Country of indifference

Image source: https://www.istockphoto.com

It’s Wednesday, July 21st and I am sitting at our facility in The Gambia wondering how the streets could be so empty with no economic activity on what normally should be the peak of workplace productivity.

Well, it’s yet another public holiday. The nation celebrated Eid (Tobaski) yesterday and was granted a second day encore for reasons I find hard to reconcile with.

Strange yes, but definitely on brand with a nation that barely works four and a half days a week and has a pervasive and obstinate affinity to low productivity.

In short, we are not a serious nation, and we are completely unbothered by our mediocrity. A country that has no qualms sacrificing 63% of the week to enjoy a feast can never be a formidable player in this competitive global economic landscape. We will always be lambs in a lions’ den.

Rich nations like the United Arab Emirates, sure; their nation is wealthy enough to ensure their entire citizenry remains bloated with social safety nets that afford them the luxury of not seeing work as essential to survival

Gambia, on the other hand, we live in this dystopian matrix where unemployment is the highest it’s been in over two decades (9.64% in 2020) and even those with jobs do not make a living wage. Very few Gambians take home $200 (D10,000) a month and live in a depressive cycle of surviving paycheck to paycheck or stuck at the mercy of a loved one in the diaspora to fund their lifestyle via remittance of money. Over $600 Million was sent last year alone to circulate briefly in the country before leaving right out.

Being an employer of over 50 Gambians has also afforded me insight into the insidious psychology of the gambian worker that our society has molded and enabled for decades. Our wages can be improved but our propensity to disregard standards coupled with noncommital relationships with high productivity are the reason most of our systems do not work.

We are a country of indifference. Indifference to high standards, indifference to high performance, indifference to consistent productivity, indifference to accountability, indifference to high moral character,indifference to transformational ideas…. indifference to the grim realities of the COVID19 pandemic…..just indifference.

Time and time again we get lost in superficial political banter and try to “Mansplain” all the ills in society but cannot take ownership of our inherent disposition as a people to not care.

The great yogi Sadhguru once said, “You can change the paint color of a house (to yellow, blue, green, grey or brown in our case) but the foundation remains the same..”

We the people are the nation’s foundation. Our cultures, our behaviours, our work ethic and our moral judgement. Therefore, all of our systems and leaders will always reflect every worn out thread of sinew in us, good or bad.

No Messiah or individual leader can solve that. Even in an election year, we owe it to ourselves to calibrate our expectations and realize that the fight is still over who holds the paintbrush and chooses the color of paint and not the blue collar engineer willing to root out the sewer rotting our foundation away. Transformational change will not happen just because we have a new party or president in power. It will be the same crease on a different MAN’s trouser.

We are a nation whose pride seldom lies in not being able to be outworked by a non-gambian. We are a nation that will frustrate our brightest to abscond with bitterness in their heart. We are a nation that stifles opportunities for our women and youth, wasting away their most formidable years.

It’s truly disheartening to realize being “Gambian” offers minor advantages in a land where not a single sector in our economic ecosystem is dominated by “Gambians”. (I challenge you, the reader, to reflect on any sector that we can say “Dont even try, the Gambians dominate that space…..”)

All great nations have a robust private sector full of companies and businesses that the entire government infrastructure builds a failure-proof, shock absorber to ensure they become multi-generational companies. Think of all the historic U.S companies like Ford, GM, Boeing for example.

Our African governments, on the other hand, almost assume a competitive or reluctant stance against the local private sector while remaining willing to play ball with foreign entities. Obviously our nation cannot develop without foreign investment and collaboration but it shouldn’t leave our budding local companies at a competitive disadvantage all the time.

I have returned home and stuck around long enough to see how since independence, much of our bureaucratic systems have been a revolving appraisal of “WIIFMs” (What’s in it for me). Being an entity dedicated to job creation and building human capacity is cute but most decision makers realize the Mary-go-round nature of their positions and are in it to maximize personal gains while the cushy seat remains theirs. They have dedicated their entire careers to the horrendous wages of the civil service in a Hunger Games survival of the fittest environment so any slither of opportunity leaves little room for morality. The welfare of their families depend on the spoils.

