Why are you trying to let Jesus fight God?
Baffour’s Beefs with Baffour Ankomah
IMAGINE Jesus fighting God? Or someone cranking Jesus to have a go at his father? Well, anything can happen in Zimbabwe so don’t rule it out. This is the land where impossibles become possibles. Or is it the other way round? Last Sunday, a kind friend and his wife invited my wife and I to dinner. And what a great dinner
we had! Fresh beef from the farm at Kadoma and frozen fish from Lake Malawi where, thank God, fish do not die of old age like in South Sudan.
A great dinner gives birth to great conversation, does it not? And the midwife is usually not the host or hosts. But at this dinner, it was the other way round.
Our conversation centred around the perfidiousness of the European missionaries who arrived on our shores with Bible in hand and sword hidden in their cassocks, and yet claimed that they were here only for the nourishment of our souls. Chete! Never to build empires!
But in the end that is what they did – softening the ground for the rapacious colonisers that followed them, and in the process robbing the African of his person and inheritance.
This view was almost unanimous around the dinner table, except one dissenter, the kind wife of our kind friend. To her, not all the missionaries were bad because but for them, or some of them, Africans would not have known Jesus, and thus would not have gained access to God the Father as Jesus is the only way to the Father.
Her initial point was easy to concede albeit grudgingly. Of course not all the missionaries were bad, but the whole dinner table insisted that the first ones were definitely all bad, including our dear David Livingstone who, in public, claimed to have come to feed our souls but in secret was acknowledging to friends that his main object was to pave the way for British colonisation of Central Africa.
I reminded the kind wife of our kind friend of the revelation made by my co-columnist on the opposite page, Nathaniel Manheru, three Saturdays ago of David Livingstone writing on February 6, 1858 to one Professor Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge University, saying: “That you may have a clear idea of my objectives, I may state that they have something more than meets the eye … All this machinery has for its ostensible object the development of African trade and the promotion of civilisation, but what I tell to none but such as you in whom I have confidence is thus I hope it may result in an English colony in the healthy highlands of Central Africa … With this short statement, you may perceive our ulterior objects.”
Dr Livingstone I presume?
So did Livingstone achieve his “ulterior objects”? By the time the African could blink his eye, the English (which is another word for the British as Britain is in reality a camouflaged English project) did not only have one but six colonies in the healthy highlands of Central Africa: Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, and if you will allow me to be generous, I will add Tanzania – in the end.
Yet Livingstone has been so mythologised for his “good works” that to this day his statues not only stand proudly at both sides of the Victoria Falls, but also, God have mercy, at Munhumutapa House, the Office of the President and Cabinet of a free Zimbabwe!
Would the British ever allow the statue of an African who did such things to the British Isles as Livingstone did to paving the way for the colonisation of Africa, stand at Downing Street?
The Moors of Africa colonised the Iberian Peninsula for 400 years. Does anybody today see one statue or footprint of the Moors in Portugal or in Spain?
In London, the only African statue standing with Winston Churchill at Parliament Square belongs to Nelson Mandela. And we all know why he is there, and why, for instance, that Kwame Nkrumah and Robert Gabriel Mugabe are not there. Yet the two men are among Africa’s greatest heroes!
But Livingstone stands unmolested, in white marble, at Munhumutapa House, the Office of the President and Cabinet, in the heart of Harare. What a generous man he is, this African of our age, and all our ages past.
It is like allowing Victoria Falls to still maintain that name, and Lake Victoria, the same. We are generous, Africans! And I don’t know if that takes us anywhere.
Jesus fighting God
But the kind wife of our kind friend would have none of these explanations about the perfidiousness of the missionaries. To her, without the missionaries, people like us would never have known Jesus. I had to remind her that our ancestors already knew God long before the missionaries arrived.
Yes, she conceded, but insisted that though our ancestors may have known God in their own way, but we would have missed out going to the Father as we didn’t know Jesus.
Now our kind friend felt bound to interject before there was open warfare. He agreed with his wife that Jesus was the way to the Father, “but,” he told her, “Jesus is only the way, not the destination”, implying that there is a clear difference between a “way” and a “destination”, and in fact in value terms a destination is higher than the way that leads to it.
