Editorial: Why holding President Barrow to the three years is about breaking a cycle of African leadership power grab

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Many political as well as economic experts both in academia, political and social research has documented that Africa’s political and economic struggles are largely depended on the continent’s choice of leaders and how long these leaders cling on to power. The freedom and economic progress of any nation is directly correlated to the caliber of leadership that nation produces. The longer a leader stays in power past their useful mandate the more likely they will have no new ideas to move that country forward.

Time and again after independence from colonial rule, African nations have seen leaders serving between 20 to 40 years on average. Most took over power at younger years and stayed well beyond their useful life span all without economic, social or political progress for their respective countries. Instead, the same family held on to power for decades and turn the country into a family dynasty or lineage. This often plunges countries into political chaos, power struggle leading to civil wars, political unrest, economic and social catastrophe.

History has clearly documented that African nations which have broken away from such cycle of leadership entrenchment has recorded significant progress in both economic and political spheres. These nations such as Ghana, Botswana, Mauritus and Namibia just to mention a few are recorded as Africa’s most stable democratic nations. The noticeable difference that sets them apart from the rest of Africa is their stability and consist peaceful leadership transition.  According to IOA position papers which provide a Benchmark of political and economic index of African nations, the top five nations in Africa are those that have experience consist political transition in leadership. Other indicators of political stability includes; integrity of elections, constitutional presidential term limits, strong governance institutions that can provide checks and balances, independent legislature and judicial branches that oversees other coequal branches of government. The will of  pro-democracy movements and civil society in recent African history including the Gambia suggests that when populations refused to be denied their political rights, such governments cease to exist at the demand of the people.

Holding President Barrow to the three years transition agreement is therefore fundamentally to break away from such cycle of African leaders promising one thing only to perpetuate themselves once they get in power. The three year transition is by no means about the constitution or the president’s willingness to write a new constitution and institute presidential term limits. Neither is it about a so called National Development plan that was supposed to be a National Transition Plan. The coalition leaders were well aware of the constitutional requirement of five years and yet they all agreed to a three year transition. History has repeatedly shown that when African leaders take over power either through military coup or on a transitional ticket, they end up using the power of incumbency to remain in power. This further erodes the trust and confidence of citizens in their leaders and sets back progress of forming coalitions to uproot an entrenched government. What is the point in forming a coalition to remove one entrenched leader only to replace them with another?

The argument that President Barrow was elected on a five year mandate and therefore he needs to complete his National Development Plan is a fallacy and must be rejected by decent Gambians. There is also a strong argument that the integrity of a leader is inherent in his willingness to live up to his own words. Sticking to the three year agreement is about integrity and dignity of the leader. At the very least he owes the leaders who supported him that honor to respect his words and do as they agreed. In two years President Barrow has demonstrated to the Gambian people what kind of leader he is whether he rules for three, five or ten years. He had a golden opportunity to breakthrough and show Gambians that he is that revolutionary leader whose citizens would insist he stays beyond an initially promised transition.

The president’s repeated inability to make informed decisive leadership decisions, shows that even if you give him half a century he cannot get any better. He has proven in front of the whole world that he has inability to learn and grow on the job. A leader is often judged by the decision of personnel appointments he or she makes. Barrow has shown that he cannot think beyond a circle of sycophantic political novice whose only interest is to perpetuate him in power.   It is also crystal clear to all Gambians that Adama Barrow neither has the academic, professional nor life time experience to grow as a strong leader. In two years he couldn’t make a single decision that resembles a revolutionary leader that Gambia needs to fully transition from two decades of dictatorship and half a century of below mediocrity nation. When you compare President Barrow to say Paul Kigame of Rwanda or Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, you can clearly see that he doesn’t have the leadership Charisma or vision to make an immediate impact on the lives of his people. These two leaders the former staying longer in power but bringing remarkable change and the later making revolutionary decisions to bring peace and set his country on path to reconciliation. President Barrow in a country of less than two million people shows all signs of continuing on the foot prints of his predecessor by attempting to silence his critics and alienating his political opponents.

The Gambian people from political parties to civil society must send a clear message that Barrow is a transition leader and therefore he must give way to a new leadership who will preside over a full transition to an equitable democratic governance with independent institutions. This is yet another golden opportunity for Gambia to show the world that its leaders have integrity and care more about the future of the country than their own political future. The international community must be rallied once again to ensure that Gambia does not slide further into political entrenchment from one leader to another. The future of the country completely depends on the political will of the leaders and the commitment of citizens to ensure that Gambia will never again be taken for granted by any leader. Power and complete power belongs to the people and when they refuse to be taken advantage of, no leader can impose themselves on the people through the power of incumbency. Just as 2016 was a decisive make or break moment for the country, 2019 through 2021 will be yet another moment of truth.

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