By Demba Baldeh
First of all let’s get this out of the way; President Barrow is NOT Yahya Jammeh, Doesn’t look, sound or behave like Yahya Jammeh! I know some of you will be jumping all over and making assumptions and that’s exactly what I expect when I thought about writing this opinion piece.
One will admit President Barrow recently made some comments that could be subject to different interpretations negatively or positively.. Pick your choice of direction. For example paraphrasing…. he mentioned that he was destined to be President with or without a coalition; that five years is not even enough to implement his agenda and that .. when campaigning you can say anything but when you get to office you face a different really and finally his comments questioning where were the intellectuals when they – meaning the UDP were fighting against Jammeh.
In many fronts, one can recognized that the president could have a better choice of words if he was very conscious of political correctness. when I personally met him with some colleagues he looked at us and boldly said these words, he is learning on the job and willing to listen and learn… It takes a strong man and leader to say “I am willing to listen and learn” That fact alone starkly differentiates between President Barrow and several other African leaders and certainly the dictator.
There is no doubt the President is new to the job of head of State and President and so would have been every other candidate apart from Jawara and the Dictator. People respond to new responsibilities differently… and as a result, he is also learning that being President comes with extra scrutiny of every choice of words, actions or code of dress. Even your choice of food and how you greet people is scrutinized with the highest or lowest standard… That is a pillar of the job of head of state. As a result, the President should be more thoughtful how he expresses himself knowing that others will tear apart everything he says to suit their political inclination. Others will take it to the next level, make it personal and even throw insults at the President… That tells more about their maturity than the president himself…
In context the president was correct when he said five years is not enough to implement his agenda… No time is ever enough for any politician… Ask Obama if eight years was enough to change America. The president should have added… but it is the people’s choice and his mandate is to do his utmost best in the best possible time. Does it mean he will run for another term? may be, does it mean he was simply expressing his big heart agenda and was seeing the end for him instead? may be… The President talking about predestination is also not out of context as commonly belief in our faith, I would have chosen different words but come on give the president some break please!!! He will eventually correct these rookie mistakes… I won’t even belabor on the red meat he was throwing to UDP supporters after a difficult couple of weeks of internal squabble.
But let’s face the facts Gambia, lest we forget, less than two years ago we all were terrified in our country including those who were closer to the dictator. Our future and that of our nation were as dark as it could be. Some of us even gave up on our citizenship and wanted to migrate permanently to another land. Little over a year, Gambians are celebrating their freedom, dignity and ability to explore their own talent in their own country. Government has encouraged free speech, political freedom and expression. They have corrected course on some appointments or decisions that were less popular. What a breath of fresh air government reconsidering decision after citizens querried. Think about how far we have come in just little over twelve months… And with all honesty we all aspire for a democratic Gambia and have our own choice of leaders. The reality though is that at any given time the leaders running the affairs of the country may or may not be our own choice of leaders. That democratic deficiency must be accepted by all in order for us to build a viable democratic society. Just because you don’t have your choice of leader or party in office doesn’t make the sitting leaders enemies as long as they respect the basic fundamental freedoms, dignity and opportunities for all our citizens. As long as they recognized that the country belongs to all of us and conduct themselves in that manner we must agree to disagree.
What I have read recently though, could be detrimental to our young democracy. The President, his team and supporters must never see the opposition as enemies. They must never feel that citizens aspiring to take over from them or criticizing their every move are enemies and out to get their heads. This is far from the truth for the most part. The President must have a thick skin and understand that one of the fundamental pillars of an open democratic society is citizens’ ability to criticize the president and his policies. Some again will choose to critique him personally, but these are things that we all fought to get. Some will abuse it while others will use it to their political advantage… It is all part of the package of a democratic society.. As they say Democracy is messy but it works! There is nothing like too much talk in a democracy which seems to be the new theme in Gambia.
Many of us still do not know how to transition from being political activists against the apparent destruction of our country by the dictator to nurturing a flawed but steady democracy with needed reforms. It is a work in progress and we must find partners within a willing government who we can work with. When Apartheid regime was being destroyed in South Africa, there was a willing President and government who made it possible despite the possible consequences. So it is not either/Or, So long as the government is willing to listen and revert course on some fundamental mistakes. We must take the incremental gains over throwing the towels and planting seeds of distrust with the very people we might need to move our country forward.
I therefore urge restraint from both the opposition and the government. The Barrow government was elected to be a transition government and they must strive to get back to that agenda. The President must understand that his mandate is not necessarily to develop Gambian economy even though we all expect it from him and his government. So for him is Damn if you do, damn if you don’t… you must find a balance… lay down the transition policies and let the Gambian people take it from there. Gambians too must humanize our leaders and expect them to make mistakes, and yes sometimes silly mistakes. They must have room to learn and grow as there is hardly any litmus test for the presidency outside the office. So please let’s not create our own dictators by expecting the President to be a perfect human being or his government to be perfect. It is equally our responsibility as citizens to keep an eye on government and scrutinize its actions, but that should never degenerate into personal insults or degrading name calling… Political maturity doesn’t only apply to the president but to the opposition and every citizen… Gambia we are marching forward and President Barrow will play a critical role in that journey as his legacy is on the line… So take a deep breath and see where we came from and where we are heading..