Njundu Drammeh

Dear Mr. President,

On A Brink We Stand; To Act Or Not To Act, The Question Is In Leadership

On 1st December 2016, the people of the Gambia made probably the most important political decision in their political history, the toppling of a 22 years entrenched dictatorship through the ballot box, incumbency notwithstanding.

On 17th January 2017, you were sworn in as the Gambia’s third President, amid much jubilation, expectations and some trepidation. For most of us, seeing the back of Yaya was enough; for some, it was the regaining of freedom, the resurrection of human rights, the end of impunity; and yet for many more it was the hope of a better future for themselves and their children, a Gambia that would take its place in the comity of nations as a proud, equal partner.

Mr. President, December 1st 2016 was also a watershed, a turning point; January 17th 2017 was the icing on the cake, the beginning of a new lease of life for New Gambia. Your swearing-in, in a foreign land but on Gambian territory heralded a new beginning, when the old, anachronistic, stifling order yielded place to the new; when an inglorious age ended; when the soul of a beautiful nation, suppressed, manipulated, tortured and poisoned, found ‘utterance’ and rejuvenation. Hope and expectation for a better Gambia, a better system of governance, better living, in equally measure, filled the air. Unknown, untainted as a politician, you became the harbinger of that hope and expectation.

Mr. President, about 18 months to the date you were sworn-in, my expectations are still high but my hope is dwindling, ironically. I know you inherited a ‘broken’ system of Government, a dispirited population, looted treasury, ineffective and inefficient civil service, demotivated security force whose top brass colluded in the torture of its citizens, a fence that nearly ate up its crops. I know too, like Machiavelli rightly said, that ‘there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.’ To have a marked break with the past, nurtured and sustained for nearly a quarter of a century, is no mean feat but very possible and doable. It only requires the taking of one of two routes: revolution or evolution; a complete break with the past or a sweeping of the past under the carpet and taking them out but under a new name; new wine in old bottle (and old wine in old bottle) or new wine in new bottle.

A ‘new order of things’ cannot be introduced unless the ‘old order’ gives way to the ‘new order’, unless men and women who provided ‘vision’ to Yaya and allowed him to ride on their backs are replaced by men and women unstained, with clear vision, without a price, committed and exemplary. We have such men galore at home and abroad. They are waiting to be called to serve. After 18 months, it is difficult for me to say which shape or route you have taken-I see an amorphous, amoebic shape; new wine in old bottle here and old wine in old bottle there. Old wine will eventually fester in the new bottle and break it into pieces; new wine will not be able to flow easily in an old bottle for the bottle would not allow it.

President Barrow taking his oath of office

Mr. President, leadership sometimes demands that, in protecting the public or national interest, ‘hard and difficult’ decisions are taken, toes are stepped on and ‘golden’ feathers are ruffled and plucked out if need be. You come out as a ‘soft’ person, one who hates to ruffle feathers. However, a leader is not just a ‘dealer in hope’; a leader is also a ‘commander’, one who combines tender-heartedness and tough mindedness, one who is soft and hard at the same time. Leadership is everything, the main definer of an organisation’s or country’s success or failure. There is this proverb which argues that ‘an army of stags, led by a lion is more formidable than an army of lions led by a stag’. I guess, the leitmotif of this saying is the importance of leadership.

Mr. President, it is said that leadership brings power and responsibility. That power and responsibility rest on you, a sovereign leader who represents the sovereign people of The Gambia , all their expectations, fears, hope and aspirations. These are all the more onerous because our hearts are still heavy with the memory of an inglorious past and a semblance of their repetition sends chilling fever. That is why stories of alleged corruption coming out of your Government are very worrisome. All eyes are on you, what investigations you would order, what actions you would take if the allegations are found substantiated or true. Would you or won’t you, would be the great question.

Mr. President, above all else, I think you should place the fight against corruption. None should take its place. Corruption harms the poor, which is the base of your support. Corruption can derail all your development efforts, make the vision of your National Development Plan unachievable, scare away foreign investors, undermine our democracy and security and deepen poverty and inequality. Corruption is at the source of conflicts in Africa. I know you want to establish an anti-corruption commission. It would be a first step. But much more I think you should send the warning shot that you would not spare public officers found guilty of corruption, abuse of office or betrayal of public trust. Robust accountability and transparency mechanisms, backed by an exemplary and incorruptible leadership, are the antidote to corruption. You legacy, and how it will look, would equally be influenced by your commitment to the fight against corruption.

Mr. President, it is said that better governance is a development imperative. But corruption is the enemy of development. In the book ‘Can Africa Claim the 21st Century?’, the World Bank indicated that good governance should aim to achieve the following “three E’s”: Empowering citizens to hold government accountable; Enabling government to respond to new demands by building capacity; Enforcing compliance with the rule of law and greater transparency. Thus, in the “three E’s”, your Government role are cut out.

Mr. President, I know yours is not an enviable position, to be head of a coalition government, a patchwork or mosaic more pronounced in their striking different colours than the beauty of their ideologies and political clout. It is a fine balancing act, leading such a group. But moments would come, and some already have, when you are expected to be decisive and firm in your dealings with your coalition members. You are the Executive, not a primus inter pares in relation to the coalition members. While it is gentlemanly to stick up with ‘friends’, when the core values and principles on which the friendship is established are betrayed, one would be justified to break out, to set oneself free. As the Executive you carry a greater burden and the buck stays on your desk. Thus, from yourself and your coalition partners you should insist on probity, accountability, transparency and respect for the rule of law and laid down processes and procedures.

Mr. President, mind your inner circle. Your ability to ‘fly’ and how far would also be greatly determined by the friends that surround you. It is said that a leader’s potential is determined by the people closest to him or her. And a new leader gets a lot of new friends. ‘The friends thou hast and their adoption tried/ Grapple them to thy heart like a hoop of steel’ warned Shakespeare.

Ramadan Mubarak to you and the family

For The Gambia Ever True

Concerned Citizen
Njundu Drammeh