discriminated against by migration laws and law enforcement officers), but they are also politically framed, which have shaped the issuance of national documents and it subsequently made it difficult for the Department of Immigration to discharge their functions independently under subsequent Gambian governments.
Unless these two considerations, political and tribal dictations, are unheeded in the citizenship and migration discourses as well as in the issuance of our national documents to the ineligible people, our social services, especially education and health and overall social protections programs, would continue to be underfinanced and limited in scale and scope to the disadvantage of average Gambians, and the security of the country would further deteriorate on the back of average Gambians.
Therefore, time is ripe that we disregard our political differences, group, and individual interests, and tribal affiliations to jealously safeguard our national documents for the interest of not only our generation but also our offspring. Gambians, through state apparatuses, political institutions, political parties, civil society, religious institutions, and private citizens as well as the business community should put their hands together to jealously protect our national documents and fights the corrupt practices of selling and unlawful issuance of our national documents to unentitled people through the Department of Immigration, District Chiefs, and Village Alkalos. No amount of immediate political and financial returns can commensurate the social, economic, political, and security damages that are being created, and suggested to deepen further, by the illegal issuance of our national documents to eligible individuals. It is a solemn duty for every patriotic Gambian to expose and report fraudulent and malicious acts of issuing passports, ID cards, birth certificates, and attestation of district chiefs and village Akalo in our collective efforts to make the Gambia attractive to its citizens before to foreigners.