There is no question a nation’s political leaders are a central part of its economic, social and political development. There is an equal argument that the peoples’ attitude and political consciousness are an equal contributing factor to determining the behavior and management attitude of their leaders. Often you hear in the grave vines that the people deserve the leaders they get. To some degree, this is true because in a democratic society power belongs to the people who choose their leaders through the ballot box. This process is prone to manipulation and abuse by leaders who cannot often compete on the merits and in a level playing field.
For almost fifty years, Gambia has struggled to survive as a viable nation. Of course, many will quickly counter that Gambia is an independent sovereign nation, and its people determines their government through democratic means. History and facts indicate that Gambia is still a heavily dependent nation on foreign aid, loans and grants to even run its government. So, the nation’s sovereignty and viability are subjective unless one doesn’t truly understand what a sovereign nation is supposed to mean.
The genesis of this editorial is to define and showcase the kind of leadership we believe Gambia needs to turn this tiny nation into a truly sovereign independent state with sovereign citizens who are capable of managing their own affairs. At the onset, we ask the question; what kind of leader does Gambia need? The answers are not so settled! The pundits will rush to mention names either from the existing political class and or aspiring leaders that is outright leaning towards their own individual and or political preference. But the kind of leader Gambia needs in this context is not an individual but rather a personality with the kind of leadership traits that can challenge a people and revolutionize a nation.
Who is that leader? Well, to start with, let’s examine what are the major fundamental deficits of our current political leadership dispensation. What are some of the obvious identifiable problems that are holding our nation from breaking away from the chronic cycle of poverty, maladministration and risky dependence on foreign aid and loans to provide basic services for our people. One could list hundreds of problems on the surface, but those are symbiosis problems that directly affects each other as a result. One of the major issues we face as a nation is lack of hope; patriotism, dignity and pride that is often found in nations that are able to break away from their cycle of poverty and spring into innovation and nation building. The pride and dignity of a people often sparks innovation and determination to live an independent sustainable life.
Of course, we are not insinuating that our political leadership are unpatriotic and or lacks dignity; far from it. What we are saying is that none of our political leaders especially our Presidents; current and past were able to break through and galvanize a citizenry who will respond to a call of duty without placing their own personal and or political interest in the forefront. What the leaders successfully did and continue to do, is to completely disenfranchise Gambian citizens into having any hope on their government’s abilities to address their basic fundamental problems. As a result, the people have political apathy and largely don’t believe that any other person elected to lead the people will bring any meaningful change in their lives. The evidence has it that changing one crop of leaders with another has only created a new middle- and first-class citizenry who are in it for themselves, their immediate families and associates. Government has continued to function the same old fashion way for almost fifty years without any meaningful difference in the lives of the ordinary Gambia.
The kind of leader who Gambia needs and must have to change the trajectory of the country is someone who will be bold enough to revolutionize and change the mindset of the citizenry from the onset. This would be someone who is not interested in personal political power or fame, but rather someone who sees him or herself in every Gambian. A leader, who will inspire and restore hope and dignity of ordinary citizens of the Gambia to believe in themselves and their own potentials to become anything they want within their own nation. This leader will talk to and not over the Gambian youth and women and inspire them to become the best entrepreneurs; teachers, doctors, scientists, engineers and civil servants for the sole purpose of serving their nation and people before themselves. She/he will spark innovation and patriotism from the youngest child to the oldest citizen to wish to serve his/her nation and do it with pride and dignity. Patriotism and desire to serve the public with honesty and integrity is not a God given talent, it is rather a trait that is taught and learned from kindergarten through one’s adolescent and life journey. Leaders of nations are in a unique position to bring out the best out of their citizens by leading by example!
When President Paul Kagame of Rwanda took over a savaged nation which lost almost a million citizens from a brutal civil war and political unrest, he first restored the hope and dignity of the Rwandan nation and people. He unprecedentedly did this by rallying the Rwandan people to believe in themselves, forgive each other and at the same time hold individuals accountable to their actions and failures.
His leadership sparked and brought out sense of personal responsibility and a national pride that saw Rwanda rolling back from the ashes of a disintegrated country to a vibrant nation that is now the talk of Africa. Rwanda in just less than two decades is now building cars, railroads etc.
Another example of a leader inspiring generations of leaders; scientists, engineers and Entrepreneural innovation was former President of the United States John F. Kenedy. When JFK in 1961 challenged America to rise up and safely land on the moon, this sparked a whole generation of innovation and space exploration. By the end of the decade America had successfully landed on the moon matching or surpassing the Soviet Union’s space craft and satellite launching into orbit. The moral of the examples above is to underscore the kind of change and inspiration a leader can bring to a nation.
In short, Gambia is endowed with exceptional human resources where four generations of Gambians traveled outside to seek education, skills development and training in various fields of expertise. The country needs a leader who will rise up and challenge the citizenry to return home and not only invest, but volunteer to share their knowledge, skills and other expertise in various fields. Such a leader will motivate the large population of youths whose only hope is traveling outside the country. Such a leader must set the tone by committing to combating corruption, crime, government waste and inefficiencies. This tone must not only be lip service, but a practical implementation of sound fiscal and economic policies to provide employment, financial investments and other incentives to allow youths to create their own businesses and entrepreneurship. The leader must put out performance base policy driven initiatives that will see government gradually domesticating enterprises and investing into the productive sectors of the economy. Gambia will begin to turn a new page when such a leader emerges to inspire and restore hope in the citizenry. This is not only possible if we have the courage, but realistic as Gambia continue to be a victim of individual successes at the expense of our collective success.
Editorial by Demba Baldeh Gainako Associate Editor