"A British man sentenced to a year in prison in the Gambia for making anti-government remarks has been taken back to court to face new charges."
This short blurb from the BBC, heard amidst intermittent waves of static on my short wave radio, is the only news concerning the Gambia as a nation that I have heard in the last month. I was vaguely aware of the story previously, as we had been informed of it by Peace Corps staff during training and told to be cautious in writing our blogs--the English man and his wife had made their disparaging remarks via private correspondence, and if that type of communication is being monitored, chances are public postings on the internet will be read as well.
Not that I was planning on bashing anyone on this blog beforehand. My work is at the grassroots level in a village many kilometers away from the capitol, and I'm a young American with little or no knowledge of world diplomacy. Anything I would have to say would be ill-informed, and making political judgements in my position would be unprofessional.
However, as a fairly liberal-minded American who has always been able to speak his mind freely, the prospect of being censored is somewhat alarming to me in principle. I once fought a high school teacher tooth-and-nail when she withdrew a controversial story I had written for a student run literacy magazine whose staff had unanimously accepted it. The story was sub par in retrospect, but the idea of censorship was unacceptable to me.
This is obviously a very different situation. I am no radical, this is not a political blog in any way, and the content will change little as a result of the political climate, if it changes at all. Still, just the idea of an Orwellian scenario, with government censors possibly looking over every line I write, just seems unreal to me. Not to say this is a dictatorship-- I've talked to many Gambians who are of the oppositions party and have spirited discussions about the government on a regular basis. I just always remain a spectator.
Still, this idea in the back of my mind that I'm being watched changes things slightly. For the most part I feel quite at ease with life in "Africa's smiling coast." But if future headlines from the Gambia have a similar tone, that may change.