Notes from the Bush

The flight we are taking from JFK goes to Dakar in Senegal, Banjul in The Gambia, and Abidjan in Cote I’vore. I ask the ticket agent at the airport where Abidjan is. In true New Yorker style he says he has no idea. “Man, I send people wherever they want to go to, I don’t care where those places are.” When we arrive in Banjul we realize that this is a different place, in a different time. The airport is tiny. You pick up your bags from a pile and take it to customs. The customs check is done on a concrete platform in the open air. Just beyond is a surging crowd of taxi drivers, tourist bums, and unemployed young men. Why people just hang around transportation centers has always been a great mystery of life. Some of them hold up signs and one of them reads “Gopi and David, Wharton International Volunteer Project, Welcome to The Gambia.”

The Gambia is the tiniest country in Africa and has the strangest geography of any place in the world. It is only 30 miles wide and sometimes as little as 13; but it is 300 miles long. The Gambia is smaller than Connecticut and has fewer people than Delaware. The mighty Kamby Bolongo (Gambia River) runs along the length of the country dividing it into two even narrower strips. Since the river is about 12 miles wide at its mouth, it reduces the country to two narrow river banks.

As a former British colony, it is an English speaking country bang in the middle of Francophone Africa. The Gambia is suffocated on three sides by French speaking Senegal. Only a small Atlantic coastline offers some respite. Banjul, the capital, is the westernmost point on the bulge called West Africa. On a map The Gambia looks like a thorn in Senegal’s side. Indeed it is, forcing Senegalese to cross international borders and river ferries to get from one side of their country to another. The borders are unnatural, faithfully following the river. In some places, they are ramrod-straight lines. Their quirky former colonial masters are given credit for this. One local story goes that the British were only interested in trading on the river (slaves, ivory, salt, gold) and not in developing the interior. So the borders were drawn as far as a British cannon could fire from the middle of the river.

On the banks of the Kamby Bolongo sits a village called Juffureh, made famous in Alex Haley’s novel and film “Roots.” The book begins around 1750 when Kunta Kinte, a youth of the Mandinka tribe from this village was captured and brought on a slave ship to America. The book ends seven generations later with the Arkansas funeral of a black Professor whose children include a teacher, a navy architect, an assistant director of the US Information Agency and the author himself. Today in 1997, almost 250 years later, Haley’s son leads American “Roots” tour groups to Juffureh on the old Slave route. Binta Kinte, his cousin several times removed, poses with the tourists for pictures.

We are in The Gambia as part of the Wharton International Volunteer Project. This is a student led initiative that sends teams of Wharton students to work with development agencies in different countries. Its mission is to utilize the business skills of Wharton students obtained through an MBA education and previous professional experiences to benefit people and projects in need throughout the world. It does this by working in partnership with non-governmental and charitable organizations on local projects in emerging economies and underprivileged communities in the United States. The projects undertaken are mostly providing management services to these agencies on a pro-bono basis.

This summer, 31 students worked on projects in ten countries including India, Belize, El Salvador, Dominica, Mozambique, Ecuador, Russia, and the Philippines. The team in India worked with Project Mainstream helping street children micro finance their own businesses. The team in El Salvador helped local micro businesses with their marketing plan. In Belize project members worked with an ecotourism group and developed a plan to promote ecotourism while protecting their natural resources. And in Mozambique, the volunteers worked with Action for Enterprise to identify economic sub-sectors with strong potential for small enterprise.

Our team in The Gambia is well and truly international. David Hinton is the token American. Finn McClain is Dutch-American, Esther Perkins is English, Jane-Frances is Scottish, and I am Asian-Indian.

Our host organization in The Gambia is The President’s Award Scheme, an organization modeled along the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, that focuses on youth development in The Gambia. In addition, it also runs vocational skills training centers and a program that trains and finances young entrepreneurs. During our three week stay the team will be working on several projects at various Gambian organizations. We will be teaching business courses in different business development programs, providing computer training at the local chamber of commerce, and drafting a long term plan to finance and expand the computer training center at a rural school. We will also be developing the course material for their entrepreneurship training program, making sure that the business examples are relevant in the Gambian context.

