Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: The Gambia has had her fair share of intellectual giants. From sciences to arts, scientific talent, training, performance, personality, professionalism, and genetic endowments popularized by Mr.Abdloulie Bax Touray, “the Gambia’s eminent personalities,” serving in the global world and the Gambia. Gambians have played critical roles on a global stage, but their contributions are never felt at home. Abroad, their contributions are either minimized or erased for the you-know-who to take credit, and at home, they are spurned altogether.
In the Gambia, the government and the citizens have a complicated relationship with some of our best brains or our Gambia’s ’eminent personalities.’ Often, we are ignorant, indifferent, or sickly apathetic. However, even when we know, like in biblical times, we never honor our prophets. At least, not in good time.
From Yusupha Crookes to Dr.Karamo Sonko, to Dr. Tijan Sallah to Dr. Momodou Darboe to Gibril Faal, Dr. Siga Fatima, Dr. Sukai Prom, and Dr. Barrister Lamin J. Darboe, Fodeh Baldeh, Fafa Mbai, Lare Sisay, and other aspiring young scholars and public intellectual like Mr. Melville Robertson Roberts and Pa Sambou Jr and others, we rarely appreciate them enough to erect a monument or to tap into their ideas in good time.
When they die( God forbid, May they be blessed with health and continue to keep them in care), of course, our leaders will shamelessly cobble up some empty platitudes, and the media will give them a platform to ‘mourn’ them. If their profile is big enough, some hypocrites and fake people state sponsorship towards their funeral will be granted, and the powers-that-be will send some boring condolence messages with a soporific speech, and that will be it.
Fatoumatta: In the meantime, our sons and daughters are giving their brains away in Europe and North America, but they can’t get even a semester to teach and engage with students locally because maybe there are good best known to the authorities.
Why don’t we love our best brains? The number one culprit is ethnicity.
We keep asking, ‘where are experts for certain specific fields? I have news for you. You may think that the Gambia University(UTG) is useless, but let me tell you that I have known and interacted with a few university faculty members and students. While I am abroad, they are not perfect, and I met some of the most brilliant minds with groundbreaking research and expertise in their resume.
Fatoumatta: The first problem you face as an expert in the country when a specific ministry needs some expertise is that they often do not go for the best. If the minister comes from a particular tribe, he will look for a professor of his tribe, however mediocre (given some buy papers), and give him(mostly him) the job. Or an old colleague. In short, there is no meritocracy. Ethnicity affects promotions, career growth, and everything in between. Most bosses in colleges are professional gatekeepers.
Secondly, most lecturers are frustrated. There is no room for career growth, and the last four years with the coalition government in power have been wasteful. Extremely. Underfunded(you will laugh if you checked the amounts the University of the Gambia had been allocated for research), underpaid, frustrated, humiliated, most lecturers have no reason to be patriotic.
Thirdly, the state, i.e., the government, has always had an uneasy relationship with our teachers—no respect whatsoever. Because our politics attract the Boybairaay’s, Babajalinding’s, and the Domorifoday’s of this world, you can see why they always have extreme contempt towards higher education and knowledge. If a university wants a favor from the government, they have to grovel, come up with some fishy honorary degree to get some funding to put the giver’s name in some ugly building built like a block in a local high school.
However, the first point is what frustrates me. Ethnicity is the worst and most challenging cancer to fix in the Gambia. Ethnicity demands that for one to be appreciated, he or she had to be 100 percent perfect. Suppose I say the University of the Gambia needs to rename one of its theatres to Professor Dr.Yahya AJJ. Jammeh, Dr. Florence Mahoney or Dr. Bora Suso, and Dr. Sulayman Nyang. In that case, there will be hundreds of arguments, mostly from envious folk arguing why it is not a good idea.
Fatoumatta: I hope, University of the Gambia (UTG) can open doors to talent, loosen their unnecessarily strident rules and let great minds teach. This fear of radicals, intellectuals, feminists, and ‘out-of-the-box thinkers is robbing students of great talent, and that is why we may end up with young men who don’t question things.
Alagi Yorro Jallow