Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: Why don’t our current and future presidential aspirants write books? Books that can articulate their vision, mission, values, and aspirations create a compelling blueprint for purpose and engage the Gambia voters and the international community in achieving sustainable socio-economic development.
How many Gambian political leaders ever published a book or written art of a political memoir telling their narratives? Apart from Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara( who published his memoir after active politic), and only National Assembly member for Serekunda Central Honorable Halifa Sallah. Who else? How many have espoused great economic and political ideas? No country has ever been great without thought leaders. Thought leaders move and inspire people with innovative ideas. They turn ideas into reality, and they sure know and show how to replicate their success. Please take a look at the political leaders and politicians in Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Senegal; you need not look farther even that political novice in Senegal Ousmane Sonko published a book articulating his vision and the oil exploration besides exposing corruption in the gas and oil industry in Senegal. The Gambian political leaders Must Think!
Fatoumatta: It is a common tradition in the Western world, particularly in Asia and Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, North America, and Latin America. The race to the 2021 Presidential election is on, and it is a crowded field. More than ten registered 2021 presidential candidates already exist, so we are probably still trying to figure out where they all stand on important issues. Unfortunately, they have not given the voters any help: Apart from Halifa Sallah, no other candidate has published a book that shares insight into their background and beliefs.
Fatoumatta: While the voters may not find the most up-to-date policy information on their campaign websites, they have not written books that make for a great resource. Writing a book s offers them a unique look at the experiences that have shaped them, their world view, and how they think. You cannot judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a candidate (at least in part) by their book. Writing a book before running for president is nothing new. Former President Barack Obama was a published author long before he ever inhabited the White House. The same is true of out-going President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden, and his Vice President-elect Kamala Harris; they all published books long before the contested Presidential elections. We might not be able to predict who will win the race in 2021, but based on how many of the contenders, none have written their tomes, and it is a safe bet that the eventual winner may not have an author’s credit.
In the meantime, we can learn about almost all of them via the party manifesto, mega rallies, and politics in social media echo-chambers: Even President Donald Trump, whom most people label a fool, penned one (or used the services of a ghostwriter, but still), gave one ahead of his presidential run ahead of the 2016 election now-President Donald Trump published his most recent book Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again. He paints a picture of the world as “a terrible mess” and lays out an action plan. Now that he is president, we can decide how he is doing. For example, former President Barack Obama gave us “Audacity of Hope,” which talked about the problems hampering the fabled American dream. Three months after its release (a New York Times Best Seller), he declared his candidature.
Fatoumatta: Leaders who change countries, for better or worse, are intellectuals at the very least. The current Chinese leader Xi Jinping has been likened to Deng Xiaoping and recently released a book that tackles the Chinese government’s complexities and intricacies. Think of Churchill, America’s founding fathers, and even in Africa, the likes of Nyerere, Museveni, Senghor, Nkrumah, and, more darkly, Hitler and the Soviet murderers. For you to build anything long-lasting, you need some intellectual vision.
Fatoumatta: Halifa Sallah and his People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) published books. He had many publications in his credit and the party articulating his party’s core beliefs, ideology, programs, and visions for the Gambia. Writing books will not be a vanity project or necessarily aping the Western world, far from it. Leading contenders for the 2021 Presidential Election include Bakary Bunja Darboe, Halifa Sallah, Dr. Gumbo Touray, Lamin Jammeh, Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, “Baa” Ousainou Darboe, of course. And maybe, Fabakary Tombong Jatta, Marie Sock, Mama Kandeh, Lawyer Sheikh Tijan Hydara, and President Adama Barrow. Of the eleven presidential aspirants, only Halifa Sallah has released some books. For example, in 2008, he released “The Road to Self Determination and Independence” The rest of the candidates nobody know what they stand for or believe in, other than their fame, tribal support, and the money they have made over the years in the government.
