As in any job, one is hired to perform a particular task and deliver services to a company’s stakeholders. The same thing applies to the President of any democratic nation who is evaluated on his or her performance, especially in an election year where one is seeking a mandate for another term. The presidency is the highest office in the country and therefore the President should have higher standards of evaluation and measure of success and/or failures.
As the old adage goes, time is the fairest and the best judge of assessing the impact, successes and failures of any situation. With time, we are able to continue to live the moments, look back in hindsight and ponder on what could, would have! Those who learn from their missteps often could reassess and correct course. Unfortunately, this is easier to preach than to practice!
The Gambian people have had five years to assess where the country came from in the last two decades, how we fought to get rid of the dictatorship and how the coalition leadership took over from Yahya Jammeh. President Adama Barrow can now be fully assessed based on his merits, his individual leadership traits, successes, and failures. Unlike 2016, when the country faced an existential threat of disintegration and possible civil war, where we did not have the luxury to fully assessed the best candidate to lead the coalition, we now had the space and time to see what the transition and President Barrow can offer the Gambian people. It is time for full evaluation of the person we hired to run our country!
Obviously, it is a tall order to do a full comprehensive assessment of everything the president and his government have done in the last four and half years. For this article, I intend to focus on the main fundamentals of governing without diving deep into policy matters. In essence, it is an ordinary assessment of an individual citizen journalist through his own lenses and the general perception and feelings of the majority citizenry on the status of the country. We will look at the main promises of President Barrow and the transition government, expectations of citizens and Gambia’s international partners post Jammeh era.
The first and most important question to borrow from American political vocabulary; what is the state of our union? What is the level of harmony and or lack thereof amongst the Gambian people in our political, social, and religious discourse? When we compare the tensions of the political climate leading to December 2016 elections to now looming December 4th, 2021, elections; how do the tension currently feel in the country’s political class? Unless one is in absolute denial, it is evident that the level of unity Gambians and the opposition were able to achieve was not only historic but unprecedented in Africa’s political history! This could perhaps be attributed to the fact that we were all facing the same existential threat and it was either we came together to salvage our country, or we watch our country disintegrate into civil war! Today, there is frequent chatter in various listservs and forums that the political tension in the country could lead to potential post-election violence because of the level of animosity and tension between political opponents. The question then is, how did we go from the most united to remove an entrenched dictator to now most divided politically? The answer is not far fetch, the president has not led or made enough efforts to keep the country united. Instead, from the get-go he started to advance his personal political agenda at the expense of the transition and the country as a whole! Those familiar with contemporary African politics would not be surprised about this. African leaders have always found a way to either use constitutional loopholes or abuse executive power to prolong their reign after being entrusted with a transition period.
The next assessment of the president’s performance is the State of Gambia’s Economy. We read that the Gambian economy was supposed to grow 6.5% in 2019/2020 but due to Covid it contracted 1.5 to 2% according to world bank reports. What does this translate into regarding the lives of the ordinary Gambian? The president often talks about having four months of import cover as compared to two months during Jammeh’s time. Meaning that if some global disasters were to happen in the world, Gambia can survive for at least four months with food security and other essential goods. Think about this seriously and assess whether a nation should pride itself in having four months of import cover? The facts remain that the lives of the Gambian people are far worst today than 5 years ago. Prices of commodities, cost of living, security, health, and wellbeing of the Gambian people continue to get out of control! The only bright spot which is more theoretical than practical President Barrow can highlight as relates to the economy is the performance of the Central Bank and its control over the banking system. The central bank reports that Gambia’s debt to income ratio of GDP is between 75 to 85% as compared to 115% to 120% in 2015/16 and early 2017. This is a monetary debt policy that has no direct impact on the live of the ordinary Gambian. The currency exchange has also been stabilized compared to the artificial control Jammeh had during his tenure.