“No,” the wife exclaimed. “But Jesus said he and the Father are one.” To which the husband explained that “they may be one, but there is a hierarchy. Jesus himself says he does only what he sees the father do. So the father is higher than the son.”
It was getting interesting, and even more so as the wife would not be moved. Her adamancy forced her now excited husband to exclaim: “But why are you trying to let Jesus fight God?” He could have added: “The scriptures are clear on the ranking system where they are!”
You can imagine the laughter that took over the dinner table!
Which reminded me of a certain Bala Garba-Jahumpa, Gambia’s former finance minister, now minister for transport, works and infrastructure. He has a wonderful idea about the African’s place in the cosmology of human existence. “Our people,” he says, “should know that we are black not because we are cursed, we are black because we are the first light out of darkness.”
Sweet, isn’t it? The first light out of darkness is black – did you know that?
Geography, how accursed are you?
So, dear readers, never ever try to make Jesus fight God, not even at the dinner table – because we wouldn’t know whose side to support. Not quite so though, for I know whose side to take, but I won’t tell you.
Rather, what I will tell you is the correctness of the position taken by our kind friend in stressing the point that a destination is not the same as the way one takes to reach it, which, to me, brings in the issue of geography.
Someone said the other day that Zimbabweans are bad at geography because they are only interested in the geography of the Sadc region. Take them across the Sadc borders and they will drown in the Congo River.
And how true! Last month, I asked a young Zimbabwean who wrote his “O” Levels last year whether he knew where Accra was. My goodness, he did not know, even though he claimed he did geography at school. “So,” I asked him, “what kind of geography did they teach you at school.” He mumbled something.
Well, dear readers, brace yourselves – for this column is going to take you to geographical areas beyond the Sadc borders, and you better put on your seat belts.
It is astonishing though that the people who hold the record of Africa’s most literate folks struggle with geography, and some indeed don’t know where Accra is? So do they know where Mai Sally Mugabe came from? Or even where Burkina Faso is? So how did they become the most literate folks in Africa minus geography?
Well today, I am going to invite readers to come with me to a far-away destination in West Africa where an African success story has been born in a manger. So please bring along frankincense, myrrh and aloes. We are the kings from the east.
Our destination is The Gambia, by far the only country that I know which insists that the colonial “The” should not be divorced from its official name: The Gambia.
The late president Houphouet Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire did a similar thing. He ruled that Cote d’Ivoire was not Ivory Coast and that any Ivorian official who dared to sit at conferences behind a plaque saying “Ivory Coast” will go straight to prison on his return.
That’s how Cote d’Ivoire defeated Ivory Coast at international conferences and in the minds of all and sundry, except a few stubborn ones around the world who still cannot shift their tongue from Ivory Coast to Cote d’Ivoire.
So welcome to The Gambia. This Tuesday, July 22, because of Ramadan (90 percent of Gambians are Muslims), the country postponed to October a big fete marking 20 years of the “Revolution” that has phenomenally transformed the once land of groundnuts to something close to a wonder.
So please note it down in your diaries – in October The Gambia will organise a big celebration of the 22 July Revolution that a certain young lieutenant, 29 years old at the time, brought to change the course of the country forever.
On July 22, 1994, Gambia’s current president, Yahya AJJ Jammeh, now 49, was a lieutenant serving in the corp of bodyguards of the then president Dawda Jawara.
At 9am on that fateful day, Lt Yahya AJJ Jammeh, and a group of fellow lieutenants started a coup d’etat that overthrew the 30-year-old government of President Sir Dawda Jawara who had presided over decay, absolute decay, of national life since Gambia’s independence in 1965.
As Africans, we have the tendency never to see the bright side of ourselves. We are always the downtrodden, poor, diseased, the never-do-well, even when we are doing well. Today I want to break that spirit by asking you to come with me and see an African success story in The Gambia.
Stranger in Banjul
I first went to The Gambia in June 1991 and have not gone there again since then. But colleagues from New African have been to The Gambia in recent months, and what they report has happened in the country between 1991 and now beggars belief.
Each time I re-read their reports, I marvel at how one person with a vision to transform a country can achieve his dreams if he sticks determinedly to the dreams.
I know how far Gambia has come because after my visit in 1991, I wrote in my Baffour Beefs column in New African an article, published in August 1991, that has since become a classic in Gambian folklore, to the point where most people of that era, and even in the generations thereafter, still quote from it.
