Editorial: Barrow Cabinet Reshuffle; Power Grab, Political Patronage or a Confused President who needs Rescue..

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This week Gambia’s new president Adama Barrow shocked the nation by effecting his first major cabinet reshuffle. For months the State House and the nation have been engulfed with one controversy to another. These ranges from political protest, land disputes to environmental disasters in the Kombo Coastal areas to other parts of the country. The government was almost mute on the issues or took little to no action while they brew to dangerous escalations. This eventually led to deadly confrontation between residents of Faraba and the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) which saw the killing of three civilians and wounding of many including some PIUs.

The confrontation was about a private business man who was granted licence by the government to mine sand in Faraba’s community. The residents resented this move and asked the business man to stop mining in their community. He refused to heed to the residents’ demands counting on the deployment of PIUs by the inspector General of Police and his license to mine there with or without the community consent. He allegedly paid up to D100,000 to the Village Development Committee (VDC) to continue the mining. The confrontation turned deadly with lost of lives and destruction of property.  The President intervened to suspend the mining and immediately instituted an investigative commission to look into the matter. The police inspector General of Police IGP Kinteh was pressured to resign and the president for the first time was forced to address the nation on the crisis and visited the community to calm the situation. It was too little too late as lives have already been lost and confidence on his ability to address any crisis had taken a beaten. The PIUs involved in the deadly shooting have since been arrested and are facing potential charges.

These crisis across the nation were beginning to shine a bad light on the new president’s indecisiveness and unwillingness to quickly address issues before they get out of control. Since he took over power in a dramatic fashion, communication from the state house on government programs, personnel appointments and other major decisions have been less than impressive. Many citizens including his own supporters were getting fed up with the mix messages or lack thereof coming from the State House and the President. He reluctantly refused to address the nation through mass communication except his annual meet the press and frequent but often confusing press releases. On several occasions government either have to clarify a press release or ask the media to put an embargo on a widely distributed press statement. The state house occasionally was forced to issue press releases on matters that could have been addressed long time ago. This lack of effective communication was largely blamed on the office of the president, ministry of information and other line ministries for failing to share information in a timely fashion for public consumption. This started way back when the ministry of Justice and the interior ministry contradicted each other in public on the issue of the NIA 9 who were arrested. It continued unresolved almost two years into Barrow’s Presidency.

Another controversy that engulfed the rather inexperience President was his attempt to form a youth movement; meeting with remnants of the ousted APRC dictatorial government and controversial recycling of former APRC officials either as advicers or to major positions. These actions by or on behalf of the President sent a controversial political message that the transition president was trying to position himself to form his own party and run for next presidential elections. This did not sit well with Barrow’s original political party the UDP which just won two subsequent national elections across the country. Serious bad blood started to brew between those close to the President and his former UDP colleagues on this Youth Movement. There were instances of rumors of the leader of the UDP Ousainou Darboe being denied access to the State House or being at odds with the President on many fronts. The idea of sidelining his party that largely catapult him to power was met with swift challenge within and outside. The backlash was immediate and Barrow became more confused and helpless in his rather indecisive decision making. He had to do something drastic to salvage his political capital and get some help with governing. He was feeling increasingly isolated from the UDP; the fragile coalition and the citizenry. The donor conference with EU countries held in Belgium gave the president some confidence and break on the pressure from his grand party and to implement his National Development Plan.

The shock and awe of the cabinet reshuffle came as a huge surprise to many people. Not that the president was not expected to make changes but the manner in which he made the decision. There were certainly visible issues facing the president and his government. Couple among these were the alleged Fertilizer scandal involving the vocal Agriculture Minister OJ Jallow and a serious Gate Way Contract that was allegedly awarded by the ministry of Finance without following proper bidding procedures. The information minister had written a warning letter to the office of the President and Justice ministry raising concerns about potential violation of the public procurement act to award contracts. These two decisions facing the indecisive president among others may have pushed the president to make drastic decision to make changes.

However, the President’s cabinet reshuffle may have come largely as a political stunt to save his poor performance and political mischief by bringing in his own people rather than effecting personnel change that could help him bring the reform that Gambians were expecting . The biggest controversial change is the removal of Fatoumata Jallow Tambajang who the President bend backwards and suppressed the 1997 constitution to ensure that she become Vice President.  Replacing her with the Leader of  the UDP a major political party leader Ousainou Darboe who Barrow described as his “political father” leaves many Gambians wondering what he was thinking. Since the president see no obligation to explain to the Gambian people why he made the drastic changes, political pundits and the media are left with few choices but to draw their own analogy base on the political landscape and let citizens draw their own conclusions.

On the surface, looking at Mr. Darboe’s appointment as VP looks really bad to any fair minded Gambian not because he is not qualified to occupy the position, but how do you explain appointing the leader of a major political party who is likely to contest for the Presidency in less than two years as number two man and deny the fact that you are not giving that person the advantage of an incumbency? How do you explain elevating a party leader to inches close to the presidency whose party has just won in a landslide back to back national elections and deny that you are not literally handing over the presidency to him especially when you are likely to step aside in little over a year to honor the three year agreed transition period?

