Alagi Yorro Jallow
President Adama Barrow’s part two interview was aired on Friday, August 13, during The Bantaba Show with the National People’s Party’s online Television channel simulcast on Barrow Youth Empowerment online platform and repeated on the station since then. This National People’s Party ( NPP) one media party supporter’s interview has generated more commentary than any other in the past five years in The Gambia. Analysis and quotes have been taken from it. It has been curated to the last detail. We have heard, we saw President Adama Barrow’s interview part one and in vernacular. However, President Barrow did reveal, and he showed consistency, analyticity, authenticity, capacity, and tenacity above all audacity. A signature interview in everyday vernacular politics of ethnicity, friendly, causticity, and excellence.
One of the awe-inspiring things about President Barrow and his mastery of the national languages spoken in the Gambia in the mother tongue dialects. Adama Barrow has mastered the Gambian people’s mother tongue, particularly the dominant tribes spoken in the Gambia. If you know all, and I mean all, the languages of the world and you do not know your mother tongue, that is enslavement. However, on the other hand, if you know your mother tongue and add all the world’s languages to it, that is empowerment.
It has been reproduced on virtually every social media channel. Essays have been written on it, and every part of it dimensioned for analysis. This particular NPP media interview has thus exerted an elephantine impact on the public imagination, with each viewer or commentator slicing off their share of the meaty conversation at the Statehouse. Others have described it as an exclusive and a scoop for non-professional journalists.
This Bantaba Show interview with President Barrow was aired on social media channels. Several forums have been treated as an anti-climax, an afterthought, and veritable evidence of the lack of trust in independent journalists and media houses. Nonetheless, the excitement demonstrated over the Adam Barrow interview(s) owes in part to the status of public perception about the President’s unwillingness to communicate directly with the people who elected him into power in 2016. President Barrow has engaged more with Gambians through third parties, spokespersons, and press statements for the better part of his five years in power. His predecessors appeared regularly on Presidential Media Chats, during which they responded to the people’s concerns. Not this President. In five years, he has not been granted significant Presidential media outings and interviews with professional journalists.
Other Presidents in the sub-region gave one-on-one interviews to media houses or even stand-up interviews with reporters. President Adama Barrow has been unusually reticent and absent. On the few occasions that he has spoken to the press, he did so with foreign journalists, a counter-productive move that merely infuriated Gambian stakeholders. As his spokespersons and Director of Press and Public Relations churned out press releases and statements clarifying previous releases, in the face of the rising wave of corruption, insecurity, violence, and confusion in the land, Gambians demanded that they would rather have the man they voted for speak to them.
The absence of the President’s voice eventually resulted in conspiracy theories that flourished unabated. Civil society groups, opposition elements, and social media cyber warriors argued that the Gambia no longer had a President, but a cabal took over a Presidency. In other words, there is a state capture by some elites, educated middle-class people in law and in business, and powerful, influential Mafia who took the President hostage. In retrospect, the big lesson is that when a President distances himself from the people and refuses to engage them as we see leaders in other parts do, he unwittingly encourages conspiracy theories about a vacuum in power and the politics of absence and/or indifference at the highest levels.
Whoever advised President Adama Barrow Barrow to grant media interviews in vernacular and address the nation did him a big favor. The intensity of media appearance was a good move, even if it came relatively late. Gambians may disagree with President Barrow’s opinions in his media outings with the NPP media crew. Still, many of the myths constructed around him have been exploded, which must be helpful to his administration. Adama Barrow was alert, alive, informed, confident, relaxed, witty, and capable of disarming humor. He was not the invalid or the senile young man that his critics say he is. He did not sound weak either but had the audacity and authenticity and was urged to follow up his grandiloquence positively. His submission to a media conversation was also a form of protection for his spokespersons. Many have accused President Barrow’s communication team of speaking for themselves and not for the President. Still, we have all seen a President speaking for himself, whose views do not contradict what his aides have been telling us.
The Bantaba show interview also proved that there is no doubting that President Barrow is effectively in charge. He knows what is going on. Furthermore, he showed no hesitation in restating some of his reported views and taking ownership of them despite the controversial nature of those views. Every President has their style, but deliberately playing possum should not be part of that style. President Barrow should speak more often to Gambians. He should sit down at Presidential media chats with the Gambian journalists, especially our finest female journalists. The Gambia is not a feudal system where the aristocrat treats the people with disdain. In a democracy, the man of power is accountable to the people who expect their leaders to justify why they must continually be in power and office.
The reactions to the Bantaba show interview have been mixed, I guess, understandably. However, being a journalist is that everyone claims to know the job better than the man in the arena, more so because the Gambia is afflicted by a yet undeclared pandemic that I have since labeled “pantemath opinionists.” We must get a vaccine for that for social media pundits and cyberwarriors. The Gambia is the only country I know where everybody is a universal expert on every subject, including the mating habits of porcupines and the nightlife of witches and wizards. People wake up with ready-made opinions even about the news that they have not read or seen. They are ready to go down with all the energy they woke up with. With due respect, I think the Bantaba show team asked tough and relevant questions, which brought out Adama Barrow, the man, the person, the persona, and the leader. However, Gambians still raise questions. I have been told, for example, that when the President said he would keep the question about what his government intends to do about social media to his heart, we should have followed up with an attack. Fine. The President spoke his mind. However, were we supposed to rip out his heart from his chest to find out what he was keeping there? His answer was revealing enough.
The Barrow interview has further revealed how divided we are as a nation and the crisis of social cohesion that we face. The Gambia is more divided today than at any other time in our history. Furthermore, the President’s responses reinforce this conclusion because his main constituencies and supporters see nothing fundamentally wrong with his media statements in the last few days. With his responses, Barrow chose his audience tactically. Therefore, people should stop saying he did not understand the questions.
To be continued. See Part II
Alagi Yorro Jallow