West Africa is one of the poorest regions in the world. In per capita income, ten of the seventeen countries in the region rank at the very bottom of the UN list. Seven of the ten countries at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index are in West Africa. The Gambia has only a million people, but given its size, it is one of the most densely populated countries even by African standards. In some kind of cruel economic joke, The Gambian economy is mainly dependent on one annual crop of one agricultural product – peanuts. While it may have made Jimmy Carter rich, the single crop of peanuts that grows for just three months in a year has left Gambia with a GNP per capita of two hundred and forty dollars per year. An economic data sheet we look at lists sand and gravel as the second most important natural resource after fish. Sandwiched between the Sahara desert and the lush green forests of Guinea to the south, this land called the Sahel is an arid country of poor soils, parched thornbrush of baobab and scrub acacia, and red termite hills. In May the heat is terrific, the land shimmers in the hot breath of the desert, and on some days we cannot even see the sun. Dust blowing from the Sahara shrouds the sky in a gray haze. It looks as if all the dead paper of the world has blown up to hang lazily over the skies of The Gambia.

The horizon in all directions is marked by the looming baobab trees. No leaves, only dry branches. It has the bizarre look of a plant that has been uprooted and plunged upside down into the ground with its roots sticking up in the air. Every local tribe has its own version of how the tree angered the Gods and therefore ended upside down in a fit of divine anger. Banjul, the capital, is on the coast and is cooled by gentle breezes blowing from the Atlantic. But go upriver into the bush and the heat seems to increase by a degree for every mile. One evening we are at The Underground, a pub in town popular with expatriate volunteer workers. There we meet Jane, an American Peace Corps volunteer. The village she works in is 300 miles upriver, almost on the border where the river Gambia pushes into Senegal and Guinea. The heat there during the day, she says, is 140 degrees in the shade. “After 110 degrees it really does not matter because your brain and your body just switch off. You sit there in the shimmering heat in a mind numbing state of being. ”

But contradictions abound. The Gambia coastline on the Atlantic fits most people’s image of paradise. The entire 40 miles of land is white coral sands and feathery coconut palms, curving towards a sea of peacock blue. The waters are warmed to a comfortable tepid state by the Guinea current, while the shore is cooled by northeast trade winds. It is sunny and you can swim right around the year. European sun worshippers have known this for several years and made tourism an important industry. 100,000 of them – equivalent to ten percent of the local population – visited last year. To get to the beaches we drive through the Serekunda market, crowded, chaotic, and dense. Merchants sell fish, plastic tubs, groundnuts, tie-dyed fabrics, foreign currency, chicken, herbs, cassettes, mangoes, Chicago Bulls merchandise, coconut pieces, and cloth bales. Once you get to the resorts you feel like you are in Club Med. They are full of tropical gardens and pool-side aerobics, boogie boards and margaritas, uniformed waiters who serve you on your beach chair and Somerset Maugham style bars. Once you get past the few miles of resorts the beaches are empty. There are great stretches of silver sanded beaches threaded by occasional creeks. Sometimes you see small fishing crews hauling in their circle nets. Now and then, big horned white Zebu cattle, the only ones resistant to the Tsetse fly, make their way down to the water’s edge to lick the salt from the rocks. Most tourists are bussed straight from the airport to the idyllic beach resorts, where they lie on the beach the entire time and head home again. Their dominant view of Africa is thus one of tropical flower gardens edging white sands and the shimmering blue of the Atlantic. In cruel irony, most of the guilders, marks, and pounds are collected by tour operators in Europe; only a small portion flows into the local economy.

A peculiar sub-culture operates on the beach. There are hundreds of ‘Toubobs’ (originally meaning White Man now used affectionately for any non African visitor) from Germany, Holland and Britain tanning on the beaches. Most of the women are topless, which should not be surprising, except that this is a Muslim country. Young, underemployed, Gambian youth, called ‘Bumsas’ in the local parlance, troll the beaches. They are overtly friendly and can act as your friend or guide, take you to their designated bar, sell you various services, and chase away other predatory Bumsas. Unfortunately, even if you are not interested in these services, they can be very persistent and annoying. Carla, an American health care worker I met on the plane had told me about rich middle-aged women from Europe coming to The Gambia, to hook up with young men. They are apparently in search of “The real African Experience” as it is called, playing out the fantasy of black-white sexual relationships. I pay no attention to this comment. But when I get to the beaches, I see that it is true. Several toubob women, arm-in-arm with Bumsas on the beach. This is a strange version of the sexual safari. But unlike what you would see in Thailand or the Philippines, the roles here are reversed.