To this day, discerning Gambians still call me by the headline of that article: “Stranger in Banjul”.
Conditions in the country at the time, especially in the capital city Banjul, were so bad that I predicted that the angry young men that I had met in Banjul would not keep silent for much too long.
As you would expect, Jawara’s government was thoroughly appalled by my article, and organised its supporters to write letters to New African to condemn me.
But because a rose is a rose, three years to the month in which I wrote the article, Lt Jammeh and his group struck and forced Jawara and his top officials to abandon ship and flee to Britain for safety.
Interestingly, while in Britain, Jawara and his Vice President became my “friends”. The hand, or is it the twist, of fate! The Vice President came to the New African offices three times to brief me on what was going on in Jammeh’s Gambia. If only they had listened to this ex-Ghanaian prophet!
Thus to really understand how transformational Jammeh’s era has been, please allow me to republish here part of my August 1991 article. I wrote:
“South African journalist, Phangisile Mtshali, returning home from a recent trip to West Africa wrote about Cape Coast, the capital of the Central Region of Ghana: “Cape Coast is the face of misery … People seem to enjoy living in squalid conditions. What we are screaming and protesting against in South Africa is an accepted standard of living here.”
“Poor Cape Coast! If Phangisile had continued her journey to Banjul, the capital of The Gambia, perhaps she might have given Cape Coast a little more credit than she did. After all, Cape Coast is a mere regional capital. Banjul is the capital of a nation. And anybody who visits Banjul and does not feel sad at the sorry state of what, if truth be known, is a dilapidated small village but romantically called a city and national capital, will have to see his doctor.
“If I wouldn’t be accused of impertinence, I would suggest that President Alhaji Sir Dawda Kariaba Jawara and his government should sit up and take a closer look at Banjul. Sincerely if the Banjul I saw this June is the best capital city President Jawara can give The Gambia after 26 years in government, then I am afraid the country is in trouble …
“President Jawara may not need the screams of his people to kick his government into action, but I met enough angry young men in Banjul who are genuinely dissatisfied with the current state of affairs, that no one should take it for granted that the people could be kept silent for much too long.
“We all accept that a country whose economy rests on the export of groundnuts is always going to find it difficult to give itself and its capital any dignity. It is a genuine problem. Even African countries with many more natural resources are finding it difficult to stay afloat.
“But if the Gambian government can afford all those luxury cars for ministers and MPs, it can surely afford to improve one mile of road in Banjul each year. In 26 years, by my reckoning, 26 miles of roads in the capital could have been tarred. And Banjul is a tiny village!
“Let’s ask ourselves: Does the sorry state of Banjul touch the hearts of those at the top, including the rich, who drive the big cars on the dirt roads in the capital? Do they ask themselves what they can do to improve the situation? If yes, what have they done all these 26 years?
“Do the leaders feel any pride walking down the dirt road called Independence Avenue? Do they ask whether it deserves to be named after Gambia’s independence? Or is it a matter of pure indifference – a kind of keeping the masses in squalid conditions while the leaders and the rich keep the few resources available to themselves?
“Do the leaders feel ashamed when they visit other West African capitals? I don’t want to mention neighbouring Dakar, the capital of Senegal, because people are always going to say Dakar has been built with French money. And the British liked to save their money. But does anybody need foreign exchange, for example, to remove the cobwebs at the Banjul airport?
“Let’s face facts … whoever advised the Gambian government that it can develop tourism while other sectors of national life are in filth, has done the country a great disservice.
“Western tourists do not just like to live in beautiful hotels, they also want to see sights. But apart from the animals in the Abuko National Park, what else is left in Banjul for tourists to see? The misery?
“Let’s consider the plight of the Gambian police force. Is the government happy at the condition of the facilities available to the police? Some might say painting the police station buildings will involve some foreign exchange, fine, but a government that allows its police force to use the sort of pre-Second World War typewriters that I saw in Banjul, really needs help. The typewriters, I told a colleague, do not deserve a place even in a museum – anywhere!
“The same applies to facilities at Radio Gambia. This is no exaggeration, but you really need extra energy to hold back your tears on entering the premises of what is called a national radio station.
