We Have Icons Worth Celebrating

D1 note from the first republic featuring a portrait of Gambia’s first President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara

Was it just a mere declaration by the Governor of the Central Bank of The Gambia that the monetary agency is about to issue new legal tenders and scrap the old notes which bore the portrait of the former President Jammeh? Or was the decision reached in accordance with the provisions of the law that mandates the Central Bank to be the regulator in chief of the country’s monetary policy in consultation with, and subject to the approval of the National Assembly?

I am not saying or suggesting that the Governor of the central bank acted arbitrarily or outside of the ambit of the law but the publications in the newspapers don’t go beyond mentioning that the old notes will be phased out and they will be replaced by new ones. “Acting on powers conferred on him” is an all too familiar phrase in The Gambia, a symptom of gross institutional indiscipline.

Before Jammeh’s portrait was imprinted on our bank notes, there was Sir Dawda’s, which was erased and phased out because we need a national symbol and not one of individuals which led to the introduction of some scruffy looking portraits of individuals who supposedly represent typical Gambian features (whatever that means).

That sort of arbitrary and impulsive decision making is what leads to constant changes, often costly and unnecessary. What if the new Central Bank Governor of another administration has a different idea of what our currency should look like? 54 years of independence, 49 years of sovereign status and we have been through 4 different legal tenders and about to introduce a 5th one; averaging one complete transformation of our legal tender every decade. How much money goes into that kind of recall of old notes and printing of new ones?

Now that the central bank has decided to remove the self-imposed portrait of Yaya Jammeh on our legal tender, I hope the subsequent changes are not mere declarations but approved by parliament. In fact, as the people’s representatives they need to have an input into the decision before approving it.

This notion that we need to be neutral and see country first is often times misplaced. What is wrong with featuring people who have contributed greatly to our being a nation state or in other spheres of our national interest?

Australia features Mary Gilmore (an author and activist) on its $10 bill since 1993. Kate Sheppard is on the New Zealand $10 note since 1990, she was an advocate for women’s rights. Frida Kahlo (an artist) is featured on the 500 peso note in Mexico. Harriet Tubman (abolitionist) is to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 note in the USA. There are numerous examples in almost all independent states but here we are trying to bury our history and personalities in the name of neutrality and a misplaced ‘nation first’ concept.

How many patriots are buried in our history books (that we don’t read) who contributed immensely in various spheres of our national, social, spiritual, and economic lives slowly fading out of memory? And yet we want people to be selfless and patriotic when none of that sacrifice will be recognized or celebrated by subsequent generations. What then happens is egomaniacs stepping in and pursuing self-aggrandizing goals at our collective detriment. We need not give examples of that, there’s too many.

What would be so wrong to have, say;

D1 note featuring Sir Dawda Jawara

D5 note featuring E.F Small

D10 Note featuring Sir Farimang Singhateh

D20 Note featuring our first elected woman representative

D50 note featuring a pioneering female author/poet/educationist

D100 note featuring a cultural icon/griot and a

D200 note featuring a son or daughter of the land with international repute. People who can serve as icons, role models, heroes/heroines etc. Would that not serve as a motivator for us all to give to the nation our very best hoping we too will be remembered for the good we did?

Naming streets after people is fine, but do we even have a functioning address/mail delivery system?

Our issues are more deep seated than we would like to admit.


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