(JollofNews) I was not going to talk today because I vowed that I would not talk during the motion on adjournment debate in the chambers if there are no ministers. Of course there is one minister in the chamber, but I do not have any issues to raise with him; just to thank him. The Rural Electrification Project is in progress in my area.
Knowledge is like a garden. If it is not properly cultivated it cannot be harvested. But how can you cultivate knowledge without the required tools? I was not going to say anything but when the Honorable Member for Basse was talking, people were jiggling as if what he was saying was frivolous. I think it was not out of place when he said Basse needs a library.
You know the irony is some of the things under the colonial rule were more forward looking than what we have today. When I was going to school in Basse in those days, there was a well-stocked library. It was there that I discovered Mungo Park’s Diary, but there is no library there now. So we are going backward. We know that we cannot go without that.
It is with knowledge that we must transform this world the way we want it to serve our needs. The only thing that is constant in nature and society is change. Nothing is always the same in nature and society, and if we want change to have meaning for our lives, we must have the necessary tools to bring it about. We cannot move forward without education and education is what makes our world totally different from that of animals and that is why we cannot underrate it.
If one traveled through this country before, there were libraries in all the regional centers. Now there is no library anywhere. Even the one in the National Assembly leaves much to be desired. I once used to be a member of the National library, I used to be a frequent visitor there, but now I don’t go there because there are no books, for the books there are old. The library in the National Assembly is not a library, because we need a library where one can find magazines and journals from parliaments all over the world, which are talking about the world daily for we must be kept abreast with what happens in the world daily; we must always be on top of things as members of parliament.
That brings me to another reflection. I have decided to share things with you and not with those who are not here. You see knowledge is dynamic. Earlier scientists affirmed that the atom was indivisible. But today, it is proven that the atom is indeed divisible; it can be cut into piece which shows that knowledge is dynamic. In the same vein when the French Philosopher [Baron de] Montesquieu talked about separation of powers, he probably could not have seen everything at that time and, of course, he is misinterpreted.
Once upon a time in this country, a member of parliament was also a minister. In Britain, ministers are also elected members of parliament , that is not Montesquieu’s view. You cannot be a judge and a jury at the same time. As a member of parliament, one is supposed to exercise oversight over the Executive and one is part of that same entity. Does that make sense? It does not make sense.
My reflection on separation of powers today has to do with Parliament in relation to the Executive. The Executive is accountable to this Parliament. Parliament has power to impeach the president, the ministers, the vice president, all of them. But the irony here is when you make laws they do not become laws until they are assented to by the president. That is for me a cause for concern to reflect about.
I am of course aware of a constitutional provision to the effect that when there is a contention between the Executive and the Legislature regarding an enactment, what the Legislature holds is what stands in the final analysis. However, my contention is why the need for the president to assent to enactments, even in weak way, before they become effective?
Is there not something fundamentally wrong with the fact that Parliament makes laws and they cannot become effective until they are assented to by the president? Is that the practice everywhere? No, it is not a universal practice. So historically, what is the problem in our case? This country was a colony as we all know. So to make sure the colonial legislature did not make any laws against their interest, they were applying the measure. It was a way of controlling the Legislature in that regard. That was why any law that was enacted had to be vetted so to speak. There is some sort of a reciprocal oversight that is being exercised here. I want us to reflect on that; it is not so everywhere, that is a fact and if you deny me, check it.
There is a growing movement in this country and it is a very serious one. It is composed of people who are committed to what they are doing. They came to see me sometime ago and expressed their interest in what they are doing. It has to do with adult literacy but in a different way. There was a Guinean, Ismaila Kanteh, who invented an alphabet in 1949 called “NKO,” which is not Roman alphabet. Many people in Mali, Guinea and the Gambia are using the alphabet. There is an adult literacy class going on in Dippa Kunda using the script in question. The Organization also sends students to Kofi Annan University in Conakry to learn about the alphabet. Some have already graduated and are now conducting adult literacy in the country. The Qur’an has been transliterated using the script, and some literacy materials have been produced using the script.
When I was in the ECOWAS Parliament, the issue of “NKO” alphabet was raised once and we talked about it. So please let us take interest in some of these things, because these things are happening and will continue to happen. Adult literacy is of fundamental interest to the people and so it is important that we concern ourselves about it.
