How is the Political Culture of Gerontocracy Hurting Gambian Democracy, Lack of Visionary Leadership, and Oppression of the Youth In Political Leadership?

Mamos Media

Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: The Gambia is heading towards another presidential election on December 4, 2021, even while many existential questions remain unanswered. How much help will the vulnerable Gambian voters get from the next President or incumbent President of deepening political and economic threats that impact Gambian values and government, whether young or old? In Orestes, Euripides, one of the greatest authors of Greek tragedy, said, “when one with honeyed words but evil mind persuades the mob, great woes befall the state.” Every wounded Gambian would relate quickly with those wise words.

How visionary leadership can get us through the end of the tunnel is that humility, honesty, compromise, and accommodation of alternative views are essential prerequisites of leadership no matter how powerful, invincible, or infallible a country’s leaders might feel consider themselves to be. The hubristic mantra “no one can stop reggae” reminds me of the claim that “not even God himself could sink this ship” from the engineers of the Titanic.

Leaders should desist the all too familiar human temptation to keep praise singers, court jesters, and “Comrade Napoleon is always right” types of advisors. In other words, there can be no more extraordinary folly than the peculiarly Gambian (or is it African?) tendency to treat persons who hold views that are different from those of the establishment as enemies of the state. How can a “system or leadership” that is hostile to the idea of a plurality of ideas create a prosperous country?
Charlatanry, court jesting, political brokerage, chest-thumping, and praise-singing are not viable substitutes for professional knowledge and expertise. Unfortunately, formally and informally, many other educated politicians and professionals heeded the counsel of praise singers, political brokers, ignoramuses, court jesters, and outright charlatans.

Whereas perceptions of elitist cultural hegemonic devices, wealth, and power in The Gambia might have some merit, most of our political leaders of men and women of inimitable courage and integrity. Yes, money is essential for running a campaign. However, money does not buy an election. There are things money cannot buy. They include truth, honesty, loyalty, patriotism, etc. However, the ‘tangal cheeb politicians’ spent millions of Dalasis on the political process and paid hundreds of thousands in campaign finances. Ultimately, wealthy candidates pay their way, but it is not accessible to victory, and they lose elections.

Fatoumatta: Our political leadership’s past and current civic culture and leadership recruitment exercise is mob action. However, we debate how to give the bosses and their mobsters a renewal license to further mess with our lives. However, like Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, said, “elections belong to the people. It is their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” We are sitting on the blains from the 2016 presidential polls. They remain sorely painful. That is why many Gambians are tired of looking at 2021, the December 4 presidential elections. They are insisting on a redefinition of the country called the Gambia.

The heat is on. However, for those looking forward to December 4, the presidential election and Adama Barrow’s re-election or successor have added other conditions. For example, should the next President of the Gambia be literate in economics, law, political science, sociology, realtor, journalism, or a businessman or be nationalistic, cosmopolitan in outlook, and pan-Gambian in words and action. Lovely ideas; no employer would squirm at the prospect of such a spic-and-span candidate getting the job. However, the Gambia does not make its choices using the criteria of excellence. Gambian politics was not created for such lofty heights.

“I’ve never fooled anyone. I’ve let people fool themselves. They didn’t bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn’t argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn’t.” Hugely successful American actress, model, and singer Marilyn Monroe (born June 1, 1926) has continued to rule the world of American pop culture even after her death on August 4, 1962. She has many legacies – including quotable quotes that keep her memory green forever. The above is one of them, and it speaks directly to the Gambian people and their choices – and how they make them. Every word Monroe used in that quote could as well belong to the Gambian leaders at all levels. Five years ago, I asked on social media why it was difficult – even impossible – for us to get the best for ourselves as leaders. The cliche is there that the best should rule the rest. That is a cardinal order even in the animal world. Instead, however, the Gambia is sold to mediocrity.

Fatoumatta: It is not as if we do not know the difference between mediocre and excellent. We draw the line regularly at the personal level. We do due diligence on every ‘unknown’ person seeking the hand of our child in marriage. Without being told, everyone carefully chooses their cooks, their drivers, the doctors who treat them. No one takes bribes to subvert those personal decisions for oneself. We carefully select the mechanics who fix our old and new cars with our eyes and every other sense very well open. We do not accept counterfeit currencies, nor do we knowingly inject expired drugs. However, we crown hypocritical persons as kings and exhume the past to rule our present and dictate our future. Furthermore, we say we want to be well!

