Fellow Gambians, on April 23rd of this year the Citizens’ Alliance called for a press conference, where we expressed our heartfelt sorrow and disappointment towards the Government’s handling of a common enemy, known as COVID-19. Today that concern is one of our realities, a reality that is evident by an unprecedented surge in cases and number of reported deaths.
From the onset, the government disastrously failed to tackle the virus despite a head start and so much goodwill. There was a lack of a clear and comprehensive strategy to respond to the pandemic. The quarantine process is not well planned and fraught with weaknesses. If there was any response, it was politicized.
Alarm bells were raised when the newly appointed COVID-19 coordinator resigned. For a government and a responsible foresighted leadership in waiting, we cannot sit and turn a blind eye to a failure in the current leadership whilst Gambians die. Gambians are responsible people, but that responsible behaviour can only be led and guided by a well committed and a know-how leadership. Anything less of a leadership that knows how to navigate the dire circumstances we are peddling in, would only lead to more deaths. Like the rest of the World, COVID 19 has been and still remains public enemy number one in The Gambia. It has derailed our plans and day-to-day functions and, in its path, has further exacerbated our already fragile healthcare system, economy and society as a whole. In the face of this crisis however, there seems to be a lack of leadership at a time we need it most. Bold, decisive and effective leadership. Leadership at every level. In times of crises like these, the people yearn for leadership, one that can inspire hope and calm and communicate.
We have had at least 5 months since the first SOE to prepare for today, but yet still, the failure to plan and the mismanagement and corruption that plagued the COVID 19 response has brought us to where we are today. As of today, the Gambia has recorded 935 confirmed cases, 136 new cases and 16 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health. Despite efforts by the government and various stakeholders, the sudden spike in the number of positive tests and deaths over the past week has been quite alarming. Healthcare workers are being infected, the facilities set up to deal with the Coronavirus have been put under immense strain, local transmission has rapidly increased and it is getting increasingly difficult to conduct proper contact tracing. This has necessitated new guidelines for social distancing and a mandatory mask policy by the government - evidence of how dire the situation is.
We are gravely concerned that our entire healthcare system will be overrun with very little resistance. With this very scary but real possibility in mind, we believe that it is time for us to come together, bring our resources – human, technical and material - together, to support our government's efforts to deal with this virus. All over the nation, and mostly in the Greater Banjul Area/the Kombos, our loved ones are affected. Infection rates are rising drastically, causing the elderly and the most vulnerable to succumb to this virus. Our morgues or “dead houses” are filled with reports of chaotic scenes. Families cannot bury their loved ones in the ways of their traditions due to the elevated level of threat this virus poses. The Gambian citizenry has been left with panic and uncertainty as reports of unpaid frontline workers and a large scale of infected medical personnel have flooded the airwaves. There have also been reports of poorly managed treatment centers due to an understaffed medical response team. Some of our infected citizens are monitored in these centers with no treatment options and with no access to mundane medications such as paracetamol These are evident testimonies of trying times at the national level that call for unity in action by all. In these times, when there is enough blame to go around, we have to unite as a nation and speak with one purpose. Our purpose as of this moment therefore is to focus on ways of mitigating our circumstances. We as children of this nation share a vested interest in our wellbeing and should do everything possible to make sure that our nation does not succumb to a virus that would stifle our growth for years to come. That’s why the Citizens Alliance thought it prudent at this present juncture to present our plan to help defeat this menace in our midst.
We are therefore taking our responsibilities very seriously to state the obvious as we see it and feel it. We recognize that now is not the time for blame games but time for concrete solutions that will preserve lives and safe life. The Citizens Alliance has been at the helm of participation since the beginning of this pandemic; from our interventions to provide relief to vulnerable communities in the rural areas, to our sensitizing campaigns via radio, outdoor and social media, to the distribution of masks in the Greater Banjul Area, amongst many other supporting roles to strengthen our response to this virus. However, at this juncture, it is prudent to welcome a joint effort from every single Gambian citizen, from all walks of life and in all capacities, knowing that the Government alone cannot stop this escalation.
We invite all political parties, NGOs and CSO’s, groups and associations and every well-meaning stakeholder and partner in development to come on board and add value to the efforts in curbing this pandemic. Please note that this initiative is a collective effort relying on the unification of all concerned Gambians to help save our people and our nation from the devastation of this pandemic - it’s beyond politics. The stakes are too high for us to let partisanship or any other differences get in the way of saving our nation. Every single one of us has been affected and it will only get worse if we fail to seize on this opportunity. With this collaborative effort, our ideas along with combined resources could be used simultaneously and distributed with the guidance of the Association of Resident Doctors. We aim to produce and distribute at least an additional 10,000 masks in the most vulnerable areas of the Greater Banjul Area within the month of August as well as more sensitization materials and resources to exercise precaution and prevention to unite and fight this virus. What we can do during these times begins with our attitude towards this pandemic and we all have to do our part. If we keep to social distancing, the washing of hands, the wearing of masks, and staying away from crowds and gatherings, we would get through these times Our lives are valuable and so should be treated as such. Let us use best practices and protect ourselves as well as others (particularly the most vulnerable – children, the elderly and people with already pre-existing conditions) to flatten the curve.
We commend the government for appreciating the seriousness of the situation and for introducing the new measures. However, we still think these measures fall short. A 10 PM curfew is ineffective and pointless. We recommend a more productive curfew starting at 8PM. We strongly urge all leaders, starting with the government, down to political, business and community leaders, appeal to the population to work towards a soft self-imposed and community-driven lockdown. By this we mean we try and get our people to understand that limiting movement is beneficial and will save all of our lives. By so doing, we will all willingly participate and enforce this soft lockdown by ourselves, without the need for security personnel to go around arresting, beating or harassing the people These restrictions while essential, must be enforced with compassion and understanding. We know that lockdowns and curfews will make earning a living extremely difficult for many of our citizens who live from hand to mouth. Therefore, we must strike a sensible balance to stop the movement of this deadly virus while at the same time ensuring that we do not starve our population.
We send our deepest condolences to those that have lost their loved ones. And pray for a speedy recovery to those who have been inflicted with this virus. We have as a nation defied many challenges and weathered many storms. With determination and resolve and coming together as a nation, and working with our neighbours and friends around the world, we will defeat the virus. We at Citizens Alliance believe that we will defeat this together as one nation and one people. God Bless.