The Role of Education in the Gambian Diaspora and Its Potential Impact in Restoring Democracy and Economic Development in the Motherland
(Remarks on The Gambia’s 40th Independence Anniversary Celebration, Detroit, Michigan, USA, March 26, 2005)
Fellow Gambians, Friends of The Gambia, Ladies and gentleman. I have been asked to discuss with you briefly the role of education in a changing and globalizing world and its implications for The Gambia, but before I do, allow me, first, to thank Modou Jah, Modou Jatta, Ramou Ceesay-Gaye, specifically, and the Gambian community in Michigan for their kind invitation, and hospitality. My wife, Paula and I are honored and extremely delighted to be here and appreciate greatly the opportunity to be present at this celebration marking The Gambia’s independence from Britain on February 18, 1965. Secondly, allow me to thank Gambians in Michigan on behalf of all Gambians at home for the generous financial support you render your families and loved ones in The Gambia and elsewhere. This is support often times rendered under challenging financial and economic circumstances. It is a sacrifice that our families and all Gambians appreciate. In the aftermath of the groundnut industry’s collapse and mounting inflation, Gambians by and large depend on remittances from abroad. In fact, The Gambia Central Bank estimates that Gambians abroad, who number from 70,000 to 80,000, send home approximately $25 million annually. This official figure, however, does not include remittances conducted through unofficial and informal channels. In fact, the total unofficial cash flow from Gambians abroad to The Gambia could be as high as $50 million a year. If Gambians abroad were to stop sending money to their families for a few months, the APRC regime could not survive politically, perhaps economically for long. It is also estimated that 75 to 80 percent of pilgrims to the annual Hajj in Mecca are sponsored by Gambians abroad. The Gambia and your families love and appreciate you for all that you do.
By setting aside this evening to celebrate forty years since the end of British colonial rule in The Gambia, you also help celebrate The Gambia’s rich and diverse cultural heritage maintain, sustain, and at the same time renew the ties that bind all Gambians in the Diaspora to this tiny but beautiful country, and its peoples. In celebrating The Gambia, and its peoples you recognize, and highlight the significance and contributions of The Gambia to a world of economic interconnectedness and interrelated cultures. In setting aside this evening to celebrate The Gambia, Gambians in Michigan showcase to the larger community, The Gambia in all its beauty, majesty and, yes, its contradictions. And contrary to the presumption that globalization has the inevitable effect of undermining many non-Western cultures, this evening in Detroit, Michigan reaffirms the historic resilience and changing nature of Gambian culture and its peoples.
This enduring, yet changing nature of Gambian culture in particular, has to do in part, with The Gambia’s geographic and cultural location, which lies at the confluence of three major cultural civilizations- African, Islamic, and European. These civilizations have together shaped and continue to shape Gambian culture. Thus, ours is a mixed one with the African and Islamic strands being the most dominant. In other words, we live in a world where cultures are not static but open, and permeable. Trade, technology, information, travel, and ideas such as democracy and human rights integrate the world. And while we are all aware of the potential negative effects of globalization, as Gambians in the Diaspora, we must position ourselves and likewise embrace the opportunities that globalization offers rather than retreat from them.
An assured way to position and harness the opportunities that globalization affords us is to acquire a good education for ourselves and our children. A good education is no longer a luxury reserved for the wealthy- it is a necessity for upward mobility in the U.S. and all other societies for that matter in this age of globalization. Yet by education, I do not mean formal education alone. Living in a post-industrial democracy such as the U.S.A. gives us the opportunity to participate both formally and informally in a democratic society. I, therefore, commend my Gambian brothers and sisters who work at factories, gas stations, restaurants as bus-boys, hotels as maids, and nursing and private homes as nurse’s assistants, because in their stay in the U.S.A., these Gambians have developed or are developing valuable skills and a strong work and service ethic that could greatly benefit The Gambia in the future. I applaud you, and likewise, encourage you to enroll in school. Enrolling in school would, however, require making difficult choices, but choices well worth it in the end. I also applaud and encourage Gambians already in school to pursue their educational goals to the highest degree. Though sometimes difficult, it is ultimately a very rewarding path. Most importantly, I also encourage our mature women folk, younger women and girls to be especially relentless in pursuing an education because as the saying goes, “when you educate a man, you educate a person, and when you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” All Gambians in the Diaspora and especially those that live in the U.S. Europe and other democratic societies must continue to develop and embrace the democratic values of debate and tolerance of different points of view. We must also learn to disagree without being necessarily disagreeable. These are democratic values we will all need to rebuild once many return to The Gambia.