Fatoumatta: A daring, adventurous presidential aspirant does not want another old, creaky president for the republic of the Gambia that the next person should be in his 60’s, not 70 and above. However, 60-75 years is the age bracket that appeals to that presidential aspirant. I am surprised that he did not remember that Barack Obama was 47 years 169 days old when he became President of the United States. Obama turned 60 this year, almost five years after he retired from the White House. If he were a Gambian, he would just be maturing for consideration as a candidate for our presidency – or even as an adviser. There are current examples that should have caught the General’s attention. Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau is 49 years old. He was born on December 25, 1971. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain is 57 years. He was born on June 19, 1964. President Emmanuel Macron of France is 43. He was born on December 21, 1977. According to that politician, they are all doing well as leaders of their first-world people. However, they are all not qualified yet to be President of The Gambia.

I know that the argument is right there before me that age is just a number, that Obama was indeed 47 when he moved into the White House thirteen years ago. However, in the same country, Joe Biden, 78, is the sitting President. I would have said that Mark Twain, author of The Prince and the Pauper, believed as much because some commentators credited him with saying that “age is an issue of mind over matter.” However, Twain was the same person who told his readers that “seventy is old enough. After that, there is too much risk.”

Fatoumatta: So, I also say that age becomes an issue in leadership when the aged leader’s inner being and ideas get wrinkled by the length of his years. That is what we suffer in the Gambia. It is why the country is dying, the reason it is irritable, suffers violent heartbeat and has breathing difficulties.

Fatoumatta: The Gambia has become a gerontocracy. Our leaders, active electorate, and hallowed government system are aging, and why should we care how old our leaders are? Old Pa politicians never leave the scene. They may be old, very old, even dying, but the burning zeal to serve us never leaves them. So even when the whole world knows they are as stale as yesterday’s tapalapa bread, they would instead class themselves as vintage wine – the older, the better. They are like the creature called a salamander. or a tree called “Yerifa Soto” they hold on to whatever tree it clings to, even in death. So it seeks, too, to defy nature, regenerating its dead organs.

Former president Yahya Jammeh’s government banned through the notoriously restrictive Decree No. 89 (1996) banned three former political parties some old politicians from its political experiment and attempted to supplant them with a new breed of leaders. Yahya said then that he wanted a saner political environment free from failures of the past. As a result, a brand new generation of political faces soon sprouted in the nursery bed of the Yahya Jammeh political experiment.

As Yahya Jammeh moved forward in that experience, he routinely banned and unbanned even many of the new breed as they proved to be worthy copycats of the old order. The new breed soon became the new greed, greedier than the greedy. Today, the new breed of the first republic has become grandparents on today’s political turf, doing it the old, ugly way. Staying put forever.
We saw aged men who were helped to their seats but still would sit tight and insist that they were not tired. These are men who are old and aged. You know that while age is in the number of years, aging may not necessarily be so. Some are aged because they have been around for decades. Some get aged at noon, spent and ineffectual in everything. Now, you have a combination of these banding together and branding themselves as leading lights to a future which nature will not allow them to be part of.

Moreover, there appears to be no difference across the viable parties. If what we operate was a monarchy, we all would surrender to the finality and consequences of our choice. However, Japan has an Akihito, 82 years old, who took over from his father, Hihorito, in 1989 as emperor. Moreover, there is Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, 86 years old, fifth emir of Kuwait who had previously been foreign minister for 40 years. Furthermore, of course, there is Elizabeth II, 90-year-old Queen of England since 1952.

However, the Gambia is a democracy, and democracy works best for the people only when the best are allowed to rule the rest. Furthermore, it is not as if today’s sit-tight old men had spent their long years in public space promoting the greatest good for the majority. They have always seen the Gambia as their company, even at their old age. You cannot insist you are the best of us with a tired engine and a creaking chassis. Even if you have been very good to the people, you still cannot be the best forever, no matter the sweetness of your goodness. Nothing, in truth, is evergreen, and that is why nature applies brakes here and there, replacing trunks with shoots.

Fatoumatta: Some will blame the young’s “unseriousness” for the tenacious resolve of the Gambia’s geriatric as they get older are often out of touch with the political zeitgeist not ready to exit politics but to continue to engage in active politics serving in party executives and governments at the expense of the youthful. They will point at the tepid fire in the youth of today and the deficit of ideas in some who have strayed into power in recent years. I would instead insist that the forest consists of crooked and upright trees. The chaff and the grain will not cohere for long; water will always find its level. Therefore, the disappointment in some conspicuous young ones should not be seized as an excuse by the old to vent their lust in perpetuity in a space supposed to serve everyone.

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