Fatoumatta: Come 2021 election. They will hire some clueless university lecturers, briefcase consultants, a few journalists and columnists, and some Television pundits to conjure up some manifesto that even themselves do not believe in. Additionally, some consultants run by white, middle-aged men, with beautiful PowerPoint presentations will also present some implausible but fancy ideas like mini stadiums in Kiang, laptops for kids, the Hakalang Niumi road projects, rural electrification in certain regions, and mega-projects and development agenda such as food security, affordable healthcare, affordable housing, manufacturing and youth employment, and women empowerment projects. Add some optics and hooray, and young people will be labeling the presidential aspirant as youthful and digital. I believe how to do party manifesto functions: How do party candidates view and use their party central policy documents to a broader information environment that briefcase consultants often penned to sound like a perfect prescription for a chronically diseased country? Their proposal was mostly pro-people, how to take care of the poor of the poorest, by protecting and supporting their small ventures, be it farming or animal rearing and gardening. Never mind, some tenderpreneurs will try to sneak in some big projects for kickbacks.
Fatoumatta: In our neighboring country, in December 2018, Senegalese President Macky Sall presented his recently launched new 168-page book, “Le Sénégal au cœur (Senegal in the Heart).” He talks mainly about himself, his family, friends, and his political commitment to “present what he is and embodies.” At the launching of what could be deemed an autobiographical work, President Sall declared: “I wanted to talk about myself and my family for once; because they wanted to portray me for what I am not,”; asserting that these are opponents driven by politics.
“What is Africa’s problem” published by President Yoweri Museveni before contesting elections. As one of the opposition leaders, he expressed a broad and forceful vision for Africa’s future. Museveni is perhaps better placed than anyone worldwide to address the extensive and contentious issues in Africa, posing questions and articulating his book’s beliefs and ideals. In 1986, at 42, Museveni published a book and became the president of Uganda, a country in near-total disarray.
Fatoumatta: When former President Yahya Jammeh took over a shattered country from Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, he was the perfect antidote to the chaos and degeneracy that could have characterized Sir Dawda’s 30 years rule. However, Within 22 years long, Yahya Jammeh could not turn the economy around and reduce the Gambia’s debt reliance on public and domestic debt. We are now over 100 percent multilateral debt with President Adama Barrow, who may set to exceed the economy’s size soon. Fatoumatta: More to the point. What we needed after Yahya Jammeh’s mega-infrastructure binge was a populist in the mold who level up things. With the help of donors and Diaspora contributions also remittances, the ordinary folk raises their living standards. The populist would have seen to it that social services were improved upon, and the infrastructure that Yahya Jammeh had laid down would work to our advantage. However, we chose (they rigged themselves in) a terrible version of President Adama Barrow to succeed him. We went on another mega-structure binge that was impossibly and implausibly overpriced, mainly because the projects were designed to mint money, with no thinking about the impact they would have on the ordinary citizens.
Fatoumatta: Sadly, there is no alternative for the 2021 Presidential election, with a blueprint and a Vision for the Gambia. Indeed, there is hardly any man or woman born before 1975 who can think of ways to help the Gambia. Those born after 1975 equally inspire nothing from the crop the political and intellectual elites ruled the Gambia. Sure, and for example, there are human resources, there is a Dr. Karamo Sonko somewhere. There is a Mr. Lare Sisay. There is Cherno Jallow. There is somewhere one Abdoulie Bax Touray, but they cannot marshall up the whole country to a cause with their vast untapped potential of individual knowledge and expertise for the Gambia’s sustainable economic-socio development. What do we have? Those leaders with some sheen of national clout in this current government do not inspire many micro and macro visions.
Fatoumatta: In the past, I have believed and trust Bakary Bunja Darboe and other Gambian pragmatic seasoned and idealistic technocrats as well politicians, having been to the rural Gambia and seen what they did, but they have failed to build on his failures to build himself properly to fit the country’s aspirations. I still admired the trust and belief that Bakary Bunja Darboe had in him to build himself into a national leader. 2016 coalition was a unique year where he stood no chance but had he taken his chances, tries his luck with Gambian politics without political hiatus, or something to build his mettle, he may, just may have been the man to watch out for in 2021 Presidential election.
Fatoumatta: So here we are; 2021 is upon us. Mr. Dou Sanno and Siaka Jatta are the vision carriers for President Adama Barrow. Nothing to smile about, and they are the visible leaders for the Gambia. We do not forget Lamin Jatta, Saihou Mballow, Hamat Bah, Henery Gomez, and Alkali Conteh. Nothing to smile about. The country is just on autopilot.