Friday, December 6, 2019

AT THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY: Sidia Jatta’s Contribution


By:Kebba AF Touray

I was not going to talk today, because I vowed that I would not talk during the motion on adjournment in the Chambers if there are no Ministers. Of course there is one Minister here, but I do not have any issue to raise with him, just to say thank you. The Rural Electrification project is in progress in my area.

Knowledge is like a garden if it is not properly cultivated it cannot be harvested. But how can we cultivate knowledge without the required tools? I was not going to say anything jiggling as if what he was saying was frivolous. I think it was not out of place when he said Basse needs a library. You know the irony is some the things under the colonial rule were more forward looking than what we have today. When I was going to school in Basse in those days, there was a well-stocked library and, in fact, that was where I came across Mungo Park’s Diary, but there is nothing there now. So we are going backward. We know that we cannot do without that. It is with knowledge that we must transform this world the way we want it to serve our needs. The only thing that is constant in nature and society is change. Nothing is always the same in nature and society and if we want this change to have meaning for our lives, we must have the necessary tools to do it. We cannot move forward without education and education is what makes our world totally different from that of animals’ and that is why we cannot underrate it.

If one travelled through this country before, there was a library at every regional center, now there is library nowhere. I once used to be a member of the National library; I used to be a frequent visitor there. But now I don’t go there because there are no books, the books there, for me, are old. Our library in the National Assembly is not a library, because we need a library where you can find magazines, journals from parliaments all over the world, which are talking about the world daily. We must be kept abreast with what happens in the world; we must always be on top of things as members of Parliament.

That brings me to another reflection. I have decided to share things with you and not with those who are not here. You see knowledge is dynamic. Earlier scientists affirmed that the atom was indivisible, but today, it is proven it is divisible; that it can be cut into pieces. So that shows that knowledge is moving for it is a dynamic process. In the same vein, when the French Philosopher, Montesquie talked about separation of powers, he probably could not have seen everything at the time, and of course he is misinterpreted .Once upon time  in this country, a Member of this Parliament was also a Minister. In Britain Ministers are also elected members of Parliament,that is not Montesquie’s view.

You cannot be a Judge and a Jury at the same time. You are a Member of Parliament and you exercise oversight over yourself. Does that make sense? It does not make sense.

My reflection on the separation of powers has to with Parliament in relation to the Executive. The Executive is accountable to Parliament. Parliament has power to impeach the President, the Ministers,the Vice President, all of them. But the irony here is when you make laws here they do not become effective until they are assented to by the President. That is for me food for thought.

Of course I am aware of a provision in the Constitution which stipulates that when there is contention between the Executive and the Legislature regarding an Enactment, what the latter holds stands in the final analysis.

My contention however is why the need for some sort of vetting? Parliament making law and it would not become effective unless it is assented to by a President. Is that the universal practice? No it is not. So historically what was the problem? The Gambia was a colony and to be sure that the colonial legislature did not make any law against their interests, the Queen had to vet it so to speak.  Thus any law enacted in the colony had to be examined and vetted by the Queen and the same practice continues to this day. This is what we are in and for years we have been performing oversight, but the Executive also is exercising oversight over the Legislature in a certain way. So, I want us to reflect on that, it is not so everywhere; that is a fact and if you deny me, check it.

It is important that we are kept abreast with what goes on in our country. We must make efforts to be always on top of things. There is a growing movement in this country and it composed of people who are seriously committed to what they are doing. They came to see me some time ago and explained to me what they are doing. It has to do with Adult literacy but in a different way. There was a Guinean, Ismaila Kante, who invented an alphabet in 1949, a script for writing Maninka, which is not the Roman alphabet that we all know. This is a writing system called “NKO”, Ismaila was a Maninka. Many people in Mali, Guinea and Gambia are using the alphabet. There is an Adult literacy class going on in Dippa Kunda where they are using the NKO alphabet. There is group of people, an Organization, who are promoting it. In fact they send students to Kofi Annan University in Conakry to study linguistics and the NKO alphabet. They came with somebody who graduated from that University. I will bring you some books which have been written with the NKO system. The Quran also has been transliterated using the alphabet.

