Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: Leadership is a ‘Giko’ character in action. Leadership is about being (who we are and how we express our CharacterCharacter). James C. Hunter said, “Character( is our moral maturity and commitment to do the right thing regardless of personal cost.” Leadership is like respect, and you earn it. You deserve the right to be one because people believe in you as a leader.
Political power in The Gambia is a game of predatory gangs and gangsters; the Gambia is their headquarters, people being victims of selfish, visionless leadership. It cannot get better until there is a shift in orientation, values, and leadership recruitment methods. Unfortunately, the Gambians appear to have also caught the flu. The political leadership sees the political party as a family business where the poor have neither shares nor benefits. For the Gambians, the genie of insecurity is out, and it cannot be put back in the bottle by the immorality of elite state captured power. We have seen that you could have an imperial Presidency and everything with unlimited executive powers means and still be powerless.
Fatoumatta: Ancient Greece had a god or goddess for everything. Nemesis (meaning ‘dispenser of dues’) was their “goddess of indignation against, and retribution for evil deeds and undeserved good fortune.” Nemesis was also “a personification of the resentment aroused in men by those who committed crimes with apparent impunity, or who had inordinate good fortune.” Unfortunately, the politicians the leadership they have shown has not done well for the Gambia. It is an extremist power and privilege grabber, a glutton. Among the Africans, gluttons are derisively called “fefe” (eat and die – or eat to death). Someone said gluttony would eventually eat the glutton. Is that what is happening in the Gambia assailed everywhere by its own abandoned children? It should not be difficult to know that holding power for power’s sake has consequences.
Leadership is not defined by education, skills, and abilities but by the traits of Character, often shown with descriptive adjectives of a leaders’ behavior and attitude that make up that leaders’ personality, like being patient, humility, honesty, compromise, and accommodation alternative views. These are essential leadership prerequisites no matter how powerful, invincible, or infallible a country’s leaders might feel they 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.
Fatoumatta: Why are Gambians good at following bad leaders? Is it because we focus on all the wrong things, like a candidate’s contrived narrative – lack of shoes, charm, exaggerated meekness, superfluous religiosity, their stellar pedigree, or their deep pockets. None of these has any bearing on a candidate’s leadership potential. Attributes of good leaders transcend politics, and it applies to leadership in general. Contrary to what is often bandied about, a leaders’ good past results do not guarantee future good results. This is because new roles often come with new challenges. In the Gambia, a leader in a unique position faces new obstacles, deals with unimaginable ethnology-religious pressure, competing and sabotaging domestic and foreign interests, endemic corruption, and staggering mediocrity. However, regardless of the challenges we face as a nation, we expect our leader(s) to manage our diversity, monstrosity, and challenges with a clear road map.
Is there a road map for the Gambia?
‘The die is cast’ is an expression from a desperate river-bank incident in 49 AD. Roman General Julius Caesar saw an inscription at the riverfront: “Beyond this river, no flags, weapons or soldiers shall pass,” yet, he told his 50,000 soldiers that “the die is cast,” and with them, crossed the Rubicon river because his life depended on it. For flustered leaders of the Gambia, the die should be cast too. Before now, the Gambia had no problem attacking anyone who spoke about its very many issues, about its contagious diseases, and its I-don’t-care attitude to oral health issues. It appears now that the time of pretentious healthiness is over. The political leaders are meeting; they are talking; they are even raising the alarm. Let us pray they know what doctor to hire and what medicine to apply. Let us also hope that it is not too late already.
Fatoumatta: 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” that is hostile to a plurality of ideas create a prosperous country? Moreover, Charlatanry, court jesting, political brokerage, chest-thumping, and praise-singing are not viable substitutes for professional knowledge and expertise. Instead, leaders must heed against the counsel of praise singers, political brokers, ignoramuses, court jesters, and outright charlatans.
There are things money cannot buy. They include character, truth, acts of piety and charity, humility, honesty, loyalty, patriotism, etc. What qualifies a person to be a leader! So, before we get it all wrong again on December 4, 2021, as we have always done in the past. What qualities should you focus on before handing out your vote? There are seven fundamental leadership qualities that a leader must have to be effective. If any one of these qualities is missing, sooner or later, the elected leader will fail – spectacularly. It is worse if more than one of the attributes is missing. At the end of this article, you will be able to judge for yourself why we are in a hole with the kind of people we have elevated into positions of authority in this country.
Fatoumatta: Integrity. It all starts with integrity – the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles and moral uprightness. Is the Gambia, as you know it, on sinking sand or solid rock as far as integrity goes? A house built on quicksand cannot stand. Integrity is the foundation for effective leadership. Integrity is an amalgam of consistency, honesty, and ethical behavior. No leader can succeed once his followers can establish he has no integrity. When a leader’s integrity is in doubt, it is tough for the leader to regain the trust of his people. No Commander-in-chief can rally the troops without integrity. The low Integrity Quotient in the Gambia plays itself out across the nation and in Statehouse. People of questionable integrity are populated by the President, the ranks of political leaders, national assembly members, heads of ministries, and agencies. How exactly can one describe a leader whose favorite people and list of friends include alleged murderers, gun runners, drug barons, thieves, and idol worshippers? A leader who has refused to declare his assets. A man under whose authority engaged on tax avoidance and tax evasion without a whimper.