“The worn-out carpets in the studious and corridors, perhaps angry at their age and condition, are literally protesting by peeling off the floor. You must see the state of the scanty equipment in what is called the “Control Room” (the nerve centre) of Radio Gambia to believe that the country desperately needs help.
“I asked why does the government appear to be unconcerned about the sorry state of these vital national facilities? Somebody answered: ‘Because a working radio station means educative programmes, and educative programmes mean the people will begin to demand their rights. So it’s better to have a dead radio station than a working one.’
“That’s hard to swallow. But how else can President Jawara prove his critics wrong than doing something to the encircling gloom that welcomes you to Banjul.
“When buying the big cars for the ministers, let the government remember the people who walk the streets of Banjul. They are Gambians!”
That was my dear self, writing in 1991, full of youthful exuberance, a sin that affects all youths. Today, many people, both locals and foreigners, attest that The Gambia has been phenomenally transformed from what I saw in 1991.
At the time there was only one bridge across the River Gambia which bisects the country into two equal parts. In fact, the contours of the landmass of The Gambia mimmick the meanderings of the river, and the one bridge made travelling in the country extraordinarily difficult.
Today, Jammeh’s government has built 10 more bridges and 20 smooth roads across the country, in addition to a spanking new airport terminal complex to replace the shack that passed for an airport in Banjul.
In 400 years under British colonisation, only one referral hospital and two high schools were built in The Gambia – for the sons of the chiefs. There was no university till Jammeh built one in 1999 and took special interest in its medical school to produce doctors for the burgeoning health service he was introducing.
Fifteen years on, Gambia’s medical school has produced 116 medical doctors, of whom 98 percent are Gambians who are now serving all over the country. Today the country has free maternal and child health services.
In education, whereas there were just 250 lower basic schools in 1994, today there are 861; and where there were only 22 upper basic schools in 1994, today there are 325. Similarly, there were just 12 secondary schools in 1994, today there are 135.
What is more, primary school pupils pay absolutely nothing. In two months time, from September this year, secondary school students will also pay absolutely nothing for their schooling. Teachers are given “hardship allowance” (50 percent more of their salary) to go and teach in rural areas.
Since 2003, 154 000 scholarships have been given to girl students under a scheme set up by the President to encourage girls to stay at school. The scheme is funded personally by the President (who is a big farmer) and other philanthropists, and is now open to boys as well.
Besides, the government heavily subsidises university education to a point where students pay less than US$1 000 a year. Six years ago, the President, again, out of his own funds, set up the law faculty at the University of The Gambia’s to train lawyers for the country.
In 1994, the country had no television, today it has a properly-housed radio and TV service, in fact the building is one of the country’s “pride and joy” edifices.
The vision of the President is that by 2016 the country would stop importing food, especially rice, Gambia’s staple food. “How can we be independent when our food comes from outside?,” he asks. He wants the country to produce what it eats, and eats what it produces. And that is achievable in two years’ time. “I will make sure [as a farmer] to lead by example in this agricultural revolution,” Jammeh has promised.
Overall, the government’s Vision 2020 blueprint hopes to transform Gambia into a middle-income country, “socially, economically and scientifically” in six years time.
Last year, Jammeh withdrew The Gambia from the Commonwealth, saying “the Commonwealth is still a colonial institution … and we are not going to be part of any institution or organisation that is a representation of the colonial era, because colonialism brought us nothing but poverty, backwardness, exploitation, and slavery.”
Comparing what I saw and wrote about in 1991 with what is there today, the achievements of Jammeh’s government need to be celebrated big time.
As Abdoulie Sallah, secretary to the Cabinet, who served in the same position under Jawara at the time of the coup in 1994, attests: “The achievements I have witnessed since 1994 in the areas of education, health, agriculture, can’t all be registered here. Those who have been in both worlds – the Jawara era and the current leadership – will have the visual realisation of the before and after.
“I can’t explain it. It needs to be seen. And people should not forget it has not been easy to achieve all this. Following the coup, sanctions were imposed on the country. It was a difficult road, and hence the more reason to celebrate these hard-earned achievements …
“Africa needs to address the fundamental issue of owning the right to own our natural resources, because that leads to the right to education, good health, food and development.
“African leaders should take a leaf from what President Jammeh is saying – enough is enough. What our president is stressing is that The Gambia and Africans at large, should be masters of our natural resources and control them. It is the great way forward towards permanent economic development.”
