by Richard Uku
I read with interest Dr Isatou Sarr’s article “Gambia: People’s Report on President Barrow administration!” – Freedom Newspaper, 2 September, 2017.
This is not intended to be a defensive rejoinder on behalf of the Gambian government. I write purely of my own volition, albeit as an independent consultant working with the government.
I think it is healthy for people to express themselves freely. One does not instinctively think of the press as playing a check-and-balance role as do the different arms of government – executive, legislature and judiciary – but the media does very much play such a role. It is just as important for our political leaders to communicate through the platform offered by the media as it is for them to receive public feedback through the same channel. How that feedback is interpreted is a different matter.
Free speech is a wonderful right that we all enjoy as citizens in a democracy, and I am happy to see Freedom Newspaper and its contributors exercising that right without fear of reprisal. After all, this is not something any of us would have been able to do under the administration of former President Yahya Jammeh. Calling out the President and his government for whatever reason would have earned the writer and the newspaper editor a few days, weeks, months or even years languishing in the infamous Mile 2 prison in the past. And that’s with luck on one’s side. We know how outspoken journalists like Deyda Hydara and others paid the ultimate sacrifice for such “irreverence” to constituted authority under Mr Jammeh.
I highlight this because it is one of the obvious positive developments that have come about since the inception of the Barrow administration. It might be easy to take this for granted. Under the Barrow administration, which Dr Sarr gives a poor overall grade, thankfully, Gambians are now able to express themselves freely. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are alive and well in The Gambia.
I shan’t attempt to counter each and every one of the assertions made in the article. Some are too frivolous to warrant a serious reply. However, a few facts need to be made clear. The article states that the Barrow government has had to borrow money to feed itself. This government inherited an empty treasury. The new Gambian government was bankrupt in the wake of President Jammeh’s departure in February. President Barrow has stressed this time and again. International development partners have rallied to the aid of the new administration with direly needed balance of payments support and technical assistance. Thanks to the United Nations, ECOWAS, the EU, World Bank, IMF bilateral donor partners and non-governmental organisations, the Barrow administration was able to obtain the multi-faceted support needed to get the massive engine of government up and running. The media itself reported on the pillaging and mindless destruction of material that took place as the curtain came down on the Jammeh Statehouse. This is among the many issues under review at the ongoing Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission in Banjul.
President Barrow, accompanied by some of his officials, indeed travelled to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj, a once-in-a-lifetime obligation to Muslims who can afford it. The president reached out to Gambians via social media and announced his departure, seeking forgiveness and prayers as he embarked on the journey. He received a deluge of well wishes from Gambians in response to this. There was nothing untoward about this, and President Barrow was not the first, nor will he be the last sitting head of state of Muslim faith to make the Hajj pilgrimage. While in Saudi Arabia, President Barrow congratulated Gambian pilgrims for performing their Hajj rites. He delivered his message through the Gambian Amirul Hajj, Alhajie Ousman Jah, who visited him in Mina.
It is easy to criticise and issue political report cards from the outside looking in. Mindful of this, President Barrow, in his 35-minute address at the state opening of the National Assembly in June, spoke to the multiple tasks undertaken, and the achievements made within the first six months of his administration. He covered all areas of endeavour, from ongoing efforts to improve electricity and water supply and other basic infrastructure services, to health, youth employment, attracting foreign direct investment, and ensuring national security, among other initiatives.
The president has taken steps to make sure that there is a steady flow of information communicated to the public. With weekly to fortnightly media briefings by his director of press and public relations, monthly media briefings by the minister of information and communications infrastructure, and bi-annual press conferences by the president himself, he is intent on communicating to the public on the activities of his government. The information and communications infrastructure minister also briefs the press following each cabinet meeting, and these are held regularly.
Eight months is hardly enough time for any new government that has taken over the reins of leadership from a 22-year dictatorship, to perform overnight miracles. Change takes time. Development takes time. What is needed at the moment is patience. President Barrow has a capable, professional team of men and women around him. They should be given a fair chance to get on with the business of government as they have been doing. The president himself, is sanguine about prospects for a bright and prosperous Gambia, as he has expressed confidently time and again. I for one, share that optimism and see a recovering Gambia that will only grow from strength to strength if its people rally behind their government and give it the required support.
UN Senior Strategic Communications Consultant for The Gambia.
Gambia: People’s report on
We all rejoiced and danced, we prayed and we celebrated the defeat of Yahya Jammeh. For good reasons. We were hopeful that Gambia will change. We ask for a new society, a new system and and the promise to make our beloved Gambia great again. Many realize that it will not be easy. Jammeh left a legacy of corruption, terror, abuse of power and a bankrupt nation. Yet we were hopeful. We wanted a kind and compassionate society. We wanted clean water, electricity, education and food. We wanted good roads and a healthcare system that is accessible and affordable. That is all. Is that too much?.
The first signs were encouraging. Political prisoners were released and Gambians can speak and move freely. Then everything got quiet, then comes the errors and mistakes. Next came political infighting, greed, nepotism and new players and methods of corruption. We the people are left confused and desperate. We are left asking the obvious question. Is this what we fought for?.
In 8 months the Barrow administration has accomplished these.
- Borrowed money to feed itself.
- Built a new political elite.
- Officials have taken trips and pilgrimage with family and friends at our expense.
4.Bought new and expensive vehicles.
- Bought multi million dalasi compounds and homes. Got free allocation of choice properties in Brufut Heights. 6.Got new Senegalese tailors to make expensive clothes.
- Sent their children to expensive schools
.7.Get new boyfriends and girlfriends.
- Travel to Europe and hang out with their old pals and friends enjoying elicit activities.9.Generally betrayed the trust we placed on them and made a mockery of our hopes and aspirations. We the people got.
1.Worsening electric and water supply.
2.Increase in robberies.
3.Abuse of our civil liberties,our rights of free speech and expression, our rights to free assembly.
- No food, no jobs, no HOPE.
So this is the final 8 month grade for…
- Barrow – F. Clueless
2. Sallah – F. Too much talk no action
3. Darboe – F. Old and Slow
4. Fatty – F. Self serving and overly ambitious
5. Rest of Barrow Ministers – F. Incompetent
So what is the solution. 1. Stay home fix our problems and suspend all top government officials salary and overseas travel until it is clear to all on the street that our lives are better. Yes it’s that simple.
God Bless The Gambia.
Written by Dr Isatou Sarr