Be Patient: Government is not like running a Corner Shop (‘Bitiki Narr’)!
The year 2016 and the historic events leading to the elections and the political impasse that followed in The Gambia will go down deep in our political history for several reasons. The greatest achievement of the year was undoutedly the electoral defeat of Jammeh and cutting short what would have been his fifth-term of unrestrained tyranny. Besides uplifting hopes for countless citizens fighting against dictatorship in Africa, these events have also led to the biggest leadership and constitutional crisis in our national history. Although the protracted crisis was finally resolved without any force or violence, the events and the crisis that unfolded have tested the constitution of the country to the core, and severely challenged the principle of separation of powers between the three organs of government (executive, judiciary, and executive). For the first time, over 50, 000 Gambian fled en masse seeking refuge in neighboring countries.
The dust has settled, and democracy and the sovereign will of the people ultimately won the order of the day. On the 19th of January Gambians proudly watched the inauguration of Adama Barrow as the president of the Third Republic. The pomp and fare that marked the Independence Day celebration last week, was a clear indication that a new dawn has arose in The Gambia. However, it is worthy to state that a simple electoral victory and change of political leadership in Banjul will not mean that new prosperity we seek would be achieved overnight. Doris Lessing said it best in her book African Laughter – “look at the past if you want to see the future.” Given the financial mismanagement, social and political tyranny that has cemented the APRC government in The Gambia over the past 22 years, followed by the December political crisis that has sent the national economy into a tailspin, president Barrow and the coalition government have an uphill battle to climb.
Objective criticism and a vibrant opposition are essential ingredients of a democracy. Fittingly, it is a great sign of victory that new spaces for political dialogue are now created where all genuine citizens with an agenda, a set of commitments, and beliefs can debate about how they would like the future Gambia to be. The Barrow government has been in office barely a month, and we’ve already heard all sorts of accusations, criticism of inefficiency, tribalism, and nepotism levied against them. Diaspora rabble-rousers in the past regime have now shifted focus and re-energized their efforts towards the new government. It is the sacred right of every Gambian to express his or her opinion on matters of concern to them, but it is also important to realize that rights come with responsibility. It helps to be reminded that there is a fine line between reality and rhetoric in political discourse. Running a government is different from running a corner shop. Government is messy and complicated business.
Like many objective critics, I too strong support setting up a commission of inquiry to investigate the atrocities committed by the past regime, and to bring justice to the victims. I do belief there is an urgent need for institutional reform, proper installation of the rule of law, and a purge in the security forces. There is a litany of policy and legal reforms our
country has to go through in order to get back on track. I am not a member of the coalition government, neither am I a Barrow apologist. My loyalty is solely to my country, and to the ideals on which it stands – freedom, fairness, and equality for all. However, as a student of government, there are two things that make me empathetic to Barrow and his coalition government:
1. One of the worst things about taking power is that to keep your dreams they have to narrow themselves to the necessities of keeping power (Doris Lessing – African Laughter). From the outside, people at the heart of government look very powerful, but on the inside they are lonely, helpless and weak from the numerous expectations of the citizens and the difficulty of fulfilling all these expectations. It gets more complicated for our new government based on the fact that they inherited a government saddled with high indebtedness, corruption, and low human capital.
2. Moreover, the wise leader wouldn't want to do every transformation agenda at once. The risk would be high. Hence the need for prioritizing and sequencing in the delivery of service. Barrow is the president of a coalition government, and once a coalition government is formed, agreements need to be properly managed, relationships built around competing interest. This requires some level of expertise because most of the sustainable economic development problems this new government faces are not simple fixes but complex ones. Government’s approach has to be in lockstep with the most urgent events and issues at hand,
We just freed our country from a government that has embarrassed and insulted us with unrestrained personal spending, corruption, empty promises, international isolation and blatant lies. Consequently, one can understand the impatience and frustration of many Gambians seeking immediate justice and reforms. However, we should not let our emotions betray our conscience. The task of reforming Gambia's socio-economic and political institutions seems so vast that it is tempting to throw one's hands up and give up on the assertion that it cannot be done. As such, president Barrow and his executive have to adopt sustainable methods of reform and engage stakeholders to ensure the policy advice they receive is sound and of high quality.
The coalition leaders proved their patience and astute leadership qualities in ensuring that the presidential election crisis was addressed and the change agenda wasn’t derailed. I believe with patience, God’s beneficence, and the continuous support of all Gambians, our political leaders will bring the necessary institutional reforms, reconciliation, justice, environment and inclusive economic development policies that are important to the prosperity and general well being of all Gambians.