(JollofNews)- “Connectocracy: You may not find the meaning of this word in any of your English dictionaries. It was mentioned to me by one of my Gambian sisters, Mrs. Khadijatou Jobarteh, who should be given the credit.
It is defined as the way of people getting positions and getting things through bribery; or through the influence of people in powerful positions. It can mean networking but getting things done through nepotism, tribalism, favoritism, corruption and harassment. Instead of democratic ways, our people tend to indulge “Connectocratic ways.” By Sister Khadijatou Jobarteh
“I want to live in a Gambia where the child of a poor family has the same opportunity like that of a rich family. Equal opportunity for education, employment, and scholarships for everyone. I want to live in a Gambia free of nepotism, tribalism, favoritism, corruption and human rights abuse. It is an ideal that I aspire for, and it is an ideal that I want to live.” By Musa Manneh
After talking about corruption and its impact on society, I will like to talk about my experience in The Gambia, as a student and employee. I came from a provincial town called Bansang. I graduated from the famous Armitage High School, George Town, which has its motto: “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to serve”.
I was not a bad student when I was in Armitage. It was a competitive high school where every student wanted to be the best of the best. It was an institution where failure was not an option. In general, most Armitage High School products are successful scholars and professionals. From Armitage, I went to attend Sixth Form in Gambia High School. It was in Gambia High School, where I was taught by formidable teachers such Mrs. Satang Jaw (African History), Mr. Joof (European History), and Ms. Foster (French Language).
It was in Gambia High School where I began to notice the difference between “The have Nots” and “The Rich” students. It was there that I came in contact with Gambian class society. There were the rich students who came from affluent and privileged families. These were the sons and daughters of the President, Cabinet Ministers, Permanent Officers, Directors and rich Gambians. Some of these students attended Marina Parade, a private school. It was not a surprise that many of these rich students were high performing both at Common Entrance Examination, General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary and Advanced Level Examinations.
They had the better education compared to a provincial student who came from an economically poor background but intellectually sound. It is now that I understand that “Parental Income and Parental Education” are determinants of a student success in school. Students, coming from high parental income and educational backgrounds, tend to perform well in school than the poor ones. Some of these affluent parents had worked hard to send their kids to better schools, while others benefited from the corruption in the country. The class system and corruption, in The Gambia, created inequality and alienation in the society.
The First Republic of The Gambia was marred by massive corruption, benefiting few politicians and elites. Government employment and scholarships were not based on merits and qualifications, but who you know. Many of the students, from affluent and elite families, earned best paying jobs and scholarships to attend university in western countries. USAID, French, Canadian and Commonwealth scholarships were reserved for the rich and affluent families. The brilliant students, who came from poor backgrounds, were usually given scholarships to attend university in neighboring African countries such as Sierra Leone ( Fouray Bay College), Nigeria (Ile Ife and Ahmad Bello University), Senegal ( University of Dakar), Ghana ( Legon or Achimota) and many more. If you came from a poor background, the place for you to study in Europe then, was the former USSR. Meaning The Soviet Block and Communist scholarships were usually reserved for the less fortunate students who had no connection to The Gambian elites and political families.
For employment, the children of the elites and affluent families occupied positions in the Accountant General’s Office, Central Bank, Commercial Bank, Customs and other important areas. Meanwhile, the brilliant poor graduates, with the same Sixth Form Certificate, would end up having low key jobs.
I was one of those graduates of poor background. When I graduated from Sixth Form it was very hard to find a job and get a scholarship. I had a bitter experience with my job search and trying to get Gambia Government scholarship.
My first job offer was to be a teacher at Bansang Secondary School. I declined the job, because I didn’t want to be far from Banjul areas, in case there was an opportunity for scholarship. Those days, the scholarships were announced over Radio Gambia. If you were posted in the rural areas, there was a slight chance of getting a scholarship. The radio frequency was poor in the rural part of The Gambia.