More contradictions. As is fashionable in African politics, the Gambia had a coup in 1994. The coup was bloodless, and the military junta, actually kept to their promise and held democratic elections. White Muhammad, who is actually a black Professor of African American Studies from the University of Illinois consulting with the local government, shares a ride with us from the airport. He tells us that this is a young, ambitious government run by leaders with a professional background, with a vision committed to economic development. They want to make Gambia a model West African economy. In many ways they are well on their way. The President of the country celebrates his 31st birthday when we are there. He became President at the tender age of 28. It prompts a question in our minds, “What have you done with your life, lately?” The average age of the ministry is in the early 30s. Together they have drafted a mission statement, with the corporate title of “The Gambia Inc…Vision 2020. To transform The Gambia into a financial center, tourist paradise, a trading export oriented……nation, thriving on free market policies and a vibrant private sector….” They have the vision down all right, including viewing their government as an Inc. and not a political monstrosity.

We drive through Banjul, the seat of the government, on our way to meet Lamin Bajo, The Honorable Gambian minister for youth and sport. Known formerly as Bathhurst under the British, Banjul looks like any of the several British colonial cities I have seen in India. The Government offices look every bit like the British built secretariats in state capitals in India. There are people milling around with tattered looking papers in their hands, in search of an endless stream of signatures, I am sure. Lamin Bajo is no older than 30 or 31 and looks majestic in his ashwebi that stretches almost to his ankles. There is a very formal air about the meeting. We sit in two rows in front of the minister, the visitors from Wharton in the first row and the representatives of the local agency in the second row. The meeting is moderated by a six-and-a-half foot tall ‘Permanent Secretary’ whose dress and manner most certainly came from a code of conduct laid down by the British Civil Service. Everyone addresses the minister as “Honorable.” We speak in turns when signaled by the permanent secretary. And then he invites the “Honorable” to respond. Minister Lamin Bajo has an impressive vision and program he is working towards. Forty-seven percent of the Gambian population is under the age of 25, he explains, and therefore his ministry which sponsors our host organization has a significant role to play in Gambia’s growth through youth development. His vision is to develop the technical and business skills of the youth in Gambia, promote an entrepreneurial culture, and generate employment through the private sector. He is pragmatic enough to realize that the public sector can only absorb a limited number of people and he has to stimulate private enterprise in his economy.

Entrepreneurs have a way of spotting opportunities. Like heat seeking missiles they zoom in on profits from anywhere in the world. The Gambia has no stock exchange. In fact, among the 17 nations in West Africa only two have stock exchanges. Most of Africa fits the classic definition of an emerging market. Malawi’s tiny market trades a mere two stocks, Swaziland’s trades four. The newspapers in the The Gambia do not have a business page. To my untrained eye, it seems that there are no business opportunities there. But entrepreneurs from around the world seem to thrive here. The soft drink market has been cornered by an Indian, Niti Chellaram, who runs the Coke bottling franchise. In a hot country where Western tourists flock that must be better than having the keys to the bank vault. In the crowded Serekunda market I sidestep live chickens, chili vendors, and bundles of smoked fish. I am in search of some music by Senegalese singer, Yussou N’Dour. Bang in the middle of this bustle is a lady who will record African CD’s on a tape for you. She barely speaks English, because she is Yoko from Kobe, Japan. She runs the store with her Nigerian husband. The only commercial radio station – Radio Syd – is run by Britt Wadner, who is Danish and who first started broadcasting from a ship after a Swedish charter flight pilot told her that there was no music radio station in The Gambia. One of the best street side restaurants, The Zumberliner, is run by Wolfgang Windhammer from Berlin. “Ze life is gut here,” he tells me.

Deep in the bush, on the banks of the Kamby Bolongo, we relax at the Tendeba camp, a modern conference center designed like an African village complete with mud huts and looped thatching bound into a top knot at the center of the roof. The conference center was founded by two Norwegians. Later we cross the river on a ferry loaded with camels, trucks, people, fish, and merchants. Noisy hawkers peddle their wares – ice water, eggs, matchboxes, French baguettes, and medicines made by a pharmaceutical company in Pune, India that promises to get rid of intestinal worms. There is a truck packed tight with two cows, a donkey, bleating goats, and an earthmover. I spy a wizened Chinese face in a straw hat that belongs to a peasant commune on the Yangtze and not the Kamby Bolongo. I rattle off in a smattering of Cantonese and English to the man. He is Yai Ning, originally from Nanking. Pointing to a Toyota pickup loaded with wheelbarrows, he explains to me that he is going to try and sell the wheelbarrows at the village market in Farafenni where we are going. Later I share a taxi ride with Ranjit Singh, who runs a textile business and is from a village in Punjab, India. I am dumbfounded. A month ago I could not have placed Gambia on a map. How did all these people decide to come to The Gambia and make their fortune? Did Ranjit just wake up one day in his village in the Punjab and say “I am going to The Gambia. That is where the opportunities are?”

