Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: It is incredible to think that five years ago, Gambians were deep in the fray of politics, and the overwhelming majority of opposition was chanting the change mantra. Since then, a lot has happened. Now that President Adama Barrow has been in office for a full term, some of his supporters and hailers are beating down the doors of government asking to see where the change is. As I, myself, reflect on where exactly that change is?
Therefore, I hope I will be forgiven if I get to it right away. While I have nothing against the Presidential and 2016 Grand Coalition transition team, I think those around President Adama Barrow did not perform an excellent job of facilitating the smooth take-off of the Change Space-Craft. Instead of looking for ways of bringing competent men and women to work with the President, the President’s closest advisers have allowed the godfathers to regroup and hijack the People’s mandate. The mess at the Legislature and the Judiciary is a case in point. How can we talk about change when the status quo and “Tafyental Diaspora Hustlers” were making a comeback? Equally troubling was the mad scramble for positions, including by thoroughly incompetent, possibly corrupt individuals! In any case, filling the top positions in the “traditional” way is hardly consistent with the principle of change. Suppose the President’s Coalition transition team has a say in the matter. In that case, the President will throw all the critical positions open and (as is now done in Kenya and Rwanda) require those interested in competing, that is, to compete, not in party elders’ private dwellings, but the open competition for impact recruitment of all Gambians.
However, unless the President resorts to open competition, he would face a tough time clipping the godfathers’ wings. Implementing his agenda would also be next to impossible if he is held hostage to powerful vested interests.
There are other things you must do to get a grip on government outlays. There is also what we call value-for-money. Nobody is talking about that. Nobody is even asking in how many ways can we make the public service meet ongoing and unfolding challenges without breaking anybody’s bank!
Rwanda is clearly on the march. This raises when the Gambia, the Smiling Coast of Africa, would take the first step to peace, prosperity, and good governance.
Fatoumatta: President Adama Barrow’s haters and ‘critics’ were once his supporters and his hailers and wailers for the good of Adama Barrow. The most duplicitous thing about them is that they now use all the stuff they defended him for, pre-2016 elections, as weapons of attacks against him. So how did they move from supporters to haters?
Very simple. The ultimate aim of every democratic struggle is not really to enthrone a perfect, flawless system. Only the starry-eyed, younger ones think such is possible. That is Utopia. Instead, the ultimate aim of the struggle is to enthrone a government (yes, even with the normal human flaws) that is focused, determined, and fiercely opposed to the unscrupulous wheeler-dealers in the society, committed to protecting the interests of the down-trodden, the weak and vulnerable.
Fatoumatta: To all those teeming hailers and loyal supporters who did it in the 2016 election for our President, you do not abandon a ship with which you set sail midway. Our race was not a 100-meter dash. It was a marathon race to rescue our country. We are almost there. When we turn the corner on December 4, 2021, you will see the tape at the finishing line. We must not run out of breaths. We believed in 2016 from the opposite side of the political divide. It worked, and we decided to choose a future. We must keep that belief alive. The hallmark of being a faithful supporter is standing firm in times of storm and in times of calm. The storm is almost over. The President has battled to take control of the nation’s steering wheel, and we are on course.
Do not let the naysayers bully you, whether in real life or cyberspaces. When they run out of arguments, they resort to abuse and deception. If they abuse you, see them as patriots, but misguided ones; if they attack you, see them as patriots, but misguided ones; if they call you unprintable names, see them as passionate patriots, but misguided ones. Do not retaliate. With time, especially when most votes wipe out their minority opinions on December 4, 2021, presidential polls, they will come round to you and acknowledge your vision. So, hold your own and keep your heads up. For some of you, this race is never a do-or-die affair. So we shall present the facts as we see them and let Gambians decide. You do not have to hire Cambridge Analytica to scare the electorate.
However, some laconic and a few loquacious loyal supporters and wailers and other 2016 Grand Coalition partners of Adama Barrow give years ago, have withheld their support for the President’s reelection for a second term, at least at this stage in the political season. On the surface, these circumstances may seem familiar. After all, five years ago, plenty of prominent “Tagyengal Diaspora strugglers” and other voices balked at supporting a Barrow-led 2021 Grand Coalition. However, the broader political conditions are different now. For one thing, the number of new strugglers and ” Born-Again Politicians” who refused to stand with Adama Barrow on December 4, 2021, Presidential polls are very likely influenced by the widely held assumption that he would inevitably be a test against efforts to erode the presidential term limit.
Even former “tafyengal Diaspora strugglers” and 2016 Grand Coalition partners have not endorsed Adama Barrow’s reelection bid. Still, they believe “the Gambian people will decide.” It is striking enough when national leaders withhold support from their own party’s Presidential candidate. These politicians worked side by side with President Barrow. Unlike five years ago. There is no precedent for this in modern history.
Fatoumatta, I will say it is simply a crisis of expectations. We all support candidates in elections and even social causes for different reasons. Some, like Malang Fatty, supported Adama Barrow because he felt a drifting country on the verge of collapse needed a man of steel and character like him to pull the country back from the precipice. Some, like Yadicone, supported Barrow and the coalition for pecuniary reasons. Yadicone and others believed that with Adama Barrow, they would have access to power, gain influence, money, and new inheritors of powers. Some wanted appointments, and many others wanted contracts and offered income and opportunities for their family and relatives. In truth, these are legitimate reasons I cannot hold against anyone. Someone told me that people support candidates for elections because they want to eat or what they seek to be influential and powerful. Others genuinely felt that their expectations of good governance had not been met, especially with the state of a struggling economy and security challenges. I will say they are also victims of unmanaged expectations.
