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Our national currency is our identity!

Madi Jobarteh is a Gambian rights activist

By Madi Jobarteh

The Gambian dalasi, like any other national currency, is not only an economic and financial tool but it also represents a social, cultural and political identity of the Gambia. For that matter in producing a new national currency there was every justification for the Central Bank of the Gambia to seek public contributions as to what it should contain and how it should look like. A bunch of officials in a cosy office cannot merely think that they can determine the history of a people.

A look on the faces of the currencies of nations of the world would reflect the presence of their national culture, history and identity that exudes a sense of pride and patriotism in the people. These new bank notes released by CBG do not show that fact about the Gambia. Therefore, these new notes can only be described as a postcard and nothing more. Most of the features represented on the notes do not necessarily speak to the unique culture, identity and history of Gambians.

In the first placed while the Gambia has a rich bird life and a leading world destination for bird watching it does not suffice therefore that only birds should show on our currency!  I am not aware of any bird that is officially designated as the national bird of the Gambia but if there is it is such a bird that one could justifiably place on the face of the currency. Yet apart from birds we do also have other animals on land, sea and air as well as flora that also form part of our identity and culture. If we had a national animal or fish or tree or crop it would make sense to showcase them. Did CBG consider that?

The depiction of a ferry, a fisherman and women farmers are not necessarily peculiar features of Gambian life. Women farmers, fishermen and ferries exist in every society. Hence our currency does not need such features. Thus, apart from the Stone Circle, which is uniquely Gambian in shape and size, even if other nations also have stone circles such as the Stonehenge in the UK, I think all the other images need review.

Therefore, the question we need to ask is why didn’t the CBG consider all of these factors such that it creates a process where it can obtain ideas from Gambians who own this currency after all. For example, our country is not only about birds and farms and machines. We are a nation of people first and foremost. Hence it is important that a national historical material like our money reflect at first the people of the Gambia.

Yes, all Gambians are equal and sovereign citizens, but we cannot show each and every citizen’s face on a few bank notes. Therefore, among us we do have individual citizens who stand out because of their unshakable commitment to our freedom, or their contribution to the social, economic and cultural development of the country. For that matter one can think of Edward Francis Small as one individual whose face deserves to be on our currency. He was a citizen who ignited the fire of liberation in our country well before the new nation was born.

While I will oppose the face of any sitting president to be put on our currency however, I strongly believe that former Pres. Dawda Jawara deserves to be on one of the dalasi notes. In that vein one must also consider the faces of Garba Jahumpa, Rev. JC Faye and PS Njie among others at the political level. Yes, we may have differences with these political figures but there is no denying the fact that they were the people who were there at the very beginning in the fight for independence for which they deserve our recognition.

The reality of having faces of founding political leaders on national currencies is not strange. We see the faces of such individuals on currencies like the Ghanaian Cedi where all of the six founding politicians or the Big Six as Ghanaians call them were collectively imprinted on the 50 Ghana Cedi note. We could also see face of the first US President George Washington on the 1-dollar bill.

When it comes to fighting for rights and freedom, in addition to EF Small, one could also consider a leading trade unionist ME Jallow or journalist William Dixon-Colley who was a strong pillar of freedom of expression and the media in the Gambia and made huge contributions to advance the cause of transparent and accountable governance in the country. In that vein I strongly hold that two persons worthy of consideration are Deyda Hydara and Solo Sandeng – patriots like them serve to remind citizens of the purpose and value of citizenship and sovereignty!

The CBG Governor Bakary Jammeh flanked by his two deputies holding a portrait of country’s new Banknotes due for circulation in two months.

It is also important that we consider the role and contribution of women to reflect in our national currency. Women are huge economic producers as well as major socio-cultural and political contenders in the history of the Gambia. With the help of our historians CBG could have identified some of these heroines to showcase them on our currency. This way we would have also provided mentoring and inspiration to our young girls as they see their fellow women on the national bill!

Finally, cannot we have also considered precolonial or pre-independence historic and legendary figures who had stood up against slavery or colonialism or contributed immensely to the development of our society such as through music, religion, sports, education, healthcare or agriculture among others. In that case why cannot we also think of Kunta Kinteh as a Gambian who unreservedly exhibited human dignity and self-determination even when he was forced into slavery!

In light of the foregoing I wish to ask that the Gambia Government to immediately abandon these new bank notes so that the Central Bank could go back to the drawing board to engage in widespread national consultation in determining our currency. This is essential because we must not create a situation where every new government would come to change our currency at great cost to our economy. We have to have a currency that will stand the test of time because it is relevant, realistic and true. Over the past 22 years this country has changed the face of our currency several times without any value to our economy, culture, identity and history. Such waste of resources must end now!

Scrap these new bank notes NOW!.

For The Gambia Our Homeland

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