Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Kiang in the Lower River Region of The Gambia has become a dominant issue in the country’s political debate, especially in the ruling APRC party circle.
This is so due to the prevailing resistance of the people to honour the ruling party with their votes.
To be precise, the ruling APRC party has very little recognition by the people of Kiang, in the Central and Western parts in particular.
Kiang West is the only constituency where president Jammeh lost to the opposition UDP in the 2006 presidential election.
The voting into office of two opposition National Assembly members in Kiang West and Central in 2007 parliamentary election is what appears to have added salt to injury.
The president reacted with fury and vowed to deny these choice-oriented people an essential development, road.
The President could not hide this feeling from the nation as noticed in several political statements he made.
He is popularly known to be referring to the Kiangs as “negative” people who are “not grateful” to his goodwill offered to the country since 1994, citing a number of cases including his childhood ties with Kiang.
“They are not development-oriented,” he would say of the Kiangkas, noting that if they are interested in development they would have given him support.
Some political leaders, especially those in the opposition camp have cited Kiang as a good example in the exercise of political rights.
Despite the president’s claim of enormous development to the country, the opposition in Kiang say there is no such as far as they are concerned.
The political jingoism in Kiang is greatly rated as a good example of what Martin Meredith says in his Book, THE FATE OF AFRICA… showing a clear “U” turn taken by African leaders “from the hope of freedom to the heart of despair” after 50 years of independence in Africa.
The author pointed out that the opportunity available to African leaders provided them with “cement” they need to consolidate their control.
At their disposal were thousands of appointments not only to cabinet and parliament, but to new parastatals set up to boost the development of industry and agriculture.
Many appointments were made not on the basis of merit but of party loyalty. The awarding of contracts and licences and the allocation of development projects - roads, schools and hospital were influenced by similar consideration.
Kiang is grouped among the least developed constituencies in the country with extremely bad roads, lack of social amenities, infrastructural development characterised by increasing collapse of several high profile projects put up during the former regime.
These include the National Forest Park, Gambia Groundnut Corporation and subsequent fall of private business investments including the popular Kemoto Hotel, International Trypanotolerence Centre (ITC) and Tendaba Camp the list goes on.
The largest part of Kiang West is off the Trans-Gambia road with about 50 kilometres or more.
This is the reason why others referred to the area as Kiang ‘Dumbokono,’ a Mandinka term meaning “in the bottle” with one way - in and out by road - while the other side of it is The River Gambia.
This situation makes it extremely difficult for cars to ply the road connecting villages in Kiang.
There are repeated instances when the natives of Kiang living in the Greater Banjul Area and other places would fail to attend important ceremonies be it social, traditional or religious due to lack of transportation means to reach their birthplaces.
While on a countryside coverage, I got report of an eighty 80-year-old woman who met her sudden death with her ten 10-year-old granddaughter after a wall of a house collapsed on them in Kiang Joli during the past rainy season.
The children of the old woman couldn’t to grace the funeral services due to lack of transport to reach Joli on time.
They have been waited for two days but due to religious formalities coupled with lack of facilities to preserve the dead bodies, the villagers went ahead to intern the remains of the two.
The children could not pay last respect to their loved ones.
According to the villagers, commercial drivers could only be persuaded to ply the road to Kiang Mandina on a village outcry for help.
A lot of them would choose to stop within villages less than 20 kilometres off the main road to avoid what they called ‘big faults’ for their cars on daily basis.
The concerned people of Kiang are certain that this situation will continue pending the 2011 presidential election and could even go beyond that with the demagogic political strategy and threat-like tactics that always punctuate the campaign of the ruling party.
Lamin Kabba Bajo, Minister of Forestry and National Assembly Matters told the people of Kiang in a meeting held in Nioro Jattaba village during the president’s nationwide tour that the construction of the road in the heart of Kiang West will be determined by the result in favour of the ruling APRC party in the November 24, 2011 presidential election.
The lack of good roads is felt like violation of the human rights of the people of Kiang coupled with their concern to health services, as development is a human right.
There are very few health centres in Kiang, basically the one out-of-order in Karantaba village in Kiang West and one in Kwinella village in Kiang Central.
The health center in Karantaba is in a dilapidated condition.
President Jammeh, during his last nationwide tour threatened to ignore the maintenance of its facilities even if its walls are collapsing if the people of Kiang do not change their political attitude.
