by Alagi Yorro Jallow
In the Chinua Achebe book, No longer at ease, Obi Okonkwo, the main character in the book, describes real tragedy as misfortune that is never resolved, it goes on hopelessly forever. In the Gambia, on everyone’s lips seem to be going through real tragedy in several fronts. Gambian politics and political actors/actresses seem to be in palpable tragedy when it comes to the new relationship between executive myopia and the electorates.
Real tragedy, freedom fighters or politicians rarely remain fighters after tasting power. In many cases they turn to dictatorship and find comfort in corruption. But the worst ones are those who do not achieve power of their own but survive in its periphery. Thus, what depressed my soul right now: President Adama Barrow asking for second term in office is mindboggling. When leaders get too used to applause from their followers, they start to believe in their own myth. They see themselves spotting a halo, one they imagine bestows unusual insight on them.
Political leaders that pretends to serve the populace while enriching themselves and their supporters on our backs. Both propose increased government spending, both have placed ethnic identity at the center of their campaigns. No one is talking about housing, electricity, taxes, employment or a whole lot of issues of interest to me.
Supporting a second term for President Adama Barrow and go to the ballots would be to legitimize an extremely flawed and disingenuous system. Fiscal indiscipline, wastage of public funds and excessive borrowing from the domestic market, are the pivotal contributors to high interest rates. In one sentence, President Barrow has performed poorly in the management of the economy.
No amount of PR gimmicks can negate this fact. Almost two years, I hope Gambians will know against incompetence and mediocre leadership, whose only success is false ethnic pride.
A real tragedy rewarding leaders whose only interest is preserving the status quo, where the poor remain poor and the elite plunder national resources for the benefit of friends and immediate family.
A real tragedy, the culture of rewarding corrupt leaders with public office. Let us stop glorifying people who have a track record of plunder under the guise of “hustling.” Let us stop the culture of tribal kingpins for they use the collective ignorance of their respective communities for self-preservation. All tribal kingpins are just economic criminals, who have negotiated their way to power by intimidating the organs of state, including the judiciary.
State leadership is not defined by the number of photos opportunities on the lawns of State House with local and foreign diplomats. Success of State leadership is not defined by how many international conferences or visiting Heads of State a Nation can host. The leadership of a State nation is first a foremost obligated to ensure the wellbeing of its citizens.
A real tragedy, Gambians have become skeptics and their political leaders have become morally conflicted when it comes to lack of political decency, fight against corruption, they don’t have a political agenda and efforts in fighting graft or treat the whole charade with a big yawn. On corruption and payola, the Executive and the Legislative are to be fully blame as corruption and sleaze has grown into a monster in the last two years under the watch of President Adama Barrow and his government.
A real tragedy, the Gambia suffered from executive myopia. Adama and Yahya have a recognizable modus orerandi, play book, style of governance and leadership, they project an image of the “good guy.” Amiable and lover of country and her citizenry. They come smiling with open arms. They initially give hope, then take it away. They are loved, before the relationship becomes one of loathing, love hate at best. Dictators do not deliver what they promise, they prioritize things that make them strong. Dictatorships are usually built through three stages.
First is of consolidation of state power, dominating the legislative arm of government and passing laws conducive to further consolidation of power and limiting of rights. This review of the legal regime most often includes an attempt to subvert or change the constitution.
The second stage is disregard for existing laws and legal order which includes, inter alia display and use of raw state power accompanied by total disregard for judicial authority. This is usually also the period of detentions, beatings, killings, torture and exiles. The stage at which significant opposition is either compromised or completely neutralized. The word opposition means – prominent dissident voices, the media, and is expanded to include – independent state officials like civil servants and people in government security apparatus, including the ruling party, perceived not loyal enough for the clandestine agenda.
Third stage; Once viable opposition is out of the way, then an attempt is made to stay in office if is possible. When the ground is flatted, an attempt is made, covertly, to tinker or remove term limits completely. The agents that push this agenda are usually not those at the center of power, but with the blessings of those in power. Here in the Gambia, an unconstitutional law of sedition and the Public Order Act is being validated by the Supreme Court, to limit the rights of citizens to criticize the President, picket and demonstrate by force of applying a permit from the police. The leading media house the Daily Observer has been closed for allege tax liabilities and the rest in the process of being taken over by government friendly shareholders. Top journalists and columnists perceived to be anti-government are leaving in droves. Yahya Jammeh, the former strongman and Adama Barrow are the epitome of the Gambia’s peculiar leadership tragedy. Of Presidents who cannot lead, or when they do, set their citizens on the path to economic misery and ruin.
Meanwhile, in the public sphere, the repression of critical voices and dissent continues unabated. The Sedition law, false news and the Public Order Act retained. There is a vitriolic narrative being fed into the public discourse, aided by an incendiary social media campaign, against Diaspora critics and activists, painting them as (Baa fen-Nyo) “goat tail wagging”, peddling unsubstantiated allegations of links between critics of the government and the Diaspora activists. This McCarthyism campaign is intended to discredit the public resistance steadily building up against the government’s efforts to curtail democratic freedoms.
If not for the judiciary, which is proving to be the last bastion in the defense of basic rights, The Gambia’s democratic governing framework would be under greater challenge. Political scientist Robert Paxton defined fascism in his seminal study in 2004, The Anatomy of Fascism, as “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood” and in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants “abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion”.
This could well be a description of President Adama Barrow’s mobilization strategies and its political perspective. It is time for those of us invested in keeping the Gambia’s democratic imagination vibrant and expansive to resist such an exclusivist political vision
Politics and especially that related to the Executive has become an anguish in the Gambia that is never fixed, the situation has always been a disaster; it goes on hopeless forever, and closure of one election triggers the start of other campaigns for the presidency by next year. Good thing is, Gambians have the power to stop any man-made tragedy by refusing to be led like sheep since they chased away a dictator to exile.
It is becoming evident that this will be no ordinary electoral contest between President Adama Barrow and the rest because what is at stake is the future of our democratic republic. It seems that a pivotal moment in our political life is approaching, with the Adama Barrow and its allied council of elders, religious, traditional leaders, youth movement embarking on a strategic course that is far more ambitious and combative than in 2016 Presidential elections, seeking as it does to alter the fundamental postulates of the democratic framework of the Gambian nation.
As Gambians, we are justly proud of the structure of our governance and our Constitution which has ensured that the Gambia is both a democracy and a republic. This powerful and well-articulated constitutional link between democracy and republic has entrenched all citizens as equal stakeholders in this nation state.
Our Constitution, which came into force in 1997, had ensured that Gambian citizens were given a set of inviolable freedoms, including equality before the law and freedom of expression. It is this democratic inheritance which is now in peril, with Adama Barrow gesticulating a willingness to depart from the traditional moorings of governance. The tactical alliance ruling government and its affiliates are becoming increasingly vocal in the public sphere in their questioning of the foundational principles of their democratic framework, airing afresh post-dictatorship doctrines that question the basis of the Gambia’s composite nationhood.
The world watches us and shakes its head. How can a country be this blessed and be this cursed? The Gambia is a difficult country to govern toward prosperity has always been a struggle, shackled as it is by political division, ethnic rivalry, militancy, theft and corruption. All these problems demand a leadership that is aware of the kind of race the world around it is running. The world is not sleeping, not even slowing down or waiting for any sleeping giant. The race of progress and prosperity is a combination of a dash and a marathon. Slow, ineffectual leaders can’t run it. He continues to vacillate and oscillate when/where decisiveness is demanded. And he is not tired of ruling the country as a captive of power and its complexities.