Being a cautious optimist, I have, in many conversations, contended that hope is an overrated force in human history — but I do also realize that hope is necessary, it is a buffer and a form of resilience. In his section of “Profiles of Gambian Political Leaders in the Decolonization Era” — Gambian historian — Hassoum Ceesay — ended the chapter where he profiled Pierre Sarr Njie, by discussing his optimism, hope, and an outlook on the body politics of The Gambia and its people that’s almost philosophical in its rendering:
P.S. remained sanguine about the future of the country despite what he observed as the failures of the PPP government. In what was perhaps his last interview in 1990, when asked how he saw the future of The Gambia, his words were sanguine and statesmanlike: “Hope. Hope. This country will never be destroyed. We just have to raise fewer thieves and more patriots. There is hope for our country. It is a blessed country.” (P218)
Pierre Njie’s line about raising fewer thieves is cutting. It is cutting because it seems like since he made this statement, the perch of the presidency has been occupied by thieves, not patriots. President Jammeh and his heirloom — President Barrow — have not only been involved in thievery but they’ve been painfully mediocre presidents; hence, also betraying the hopes of many Gambians.
President Barrow, just like Babili, is in over his head, it seems like he gave up on governance; thus, swinging the pendulum towards the direction of party politics and consolidation of power. It’s quite unfortunate for a country that’s profoundly reliant on handouts — a country where poverty is part of the daily narrative; where the healthcare system is not even equipped to provide basic health services; where the education system is failing its children; where there are few outlets for the majority of its youth — where the spectre of food rationing is no longer an imagination.
President Barrow, for what it’s worth, is incapable of betraying the God of Gambian politics — the God of the do-nothing presidency, of thievery, of fecklessness, of mediocrity, of patronage. Following the very rich tradition of pageantry, the one championed by Jawara, then put on steroids by Jammeh; Barrow is, for all intents and purposes, already perfecting the craft of governance based on patronage and thievery. In The Gambia, it seems like it is one thing to correctly name the government of yesteryear as thieves, but it is a different matter altogether to replace it with an honorable, capable, competent and SERIOUS one. We are, at this point, sadly, on autopilot.
For a good many of us, we expected a break from the past, the past that built mosques, subsidized and appealed to the sentiments and whims of apparatchiks and partisan hacks — the past that built schools sans well trained teachers and resources; the past that built roads, just to watch them crumble right before our eyes; the past that wallowed in silly hagiographies — the past that drove this country on the precipice of a failed state.
Consequently, to break from that mediocre past — the United Democratic Party can and should protect the little hope and honor left in our politics — for I think the UDP has a great opportunity to shape and transform Gambian politics for a generation. On the other hand, they can also destroy their party, thus, going the way of the PPP and APRC. To maintain their dominance — they can and should nominate a SERIOUS, capable standard-bearer to lead the party and eventually The Gambia. If they decide to stick with the do-nothing presidency — they’re, sooner or later, going to wither just like the Whigs. Gambian society is changing and the politics of patronage, pageantry, and fraternity is not going to cut it for posterity.
For the love of country, please, I plead with the UDP leadership and rank-in-file to nominate someone other than Barrow. We can and should do better. Barrow cannot and should not be the leader of a SERIOUS political organization and most certainly not the UDP. We should not standardize and normalize mediocrity. Therefore, UDP can end this hemorrhage, thievery, school boy errors and nominate a SERIOUS, competent leader, because, I am sure that, within their ranks, they have raised more patriots than thieves.
Far reaching than any partisan politics, this very necessary, patriotic decision to buck the trend of the cult of the individual in Gambian politics — by not nominating an incompetent, do-nothing president as its standard-bearer — would represent Gambia’s maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its political leaders in the decolonization era.
In the end, remember, generations of Gambians to come will one day, ask of us living, what have we done with our time? Hopefully, the UDP will answer that it has mastered its destiny by betraying the God of Gambian politics when it mattered — that, it has contributed to the maturation of Gambian politics. That, in essence, should be our collective summons to The Gambia ever true.
I am, as always, cautiously optimistic!
A better Gambia beckons —