Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: Let Mr. President take his time to search for the flawless Gambians being diverse in length and breadth; finding an honest and loyal few from the many is full of stress. It is not easy as slicing a piece of bread. Mr.President ignores the wailing wailers. On social media, You are correct in retaining your existing cabinet to serve as caretaker cabinet until you are ready to appoint competent and loyal people in your new administration; never hurry to select and appoint back-stabbing, double-dealing twisters, and perfidious people in your administration. Lest you choose the corrupt, incompetent, or inept, pick saints, only who can serve the country well. People with proven integrity and blessed character. Do not extend your search beyond your trusted ken. Known devils are better than recommended angels into appointing your team. They do not be stampeded by the social media wailing wailers. We wait on your perfect judgment.
Fatoumatta: What then happened to goodwill towards all men and malice to none? However, we are not talking about skeptics who conjure all sorts of improbabilities in our body politics today. We are talking of hundreds and thousands of Gambians who believe in President Adama Barrow’s leadership complete the first five years of his Presidency and began his second five-year term on January 19, 2021. Furthermore, despite all the challenges; insecurity, poor economy, deliberate sabotage, poor health at a time, evil wishes from some quarters, foul language, and all sorts, President Adama Barrow is here re-elected with a landslide victory. When President Barrow rode triumphantly to power in 2017, the average Gambian was tired of the country’s state. The massive and flagrant violations of human rights and massive looting of the treasury by the government of President Yahya Jammeh of no one were being called to order because there was no moral will to do it.
However, the government was helpless. The economy was nosediving, indeed, primed for recession. Humongous amounts made from international trade in goods did not add up, the price rose, and no serious economic perspectives on infrastructure investment, agriculture, education, healthcare, nothing. Debts were even piling up, and the government borrowed to pay salaries. There was no willingness to save; later, a vital economy driver confessed about that government. So, when Adama Barrow came in, it was to meet a looted, badly vandalized treasury. We are glad he came our way, I repeat. However, it was no tea party, no picnic. Initially, it was like The Journey of the Magi, as described by the poet T.S Eliot:
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey,
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
Fatoumatta: President Adama Barrow battled with insecurity. With the economy. With a badly polarized polity, divided along ethnic and religious lines. With a badly beaten and bruised political opposition, which was determined not to see any good in him. There was also the tiny but vociferous minority on social media, the wailing wailers, screaming all day as if pepper had been put in their sensitive parts. And then, health challenges. Just the worst time of the year for a journey, for such a long journey.
Fatoumatta: That is what hatred does to the heart. It stunts the mind and poisons the soul. Such heart plays petty partisan and divisive politics with every matter. It is what is called “irresponsible politics.” Furthermore, as we head for National Assembly elections in April 2022 and a few months into the Local Government elections, much more of it would be seen in political calculation and strategic planning, except such people reform and put on their thinking caps, the tendency now is to twist and slant every word from President Adama Barrow and his administration in the negative, all in a bid to demean, de-market, demonize him and make him unattractive to the electorate. However, those who do it are to be pitied. Sensible Gambians know what President Barrow and his advisers are doing for the country and would queue behind him for the National Assembly elections in April and the Local Government elections. At the end of it all, the detractors would be holding the short ends of the stick and looking small, forlorn, and disconsolate. Where would they then hide their faces?
Fatoumatta: I have read and seen people who agitated for “merit-based recruitment and performance management” now saying that President Adama Barrow must rush in his ministerial position appointments without screening potential candidates he wants to work with. Let us just say hypocrisy is the spice of politics. People are allowed to change their minds, aren’t they? Maybe they believed in politics in exercising power without merit some years ago. President Barrow has seen the light and is now more interested in “merit-based recruitment appointment.” Perhaps those who preached “merit-based appointment in the civil and foreign service” in the past are now persuaded that politics is the attempt to achieve power is the way forward. However, according to late Desmond Ford, the Australian theologian, only a fool does not change his mind. Lord Maynard Keynes, the renowned English economist of blessed memory, said he changed his mind when the facts changed. Fair point. I do not begrudge genuinely pragmatic people when they see the evidence. My grudge is with the “Kakatartarr” or chameleons: they go with the flow that favors their interest.
