Given the important role of participation of citizens in democracy; and given the importance of civic education in a democracy, particularly a budding one like ours, I decided to go on a fact finding mission at the National Council for Civic Education (NCCE) today. I had an hour or so meeting with the Chairman and discussed a number of issues pertaining to how we, as a nation, can better inform our citizenry so that they can participate meaningfully in the socioeconomic advancement of our country.
As we keep hearing that democracy is participatory, the question that begs to be asked is: who should participate and who do we expect to be those who should participate? Many will of course jump and say the citizens; but do those citizens have sufficient knowledge about their government and governance structures to take part in the process of governance? The answer; unfortunately, is an emphatic NO. At least most of the citizens in this country.
To gauge the civic awareness of many Gambians, just listen to politicians and sometime public officials speak and say that ‘waxtu politik jeexna leegi nagne anda ligey’ (the time for politics is over, now let us come together and work). This is a flawed statement which we keep hearing repeatedly and sometimes from people who are supposedly expected to know better. There is a huge difference between elections and politics. Whereas we can have time for elections which can come to an end, politics has no particular time. Whatever is done in terms of governance is politics.
The ordinary people, or at least many of them are worse off. Many will simply tell you that a president is chosen by God and thus we should not go against him, that we should not say certain things about political leaders. Thus, this serves as a stumbling block for holding public officials accountable.
Whenever I hear such statements, my mind goes to the National Council for Civic Education and what they should do in this transition from dictatorship to democracy. It has dawned on me today that it is not only about what they should, but what they can, do to better the lives of our people.
The National Council for Civic Education is arguably one of the most important institutions in a democracy. This therefore requires that it be a permanent and independent institution which should be fully funded to meet a certain mandate. Its work should not be seasonal (as we have often seen them only shortly before, during and immediately after elections). Rather, it should be a continuous process which should never stop.
As it is though, the National Council for Civic Education is underfunded, under resourced and does not have permanent structures in the country. For instance, up until now, the NCCE is renting a building in Kotu which they have to pay for thus taking a bulk of their money every year. This should not be the case, the importance of this institution should merit a permanent building of their own so that they can concentrate on sensitizing the people.
Secondly, the NCCE currently has only one road worthy vehicle. This is unacceptable given the fact that they have to cover the entire country to be fully effective. In fact, sometimes, when the executive is traveling around the country, this lone vehicle is also commandeered by government officials leaving the NCCE immobile until he returns.
The NCCE is simply under the government which means that they don’t have a separate budget of their own. What happens is that they prepare a budget and send it to the office of the president. Every month, depending on what is available, an amount will be sent to the NCCE. This fluctuates. Sometimes a huge amount, at others, a meagre amount. The fact that they do not know what will be given to them for the next month makes it very difficult, if most impossible, to have plans.
As an awareness sensitization outfit, it is necessary that they have a series of programmes: trainings, radio and TV talk shows, workshops and other activities every month. How on earth will they do all that if they do not know what amount of money they will receive every month?
The National Council for Civic Education (NCCE) should be made into a permanent and independent institution with fully equipped office space. They should be given enough vehicles to run their errands and sensitize the Gambian public. They should also have regional offices in each region of the Gambia. This is a must if we are to headway in enlightening our people.
The NCCE should be placed directly under the National Assembly so that every year they prepare a budget to be approved by the National Assembly and at the end of the day, they report to them (the National Assembly).This will enable them set up their plans properly to do their work properly and enlighten the public about their civic rights and responsibilities. This should be a continuous process.
For the long-term solution, the NCCE should be incorporated in the education curriculum so that children begin to learn about their civic rights and responsibilities from primary school onwards. In this way, majority of the citizens will be aware of their roles, rights and responsibilities even before they complete school.
If we want our change to be meaningful and bring about the transformation required, the National Council for Civic Education has to be at the cent restage of things!