I know in Serekunda East, the former Serekunda East constituency, there was an adult literacy class being run there for the NAM at the time, Honorable Fabakary Tombong Jatta, by an NGO, and the same NGO was helping the late Honorable Sulayman Joof, in SerreKunda West, to run adult literacy there. Some of you may think that these things are not important, but this is the new wave in the world. It is true that we have acquired foreign languages such as French, English and Portuguese through colonialism the objective being to promote them to the detriment of our own.
At independence, we should have fought against that. I am not saying we should not use them, but we should not use them to the detriment of our own cultures and languages. Language is rooted in culture and if you speak any language you are also learning the culture in which it is rooted.
Gambians who went to France to study on French Government scholarship were forced to do arts. I went through a fight with them in that regard, because I registered to do philosophy and sociology with a major in philosophy. I was in my third year when my results, at the end of the academy year, were sent to Paris and they sent me a letter saying I should stay in the country after its reception for not doing Arts. I wrote back to say they had made a mistake by not also sending me my return ticket. I indicated that I was in a better position to say what my country needed than them. Then they wrote back apologizing profusely. I then asked if they considered linguistics to be arts and response was in the positive. I did not just want to do their cultural subjects. Of course, I completed my first degree in sociology and philosophy and then continued with linguistics.
So, it is important that we give consideration to these matters, because the new wave of promoting national languages is raging through the whole world. Africa cannot afford to remain in the backwaters of this linguistic renaissance; we, more than any continent, need to develop and promote our languages for the cultural and linguistic well-being of our children. We the Members of this National Assembly should be at the forefront of this new liberation movement, a linguistic liberation to end our alienation both culturally and linguistically.
The constitution says that all Gambians are equal before the law, but the same constitution goes on to say that some are more equal than others. How does it say it? The constitution stipulates that every citizen has a right to elect and to be elected. However, it then goes on to stipulate that if one is not literate- given that literacy at formal level is always in a foreign language- one cannot be elected to elective positions.
In a situation where more than 80% of people are illiterate, the application of such a provision is grossly anti-democratic, to say the least. And so by virtue of the fact that more 80% of our people have not acquired literacy in that alien language, their fundamental right to become Members of the National Assembly is negated. Do you know the linguistic history of Europe? In the 17th Century, French was the language used in all the courts in Europe, including Russia. It was the ordinary people, in England for instance, who fought to bring back their languages. We should not allow that trend to occur here. Is it not an irony that when we speak in the National Assembly on behalf of those who elected us, they do not understand a word of what we say?
So, our people are going to do exactly as had happened in Europe. A day will come when they will say no to all this self-denial. We cannot continue to close our eyes to this reality. We cannot continue to connive and condone what divides us from our people. We must become one with our people to represent them truly. We are not free as long as we continue to express ourselves in a foreign tongue. We must speak the languages of our people to become one with them and represent them truly.
And what the radio and television put out is generally what they like to transmit to them; that is just a very small part of what we say in the Assembly. That is not what representation is about. Our people have the right to know, at first hand, what we say when we meet in the National Assembly. Neither the radio nor the television can do that. We are misrepresenting our people and the media is also misrepresenting us. We must do something and change this; this is not independence, this is linguistic slavery.
I am not proud to talk here like I am doing now, I am forced to do it. The law requires me to speak in English even though it is incomprehensible to our people. Even if I want to do a citation in the national languages, the Speaker would call me to order for doing so. But it has to be noted that citing in another language to corroborate a point is a universal practice, as long as one is going explain what it means.
Seriously, I expect all of you, particularly the Majority leader, to start running literacy classes in your constituencies. I started one in 1997. Yesterday, a Senegalese professor chased me everywhere to inform me that two of his students chose my literacy project in Wulli to conduct a study. That shows the importance languages have assumed in the so-called third world. Students from another country come to carry out studies on a language project all the way in Wulli. I am confident that this will serve as an inspiration to all of you. The professor cited Honorable Magassy as one of those who are conducting studies on the Wulli Literacy Project. Thanks you.
Sidia Jatta is the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism National Assembly for Wulli West. He was speaking at the adjournment debate of the Natonal Assembly.
Transcribed by Kexx Sanneh