I believe corruption is a feature of every type of governance democratic or not. Poverty just exacerbates the tendency to tilt the scale more toward pilferage than nation building. Our appointed heads of government institutions are easy targets to castigate but some of them are shackled by dense multilayered systems of corruption and sabotage even if they have pure intentions of execution the will of the people.

Most Non-Gambian entities with bottomless wallets, therefore, realize African decision makers have “a price” or at the minimum, a healthy level of curiosity about potential spoils from a deal. They cut to the chase, ensuring their agenda focuses on the right palms being greased and not goodwill proclamations of the number of Gambians that would earn employment and upward mobility because of their establishment.

Any individual seeking fertile ground in the Gambia sees the plethora of problems as opportunities for revenue-generating solutions. Once they get acquainted with the psychology of the people, our lack of competitive discipline, disloyalty to our fellow compatriots and low overall productivity, it’s game over. Give them half a decade and they would have amassed generational wealth while investing very little in the human development of our sleeping, smiling coast.

We have a vast number of Non-Gambian owned private entities that do not even spend 5% of their total revenue on competitive wages to gambian people. Reality is most deem our talent/work ethic unworthy of dignified pay and know our regulators are drenched in conflicts of interests to assume any position other than indifference.

One doesn’t have to be a trained economist to see the utter lack of social responsibility from economic vultures in the market but even gambian people assume a position of indifference and still choose to spend their dalasi in businesses they never see hire, train and develop our people. The gambian dalasi leaves the gambian community faster than a covid-infested currency note makes it into a mask-less bank teller’s bare hands.

Our Gambian businesses have room to improve the quality of service and consistency, but frankly our entire service industry is built on indifference. It’s a “lor buga” (what do you want?) culture in most places of business and never “how may I be of service today”. Their indifference is balanced on the regressive notion that customers will pay for products and services they have to offer regardless, so why offer an experience indicative of their appreciation.

We have a long way to go and our country can be a hard place to love when every crack of dawn presents an intractable fog of pervasive stagnation.

One only draws solace in a budding resistance forming in front of us. The members of the Gambian Renaissance who refuse to let indifference seep into their awakened crevices.

Bright minds, both homebred and returnees from the diaspora, being intentional about bringing the fight into the arena with armories full of transformational ideas and a recalcitrant resistance to mediocrity. Our “talented tenth” that can will the change they want to see into existence.

Set of individuals who have flushed hope and aspirational serendipity down the toilet and are taking a pragmatic approach to solving problems and creating value in spite of all the sludge of gambian existence.

The idea of “holding on to hope” in itself has always been a problematic exercise in futility for us Gambians. It doesn’t work. Never has.

Holding on to hope is why our fertile river banks are left untilled while our youth idly fantasize about a fairly tale of a life abroad after flaming out of a school system that leaves close to 90% of students ineligible for university .

Holding on to hope is why our society turns a blind eye to the physical, verbal and emotional abuse of women in their marriage homes by men enabled and made immune to accountability by our cultural and religious norms.

Holding on to hope is why the poorest village in the country may not have running water, electricity or a vocational training center but have a couple of shiny mosques or churches.

God doesn’t love us more than he does his 7.674 billion humans living in the world. He helps those who help themselves. Our nation has remained underdeveloped because we the people have not picked ourselves up by the bootstrap to build it.

Hope without intentional change in mindset, behavior and action is meaningless. Nothing gets better until one does something about it.

Our version of hope is a melancholic cliffhanger that never has an expiration date. The entire country and continent has been hopeful and prayerful for generations while the world is choosing a more fruitful disposition than hope(Action) and leaving us behind.

What we need more of is simply Action…..execution…..implementation and accountability!

Until we (the people) care enough about exhibiting a collective commitment to excellence and high productivity, we will forever be a stagnant nation.

Sunj deka bi du dem!

If we love it, we have to be honest about it.

Being of gambian decent is something we cannot change, but our gambian mindset of indifference is something we have to factory reset and install an updated processing system.

Peace and Love

Dr. IDB

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