Everywhere in Gambia the modern and the traditional exist side by side in intriguing ways. Driving through the bush from Farafenni, we pass several villages. All of them have telephones operated by an extremely well run and modern telephone company based on satellite networks. None of them have electricity, though. The few urban centers in the country are powered by diesel generators. Many of the villages look exactly as they were described as being 200 years ago in Alex Haley’s Roots. There is a celebration going on in several villages. It is the month of manhood initiation and circumcision ceremonies. Young men are taken into the forests and trained to become real men. We stop off at one of the villages to watch the ceremonies. Lots of drums, string instruments resonating on gourds, the Kora, the balafon, nervous youth, shouting children, and men dancing in fierce masks. One man, with a sharp knife, is slashing his face in a gruesome sight that I cannot bear to watch. But there is no blood. Our guide tells us that he is a “Juju” and is therefore protected from knife wounds. An old man dancing at the head of the pack prepares to sacrifice a chicken, which is uselessly flapping its wings. My friend, Finn begins to focus his camera to get a good shot. The old man turns around, put his hand up in a stop sign and wags his index finger. The message is clear, No photographs, please. I think we may have violated an ancient tradition forbidding photographs of the ceremony. The man continues to communicate to us in sign language that it is OK to take pictures, if….and rubs his thumb and index fingers together. I smile at witnessing another ancient tradition popular across the world. From financial centers in NY to circumcision ceremonies in Farafenni, human beings are clear about one thing, “Show me the money”. I am delighted at the fact that a Gambian villager is teaching my budding investment banker friend that there are no free lunches.

At the Tendaba camp, there is a national conference in progress. The conference itself may be a very modern concept, but everything else here is ancient. The conference room is a structure covered by thatched roofing and no walls. All proceedings are translated simultaneously into Woulof and Mandinka , the two major tribal languages. In attendance are “Alkalos,” village chiefs who command respect in their villages. And the topic of the conference is an issue that is currently raising as much heat as abortion rights are raising in the US – the issue of female genital mutilation.

One day we are at a school we are working in. Heath is a pony tailed Peace Corps volunteer from Colorado who runs the computer training center at the school. During lunch hour he takes us to the lunch shed. Under an asbestos shed sit several Gambian women selling fish patties, baguettes and peanuts. I buy my daily dose of ‘gerte,’ fried and salted peanuts. It cost me 20 bututs or two cents. I am aghast at the size of this micro transaction. I may not comprehend this, but from this two cent transaction, a profit is being generated, a family supported, and a living made. One of the women tells us that she has traveled twice to the US. How the margin of a two cent transaction stretches all the way on a holiday to the US boggles my mind. Much of the economy operates on such micro transactions. A shared ride in a ‘bush taxi’ to anywhere in town is 20 cents, a cold bottle of ‘joyful julbrew’ the largest selling beer is 70 cents, and a satisfying lunch of spicy domoda, plasa and benachin in a chop shop is 50 cents.

But out of such micro-transactions fortunes can be made. Bala Moneh owns the four bedroom house we are renting. He also seems to own most of the neighborhood, the Shell gas station on the corner, and a fleet of construction equipment. Driving me home one day in his Mercedes, he puffs luxuriously on a cigarette and barks orders into his cellphone. He tells of his early days when he started his business. He would buy milk from Fular herdsmen, strap the milk cans to his bicycle and sell them door to door. “I am not educated, I am from the school of hard knocking” he says matter of factly. “Right or wrong, my customer is always right” he continues. He obviously has home grown business acumen, as sharp as any business school graduate could hope to get.

