Njundu Drammeh

(JollofNews)- In his book ‘Enter Gambia-the birth of an improbable nation’, Berkeley Rice writes about Bathurst: ‘Plato suggested that 50,000 people was the ideal population for a city. A citizenry of this size, he felt, was large enough to produce all the goods and services necessary for the city’s welfare, and small enough to allow everyone to participate in its government. While Bathurst has only 30,000 people, and has never managed to produce all of its required goods and services, it is charmingly small enough to keep its governmental, commercial, social and cultural affairs on a distinctly personal level. Though it is Gambia’s capital, only city and only seaport, it gets along comfortably with two restaurants, two high schools, one bank, one bookstore and one fire engine. Health services, though not extensive, are easy to find- there is one hospital, one pharmacy and one dentist……..’

Of course if Berkeley Rice is to visit The Gambia he would be have realised that, 51 years on, we are striving and have survived his pessimistic, doomsday prophesy. We are more hopeful than ever before that This Gambia, his ‘improbable nation’, which had a chequered history and am epileptic development is once again on the route to regain its lost glory and stature. If Rice is to visit Banjul (then Bathurst), he would realise too that the ‘city state’ has improved even if not as significant as I would have wished, at least in the number of restaurants, hotels, banks, high buildings, high schools.

Berkeley Rice wrote the above quote about Bathurst in 1966/67…… Fast forward to 1991….. Baffour Ankomah of the famous New African and the widely read ‘Baffour Beefs’ visited Banjul and wrote his stinging article ‘Stranger in Banjul’. Baffour described Banjul as a dilapidated small village ‘romantically called a city and national capital’…. There was furore in heavens. Baffour touched the wrong button. It did not go down well with Baaba Jawara and his Government.

The article was regarded a sabotage and the Government saw it as ‘patriotism’ at that time to speak against Baffour, to bay for his blood. I kept that piece for a while- was a young man preparing for Upper Sixth at Gambia High School. Would Baffour be proven wrong if he visits Banjul this summer, this rainy season? On this the jury is not out, it definitely will not be out….. The answer is as clear as daylight.

That Jammeh neglected Banjul is an understatement. He never cared. He fortified himself with high electric barb wired walls at State House, erected an Arch 22 at the entrance of Banjul with no historic worth or commercial value and turned McCarthy Square into a ballroom where, once a while, a Cinderella will be chosen and a roller coaster fairy tale with a Romeo will be the talk of town. Save the tarred Independence Drive and a patched work here and there, Banjul is what it was when Baffour visited in 1991. Truth be told, there is nothing much to write home about.

Banjul is not just the residence for Banjulians. It is our capital city, the seat of administration and the official home of the Presidency. It is supposed to the numero uno pride of The Gambia. Can we be proud of it as it is? It has been seat of Government since colonial period. It definitely has expanded in size and may be in population although it is a fact that some of its inhabitants have migrated to the Kombos leaving some parts forlorn.

When an international guest visits, often he or she would say ‘how far is your capital city. Can we visit? I want to see the city?’ Boommmmm…… How well a country is developed is sometimes measured by the infrastructural development in the capital city, even if that is not so scientific and or not necessarily true. Come to think of it, ‘development’ sometimes spans out from the centre to the periphery, from the Capital to the rest of the country. Did Bathurst or Banjul really play that part? Did it give birth to conurbations such as Kerr Serign or Kololi or Brusubi or Salagi? Ooops…. Banjul is an island.

Banjul (Bathurst) is central to the history of The Gambia. Banjul is our capital city, the administrative hub. Past governments did not upgrade it to the level it deserves. If initial statements are anything to go by, I have hope in the Barrow Government that Banjul would be transformed into the modern capital we deserve. Berkeley Rice and Baffour Ankomah should be proven wrong about Banjul. Previous Governments failed to. This New Gambia cannot fail, should not fail and I am sure will not fail.

Banjul is supposed to be our national pride, the capital city of the Smiling Coast of Africa. We cannot allow it to be an ‘eye sore’…….

Long Live The Gambia