Fatoumatta: My distinguished emeritus Professor Alain Paul Martin said those who should be elected to the highest office in the land “exemplary leadership and integrity ” must be earned every day by staying on the high ground and not ostracizing adversaries. A good leader must have an exemplary character. It is of utmost importance that a leader is trustworthy to lead others. A leader needs to be trusted and be known to live their life with honesty and integrity. A good leader “walks the talk” and, in doing so, earns the right to have responsibility for others. Proper authority is born from respect for the excellent character and trustworthiness of the person who leads. Genuine leaders have a conscience, are compassionate, and are more motivated by a sense of selfless purpose to their country and society. They are firm on issues but treat everyone with the utmost respect. Their leadership style should be based on the principles of ethics, integrity, honesty, and reaching out to bring the best of everyone, rather than by denigrating and threatening challengers.
Fatoumatta: I am at great pains to define the kind of persons that wants to govern us in this beautiful country called the ‘smiling coast of West Africa, the Gambia. We have been yearning for a charismatic, transformational, and visionary leader; instead, we have always had rulers. Yes, rulers! Rulers aptly define those who have had the privilege to govern us in the country because they ruled! They never led. With rulers comes certain words that fit best into our narrative; words like an autocrat, ‘burr’ potentate, despot, dictator, ‘Mansa,’ Pharaoh, taskmaster, führer, overlord, and tyrant. These words do not gel with leadership.
Fatoumatta: What does it take to be a great leader? First, leadership entails character, competence, and courage. A leader goes in the front, leads the way, and by his actions, people follow. Second, a good leader is imaginative and creative at handling people and situations; a leader anticipates problems and looks for ways to mitigate issues well in advance. Third, a leader is humble and submissive with little worries over who gets credit; as a result, the power he wields never gets into his head. Fourth, a leader develops his people by setting realistic goals and expectations. Finally, a true leader has a mental toughness that is in tandem with his character and physical health; no one ever leads with a sick mind and body. Unfortunately, no Gambian president fits into these descriptions, which is sad given our population and position.
Fatoumatta: Late Colonel Eric Kail, director of military leadership at the U.S. Military Academy West Point, in his thoughts on leadership, puts his searchlight on leadership character as the defining factor in purposeful leadership. He identified the facets of leadership character as courage, integrity, selflessness, empathy, collaboration, and reflection. A cursory look at our rulers buttresses Col. Kail’s position on leadership. Therefore, I have decided to focus this week and next on leadership character in the light of those who have governed us and sensitized us to civic follower-ship. Leadership is an amalgam of many attributes put into playing for the greater good. Of all the attributes, a character is the most important. Have we had any leader with sound character in The Gambia? NO! President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara is the Gambia’s first president with a University degree. His certification in vocational scholarship will help future Gambian psychology students understand that leadership is not defined by education or skills and abilities but by courage and character. His spectacular failure in governance is not for his lack of education but a patent lack of courage and character. The unbridled corruption, stealing, and rank incompetence under his watch is not about what he did but more about who he is? Sir Dawda Jawara’s ongoing failure is not about lack of technical or managerial abilities; and it is about courage and character failure to fight corruption.
Fatoumatta: The Gambia is in dire need of leaders with moral courage. At the root of good leadership is the critical component of moral courage. That is, the ability to overcome the selfish tendencies that inhibit the will to do the right things at all times, never get intimidated by established beliefs and power structures that are inimical to achieving the greatest good for the most significant number and the readiness to entertain and bear criticism in good faith. Gambian political leader rulers hereditarily cannot do a single thing right. They set unattainable goals like five-point agenda when only one agendum will consume the available resources over the same period of time. Deliberately, they set goals that are not measurable and cannot be validated. They seem eternally incapable of understanding that courageous leadership entails a life that can discern and resolve the conflict between the demands of self and the consistency of truth. A leader with moral courage does not only do things right; he insists on doing the right things with transparency. Have we such leaders? NO. Do we elevate people with moral currency to leadership? NO. The Gambia is a fertile ground for moral dupes.
Fatoumatta: We need leaders whose lives speak integrity. Leaders with integrity not only do the right thing when no one is watching, but they also commit to a moral principle and strength of character of admitting and correcting their wrongs in a bid to seek self-improvement in their private and public lives. Such leaders are given an urgent sense of humble introspection instead of self-righteous declarations that have come to characterize people like Yahya Jammeh. President Yahya Jammeh has the grandest opportunity to chart a different course for this country during his twenty-two years. He did not. By some grievous miscalculation, he imposed complete incompetence on us. Worse, he lacks the integrity and strong sense of character to admit he has done much harm to this country. He does not want to accept his errors. Instead, he is in exile in Equatorial Guinea, hoping to rationalize away his initial and underlying faults and the related consequences of his mistake. If our political leaders were to be men of integrity, they would know that the value of integrity is directly proportional to the secrets you keep. Transparency is integral to being a good leader. There is no point accepting half-truths when the whole truth is there for everyone to see. “Integrity is not the absence of failure, it is moving forward from it.”
Fatoumatta: Aside from courage, selflessness is one of the pillars of leadership character. Our history is the history of conjugation with self-absorbed leaders. Leaders who revel in the accouterments of power and become so impressed and immersed by the power and influence they wield. In the same vein, we, the followers, evolved into irredeemable sycophants. Pleasing our oppressors became our raison d’être; they, not their work, became the focus of our praise. When our political leaders called themselves the servant leader. The servant part was more of rhetoric than anything else. If they were not selfless, they would have declined being put forward, knowing their character and integrity could not support them in the president’s position. Instead, selfishness lured him into accepting to run for the highest office despite their unpreparedness. Selflessness is about strength, while narcissism is wanting all the credit and none of the blame. Have we had any leader who measures himself and his achievements by what Gambians can accomplish through his service to us and not by powers of authority he wields?
Fatoumatta: To lead is to serve; nothing more, nothing less. Where is a sacrifice from our leaders when they submit a bloated budget suggestive of gluttony and insensitivity while asking us to tighten our belts? They demanded many gifts when it was glaring they were unwilling to make the same sacrifices he ordered from us. Then, of course, Gambians took to the streets and recognized them for the impostor they were. In the end, they did not bother to take their case to the Gambia people like a true leader would; they took the well-worn path of intimidation known as the veritable weapon of oppressive leaders. Being selfless is hard. It requires real sacrifice and competence.
Fatoumatta: Leaders do not earn respect by their rank or position but by the strength of their character. As citizens, we must request their bona fides to leadership. We must begin by refusing to underwrite and sponsor moral cowards to power.