Alagi Yorro Jallow
“Today the challenge of political courage looms larger than ever before,” Fatoumatta: President John F. Kennedy wrote in 1956, five years before he became 35th President of the United States of America. These words came from his Pulitzer Prize-winning work, “Profiles in Courage,” a biographical portrait of eight senators who took principled and unpopular stands that put them at odds with their parties and constituents but that they felt were morally necessary for themselves and the country.
We, as Gambians, were not the only ones inspired by these words of John F. Kennedy, but for our own eminent Gambian administrator and politician that of Mr. Alieu Momar Njie and Mr. Halifa Sallah of what their characters “showed us how and why to be brave, how a real hero lives and dies.” It is probably too much to hope that the simple act of reading a book would inspire similar actions. We recognized as much in the 2016 political season, concluding with the observation that “the stories of past courage can define that ingredient — they can teach, they can offer hope, they can inspire. However, they cannot supply courage itself. For this, each man must look into his soul.
Messrs. Alieu Momar Njie and Halifa Sallah’s actions and contributions in 2016 presidential polls provide a valuable reminder that fear of censure is a powerful motivator that more often than not discourages acts of political courage. However, it also stands as a statement that such actions are essential to the unity, safety, and survival of democracy.
Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) Alieu Momar Njie and Halifa Sallah( PDOIS), spokesperson of the 2016 Grand Coalition during the political impasse and in the aftermath of the presidential elections disputes, took principled and unpopular stands that put them at odds with friends and colleagues and constituents but that they felt were morally necessary for themselves and the Gambian people. Extraordinary circumstances prompted acts of political courage. In the wake of the political impasse, Alieu Momar Njie and Halifa Sallah sided with conscientious Gambians and non Gambians, decided to side with the right side of history, and was unwilling to side with the wrong side of history.
However, the unprecedented complete wipe-out of Gambian power executives has got me thinking. We, as Gambians, cannot build a corrupt-free, progressive and prosperous future for our people if we institutionally condone, for political expediency, a dishonorable recruitment system for political leadership through a bidding process. Politics cannot be about public service for those who consider it as an investment or a profession.
In some ways, for instance, Halifa Sallah was sympathetic to opposition politicians struggling to reconcile their conscience with their political agendas and the national interest: If Gambian people more fully comprehended the terrible pressures which discourage acts of political courage, which drive a politician to abandon or subdue his conscience, then they might be less critical of those who take the easier road — and more appreciative of those still able to follow the path of courage. However, because it was so rare and vital, it was much more important to understand. Central to the 2016 Grand Coalition was what, exactly, would cause a politician to take a stand on an unpopular course?
Authoritarian governments impose their vision on society. In democracies, it is up to the people, and, according to John F. Kennedy, “we will get the kind of political leadership, be it good or bad, that we demand and deserve.” However, to emphasize that democracy requires more than “popular government and majority rule. To remain free and open, democratic societies demand leaders willing to “exercise their conscientious judgment” when faced with the “choice of courage or compliance.”
Following the signing of a gentleman agreement of the Memorandum of understanding (MoU) and binding and outlined in a formal document of the 2016 MoU, Grand Coalition of dominant opposition parties and one independent, conceived to challenge the incumbent President, the Gambia was grappling with the most admirable, perhaps even the most essential, political virtue in a representative democracy, knowing that the strategic political planner for the Grand Coalition Mr. Halifa had not yet displayed it himself. Moreover, he was amid sharp partisan division amongst opposition parties and the heightened threat from aggressive authoritarian Gambian living abroad. Halifa and his Coalition partner hoped to inspire similar actions of uprooting entrenched dictatorship, attempting to understand what circumstances made political courage possible.
In some ways, Halifa Sallah was sympathetic to politicians struggling of Gambians to reconcile their conscience with their political agendas and the national interest: If Gambian people more fully comprehended the terrible pressures which discourage acts of political courage, which drive a politician to abandon or subdue his conscience, then they might be less critical of those who take the easier road — and more appreciative of those still able to follow the path of courage. However, because it was so rare and vital, it was much more important to understand.
