Alagi Yorrro Jallow
Fatoumatta: Almost everything about the Gambia defines eccentricism — leadership, followership, economy, politics. Abundantly blessed but miserably poor leadership; the more impoverished the nation, the more affluent the elite; the higher public debt grows, the wealthier the managers of the obligations become. It is so difficult to understand. Over the past decades, we have struggled and wrestled with our souls for an exemplary leadership model and fought hard for some worthy political leaders, transformational, visionary, and charismatic leadership. However, unfortunately, the entrenchment of machine politics is the Gambia’s most significant barrier to political progress. It will take improvement in ethical leadership to overcome it. However, unfortunately, most ‘Sosalasso political parties’ are examined by people with an atrophied sense of moral perspective under a microscope.
From our past and recent experience, our moral judgment should guide our political support in the future. No one says we should seek saints for public office. What we seek are people devoted to serving our shared humanity. Flawed human beings might govern us like we all are. However, we must raise the bar of expectations for our public and elected officials. The ideal of democracy demands that our efforts towards building a great nation must include reasonable, robust, and well-enforced ethical standards and expectations for those we give the power to make far-reaching decisions that impact our lives and future generations.
Fatoumatta: The Gambia is a country of winner takes all in everything. A country full of political leaders of extremes in riches and poverty; a land of extremes in power and powerlessness. A cold-blooded country of the well-fed, not knowing that anyone else lacks. Furthermore, the Gambia appears to be a litter bin of big and small dictators and aspiring dictators. Even the governed are so used to the perfidy around us that we see no reason to hate evil and its high priests. The Gambia is a country of proud mansas and stubborn lawyers, talking prophets and singing clerics. Somewhere hanging in the sky of these landowners are poets, musicians, and the general rabble of noisy, angry youths. The political landlords enjoy trading with the Gambia and counting cool cash. Thus, the line between democracy and tyranny can be very thin.
Furthermore, when democracy jumps into the Red Sea of tyranny, the resultant Canaan will not be the Israelites’ land of freedom and peace. On the contrary, anarchy is the promised land. Indeed, as argued by Socrates, democracy is an “agreeable form of anarchy,” and what is anarchy if it is not tyranny’s disdain for law and order?
Fatoumatta: The fruit we reap from December 1, 2016, political farms appear to be misgovernance,ethnic-chauvinism, elite cultural hegemony, toxic masculinity, and erosion of the rule of law in favor of special interests. Moreover, we are the cause. Tyranny is a collective brew; no tyrant is self-made. It is like untreated sores, which will always go wrong, very bad. Writing about the American experience and experimentation with tyranny in a democracy, Sean Illing, a journalist and philosopher, said, “democracies give way to tyrannies when mob passion overwhelms political wisdom and a populist autocrat seizes the masses.” The Gambia is witnessing just that with the current frenzy to please a potentate salivating for absolute powers. ‘Political wisdom’ has left us – we have surrendered to the eccentricity of the mob – or the ravens of power in its absoluteness. We are walking (or have walked) wide-eyed into the dreadful sea of tyranny. It is like we have indulged our baobab tree with infused demons. It is now making demands of lives and living. As noted further by Sean Illing, “But the tyrant is not quite a tyrant at first. On the contrary, in a democracy the would-be tyrant offers himself as the people’s champion. He is the ultimate simplifier, the one man who can make everything whole again.” Apt.
Pope Francis, head of Catholic Church, warned of politics of populism, and said, “Germany was looking for a leader, someone who would give her back and her identity and there was a little but a short man named Adolf Hitler who said ‘I can do it’…. his people voted for him, and then, he destroyed his people”. Therefore, politics must be rooted in ideology; politics of ideology is the crystallization of one’s principles, founded in the philosophy of political and socio-economic liberation of the people’s leaders. The defense of our dignity and freedom confronts the forces of retrogression.