Ebrima Liegh is our designated driver. He drives the brand new Toyota 4-wheel drive pickup that our agency received as a gift from the Government. For Liegh this vehicle is a cross between a Hummer and a Sherman tank. He drives without understanding how to engage the truck in 4-wheel drive. One day he goes right onto the sandy stretch of the beach, churns the wheels, digs a hole and strands the truck like a beached whale. We spend the next half hour furiously trying to dig the truck out. Liegh does not speak much English and we do not speak any Wolof, making basic communication, like where we want to go, an adventure. Liegh is from the Fular tribe and proud of it. He points out Fular men and women on the streets, recognizing them probably by physical features, clothing, or jewelry. To our untrained eye we can’t tell any difference. The Fular, we are told, are notorious for their combative style of conversation. No, they are not angry or getting ready to kill, they just like to talk that way, a Senegalese friend of ours tells us. Obviously she is from another tribe.

The cars and trucks in front of us perform all kinds of maneuvers on the narrow street. Some of them are right in front of us even though they are going the other way. The street is a drive through open market of sorts. There are throngs of people on both sides trading merchandise – everything from garments to foreign currency. You stop, do a deal, move on. Liegh often stops the vehicle in the middle of the road, sticks his head out and unleashes a volley in Mandinka. Other drivers and passersby shout back. Wolof rock by Yussou N’Dour is blaring on the radio. There is complete bedlam. I may not understand the transaction, but I know that it could make the most caustic diatribe from a New York cabbie to shame. And then all of a sudden everything is resolved, everybody drives off happily. Liegh mutters to himself and shakes his head in disapproval. “Gopi, I not happy” he says.

West Africa is rich in oral traditions. Griots, wandering singing minstrels, are supposed to carry stories of tribal village families in their heads spanning several generations. Indeed it was a Griot of the Juffureh village who is supposed to have helped Alex “Kinteh” Haley establish his roots by singing about the brave son of the Kinteh clan who was captured by slave traders 250 years ago. On closer examination it becomes evident why oral traditions are so rich. None of the tribal languages have a written script. There are no local language books or newspapers, no shop signs or menu cards in the local language. If anything is written, it is in English. And that explains why everyone walks around with one ear glued to a transistor radio. Pa, one of the assistants at the NGO, is constantly tuned into BBC’s “Focus on Africa”, Liegh, our driver, cannot survive without the hourly news in Fular and Rama Touleh, our maid, requests us for a radio so that her whole fishing village has access to news.

One day everyone we see seems to be glued to a radio. What is going on, we wonder. There has been another coup in Sierra Leone, just months after a democratically elected government had been installed. In a familiar African story, it is rebellious junior army officers all over again. Sierra Leone is a classic example of a screwed up economy. At the time of independence in 1961, it was the most prosperous West African country. Now it is the poorest. At independence, 60% of the country was covered in primary rain forest, now only 6% is. Thirty years of mismanagement and corruption has sent the economy rapidly spinning downhill. Much of the country is under rebel control. Even local nationals cannot move around freely. Sierra Leone’s mines have gone silent, its mining wealth remains untapped, while anarchy reigns everywhere.

The Gambia must be the friendliest place on earth. Connecting with people is an important part of life. It is not easy to get away at all. In every house we visit, including our own, there are dozens of people coming in and out and milling around. I am baffled at who they are – Balamoneh the landlord, Malik his son, Malan their gofer, Rama Touleh the maid, Liegh the driver, Mohammed the shop keeper across the street, Conteh from the host agency. After a while I stop trying to figure out, and happily let them come and go. Salifu Kujabi, the director of the agency we work for and our sponsor in The Gambia, is one of the most recognized names on the street. Bush taxi drivers, supermarket cashiers, circle net fishermen, money changers, all recognize his name. And of course, as a friend of a friend, in an instant you are their friend too. Before long people wave out to us on the beaches or from bush taxis. Obviously we have met them before, but to our embarrassment we have no recollection. Often, we get free rides. The captain of a fishing boat that hauls in its catch every day off the Senegambia beach resort turns out to be Salifu’s brother, Gibriel. For the next few days every time he spots us on the beach after our work, he comes over and gifts us a part of the catch. On one particular day there are about 40 people struggling against the tide and hauling in the circle nets. The tourists on the beach surround the fishermen, watching them work. The catch is poor. Forty people working for an hour haul in only two big fish. That’s it. Everyone looks downcast. Gibriel picks up the two fish brings it over to us and asks us to enjoy our dinner. There may be scarcity all around, but there is an abundance in their hearts that touches us deeply.

