Report-back from the January/February 2018 visit

Posters proclaiming views
of the new Gambian government
This is the first of a series of newsletters we'll be sending over the next few months on our visit to Sohm in January/February this year.

We had useful meetings at the Lower Basic and Senior schools, met with and continued to fund our sponsored students and conferred with the regional director of education and some of his staff, in order to advance some of the projects we have been involved with and are looking at funding. We also caught up, and cemented our relationship, with FirstAid4Gambia, which has done so much to support our health work in the Lower Basic school.

We will report on each of these in more detail,  with photos of progress, over the coming months.

All of this activity, of course, takes place within the new political climate and circumstances that The Gambia finds itself now.

A year ago today - Independence Day -  the new president, Adama Barrow took office, after almost a quarter of a century's misrule and plundering of the country by the former dictator Yahya Jammeh, now in protected exile in near-by Equatorial Guinea.

The country seems more at ease with itself and efforts are being made to retrieve the money Jammeh stole from the country and put on trial some of his corrupt henchmen.  This process will, doubtless, take years to fully bear fruit.

One very visible difference over the last year is that roads are no longer adorned with billboards of endless photos of Jammeh, with his preposterous vainglorious boasting, like the one laughable one, below. Photos of Barrow, by contrast, are rarely to be seen, outside of news reports.

No more vainglorious Jammeh
 with his preposterous claims

Instead, far more progressive and enlightened ones, of a "public service" nature are to be found - such as that at the top of this article and others encouraging people to pay their taxes (!) and extolling public health and safety messages, such as those - below - calling for an end to female genital mutilation.

Billboards extolling progressive
 ambitions, in the new Gambia

Posters, of course, can be empty gestures and propaganda tools.  The difference in tone and message between the old and the new, however, seems very real - and to be greatly applauded. Another progressive move was announced by the new government, today - the end of Capital Punishment in The Gambia.

One of Jammeh's legacies was the encouragement of Chinese investment into the country. Some of this is apparently benign, like funding infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges. 

Cynics may draw parallels with similar "Chinese aid" elsewhere in Africa, where these constructions are mainly channels to help the Chinese transport minerals out of the country, in fulfilling their 21st century economic imperialist ambitions.

The Chinese intervention is being felt widely in the country now - and opinions (now open and freely expressed) among Gambians are very much divided on how beneficial the impact will be for The Gambia in the longer term, compared to that accruing to China.

Nice, new embassy for the Chinese,
 in the former Bijilo Hotel
The Chinese, meanwhile have installed themselves in the former Bijilo hotel - as their new embassy and are getting to work on other projects.  

Among them, shamefully, is the destruction of a near-by former monkey park reservation, which has been bulldozed down to erect an 800-seater conference centre. And, as is the case elsewhere in Africa, much of the labour being used to construct it is not local, unemployed, Gambian workers, but staff brought in from China.

Monkey Park destroyed, to make way for
 swish conference centre - progress, Chinese style
A beach at Sanyang, meanwhile, is being dug up by the Chinese, because as local rumour has it, traces of interesting minerals (gossip says either oil or cobalt) have been found there.  Watch this space!

Future, monthly, newsletters will update you with progress over a number of areas we were able to advance in Sohm.  Among them will be:

  • Update on student sponsorship activities
  • This year's investments in the schools
  • School twinning arranged with a Luton primary
  • Difficulties at the senior school
  • Report on progress with major works at the Lower Basic
  • Sohm 2020