However, education just for the sake of education or education without social responsibility has little or no redeeming value. Therefore, we must be humbled by our education to enable us to use it for the improvement not only of ourselves and our families, but our communities, our country of origin and humanity as a whole. This also means that as sojourners we must remain engaged in the societies we live in as well as in The Gambia. Gambians abroad and those in the great state of Michigan in particular, are engaged in all kinds of fruitful ventures to improve themselves, Michigan, the U.S.A., and The Gambia. In particular, your effort to raise funds to help in purchasing a community center to empower the Gambian community and others is admirable. Also, in Atlanta, Georgia and other states in this great union, Europe and elsewhere, Gambians are contributing needed funds to a non-profit, tax-exempt, non-governmental international organization to support the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in The Gambia. This organization is none other than “Save The Gambia Democracy Project.” Please contribute generously to this worthy cause through Jim Gaye who is the coordinator of Save The Gambia Democracy Project in Michigan. For those of a different political persuasion, Atlanta is also home to a pro-APRC organization. Support them generously as well, even if I personally disagree with them and the APRC regime they support. This is all part of building a future democratic culture based on tolerance for political difference. Because in the end, the education and other skills that we have or hope to acquire in the U.S. and other countries would be of little use if The Gambia continues to be ruled by a military dictatorship under a democratic veneer where the human rights of Gambians are consistently violated.
As the Burmese political activist, and Nobel laureate, Aug San Suu Kyi argued so eloquently, “the national culture can become a bizarre graft of carefully selected and distorted social values intended to justify the politics and actions of those in power.” This is the state of affairs in our homeland as we speak. To avoid this, Aug San Suu Kyi contends that it is possible to conceive of rights “which place human worth above power and liberation over control.” I urge all of you to get engaged in the current political discourse in The Gambia, engage others in debate and discussion over modalities of establishing a true democracy in The Gambia in order to end military tyranny.
This evening’s celebration of The Gambia’s 40th independence anniversary in Detroit, Michigan is reaffirmation that this tiny country whose viability at independence forty years ago was in question has survived in spite of the odds. Yet survival alone is not enough. We must, together, rebuild a country in which we, as well as future generations of Gambians can take pride in and be inspired to serve. That we in the U.S.A. and Michigan, specifically, joining hands with women and men in The Gambia must work toward a day when true freedom and democracy reign in our motherland. Too much is at risk when we are indifferent and/ or complacent to what is going on in The Gambia.
In conclusion, I commend the Gambian community of Michigan, their friends, and neighbors and implore you to work together in gaining good educational and technical skills for the restoration of democracy and the reconstruction of our beloved country which lies ahead. After a decade of misrule, corruption and countless deaths, the task is indeed a daunting one. The point is that all of us count- by voting, writing and/ or signing petitions, demonstrating, joining issue-oriented groups, donating money, and if possible our time to the party of your choice. The reality is that few individual actions are dramatic, and by themselves few significantly would change politics in The Gambia, but the sum of many small actions can and does make a difference. Do not consider politics a spectator sport. It is more important than that. It is not too presumptuous to argue, therefore, that we have arrived at a crucial crossroads in the paths by which we organize and conduct politics in The Gambia.
Contemplation of that junction brings to mind Robert Frost and his famous poem, The Road not Taken. It is time to take that political path. Finally, I wish to share with you words of the late Senator Benjamin Hill Jr. who said: “Who saves his country saves himself, saves all things, and all things saved do bless him. Who lets his country die, lets all things die, dies himself ignobly, and all things dying curse him. (1893).
In closing allow me to bring to your attention a newly published book I co-authored with two colleagues called Not Yet Democracy: West Africa’s Slow Farewell to Authoritarianism. Should you be interested in looking at it, please talk to me after my remarks.
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