Everywhere we go we find proof that human beings are resilient and can create magnificent institutions out of seeming nothingness. Heath’s computer training facility would surpass similar facilities in many US public schools. Starting off with equipment donated by USAID when they pulled out of Gambia, he has created a lab of networked machines that runs Office 95, Encarta, and multimedia machines. He continues to beg, borrow, buy, and assemble computer equipment to develop the lab. In a creative, entrepreneurial drive the school has made the center financially self-supporting by marketing training courses to the public. The fees pay for its air conditioning and standby power generators.

In another instance we are at a school that runs an entrepreneurship training program for high school students. In the searing May heat I look around the room for a fan and there is none, I look at the walls and I can spot no switches or wiring. I realize that the school has no electricity. But the rural high school students we are talking to run a sophisticated company complete with marketing departments, finance directors, and annual reports to the shareholders. The country may have no stock exchange but the 14 year-olds display a financial acumen and understanding of business basics that astound us. Their advertising manager is a persistent, smooth talking, 14 year old who within 20 minutes has led me through a restaurant, a Friday lunch time DJ led dancing session, their tie-dyed garments display – all student run enterprises – and sold us several hundred Dalasis worth of food, music , and clothes. I am almost tempted to hire him for any future business opportunities I may have. Later in a question and answer session that we have with the “management” of the company, their business smarts amaze us. They shoot questions at us on everything from quality control and audit procedures to marketing campaigns and improving profitability.

On our last day we have two memorable and uniquely Gambian experiences. In the morning a road race is being held. In a fit of bravado David, Esther, and I decide to run as well. We are the only non-Africans running the race. Everyone else looks like a lean, hungry cheetah rearing to go. An Englishman standing on the side asks us if we really want to do it. “Some of these guys have petrol in their bodies,” he says “they are going to run like machines.” The race is delayed by over an hour, as there is pandemonium around. The TV crew has arrived without a vehicle, the organizers are negotiating with a taxi driver to act as the TV camera pilot car, the pellet box for the starter’s gun cannot be opened easily, the starting gun refuses to go off……In the meanwhile, the sun is climbing in the sky and I feel as if we are baking slowly in a brick oven. It is ridiculous to be out in this heat, let alone run a road race. Finally, we are off. Everyone else tears down the starting stretch. We think they are trying to get ahead of the pack to get on TV. Quickly it dawns on us that that is the way they run. Within the first mile Esther and I are panting like St. Bernards. The Gambians on the road side are amused. “Go Toubob” they shout. At the mid way mark total humiliation happens. A wail of a siren closes in on us as a pilot vehicle passes us by. For a brief thirty seconds, the crowd thinks that we are leading the pack and we have our moment of glory. No, it is the lead runner of the 10K pack passing us. Embarrassingly, we are the dead last of the 5K runners now threatening to fall behind even the 10K runners.

In the evening, we go out with our most recent friends, the crew of a fishing boat headed up by Salifu’s brother. We are off to a concert by Senegalese singer Yossou N’Dour, who has become an international sensation. The concert-cum-dance is supposed to start at 11PM The crowd slowly builds up. This is a Gambian version of an open air debutante ball. The Gambian women turn up looking magnificent in their finery. It is midnight now and the concert has not started yet. We are told that this is typical of performances in The Gambia. Slowly, another artist takes the stage and warms up the crowd. Finally, it is 1AM before N’Dour comes on stage with his band, Le Super E’toile. The crowd goes wild. For the next three hours he belts out his unique mix of traditional mbalax music mixed with western pop, rock, and soul. It is a music which throbs, clatters, and splits around a basic pulse behind his wailing voice. The crowd around us dances non-stop till 4AM, moving their bodies in the beautiful rhythm that flows in African genes. We, the toubobs, jerk our limbs in staccato bursts.

In The Gambia we experience and leave behind, we see a glimmer of hope for the economics of anguish that West Africa has been through. The young leadership is less interested in politics or power and more interested in free market policies and a vibrant private enterprise. There is promise of The Gambia becoming a model economy and bringing about the miraculous transformation that Cote I’vore has been through or that Jerry Rawlings has brought about in Ghana. Till 1984 Ghana had the worst post-independence track record in West Africa and was an economic basket case. In 1984, Jerry Rawlings, a junior Air Force officer, took over power, cracked the whip and created a country that is now an economic showcase. The Gambia displays the promise of taking that road. It is a promise we hope it will keep when we return.