Voters in Banjul not swayed by infrastructure needs

Many of Banjul’s citizens will tell you they support President Yahya Jammeh and his government. Those same civilians say development since 1996, when Jammeh took over as president, has rapidly expanded and increased. More than ever children (specifically girls) are going to school and more hospitals are being built. They call this progress.

However, UN statistics show that the Gambia still has some way to go to reach the Millennium Development Goals. For example, insufficient progress has been made to improve the lives of slum dwellers.

The 2013 municipal elections, held in April, were a time for candidates to outline strategies for further infrastructure development to improve citizens’ quality of life (as per the UN Millenium Development Goals).

One of Banjul’s biggest problems in terms of infrastructure relates to inadequate electricity supply.

“Power outages are widespread and serious. The government can do something about it provided it has allowed transparency and accountability . . . Since this is not the case, people don’t even know what is the real problem and how to solve it,” said a local source who did not want to be named.

The country’s one major power station is located in Kotu (part of the Greater Banjul area) and run by the National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC), which is owned 92.7 percent by the Gambian government.

The problem with power lies in the fact that it is underinvested, there are rising fuel prices, and non-payments in large billing areas such as Banjul. And although there are almost nightly blackouts, the mayoral candidates did not focus on power shortages in their campaigns.

Four candidates ran in Banjul: Samba Fall, the incumbent mayor, for the APRC (Alliance for Patriotic Re-Orientation and Construction), and three independents, Abdoulie Bah, Basiru Ndow and Alhagi Jah. Bah ran as an independent candidate because he had support from citizens to contest the seat and was confident in a win.

The candidates’ campaigns centred on sewage management and job creation. In an interview with FOROYAA Newspaper, Mr. Bah said he has a four-year plan to solve the problems in Banjul. His plan required grassroots support from the community. He did not divulge specifics of how he would aid development. Mr. Ndow went into detail about sewage problems, stating that blockages cause poor sanitation and can be linked with exposure to diseases like malaria. He noted that without a proper sewage and drainage system the roads of Banjul flood during the rainy season. Vehicles cannot pass through at this time, meaning that hundreds of taxi drivers go without much income for most of the rainy season (July to October).

Alhagi Jah had a concrete plan for long-term and sustainable development. He said he would work to build and improve roads that would increase the job market in construction and stabilize taxi services. He also planned to build a career centre for youth to battle unemployment.

It was a complex situation in terms of what citizens were looking for from the election. Naturally, people want good quality public goods and services. And citizens want to see efficiency and an effective government that regulates the private sector so that profits are not made at the expense of the population. But when it came to infrastructure, it seemed to be a pressing topic on the minds of Banjulians in pre-election stages but was evidentially not a burning issue when it came time to vote.

On April 4, 2013, The Independent Electoral Commission declared Bah the winner with 4980 votes to incumbent Mayor Samba Fall’s 3811 count.

One must wonder what motives were present during the vote that the citizens failed to elect a candidate with structural plans to enhance and further develop infrastructure. Was it a matter of apathy, voter disengagement, or something to do with the bigger picture?

This article forms part of Urban Africa’s urban reporting series.

Photo courtesy Emily Smith.


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