This political season is one of the most lucrative business periods for ethnic entrepreneurs; it is appointment season, and trust them to whip up every sentiment under the tent of bigotry and hatred. The Gambia’s heterogeneous reality makes it impossible for any Gambian president not to select their team from across the different geo-political zones that make up the country. President Adama Barrow’s first term appointments have not quite reflected that. Still, if you note, these ethnic entrepreneurs started screaming for rushed appointments of cabinet ministers making so much noise at these early stages when the bulk of appointments are yet to be made.
Fatoumatta: You cannot eat your cake and have it, not even in Gambian politics, where rationality often gets suspended on the altar of religion and ethnicity. Save for the need to have a cabinet that reflects our country’s diversity. It would be foolhardy to expect that an administration trusted with power would quickly grant positions of power to voting blocs that refused to consider it for votes. Noise making and wailing cannot make up for this; every administration is first likely to trust those who trusted it with power before it starts considering those who did not. It is not wickedness; it is simply the reality of finite public officers against almost infinite desires by people to hold them. Something has to give, but while every Gambian has a claim to every Gambian government, politics would always find a way to differentiate constitutional claims from political claims.
There are two arguments I have made persistently over the years that I would like to repeat here before I proceed. First, I have always argued that merit and power are not mutually exclusive. There are no region, religion, or ethnic groups in the Gambia today that does not have enough qualified people to be cabinet ministers. Forget what you read on social media: in reality, every ethnic group has well-educated, experienced and competent people to serve the Gambia.
I find it ridiculous that people who promote the quota system or affirmative action and national character will turn around and say power without merit does not matter. Let us be aware of the “Kakatarr” or the chameleons. President Barrow should take his time to screen potential candidates for top government positions for the competency and loyalty of people who can help work with him to develop the country. Why don’t we throw open everything else if we are being duplicitous? In a fragile multi-ethnic nation where there is a perpetual fear of domination, power and merit should have a constitutional seal, in my view. It can calm nerves.
Fatoumatta: What changed? In framing the political debate around merit and power, people know what they are doing. They choose what favors them per time. They shift the goalposts as the game continues, hoping to take advantage of ethnic and regional emotions. People in this country, 21st century Gambia, think “merit” is when you give top government appointments to people from their part of the country. They believe they are the only ones that have merit. The moment a government appointment is given to anyone else, they blame the “quota system” and “national character” — even if the appointees graduated from Cambridge or Oxford. We know the game.
Fatoumatta: I do not like people changing goalposts on power without merit and competence without national character in appointments. Why argue for excellence when it pays you and change position to a national character when it does not favor you and your friends? We need to establish certain principles to know the argument to apply across the board. Should there be a national character in top government appointments without merit and competency or not? If you oppose national character and merit-based recruitments, stick by your position. That means nobody in this camp should complain about President Adama Barrow’s caretaker cabinet pending new appointments in his new administration on the ground that he will not rush on appointments but fairly reflect on merit and the diversity in the Gambia. President Barrow’s critics of his caretaker cabinet pending new appointments should base their criticism on excellence and loyalty and wait for the outcome of his recent appointments, not the tribe or tongue.
However, if, like me, you agree that there should be a national character in government, you can argue further by insisting that national character should be based on merit and loyalty: that is, the appointees must be qualified and competent in addition to where they come from. That way, we have both competence and national character served on one plate. However, the hypocrite in us will ignore that we hardly present our best for public office. Usually, appointments are used to settle political IOUs and reward the ball boys. This is a disease across all zones in the Gambia. However, you would be tempted to think this is peculiar to one part of the country if you spend too much time on social media.
There is another prevalent hypocrisy among some people: they campaign for merit only at a national level; they do not give a hoot. Anything goes. They cannot swear that appointments for ministerial positions and agencies should not be based on merit and loyalty. On the other hand, some wholehearted campaign for power uses their political might to dominate critical positions and muscle out the minorities. They will never allow ethnic or religious minorities in government. Still, they will shout the loudest about equity and fairness in ministerial and foreign service appointments—double standards.
Fatoumatta: Once again, I state my position: The Gambia is too diverse to say that politics should run its course without strategic tinkering. In the interest of national peace and progress, we need to implement a system that accommodates everyone that gives every part of the Gambia a sense of belonging. No section of the Gambia should feel there is an official policy to shut them out. We can never genuinely address our national challenges for as long as our positions are shifty, shaped in the main by hypocrisy, hate, and selfishness. Suppose it mattered were cabinet ministers and ambassadors came from in 2017. It should also matter if they were the cabinet ministers and diplomatic appointments from 2022. Let us stop shifting the goalposts.
Alagi Yorro Jallow