When I was in the ECOWAS Parliament, the NKO alphabet issue was raised once and we talked about it. So please let us take interest in some of these matters, because things are happening and will continue to happen. Adult and functional literacy is fundamental to the wellbeing of our people and to the promotion of our national languages.

I know in Serekunda East, the former Serekunda East, there was an adult literacy class run by an NGO which was helping the MP to run the literacy and the same NGO was helping the late Honorable Joof, in SerreKunda West, to run adult literacy. We think these things are not important, but this is the new wave in the world. It is true that we have acquired these languages, French, English and so on through colonialism the objective being to promote their languages and cultures and suppress ours.

At independence, we should have fought against that. I am not saying we should not use them but that we should not use them to the detriment of promoting our own cultures and languages. Language is rooted in culture and if you speak any language you are also learning the culture in which it is rooted. Gambians who go to France to study, for instance, are forced to do arts. I went through that fight in France. When I went there on French Government scholarship, I registered to do philosophy and sociology with a major in the former. I was in my third year and they sent my end of academic year results to the office in Paris. They immediately sent me a letter asking me to go back to the Gambia for not doing Arts. I responded and indicated that they should have also sent me my return ticket but that I was in a better position to know what my country needs than them.

Then he wrote back apologizing profusely. I then asked him whether they considered linguistics as arts, he said yes. That was how I chose to linguistics instead of their cultural subjects. Of course I completed my first degree in Sociology and philosophy and then continued with linguistics after to other levels. So it is important to give consideration to some of these things, because we need to be in touch with everything that goes around us.

The 1997 constitution stipulates that all the Gambians are equal before the law. However the same constitution goes on to say that some are more equal than others. How does it say it? The Constitution stipulates that every citizen has the right to elect and be elected, but you cannot be elected elective positions if you are not literate in a foreign language which is English. We see at once that this provision is hugely anti-democratic in the sense that in a country where more than 80% of the people are illiterate, the use of a foreign language at that level prevents them from assuming responsibility in any elective position for the mere fact that they cannot read and write in an alien language. The vast majority of our people are prevented from the enjoyment of their fundamental rights and freedoms. More than 80% of our people cannot become members of the National Assembly for the mere fact that they cannot read and write in an alien language, which is English in our case.

Once upon a time French was the language used in all the courts in Europe, including Russia. It was the common people, for instance in England, who fought to bring back their languages. Do you want the same type of situation to prevail in our circumstances? Surely not!

We cannot afford to close our eyes to these realities. We are the representatives of our people. To be one with them we must speak the languages they understand. That is the only way in which we can adequately serve their fundamental needs and aspirations. Can you imagine the pain of listening to a representative speaking a language which is totally alien to those we represent. That is exactly the plight of our people. It is time we ended the linguistic slavery to become one with our people.

And what the Radio and Television diffuse of what is said here is negligible.  We are misrepresenting our people by not speaking the language they understand, and the Media is also misrepresenting us by not giving out verbatim what we say in these Chambers. We must do something to change this; this is not independence, it is linguistic slavery and is cutting us from our people. I am not proud to talk here like I am doing now. I am forced by the law to do it. If I want to cite something in the national languages to corroborate a point, the Speaker would call me to order for doing so. However it has to be noted that citations in other languages to corroborate a point is a universal practice as long as one explains what it means.

Seriously, I expect all of you, particularly the Majority leader, to start running literacy classes in your constituencies. I started one in 1997 and it is still ongoing.

Yesterday a Senegalese professor chaised me everywhere to inform me that two of his students have chosen to carry out studies on my Literacy Project in Wulli. He mentioned honorable Magassy as one of those who is already doing a study on the Project. So you see the important dimension language and adult literacy have assumed. So please my colleagues let us take up this responsibility in the interest of people we represent.

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