Monday, 12 March 2012 00:01(MailBag) – This week, Mr. President, you spoke at Banjul Airport and said: “I will never allow Gambians to starve”. On the fact that you would “never allow it” I totally believe you, Mr. President. Nevertheless, I was still shocked that the word “starve” should be used in the same sentence as “The Gambia”. The serious question that arises, Mr. President, is this: can you prevent it?
When you came to power in 1994, Mr. President, you stated as follows: “Those who did not eat will now eat”. The message of that statement, Mr. President, influenced the course of my life some 12 years before you were born (and three years before I was born): around 1953, starvation in Southern Ethiopia wiped out my late father’s family: his first wife and both his children died within one month while he was in Kenya working on a whiteman’s farm for them. When I was born, I was given, as I understand Fulas in West Africa also do, a baby bull. Some 5 years later, Haile Sellasie’s Imperial Army visited our area and, without asking anyone or paying for it, ate my bull. Then, some 12 years later, while I was being educated in Kenya, Haile Sellasie sat there feasting while another starvation wiped out more Ethiopians. Mengistu and his comrades then overthrew Haile Selassie and attempted to wipe-out the old order … promising to “wipe out starvation in Ethiopia” only for an even worse starvation to occur in 1984 under Mengistu.
With that background Mr. President, I supported your statement that “Those who did not eat will eat” with passion. In the long poem “July 22 Rap-a-Revolution”, a verse goes like this:-
Remember when we said
“Those who didn’t eat will eat?”
For the majority of Gambian poor
We are working hard indeed.
The Gambia is always a nation in need,
With more and more mouths to feed.
With schools and hospitals everywhere
The people’s gardens we weed –
For peace planting the seed,
Future self-sufficiency decreed.
But can you do it Mr. President? Get The Gambia to be food self-sufficient, that is. Jerry Rawlings left Ghana food self-sufficient. Can Jammeh leave The Gambia food self-sufficient? Not, it seems Mr. President, if you have to say, after 17 years in power, that you will “not allow Gambians to starve”. But you and I, Mr. President, have crossed paths before on this food self-sufficiency issues.
Four years back, “Agricultural Battalion for 2009” was the last headline I penned for the Daily Observer on Friday 13th June 2008. That, Mr. President, was what you said to me and the current MD of the Observer in the presence of General Tamba at Banjul Airport. That story appeared on the following Monday, but I was your guest at Banjul Police HQ by then. At the airport on that fateful Friday the 13th I was not interested in the “peace in Guinea” message that you were giving having just returned from there. I prompted the agriculture story, and you gave the promise of the “Agricultural Battalion for 2009”.
Five and a half years ago, on the 6th of August 2006, I wrote you a letter about agriculture with Sobonfu Some’s observation that “we produce then food we need”. This letter is in its entirety on page 51 of my book of essays entitled “Freedom Essays”, a copy of which I believe you have Mr. President. In brief, Mr. President, my letter called on you to make agriculture the priority of your 2006-2011 term of office.
I called for an agricultural revolution in every village in The Gambia involving every alkalo, with “1,000 Village Communal Gardens over the next couple of years”. This “Village Communal Gardens” were to be fenced, manured and seeded at the Government’s expense. But Mr. President nothing happened. On the contrary, my friend former Minister Yankuba Touray made the statement before the 2008 agricultural season that the Government will not give farmers free fertilizer!
Yet, Mr. President, how many rich developers, including Lang Conteh, did my friend Yanks (or as you affectionately call him Mr. President, “Ajaratou”) give free prime land while he was Minsiter of Tourism? I am sure Amadou Samba and his Lebanese friend whose name I forget received free land to build their Paradise Residential Mansions – a story in which I was not interested and banned from the pages of the Daily Observer). My point, Mr. President, is that agriculture has not been given the total commitment that a total commitment to food self-sufficiency demanded. But another point going years back may shed light on this.
Nine years ago, Mr. President, our mutual friend Sheriff Bojang Snr interviewed me for a Bantaba column in the Daily Observer – a copy of which I still have. Sheriff asked me: “What do you think of Vision 2020?”. I answered: “Vision 20/20 can be replaced with one sentence: “Our aim is to ensure that every Gambian will be guaranteed a full belly”.
That is it, Mr. President: “Vision 20/20 can be replaced with one sentence : “Our aim is to ensure that every Gambian will be guaranteed a full belly”
That comment was prompted by something I witnessed that day: we were sitting outside late Baba Jobe’s big house in Kotu when Tarik Musa brought Baba’s huge black 4X4 Mercedes Jeep. Baba walked round it feeling it with his hand and then asked Tarik: “Where are the LXH (something like that) letters on the back”. That episode showed me that the so-called “revolution” was going astray. As Baba returned to the table and we continued with our conversation, I said to Baba: “In Africa, the Political Kingdom comes before the Economic Kingdom”. My friend didn’t understand me, or much more likely, ignored me. The point is, Mr. President, the well-off Gambians have established “their” VISION 2020 and their “Singapore” along Kairaba Avenue – and the Kombos – under your “revolution”. And you know that Mr. president and that is why you take their support for granted – for they love their wealth and their “HLX” (or whatever) too much to disturb you (like I did!) And yet, Mr. President:
And yet, 17 years into the July 22 Revolution, Mr. President, you have to give, nay you need to give, a re-assurance to the ordinary poor Gambians that you will not “allow starvation”. But of course, Mr. President, it is not the children of the Kombos elite and the Banjul Mafia that will risk starvation: the candidates for starvation, Mr. President, are the children of the poor, who, like me and you when we were young, went to bed hungry.
What more can I say, Mr. President? Nothing really. You have appointed my friend and neighbour Uncle Solomon Owens as Minister of Agriculture. He is a Professor in the field of agriculture while I am just a nursery kid in that field.
I wish you both well from the bottom of my heart – in your efforts to stave-off starvation in The Gambia and make The Gambia food self-sufficient.
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