Fatoumatta: Courage is the strength needed to make difficult decisions when facing conflict, pain, grief, and adversity. Courage derives from a leader’s core values and commitment to a vision. Unfortunately, the Gambia has a general lack of courageous men and women. What it has, are men of greed and men without vision. It has in surplus are leaders who are galvanized by the ethos of money and power and nothing else. Corruption is crippling the Gambia’s economy, but the President has no courage to confront his powerful friends who steal public funds. As a result, we have in authority those who lack the courage to take the bold, painful steps to the greatness we need.
Fatoumatta: Empathy. Hundreds of thousands of Gambians live on what it costs to feed a cow in the United States every day. People are dying on bad roads. Treatable diseases claim the lives of Gambians daily because of inadequate health facilities. It takes empathy for a leader to understand the human condition and suffering effectively. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This attribute is especially needed in a multireligious, multiethnic society like the Gambia, where mutual suspicion has reigned for as long as it has existed. With the significant ethnic groups having different motivations and underlying agendas, the Gambia must be on the lookout for a leader who can identify and harness the fundamental drivers of our people. The leader the Gambia needs must be able to motivate and align Gambians around common goals. Gambians should stop electing leaders who proudly proclaim, “I don’t give a damn.” A leader must be sensitive enough to know when he has left the people behind. It is invaluable that a leader should be able to feel the people’s pulse. Most often, lack of empathy is the reason why some brilliant leaders often come up short.
Fatoumatta: Passion is what motivates and fuels every leader. It is what drives his purpose, and it is the lens through which he views the world and gets shaped by it. Passion defines who a leader is, whom he connects with and what opportunities he pursues. In the future, the Gambia needs a leader who can define a shared passion, a shared belief, that motivates and gives them a sense of belonging. The country needs rescuing, which can only be done by a leader who excites others about accomplishing the same mission, setting goals and loving being part of a grand vision to transform the Gambia. Passion is not defined by clichés like “breath of freshair” or empty slogans.
Fatoumatta: Vision. Almost everyone who has had the opportunity to lead the Gambia had been there accidentally. A leader must want to lead. A leader must have a compelling vision of why he wants to lead and where he wants to lead his people. This country has been making the same mistakes and repeating the exact unworkable solutions. A leader must persuade his people to do something new, chart a new course, and change direction. Visionary leaders inspire their people to imagine a better future and motivate them to work hard towards a life of opportunities. We have had many vision documents like Vision 2020 and National Development Blueprint. The documents delineating the vision spent their lives as wraps in the kiosks of peanuts and popcorn sellers across the Gambia. These documents were more than wholesale copies from other countries without any significant local understanding or buy-in from Gambians. Not much else was achieved beyond the technocrats who got large estacodes from the many visits to study the implementation abroad.
Fatoumatta: Judgment, Good judgment means making well-informed, wise decisions with an eye on desired outcomes. When a leader makes consistently good judgment calls, little else matters. In the same vein, nothing else will matter if he exercises poor judgment when it matters most. Corruption and tribalism is cancer today because it was not exercised and cut off early. Good vision requires good judgment. Can a leader confront our national complexities and face a new challenge and prioritize, and quickly zero in on the most critical issues of the day? A leader must be quick-witted and focused while recognizing the possible unintended consequences of her decisions.
Fatoumatta: Emotional intelligence. Without emotional intelligence, a leader is often pedantic, self-conceited, and self-opinionated. Empathy is about feeling for others, while emotional intelligence focuses on self and understanding self and how it affects others. This internal focus helps an emotionally intelligent leader take a hard, honest look at himself to understand his strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. A good leader with sound emotional intelligence puts personal pride aside, actively seeks the input of experts around him, and incorporates their best ideas into the overall action plan. Lack of emotional intelligence was President Yahya Jammeh’s albatross. Without it, he became overtaken with hubris. He began to overestimate his ability, started getting drunk on power, and he began biting more than he could chew in addition to alienating others. Diminishing emotional intelligence is the bane of previously successful leaders moving unto higher responsibilities and new roles.
Fatoumatta: On December 4, 2021, and beyond, Gambians must move away from inducement and false predictors of success. Regardless of position, location, and situation, the hallmarks of good leaders are – integrity, courage, empathy, passion, vision, judgment, and emotional intelligence. It is about time we move away from corn-eating politicians whose claim to any form of connection are token gestures and photo opportunities with the poor with no real emotional investment in their well-being. Good people, shine your eyes; you all know where the shoeless narrative you bought got you.