Alagi Yorro Jallow

The Gambia’s political leadership is weighed in the balance and found wanting since the country gained independence in 1965. Without peaceful power alternation and presidential term limits of fifty-three years, The Gambia has had only three presidents, unlike in the United States where ten presidents served for fifty-three years. What a democratic deficit?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “A man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.” It is the people who are allowing their backs to be ridden. One cannot entirely blame our politicians for staying in office too long. The people sit back and complain, people who curse the darkness but won’t light a candle.

It is unimaginable that after fifty -three years of independence, and a few years before then, that the Gambian people have seen only three leaders. It is an indictment against our leaders. But more than that, it is an indictment against our people. After fifty-three years, is this the best we can do?

Do our leaders have any conscience or morality? Do our people have no conscience or morality? Three leaders and now dinosaur political leaders who feel entitled to rule over the masses are on the sidelines hungering for power.

Do our leaders not know that their continued political dominance, presence, and continual pursuit of political power reflects their lack of leadership? After all these years, to not have groomed, mentored, or facilitated anyone else to hold the office of the presidency ought to be a direct and indirect egg-on-their-face moment. And our people – are they not just as culpable?

In the fifty-three years since The Gambia’s independence, the United States has seen at least ten presidents, and we continue to cycle and recycle the same archaic, burnt-out political minds. Minds which are so politically institutionalized, they cannot escape their own political quagmire. Minds that have lost love, passion, and a sense of absolute altruistic patriotism — the sort of vision they claim to have. They have come to internalize the office of the president, so much so that they deceive themselves into believing they are current and most effective simply by being in office.

If I didn’t know better, I would swear that The Gambia’s second president, Yahya Jammeh, campaigned on the platform that, among many other promises, the office of the presidency would be limited to two terms only. That promise certainly took on wings and flew into the political abyss. He overstayed and served twenty-three years in office.

His predecessor served thirty years in office until he was overthrown. Gambian people are in a dilemma if President Barrow dishonors his transitional mandate of three or five years. But there are signs that President Barrow, too, may be intoxicated or affected with the same virus as his predecessors in overstaying.

Have we no brighter minds? Hear the embittered voice of Cassius in Julius Caesar to Brutus: “Why has Rome space for only one man?” Or in the instant case, two men. And no, my voice is not embittered. It is patriotic to the core. Have we no more visionaries? Have we no more revolutionaries to revolutionize what we do in The Gambia? If the answer is no, then not only have our academic, vocational, and educational systems failed us, but also our political mentoring system – if there ever was one in the first place.

And so, potential political leaders with vision and brilliance are chased from the political ring, and those who remain are duped into patronage rather than patriotism. What a crying shame!

It seems that there is a genetic claim to the office of the presidency, but at least it results in a new potential leadership face. And if that displeases the masses, then how could we not be more displeased with carrying on the shameful hereditary system of political entitlement that presently exists? It’s a shame on us as a people. Do we breed a political die-in-office mentality in our country? Is there no one else alive with vision, passion, devotion, leadership qualities, and expertise other than those who have already expired in office? The oppressor never gives up oppressing. The oppressed must rise.

Again, Cassius’ remarks to Brutus reverberate through the eons of time and across the length and breadth of our islands: “Caesar would not be a wolf except that we are but sheep.” Our political leaders have been made wolves, empowered by the passivity and complacency of our people. Our political leaders have been anointed as wolves, even by those in religious circles who supported partisan politics to the detriment of our nation’s advancement.

The existence of an aura of brazen shame, so embedded in the Gambian people and our politicians that both are unaware of its existence, exalts a people over the nation with the view that the nation is at the heart of the people, and concludes with the illusion that a nation’s existence is dependent upon her people.

It is not but ought to be an insult to again allow any president to sit tight in power for more than two five-year terms. Our political leaders ought to be ashamed they have not mentored a son or daughter of these isles to lead the country forward. The leadership fruit is ripe for the picking again in new Gambia, because part of the political agenda Gambians fought for is not to all leaders perpetuate the leadership vacuum.

President Barrow and the Attorney General should “Accept & move on” is blacklisted in the lingua franca of our high-octane politics. This ought not be the case. ‘Accept’ is not synonymous with giving up. It is about starting a new chapter. It is about not getting stuck in previous pages. ‘Accept & move on’ is a bold, daring & difficult personal choice. It is about not letting yesterday take too much of today. Accept & move on is futuristic. It is edifying; dignifying. In the words of Lyndon Johnson, “yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose”. Accept. And, move on” and give the Gambian people Presidential Term Limit.