The Gambia, at 56 years her age, has a deficit of great leaders. Leaders like those from our past who fought for the Gambia’s independence and whose foresight gave rise to great hopes before our current state of despair. Unfortunately, the ongoing and never-ending dispiriting parade of scandals, theft, economic sabotage, and general financial and political misbehavior that confronts us daily in the media reminds us that all we have are leaders of misfortune, mired in the lack of public ethics, political and individual morality. It is said that people get the type of leaders they deserve. How bitter, how strange! The Gambia does not deserve the kind of rogues ‘tangal cheeb’ leaders. No! The Gambia certainly does not deserve a like Domorifoday. At this critical juncture in our nationhood, we deserve leaders at every level of governance with a commitment to who we are, what we care about, and the decision to project our values through purposeful action.
Fatoumatta: What is it about our politics? Are there rules? If yes, does anybody play by the rules? What do Domorifoday’s lies about his qualifications and experiences, tax evasion, scandal, irreverent and anti-social behavior say about who he is as a person and a leader? What do Boybairaay’s tactics and code of conduct, his alleged tax evasion, his cornucopia of offenses of alleged economic and Financial Crimes, his targeted extra-legal overreach as a politician say about his fundamental character? What is the meaning of economic sabotage when leaders alleged to have falsified import documents declaring fertilizer instead of rice to avoid paying duties? How do we deal with conflict of interest issues when lawmakers summon the comptroller General of the Customs and Excise on the pretext that he refuses to accept bribes and committing fraud because his men are working according to the rules? Where is hope when legislators openly defy the laws of the land?
Fatoumatta: It is early in the year, but most definitely, we are learning anew that elections have consequences, and we are reaping bountifully from the choices we made on December 1, 2016. Many of President Adama Barrow’s hangers-on who are now tin gods in the presidency and the majority of representatives, national assembly members, and top public officials rode to power on the back of the change mantra and the personal integrity Adama Barrow and his coalition. These ethically challenged politicians are not our brightest and best. They are not the face of our hard-working men and women. They are the face of cronyism, nepotism, and graft. They were bred and groomed by political godfathers, and they came up through machine politics.
Machine politics is transactional politics with immense rewards for loyalty and severe punishment for venturing off the reserve. If in doubt, check Boybairaay’s profile. How did he find his way into leadership? Boybairaay served the high and mighty during the military regime. He was a good boy; becoming a politician is his reward for toeing the line marked for him. Boybairaay is indebted to his masters, and it is difficult for him to serve his people. He proves every day that no one can serve two masters.
The ideal of democracy demands that our efforts towards building a great nation must include reasonable, robust, and well-enforced ethical standards and expectations for those we give the power to make far-reaching decisions that impact our lives and future generations.
The politics of power and inducement, where candidates for political office are not examined on their character and values, show we are politically naive. The Gambia will not evolve and prosper until we consider leadership based on ideology, values, and ethics. Much of our history in the last fifty-six years was written by leaders whose values are suspect. It is proven that a leader’s politics may change over time, but the core values that generate these politics do not change. It remains constant throughout life. We need to understand that when next we evaluate candidates for political office. As Gambians, we need to develop a national character that will enable us to care about our values and the values our leaders hold. Given the rate of decay in our national life, we cannot afford to be inattentive or agnostic when confronted with stories about the ethical misbehavior of our political leaders.
Fatoumatta: We do not know what December 4 presidential elections will bring. It may be a valued-based leadership essential to preserving and protecting democratic principles, central to ensuring truth, justice, and temperance. However, the minder of the system has promised deliverance from our ailment of lousy leadership. We wait. As a child, I remember we were told that one of the signs of the end of the world would be plenty of money in many hands chasing goods that would not be available. How would that happen?
Fatoumatta: Moreover, I was also reminded of the Gambia situation of an old idiom “too many cooks in the kitchen” or, in other words, ” too many chiefs and not enough Indians.” A precarious situation in the Gambia’s body politics and this idiom occupied my mind the several times I listened to end-time messages. Too many Gambians want to be leaders, and not enough people are willing to be followers. Now, there are many political parties. It is a poverty of leadership and intellectuals but poverty of conscience chasing scarce followers. Is the world coming to an end?
Alagi Yorrro Jallow