Fortunately and unfortunately, I got a clerical job at the Ministry of Education. I used to open the mails and file documents for the department. My supervisor did not even have GCE “O” Level Certificate; yet that person was my boss. My salary pay was next to nothing; and it was not even enough “from hand to mouth”. To make matters worse, I was all the time at loggerhead with the then Assistant Permanent Secretary (name withheld) who wanted to bully his way with me. I was very rebellious, and not wanting to listen any of those bureaucrats at the then Education Department. For me, I was victim of injustice; thus, I did not care much about the job anyway. I remembered my case was taken to the then Permanent Secretary (I cannot remember his name), who advised me in his office. The case went to the then Vice President who was also overseeing the then Ministry of Education.
At the end of the case, nothing happened to me per say. I told them, in writing, that I was being denied of my fundamental human rights to read “West Africa Newspaper Magazine”. I used to like that Magazine, with a special section on “Focus on Africa from BBC”. In those days, there wasn’t anything like internet. Lol. It was because that Magazine that I was having problems with the then Assistant Permanent Secretary. According to him, as the senior officer, he should first read the Magazine, before any of the ranking files like myself. I could not believe him; because I thought that there was more to it than the simple Magazine. Anyway, I had to show him the little Nyancho of me, by intentionally paying him no attention. Lol. One day, he threatened me that “he did his studies in Cambodia and he can kill people”. I didn’t care, I was young and fresh; and at that age he could not beat me anyway. Hahaha. Anyway I admired him for one thing, he was a PhD holder who became very prominent in Jammeh’s Government.
Surprisingly, today I have family relationship with him through marriage. You see The Gambia is one family. To sum up my job experience, I would say that there was unequal job opportunity in The Gambia. I did not stay long in The Gambia to finish my fight with the then Assistant Permanent Secretary (Mr. Big Boss). Hahaha. On a serious note, there were systemic injustices in the job market. It was all about who you knew; and the rest were at the mercy of God.
One good thing about working as a Clerk at the Ministry of Education, I was able to see the scholarship opportunities coming from foreign countries. Opening and filing the letters were blessings in disguise. I applied for few scholarships, but I was denied. One scholarship that I was offered was to go and study “History” at University of Kiev in Ukraine, former USSR. As usual, it was the famous destination for students from less affluent families. Fortunately for me, I met a Gambian student who was then studying in one of those former Soviet Republics. He advised me not go to there. He explained that foreign students were experiencing extreme financial difficulties and food shortages in Soviet universities. His exact words about the deplorable situation was that “they could not even afford to buy Ovaltine”. It was the time of “Perestroika and Glasnost in USSR”. His advice was helpful; however, the reason why I rejected the Soviet Scholarship was because I was banking on my senior brother who just went to America. Through him, I was thinking to get I-20 to enter university in USA. I sat to TOEFL examination; and I passed. Regardless of my hope of getting help through my brother, I never gave hope on applying for other scholarships that caught my eyes.
After couple of months, then came the French Government scholarships through Alliance Francaise in Banjul. I applied for the scholarship, and I was called for an interview. This was the first time that I met the Scholarship Board of The Gambia. Unlike The French Scholarship, we were just selected for USSR without any interview. I guess that the (USSR scholarship) was based on our results; and there wasn’t any competition for those non-western scholarships. The French scholarships were special ones. On the day of the interview, I was really hoping to get the scholarship, even though I did not know anyone of them. I met all the academic requirements, as French Language was my best grade of GCE “A” level Finals. At the interview, there were Ministry of Education officers who were part of the board too. They didn’t know me per say. I could only recognized my former African History teacher, Mrs. Satang Jaw, of Gambia High School, as a member of the board.