The catchment areas of the Medical Research Council (MRC) in Keneba village and the hospital in Bwiam in the neighbouring Foni are continuing to increase.
The most affected human group always in the rush to reach health centres in the area is the women folk. Telling the stories could be euphemised, but women want their ordeals to be known.
I had to vacate my front seat of the double cabin Pick Up I boarded for a pregnant woman trekking a distance of 12 kilometres towards Keneba MRC field station.
I was on my way to coverage with the Lower River Region (LRR) Red Cross Link in the Kiang Interior.
The problem was not over as more and more women in a similar condition have to join me at the back of the Pick Up to bear the rough ride.
They would simply never reject a chance like getting assisted to sit or lie down at the back of a Pick UP because they cannot count on their chances to get suitable means of transport to reach health facilities for the health of their children.
Some of the women narrated that they have had sleepless nights waiting for transport virtually with no food, bed or proper shelter for the nights.
They would sit at the bantabas mainly in the open and sometimes under big trees nearby the road.
As a result of the political opinion or affiliation of the people of Kiang the few private sectors in the area are so silent about the developmental situation, to avoid being accused of political interference”.
As commercial drivers and individual motorists lament on the high cost of mechanical charges on their cars as a result of the deplorable road condition, the private sector is equally affected.
The Medical Research Council (MRC) field station in Kiang Keneba ventured in to remedy the bad road condition for atleast its poor and suffering patients in Kiang in 2009.
The pilot step was an intervention by providing gravel heaped along the road side from the junction in Sankandi to the MRC station in Keneba. But this was never completed to ease the movement of people and vehicles.
Momodou Njie, the then acting chief following the death of Chief Alh Bekai Gibba of Kiang West said that he encouraged the MRC to calculate its annual cost of vehicle and motorcycle maintenance cause by the poor road condition and invest in road maintenance as a way to facilitate easy movement of people and vehicles in and out of Kiang Interior, but the exercise was never completed up to date.
Many people in Kiang who beg to be anonymous link the sudden stoppage of the road rehabilitation work as an order from the government.
The then chief however denied it and described it is just speculations. He said, he has obtained information from MRC that it is the contractor, who was unable to complete works because his caterpillars developed problems.
In their hopes to get better road network created a circumstance for a compromise of political principles and rights, as a way of coaxing the APRC, especially the president so as to gain from the national cake where one is constitutionally entitled to have share regardless of political affiliation.
Perhaps they want to transform the strong people of Kiang into sycophants and political shoe polishers.
The whole initiative emanated from so-called young educated elites who have been very busy forming an organisation to go back to their various home villages and by every possible means to rally support for APRC.
These youths are none other than members of Kiang West Youth Development Association who set out to mislead their own people.
Its formation began among the Kiang youths in various tertiary learning institutions in the country backed by the former APRC sponsored parliamentarian for Kiang West, Kalifa Kambi now the deputy minister of Agriculture.
The youths of Kiang should know that development should not be based on political loyalty. It is our right to benefit from any development.
Voting for a candidate or party as a result of threat to be deprived of development is not making a choice but political plunder.
The tax monies of the people of The Gambia, including people of Kiang; those residing in Kiang and other parts of the country is what is used for providing essential services like roads, electricity, water etc and not from any individual’s pocket.
The association is popularly known to be saying in its own term that “we have seen that Kiang has long been lagging behind in term of development and the situation is likely to continue under the Jammeh administration,” a situation they vowed to change.
Twenty-four members of the association acknowledged their loyalty to the APRC ruling party before the Gambian leader in a meeting held in the village of Nioro Jattaba during his country wide tour.
They went further to assist the president on his farm in Kanilai and mobilising each other to be more prepared for the November general election by obtaining voter’s card and pledged to cast their votes for the APRC.
Among the problems highlighted as grounds for throwing their weight behind APRC and the president include trekking or pedalling bicycles by many students at the Upper Basic School several kilometres to and from schools.
The current condition of old-time feeder roads according to students from the interior, is making it hard for them to keep their uniforms clean, which make them uncomfortable in school.
A female student said, she stops at Sankandi to clean up dust everyday to avoid being pointed fingers at by her school mates.
The situation is more noticeable on students attending Senior Secondary Schools owing it to the few numbers of Senior Schools in the LRR.
I think this disregard for development in the provincial villages is a phenomenon in the country.
It is left to the people of Kiang to make a good choice or accept conditionalities for development that is financed by their own tax money.
Author: Ebrima Bah