Sallah’s view is shared by Momodou Sabally, the minister of Presidential Affairs and the Civil Service who is a major beneficiary of the education that Jammeh brought. He says before 1994, the Gambians trailed behind the world’s poor and were deprived in many ways as President Jawara slumbered on his so-called “Singaporean Dream for national development”.
“The dream was to imitate Singapore’s development trajectory but instead of emulating that great success story, our then government committed the sin of fatalism and thereby widened the gap between rich and poor, “sin-gap-poor” is what we got instead,” Sabally wrote last month.
“A country on the brink of socio-economic and infrastructural collapse was jolted into enforced wakefulness on 22 July 1994. In some circles, they jeered and sneered at the 29-year-old Jammeh …
“Rumours and fears burgeoned as the people were made to believe that without support from the development partners, the new government would not be able to pay salaries, and would collapse within months. Even days, some enthused.
“But with steely determination and unalloyed faith, Jammeh led our country through unprecedented socio-economic development … He built hospitals, schools, roads, a modern airport terminal complex …
“A country that had no university at the advent of the revolution now boasts of thousands of home-trained graduates in all fields, with all parts of The Gambia – no matter how remote – now having access to excellent medical care, with referral hospitals in major provincial towns, as opposed to only one referral hospital from the colonial era to the end of the first republic…
“We have transformed our country to a point where other countries that are bigger in size and population have been coming here to study our success stories in many areas for replication in their countries.”
Ebrima Jawara, son of the dethroned President Jawara, who is now the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, and formerly of the Ministry of Agriculture, says: “For me to come this far is very telling of how reconciliatory President Jammeh has been. It is also a question of trust. It is no small feat that the President trusts the son of the man he overthrew. To put him in his office also says a lot. It shows how far reconciliation has gone and after 20 years, really I think people should move on.”
In fact, Jammeh asked the dethroned Jawara to come back home from exile in Britain, which he did; and now enjoys the privileges of a retired head of state in Banjul.
—–The man himself——
With such good work behind him, Jammeh deserves not to bite his tongue when he speaks. In fact, sometimes when you close your eyes and hear him speak, you think it is President Mugabe speaking.
He is the man who chased away a representative of an American oil company that offered to give Gambia 5 percent of its oil resources if the company was allowed to exploit them.
The company would keep 95 percent of the oil revenue for 30 years to offset its investment. Jammeh was so angry that he told the man that if he ever stepped his foot in the country again, he would be sorry for the day he was born.
Let’s listen to him: “We have achieved a lot in just 20 years and I know we will excel and achieve even more in the years to come … I want whoever lives in this country in 1000 years’ time to remember my name for the good we have done. For now we already have a million reasons to celebrate our revolution.
“By and large, our achievements speak for themselves and I can easily challenge any economic group, institution or economists to come and compare my country from the way it was before 1994 to how it is today, and make comparisons with other countries in Africa for the same period, and tell me which country has developed at the rate we have.”
And then the Mugabe in young Jammeh rises to the fore: “But also bear in mind,” he says, “that in achieving all this we have had very few allies for our development. The West was not on our side and is still not on our side, and we don’t care. Allah is on our side and that’s why we prosper and we will continue to prosper.
“One big myth Africans are made to believe is that if the West is against your government, your country is doomed and will suffer. The West is not with us in The Gambia, God is, and we are doing fine.”
And then he turns to the crux of the matter: “Another myth is that if you are an African leader, you should worship the West in order to stay in power. What a stupid myth. You will stay in power if you have a good heart and you believe that God put you in your position to serve the people that voted for you, and you have to deliver services to them.”
Perhaps Jammeh’s quote of all time is this one: Last October, in discussing Africa’s embittered membership of the International Criminal Court, he famously told New African: “We Africans are fond of jumping into these institutions very quickly. We become members at a stroke of a pen. We ratify our allegiance first and then read the text later, and only then do we realise what we have got ourselves into. Too late.
“I have warned my colleagues that we must be very careful about jumping on one bandwagon after another. We jump into every bus without knowing the destination. And then when the driver stops in hell and asks the Africans to drop off, we find ourselves asking why are we here? We have accepted everything created by the West without even questioning it.”
Does that sound like a certain Robert Gabriel? You bet.
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