My interview, for the French Scholarship, was a bitter experience. I was categorically denied the scholarship based on the premises that I refused to go to USSR. Actually, one of them mentioned that USSR scholarship could have been given another person, but I was selected. Another person told me that I was posted to teach in the provinces but I didn’t go. At that moment, I was getting agitated even though I was very fearful of confronting this panel of distinguished people. At the end, I could not accept the fact that I was being denied of a scholarship that I was qualified. In that “lose lose” situation, I told the scholarship board that “the USSR Scholarship and Employment had nothing to do with the French Scholarship”. I was confronting them, and they asked me to leave the room. I became completely disoriented. Powerless and hopeless, I asked them “Why do I have to leave the room?” They simply answered that their interview with me was over.
The next candidate was called to come in the room. I left the room, and I was virtually crying. I stood outside the room, powerless, angry and disappointed. Again fortunately for me, the interview was conducted in the presence of the French officer, Monsieur Brousse, who was in charge of Alliance Francaise and the scholarships. He did not say anything during my interview with the board, I think that he was just a “diplomatic observer”. He might have definitely felt sorry and sympathetic to me. Later on, one of my classmates (in Sixth Form) met Mrs. Satang Jaw who told him that she felt sorry for me during the interview. I guess that she could not just help me. I guess God has a plan for everyone in this world.
Today, I owe my “western education” thanks to Monsieur Brousse, the French Office. While standing at the corridor of Ministry of Education, Monsieur Brousse approached me after their meeting. He came directly to me; and “he asked me my name and my birthplace”. It was an informal conversation; and he asked me if I could meet him the following Monday at Alliance Francaise. I was happy the way that he talked to me, but I wasn’t sure if he could help. All I knew was that “here is a man who had sympathy for me”.
The following Monday, I went to meet to him at Alliance Francaise. The place was then located around Half-Die, Banjul. I cannot now remember the exact address. Upon meeting him, he told me: “Musa, I will give you full French Scholarship but you have to agree to Universite Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, Senegal, for one year to proficient your French Language skills. You should not mention this proposal to any Gambia Government Officials; this is between you and me till your paper works are done”. Thanks to Monsieur Brousse that I was able to go to Senegal for one year, and I then proceeded to University of Jean Monnet, Saint-Etienne, France. My own countrymen denied me of a scholarship that I was qualified for. The white French man, with no connection, opened the door of higher education for me. I never publicly disclosed Monsieur Brousse’s gratitude, because I always wanted to keep to my promise.
Unfortunately, Monsieur Brousse is no more. I was informed, by the French Education official in Lyon, that he was killed in a motor accident on “Bund Road” by Half-Die, Banjul. It broke my heart; and I wish that he is still alive I will give him my first “Master’s Degree Certificate”. He deserve it more than anyone else. Monsieur Brousse never looked at the color of my skin, ethnicity, religion and poor background; he offered me the opportunity to further my education. He was an angel who came through my life. Thank you Monsieur Brousse (RIP); and I have no doubt that you are in heaven.
Today, I am willing to narrate and share my private stories with you to show you the ills of the First Republic that paved the way to dictatorship and brutality in The Gambia. Corruption, inequality and unfairness can create unwanted consequences for a country.
The Former Dictator Yahya Jammeh was a creation of the then corrupt elites and politicians. When Jammeh came to power, he took the corruption, nepotism, tribalism, and favoritism to another level, which resulted to serious human rights abuses. The mistakes of the First Republic and the lessons learned from 22 years of brutal dictatorship under Jammeh should be wakeup calls for all Gambians, regardless of your tribe, ethnicity, race, religion and political afflictions. If the mistakes of the former regimes are not corrected, the political situation in The Gambia will continue to be messy for a long time. Politics of division needs to be stamped out; and the resources, of the country, need to be equally distributed around the country. I grew up as an orphan, and I know how it feels to be in an environment where you have no powerful connection; and where the system is not based on merits.
We need social justice, transparency and accountability in The Gambia. It is the only way that we can co-exist as “fellow and equal Gambians”. I hope my story will “put light” on the plight of the poor students in The Gambia. We are one big family in The Gambia; no one should be left behind because of their geographical location and class status.
By Musa Manneh
New Jersey, USA