It would not be fair to move on to the next assessment without mentioning the earning capacity of the ordinary Gambian civil servant. You would think that the earning capacity of civil servants should at least level up with cost of living. It is far from the case. The President, however, gets a high mark on the increase of government staff salaries which was increased 50% in 2019. While this is commendable, what it revealed is that the civil servants’ earning capacity were so terrible that even 50% increment did not have a positive impact on the lives of ordinary staff. If a staff earning D3,000 a month now gets D4500, when the cost of a bag of rice and oil has skyrocketed this has no impact at all. The worst part of the economy is really the explosion of corruption since President Barrow took power. His inability or lack of political will to establish an anticorruption commission is all you need to know about what is going on in terms of corruption. Numerous corrupt practices allegedly involving public officials were publicly reported but no serious actions were taken. A classic example was the Covid funds corrupt scandal that were reported by the minister of health!
On security, the much talked about security sector reforms which was a major policy area that saw overwhelming international donor and partner support including the regional ECOWAS, has become the biggest casualty of the Barrow government. If someone told you that ECOMIG forces will be in Gambia five years post Jammeh era, you would not believe it. The security sector reform was the most critical reform agenda President Barrow had because the military and other security apparatus were the tools and institutions that Jammeh used to abuse human rights and oppressed the Gambian people. Therefore, Gambia’s partners were eager to get involved and help the Gambia not only reform the army, the NIA and the police but ensure that the general security of the country is guaranteed. Numerous reports and summits were issued on the security sector report but as usual that commission too slowly died at the doorsteps of Barrow’s State House. Today, the security situation in the Gambia is extremely dangerous as violent crimes and drugs exploded in an around the country. It got so bad that the President who is often reluctant to address the nation was forced to record a video to address the nation and put the army on standby. The new police chief embarked on operation stop crimes to combat crimes. The major failures of the security sector reforms can be attributed to President Barrow’s recycling of former Jammeh security chiefs who demonstrated incompetence or inability to manage various sector apparatus in the Gambia. This is perhaps president Barrow’s biggest failure and as a result he is doing everything to keep ECOMIG forces in the Gambia without an exit strategy. The security of the Gambian people is paramount and any leader who doesn’t take the safety and security of the Gambian people seriously perhaps should not be given a second chance to rule the country. That decision however must be made by every Gambian voter come December elections!
On general government system reforms, the new constitution and the judiciary, President Barrow recorded the worst performance of his Presidency. The Gambian people voted out Yahya Jammeh to not only save the country from dictatorship but also to give the Gambia a new opportunity for system reforms. Among President Barrow’s signature legislation were the TRRC, the Janneh commission and the CRC. A new Gambia was supposed to be dawned in December 2016. This means creating a new constitution, that will eliminate or repeal all draconian colonial laws that were outdated and no longer conducive to any modern democratic system. As a result, the President’s justice ministry crafted few new signature legislations that would create the TRRC, the Janneh commission and the CRC. Among them all the CRC was the most crucial as it was the only commission that could give us a new Republic of the Gambia. After spending D116 million Dalasis on the CRC and another D50 million on the Janneh commission, President Barrow managed to put his personal political ambition over these overwhelmingly supported commissions that seek to give Gambia a new start! The Janneh commission’s report which has extensive findings and recommendations for new governing reforms, died a slow death with a government white paper that selectively decided to ignore major portions of the report for political convenience.
The Constitution Review Commission (CRC) which produced the most comprehensive, most debated, and widely consulted report after submission revealed the true intent of President Adama Barrow. If the Gambian people had any doubts whether the president was more interested in his political survival than the future of the country, all they need to look at is how the government handled the Janneh commission and the new Draft Constitution. As they say power does not change people, it reveals who you are! The Gambian people in December must remember why President Barrow was elected in December 2016. What promises he made and why he should be held accountable to these major legislative failures.
In part II of this review, we will delve more into why the Draft constitution is in comma, how it was killed and why the President later attempted to save face by involving IDEA and former Nigerian President to try to revive the draft after his men voted it down… We will also look at Health sector, the environment, foreign policy, infrastructure, personnel decision, and the President’s formation of his own political party the NPP… We will conclude with a comprehensive summary of the President’s leadership skills, his Grade level and if he should be reelected come December 2021… To be continued…
By Demba Baldeh Associate Editor