Corrupt governments work like a system of gears. One gear spin another. The benefits of corruption are what keeps the system “lubricated.” One broken cog and the whole system come to a halt. Sometimes it simply takes the courage of one individual in the right place and not a revolution to upset the apple cart.
Fatoumatta: Tell me why President Adama Barrow cannot read the Riot Act on Corruption? Why are Adama Barrow and past and current Attorney General and Minister of Justice unable to apply the levers provided by the constitutional, political, and personal soft power to weed this government of these corrupt maniacs on steroids, irrespective of rank, who are busy stealing money meant for our farmers, youth and women? Why are we not picking these evil men and women, regardless of their stature, religious, political, and tribal affiliation, and prosecute them for economic hemorrhage? There is a vast disconnect somewhere.
In the political hinterland of the present-day new Gambia of Serekunda’s two sons Messrs. Alieu Momar Njie and Halifa Sallah, its political rhetoric reminds us that not speaking is to speak and not speak to act. For them, an act of political courage can only be a natural choice made by a real person at a specific location or a particular time. As Chairman of the IEC, Alieu Momar Njie and Halifa as Spokesperson of the 2016 Grand Coalition, clearly decided which side of history they would be on. They chose enormous courage. It was an action of the heart. Their humanity was radiant. Alieu and Halifa gave ‘joy and hope’ to hundreds of thousands who needed freedom and liberty. Their political courage inspired a generation and led society to pursue the common good. This, by any standard, is an immense legacy.
In the Gambia, Alieu Momar Njie, Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, and Halifa Sallah, the chief protagonist of the 2016 Grand Coalition, abruptly ended Yahya Jammeh’s bloody dictatorship. Yahya Jammeh was so confident of electoral victory that he allowed enhancements to electoral laws to bring greater “credibility” to Gambian elections. On polling day, voters overwhelmingly voted against him. He then tried to influence the electoral commission to announce him the winner.
During the impasse and pressure from military figures, Yahya Jammeh, Alieu Momar Njie, and Halifa stood their ground. Threats were against their life. At some point, Chairman Njie sought refuge in Senegal. Njie’s conscience was one with most Gambians. It was time for Yahya Jammeh to go. True to his oath of office, Njie announced Adama Barrow as the legitimate winner of the elections. Yahya Jammeh and his military friends made political moves after Halifa Sallah, and Alieu Momar Njie’s announcement only served to make President Jammeh the more illegitimate. In the end, Yahya Jammeh was humbled. He hurriedly went into exile in Equatorial Guinea.
Just thinking, is there a steak of Alieu Momar Njie and Halifa Sallah in our Attorney General and Minister of Justice past and present Mressr. Baa Tambadou and Dawda Jallow? Did Baa ever indict any on whether Dawda Jallow willingly and able to indict ANYONE for economic crimes, irrespective of their stature in society? Can they withstand the pressure and threats that come with building cases against the Gambia’s High and Mighty? At this rate, it is only natural to assume that the corrupt elite will start ganging up against him. Does he have the money to move a notch higher, above arresting ordinary CEOs of government enterprises to raiding houses of very senior members of the executive?
Can the Attorney General and Minister of Justice say NO to the President if, for example, the President, for selfish reasons, was to object to the opening of investigations against suspects close to him? Does the Justice Ministry or the Director of Public Prosecutor come with the courage to bring an obstruction of justice charges against any senior member of the executive trying to influence his office against charging or investigating any specific persons?
Fatoumatta: I am waiting for another Alieu Momar Njie and Halifa Sallah moment. The courage of two individuals, doing the right job in the right place in the interest of the ordinary man on the streets, has the power to change how leaders permanently conduct government affairs.
With the current constitutional order, it could happen in our lifetime. Are President Adama Barrow’s past and present Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, The audacious, bold, doughty, and fearless men? I do not know……..
Alagi Yorro Jallow