When Gambians voted for the coalition government in December 2016, they voted for a meaningful change – a change to instill a democracy and good governance structure that will empower all Gambians to begin shaping their country. Majority of the voters aspired for a democratic reform that will consolidate human rights and end the cycles of political reprisals, fear and intimidation that existed in the country. Gambians voted for a government that will work hard towards providing public goods and basic social services (improved healthcare, education), reduce poverty and to protect the environment. The youth population voted massively in 2016 with hopes that the government will bring policy reforms and innovations in order to create a conducive environment that will attract foreign direct investment, improve human capital, improve industrialization and job opportunities for the unemployed and bulging youth population.
Today, to the dismay of many disillusioned and disgruntled Gambians, our government has failed us. Over the past five years, we saw a the same pattern of presidentialism, an unresponsive civil service, endemic corruption, high levels of individual and regional inequalities that existed in the former regime. The much talked about security sector reform has foundered and the level of crime has exponentially worsened. The Gambian security forces has never been more ill-equipped and demoralized than today.
The civil service has been politicized and bloated with political appointments of incompetent stooges that can barely read nor write let alone offer sound policy advice with big implications. The impulsive acts of political patronage and firings remain. We underwent three Vice Presidents within five years, and a number of senior civil servants have been fired or reshuffled not out of incapability, but more out of political calculations. When we yearned for serious democratic institutional reforms, the actions of the transitional government highlight the fragility of the neutrality and lack of protection of our civil service. Any serious government with a genuine institutional reform agenda will work selflessly towards protecting the impartiality of the civil service. Undermining the impartiality of the civil service is not consistent with a pursuit for meaningful change.
After five years, many expected the Gambian government to introduce reforms that will ensure servants are hired on merit and in a transparent and fair process. This has certainly not been the case in The Gambia. We have also seen numerous elements with questionable characters from the old regime resurface to reclaim and man key positions of government. If the current government were steadfast in reforming the civil service, it should embrace diversity, accept new ideas and hire new people with high moral character into the civil service. Most importantly, it should promote laws and require a special code of conduct to be followed by all civil and public servants including the president.
In a democracy, a key function of the legislature is to hold the executive accountable. Members of parliament are elected to represent their voters, and to be effective, they must be responsive to their constituents and be dedicated on serving the public interest rather than themselves or championing the political interest of a patron. However, due to political infiltration and the splintering of MPs along party lines in the house, the legislature has been severely undermined, thereby, scuttling all reform laws or passage of the new constitution and the safeguards within.
Our legislature has become virtually ineffective in holding the executive accountable or making it change certain policy decisions to align with public opinion and the national interest. As indicated by the failure of passing the draft constitution in parliament, and the lackluster attitude of the executive towards the tragic failure, it is clear that the current government is not intent on making our democracy work towards the betterment of all Gambians.
The Gambia is faced with many other major economic development challenges such as debt, population pressures, rapid urbanization, pollution, high cost of living, poor healthcare system, climate change, natural disasters and declining agriculture, low tourism, youth unemployment, illegal migration, etc. The urban areas are dealing with high population and environmental degradation. There’s an increase in crime, illicit drug trafficking, poor infrastructure, and systemic corruption where people abuse public office as a means of stealing money for personal enrichment. Public funds geared towards combating these challenges are diverted to other uses. Despite the public outcry, the level of impunity has shown many that the government is not keen to stem corruption.
It is fair to say that the problems and development challenges in our country are not created anew, they are structural problems that have existed for decades. Since independence, The Gambia has been dealing with a lot of economic development challenges. However, recent events, developments, and revelations from the Janneh commission and the TRRC it is clear that our country has a lot of underlying issues and deep seated grievances to address. The level of corruption and the gross human rights violations perpetrated by the state shows that things cannot just be swept under the rug. This government has not only shunned the key recommendations of the Janneh Commission, but went further to absorb some of the culprits indicted in the finding of the commission. In any change situation, the forces of change must be greater than the opposing forces trying to maintain the status quo. Sadly, the current leadership in office is more interested in consolidating their stay in power than bringing in any meaningful reform that will hinder that effort.
If we want our country to advance farther, we need a paradigm shift. It is imperative for us to elect leaders that ensure that perpetrators of corruption and murder cannot get away simply because they are close to the corridors of power. The need to eradicate the existing complicity in our country has never been greater.
As we enter a new electoral cycle, every eligible Gambian is given the opportunity to elect a winning candidate that will be entrusted with the sacred duty to serve and preside over the affairs of our country for the next five years. In the exercise of this sovereign right, we should be reminded that our decisions and actions leading to December have consequences and those consequences will shape our future. It is by taking actions based on national interest and abiding by our values we will change our country.
Political change and democratic reform should not only focus on structures and systems, but shifting power from leaders to the people – empowering Gambians with the civic education and courage to demand respect from their leaders. As bearers of the tax burden that funds the salaries of the government officials, it is important for citizens to be able to live in dignity and to ensure that the actions of public officials are directed towards promoting the welfare of the masses rather than enriching themselves. Like proverbial angel that became the devil, evidence has shown the president and his close supporters using tax revenues to build mansions and driving luxurious cars.
The words and actions of the previous and current regime has shown us all that men whose acts contradict their words command no respect, and what they say has but little weight. Our experience over the past twenty years has taught us the effects of unethical and bad leadership. If we yearn for change and progress, then the coalition government and its leadership is the sinking ship only the fool feels is sea worthy to move our country forward. It is time for action. A time to match in lockstep towards positive change in The Gambia.
We pray Gambians vote right, by voting for a leadership that is not based on sentiments or tribe, but competence in an upright and astute political leader that will bring inclusive development, create jobs for the youth, increase industrialization, improve education, lower gender disparities, unite and harness the creative energy and patriotism of all Gambians to work towards combating our development challenges.
For The Gambia our homeland!