By Lamin Keita
Madison, Wisconsin, USA.
Necessarily the farmers’ tour would have meant for healing the pains of the farmers and give them a sense of hope premised upon three fundamental concepts: incremental, aspirational and progressive development. These three concepts might allude to expectations that our farmers expect from the Barrow government because they virtually needed to improve their socioeconomic lots. President Barrow’s recent farmers’ tour or expedition is telling and consequential in the political development and phenomenon of our country, the Gambia. In this perspective, after carefully watching Barrow and the entourage in the suppose farmers tour, I was disconcerted, confused, as well as panic about the political trajectory and the type of coalition government we put in place after 22 years of a hybrid authoritarian regime. I was further baffled by looking at the recent budgetary allocations. For example, amount of money in Gambian Dalasi allocated to “Ministry of Agriculture: 1.71% (D394.983, 515)” as compared to the “Office of the President: 3.18% (D731, 287, 016).” Per comparison, this allocation of resources to Office of the President and the Ministry of Agriculture, ironically and explicitly expose the current government’s absolute lack of primary interest to boost the image and productivity of farmers as well as to promote and help Agriculture to become salient among other sectors through resource base utilization and needs.
Apart from the weird budget allocations, the political rhetoric on the farmers’ tour seemingly reveals and glorifies heaping or extolling President Barrow rather than listening to the vicissitudes of the fundament problems of our farming communities. We all know that the farming communities in The Gambia are among the poorest and the most neglected sector for over two decades. So, when will the plight of farmers be elevated when the President’s office is allocated 3.18 percent of our national budget while our poor farmers succumbed to only 1.71 percent? Ultimately, Barrow’s farmers’ tour around the country and his subsequent end of the trip in the greater Kombos prompt me to ask: Is Barrow’s recent visit a farmer’s tour or a tour for political purpose to entrench his power among the local communities? What significant impact his visit produces for our country and the farmers—when civil servants among the Presidential tour are said to be paid almost D2000 per night while ordinary farmers do not have one square meal a day? Has the Barrow government learned anything good or bad from the former government of Jammeh? Because this tour ostensibly illustrates the same political mechanism and flag-waving methodology, the former President Jammeh profoundly explore to coerce and patronage poor farmers instead of uplifting their socio-economic well-being. I suppose some of these approaches conceptually mock the President’s purpose for the farmers’ tour, which is considered to be constitutional. In this light, I hope, and I am optimistic that the architects of our new constitution should keenly pay attention to the methodology of our President’s farmers tour—which indeed and implicitly is exploitation of farmers.
It is reasonable to believe that we have learned our lesson from the old regime to the new Barrow government’s approaches to farmers. However, Gambia’s problem is that people all over have obeyed the dictates of our leaders and thousands have been killed or suffered because of this obedience. People are obedient in the face of poverty, misery, starvation, ignorance, war, and cruelty. Moreover, our biggest problem is that people are obedient when our jails are filled with petty thieves and the grand thieves are running our country. Subsequently, the internal weaknesses and severe economic hardships coupled with the marginalization of our farmers created a vacuum which must be filled by the Gambia government actions. What is the point of visiting farmers when their farming activities are declining and reduceable to beggar’s kind of production and heavily dependent upon reliance on neopatrimonialism and rent-seeking by the government?
We can empirically learn from President Barrow’s recent farmers’ tour which emphasizes the importance of collective action, implying that power belongs to the people and no amount of our leader’s expedition to consolidate their power can render the helpless farmers to support such political journey. These social ills of the farmers’ tour are implicitly embedded in our political mantra, and we must be ready to adopt bold and rapid response to confront the threats of our leaders’ political ploy to coerce our farmers for political gains. Indeed, for the Gambia government to continue the path of democracy and uplift and shed the tears of farmers and their socioeconomic problem, Barrow government must adopt three things. First, he must live up to the democratic commitment. Second, he must rapidly move to undo the damage done by the Jammeh regime and help the farmers and the youth to learn meaningful skills and explore scientific careers which will improve and fill the gap of their sufferings. Third, he must set the Gambia on a path to unpretentious peace through reconciliation and prosperity not based upon a thin line of divide and rule for political purposes.