It is indeed possible to argue that some of the Gambians had high expectations that Adama Barrow could turn matters around. However, given the tenor of the 2016 Presidential election campaign and the promises made, why should we not? Moreover, given the rudderless state of the country under Yahya Jammeh and the grand larceny that was taking place, it surely cannot be so hard to improve things. So why have many become disillusioned after five years of Adama Barrow’s government? Is it really about unrealistic expectations? Some hold a different view. For them, President Barrow made a rod for his own back. The criticisms Barrow’s faces have nothing to do with the “unrealistic” nature of expectations. In fact, for his first two years, he was on honeymoon. However, the basic expectations have not truly and fully been met, leading many to correct their opinion of the Govt.
Start with Security Reform (SSR). Political dishonesty and rising insecurity challenges and pretty much buried Adama Barrow’s Government. Political Blackmailing and the collapse of the coalition and its transition agenda highlighted the signs of initial failures; finally, Adama Barrow came in and could not effectively deliver. After two years of reshuffling the cabinet and purging some disloyal public officials from sensitive government positions, success signs were evident in his election promises. Moreover, he got lots of credit for it. Then almost immediately, unprecedented political insanity became a regular occurrence for a short period and followed by a period of orderly reforms. Moreover, all the gains of our emergent democracy appear to go down the drain. Today, what has happened is that we have virtually exchanged democracy for a return to the kleptocratic rule of yesteryears. When one considers that the government’s fundamental objective is to consistently protect lives and property and maintain order, it is hard not to be disillusioned. Now is it “unrealistic” to expect Govt to protect lives and property in every part of the nation? Surely yes.
Fatoumatta: Is President Barrow morally conflicted to take the issue of anti-corruption on his governance agenda? The President’s calling card. As we all know, those who go to equity must do so with clean hands. However, what we have are several examples of official protection. Far too many instances that we are not going to waste anyone’s time recounting. Just take the most recent corruption scandal at the Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) and the lack of official transparency in the revenue collection in energy, oil and gas, and sand mining sectors. How can we have senior government officials accused of corruption, and neither the President nor the senior officials concerned have come forward to issue a statement? Unless we want to wallow in hypocrisy and sycophancy, it is unpardonable. Now is it “unrealistic” to expect an integrity-driven President to keep his house clean at all times? Surely not. For if he cannot clean house, on what basis does he step forward to clean the society?
It is hard to argue whether we are better now than five years ago regarding key development indices. Poverty levels have grown; access to education, health, and housing has not shown significant improvement; youth and older individuals have expanded due to increased and exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, again, are we going to argue that expecting enhancements in these areas is unrealistic? I do not think so.
The Govt has credit. No reasonable person should dispute that. Some of its initiatives and focus are well thought through; many of these may yield great fruits in time to come. However, most of the challenges it faces are inherited. Furthermore, it has managed the political minefield as deftly as is possible in the circumstances.
Still, to whom much is given, much is expected. Gambians upended a Presidential political system for the first time to put Adama Barrow in office. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect Gambians not to expect better than they have been given in the last five years. Leadership shortcomings should not be excused on the altar of “high expectations.”
The Gambia was in decline on all indices from 2017; despite the Gambia’s debt to GDP ratio went down from 120 percent in 2016 to 112 percent in 2017. A further decline in 2018 to 108 percent revenue, the GDP declined from about 7per cent annual growth to less than 2per cent in 2017. Capital importation into the Gambia declined year on year till 2017, and poor investment in infrastructure to boot. Then the economy went into recession with years of accumulated mismanagement compounded with an alarming level of insecurity from bad governance. These are the problems President Barrow inherited.
Fatoumatta: To think these problems will disappear within five years because Barrow is the President is unrealistic. I keenly followed development in Kigali, Rwanda. I had the opportunity to meet some of the senior government officials. It was days before the election in Rwanda, and I asked those I met why President Paul Kagame was still seeking election after 17years in office. The responses were quite revealing. They told me Kagame spent the first ten years putting together a post-conflict security system and other institutions of government like the civil service, Judiciary among others. Significant Infrastructural development, I was told, started about 6years ago. For this reason, the people of Rwanda would prefer Kagame for seven more years to complete ongoing projects before another person takes over from him.
Fatoumatta: I can understand some politician’s passion for the Gambia. The commitment to see us leapfrog to join the fast-paced world is never in question. I can see that in many interventions on social media and newspaper columns, and Facebook posts. I could see frustrations in conversation many political discourses, and others spoke about Artificial intelligence, hyper-modernity, and all. However, as much as I accepted their views, I also did not fail to comment and temper their zeal with our existential realities.
Hyper-modernity, Artificial Intelligence (AI), electric vehicles are major development issues that will change how we work and live. However, the truth also is that development cannot go beyond the sophistication of the people – the reason we are still talking about ‘see and buy’ votes in 2021. Buying of votes was where Europe was some 300years ago in their electoral process.
Our problems here are still rudimentary. Our people want to be able to feed. We are still struggling to have electricity, clean water to drink, roads, an efficient national rail network, functional airports, seaports, etc. These are our hyper-modernity crises.
There are still hundreds of thousands of the Gambia in poor rural communities that have never seen modernity. They have never been to their state capitals. The Kiang rural electrification program and the Hakallang road in Niumi are nowhere in North Bank Region is hypermodernity for many in North Bank Region, not driverless electric cars.
Fatoumatta: I am very selfish in my love for the Gambia. My family and friends live in The Gambia. We seek a functional healthcare system, quality public education, good roads, regular electricity, and security.
In our young life as Gambians, this is the second time some Gambians see a President and a government focused on delivering essential things to them. However, the silent majority of Gambian’s support remains unflinching. Is this post for President Barrow? No. It is in defense of reality.
Alagi Yorro Jallow