The first phase of successful transition of the Gambia from 22 years of tyranny to a Democratically elected government has almost comes to a close. The inauguration of the Barrow coalition government and appointment of cabinet ministers set the stage for the next phase. It was a rocky but unprecedented history made by one of the tiniest nations of main land Africa. The world and the Gambian people were amazed on the level of political maturity on how the Gambian people and the political class patiently handled the transition. The aversion of another unfortunate political crisis in another African nation that could have witnessed bloodshed was almost a result of divine intervention through forces such as ECOWAS, the UN and patience of Gambia’s political opposition.
Now that the first phase has beautifully concluded; work must begin in earnest to dig out the country from unprecedented maladministration, systemic abuse and massive loot of public resources. This phase is the most critical as the new government must diligently balance between delivering justice for victims of tyranny and putting the country on a firm footing for reconciliation and gradually nurture a Democratic system. One of the fundamental challenges for the new administration is how do you reasonably govern according to a flawed constitution that was tampered with to suit the former government and satisfy an increasingly conscious population that is politically awaken and hungry for change? It is almost damn if you do and damn if you don’t. However, this is where conscious political leaders take bold steps to correct what was wrong while admitting making some unsettling decisions out of necessity. Strong leadership is about assessing the situation and making strong decisions that are forward looking. The leaders must be able to bring along the majority of the citizenry and ask for time to correct course. They must be comfortable to make good intentional judgement decisions and stand by those despite some of the political backlash.
The Barrow government must be conscious that the new Gambia with an active political class will be far more challenging to govern than what the dictator went through. Every decision and action taken will be scrutinized and spin into multiple directions; some with good will and others with political motives. This cannot be allowed to be a distraction as the new administration needs to set its agenda and govern according that blue print. One of the visible efforts to distract the administration especially from the most vocal political class – the Gambian Diaspora is the attempt to implant discord within the coalition government. Some of these critics or observations may be well intended and cautionary, but make no mistake many of them are just that – making noise and distracting from the urgency of governing the country. When people on social media are looking at the coalition government through the lenses of tribal appointments and or party appointments instead of focusing on how the coalition can deliver a good transition with solid rectification of the system, then you know Gambia still has a long way to go. This must be partly seen as political positioning and obviously treated as the rights of citizens to opine in the political discourse.
What is reassuring to independent Gambian citizens who are more interested in a level democratic playing field on cabinet appointments is the depth of personnel and diverse background among the new ministers. One would agree even those who are known party affiliates appointed as ministers as a result of forming the coalition seems to occupy positions that they are competent to run. The coalition and Barrow’s government must reasonably be assessed according to their delivery or failure to do so within the next six to twelve months. Gambians fought together for change and therefore must be prepared to contribute positively to that change. Of course, mediums like Gainako will continue to play it’s natural role and responsibility to counsel where necessary and sound the alarm or challenge where the new government deviates from expectations of the Gambian people. We expect the administration to work hard to be transparent through press briefings not only by the office of the President, but made mandatory or best practice for various ministries to brief the press on their projects, challenges and progress. This would be revolutionary for an African government to engage in as best practice.
It is only through free flow of information to the general populace that the people can know what the government is doing and why. A great example of lack of transparency that could be improved is the President running his office from the Kairaba hotel costing tax payers millions of dollars. At the very least a full press briefing on the magnitude of the alleged tampering of the air conditioning systems at the State House, how widely it is, how long it is going to take to address the situation and the price tag could only be helpful for people to know what is going on. There must be efforts to investigate those who tampered with the system and if possible bring them to justice for possible criminal offense for tampering with the safety and security of the president and those working at the State House. Ultimately, Gambians’ patience with their new government will depend on whether they have good information to work with. President Barrow has a golden opportunity to government with a level of transparency never seen in the history of the Gambia. That is the only way to restore confidence of the Gambian people in their government after two decades of maladministration.