It is quite obvious supporters of the UDP won’t see it that way because their leader becoming President is a dream come through and something they have been fighting for over two decades. However, rules of political convention dictates that when you have an electoral advantage as the UDP has demonstrated few months ago, you should fairly and squarely win those elections to get to the Presidency not by being hand picked to succeed the transition president. Certainly Mr. Darboe who has fought all his life to win the confidence and political support of the Gambian people doesn’t need any position handed over to him. He has earned to become President in Gambia without Barrow picking him to succeed him through the Vice Presidency. This is unfair to him and his opponents are always going to claim that he has been positioned to become president easily without going through the electoral process. This is purely because of  President Barrow’s political amateurism and unfortunately many people will not see it that way.

Another controversial appointment President Barrow made that handed political opponents and raise eye brows is the removal of Amadou Sanneh whose domain is finance as Finance minister and replace him with former Jammeh Aide who was already facing the commission of inquiry for being a signatory to illegal accounts that were opened by Gambia’s former Dictator. Mamburay Njie’s appointment can only be explained in few senarios; either because he was the brain behind Program for Accelerated Growth and Employment PAGE 2012 – 2015  during Jammeh’s time which is being transformed to Barrow’s National Development Plan (NDP) for him to implement or as usual he is being compensated for being arrested and prosecuted by the Jammeh regime; something we have increasingly seen through Barrow’s appointments. In any case, his appointment may either be temporal or simply a slap in the face of Gambians who are looking for system change rather than recycling people.

It is also inconceivable politically for the president to remove the minister of Agriculture O.J Jallow because of the fertilizer investigations and replace him with Lamin N. Dibba minister of lands whose ministry is also under investigations because of the Faraba incident. The only reasonable explanation since the president and his team will not explain to the Gambian people is because Dibba is a member of the UDP period. Certainly he did not perform well at the Lands ministry because none of the land disputes in the country have been resolved. So what is Lamin Dibba’s record that earned him to be moved to the ministry of Agriculture? Likewise Dr. Touray’s appointment as minister of Health from the ministry of employment. What background has Dr. Touray has that would make her better suited at the ministry of health that she did not demonstrate at the ministry of employment? Again, the only reasonable explanation is that Dr. Touray’s Independent candidacy was a disguise as she was initially identified as a potential successor to Darboe as candidate to contest the elections if Darboe were to remain in jail until the 2016 elections. This was obvious before she came out and claimed that the political parties “are toxic” and therefore she was going independent. We all heard the anger and insults from UDP militants towards Dr. Touray at the time. So she is still close to the leadership of the UDP which earns her the ministry of health.

The removal of the minister of information Demba A. Jawo was apparent as it was a matter of time. Since he would not go out and praise sing the President and make up stories about the President’s accomplishments without tangible evidence he was a target. Mr. Jawo’s lack of technical background was also raised by many Barrow supporters which may have reached people close to the President. However, let’s look at who is replacing D.A Jawo at the ministry of information. Ebrima Sillah is a seasoned journalist like D. A Jawo. He too has no technical background and allegedly his leadership  at GRTS left many staff wondering what was his strategy in making sure the institution was transformed. His efforts to increase staff pay and making sure GRTS rebound financially is recognized but his controversy over control of other media contracts such as Kerr Fatou, The Fatu Show and his cancellation of other programs proved that he did not have background in television journalism. Mr. Sillah’s appointment could also be linked to his loyalty to the UDP whether this is acknowledged or not.

Mr. Tangara’s appointment as foreign minister is the most insulting of all. This is a man who personally insulted Gambian diasporas and call them unpatriotic in fighting against dictatorship. He was an instrument of corruption in the Jammeh foreign ministry and UN mission. Does president Barrow meant to tell us that there are no bilingual Gambians who could replace Mr. Darboe as foreign minister other than Mr.  Tangara?. We recognized that Tangara speaks fluent French and allegations are that Senegal and regional ECOWAS partners were not happy with Mr. Darboe’s performance as foreign minister. He allegedly did not strengthen bilateral and regional relationship between Gambia and and its regional neighbors. Darboe reportedly for almost two years did not pay an official visit to Senegal or other ECOWAS member states. This therefore may have necessitated for President Barrow to appoint someone who can rebuild that relationship. Whatever the reason may be since the president will not explain, Tangara’s appointment is yet another bad political decision by President Barrow.

On a final note, President Barrow’s move is being described in some quarters as a bold move. Our honest opinion and observation backed by recent events are that it was a desperate move to save his leadership. Since President Barrow could not make bold decisive decisions by himself, he could not risk alienating the UDP party. Mr. Darboe allegedly had refused to frequent the State House lest he was seen as influencing Barrow’s decisions.  So the theory was to have him closer so he could help the President make decisions in governing. Yes, the president has the constitutional right to make personnel changes, but unlike any other government, President Barrow did not become president through the lone efforts of his party. He needed every effort and dime from Gambians to enable him win the dictator. His government was therefore a different government and he owes alliance to the country and the coalition and not to a political party. Now that he has made the decision to transform the government into a UDP government, the responsibility lies on the UDP party to give Gambians the political and constitution reform we fought for. Whether Barrow leaves in three years or not, the bulk of political decision is now in the hands of the UDP and its leadership. Time will be the best judge and Gambians will continue to keep a laser eyes on their government. The days of one party political domination without accountability must be a thing of the past.

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