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The Gambia’s Greatest Missed Opportunity

One Dalasi bank note featuring Sir Dawda Jawara

Exactly three months ago to the day I wrote a piece in response to the announcement that the Central Bank of The Gambia was coming up with new bank notes phasing out the old tender that featured the portrait of the tyrant Yaya Jammeh, the worst thing that ever happened to The Gambia. In that piece, which can be read here, I objected (as did many others) to the proposal of featuring various bird species on the notes as opposed to the portraits of some of the many iconic sons and daughters worth celebrating. Alas, it was not a mere proposal, the Central Bank, just a few weeks ago handed the new notes to the president and all is set for the new legal tender to hit the market.

Today, August 29th, 2019 we bid our final farewell to His Excellency Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara our founding father, first Prime Minister of independent Gambia and first President of the republic of The Gambia. A man who until his demise was alert and receiving visitors from all spheres of life. I highlight that to point to the fact that he is well aware of his surroundings and has his mind in tact at the extraordinary age of 95. What would have been a greater honor than to have Sir Dawda handed the new bank notes featuring his own image before he left us?

We can shower all manner of fitting and deserved accolades on him while he lays in state but if we are known for one thing, it is our failure to celebrate those in our midst worth celebrating before they pass on.

When young, inexperienced and indisciplined members of the Gambia National Army took up arms to overthrow Gambia’s thirty plus years of entrenched democracy, it was all personal. With no direction or any idea on how the state machinery functioned, they set themselves loose on our state backed by the power of the gun with one mission in mind; undo everything Sir Dawda did for our tiny country; erase him from our national imagery, vilify and soil his name, reduce him to much less than he deserved and humiliate him. But as the legend, Bob Marley stated “who Jah guide, no one curse.”

His image was pulled off our coins and bank notes in the name of “neutrality” only to be replaced a few years later by the portrait of a tyrant who thought of himself as the best thing that happened to The Gambia. For over two decades, Yaya Jammeh never missed an opportunity to vilify and soil Sir Dawda’s name in an attempt to discredit him and erase his place in history and he nearly succeeded judging by the ill-informed perspectives shared by young and ignorant political commentators whose only view of this noble man was shaped by the tyrant who despised everything related to Jawara.

Sir Dawda resigned to fate and accepted his misfortune, retired from active politics and chose a quiet life as a private citizen living out his last years as the noble person he was. He therefore was not a polarizing figure whose portrait if imprinted on our bank notes would cause an outcry.

That claim of neutrality in choosing who to imprint on our notes is bogus, or should I say that claim is for the birds (pun intended).

Under Sir Dawda’s leadership and the Protectorate People’s Party (PPP), the voting rights were extended beyond the colony area of Bathurst and Kombo St. Mary’s to the entire country giving every adult Gambian a voice in the affairs of their nation. Under his leadership did the country we call home emerge, we could have easily been a province of Senegal, but he refused to yield. Not only that, under his leadership and farsightedness were we able to attain a full sovereign status; a republic as opposed to being a a province of the British crown. He put The Gambia on the world stage by leading the march of nations towards progressive democracy. Who is better suited to being on our bank notes than this man?

Imagine the current President, accompanied by the Minister of Finance and Governor of the Central bank walking into Sir Dawda’s home office and handing him the new legal tender. That would be symbolic and the greatest honor we as a nation could have accorded him. Essentially we would have been telling him, through those officials that what obtained in July 1994 and subsequently was wrong, that he was unfairly treated and undeservedly vilified. We would have been telling that if anyone deserved to be a permanent imprint on the most important feature of our country, it was him. We would have assured him that he would always be remembered.

We would have been telling him that despite Yaya Jammehs best efforts to paint him as a person he was not, we the Gambian people know better and we are determined to preserve his good name. Imagine the sigh of relief of feeling vindicated after so many years of a state orchestrated smear campaign. Imagine that simple gesture of recognizing his efforts for our country and our appreciation for it.

Imagine telling future generations, decades from now, that they are using a legal tender that was also used by their founding father whose image featured on it.

It can still be done, which would have rendered the previous attempt of imprinting birds on it a wasteful state spending, but it certainly will not be the same doing it after his demise rather than when he was here and had the opportunity to officially “inaugurate” the new tenders.

This, was our greatest missed opportunity; watching Sir Dawda slowly slip away from our midst without some attempt by the state to convey our appreciative and to attempt to reverse the narrative and undo some of the ills he was made to endure thanks to our buffoon tyrant.

But, as long as there’s a Gambia, there will be a Kairaba right alongside to go with, a permanent companion!

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