Alagi Yorro Jallow

Anguish to the nation that succumbs to cynicism. It is a poison that suffocates hope, extinguishes the light of intelligence, and severs the common bonds of humanity. I fear we are facing an epidemic of cynicism in the Gambia and it is an infection that could put our democracy on life support.

President Adama Barrow is not an angel. Adama Barrow is not beyond criticism, especially when he has influence and power. We’re citizens, not subjects. We have the right to criticize government without fear. President Barrow, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” and “unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth”.  Adama Barrow unless you are an enemy of truth, you should be able to handle criticism. Unless Gambians being told you are a sourpuss and a weakling that must be protected from criticism.

President Barrow, former American president John F. Kennedy eloquently opined decades ago that “without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed — and no republic can survive”. That is why the Athenian law maker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy.

Teddy Roosevelt chronicled on freedom of expression and of the press in 1918: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.”

President Adama Barrow, had you not stepped in the State House no one would have made noise about you or criticize you. Adama Barrow, the right to criticize public officials is clearly established. Additionally, the right to speak at public forums or designated public forums free of content-based restrictions is also clearly established in our democracy.

I believe that when citizens lack even the most fundamental access to what its governments are doing in their names, then they cease to be involved in the act of citizenship. There is a bright distinction between citizens, who have rights and privileges protected by the state, and subjects, who are under the complete control and authority of the state.

A leader should not be cynical, but skeptical and mature. There is only one president in the country. If one occupies that seat at the State House, he ceases to be an ordinary citizen and becomes an extraordinary person.

That means he loses the right to do the things that ordinary people do, like affirming their rights in a world that denies them. If one is president, his job is to defend the rights of all ordinary citizens, not to claim those rights for himself. That’s what a tragic consciousness means. President Barrow, you suffer because your suffering matters.

A leader who doesn’t have a tragic consciousness, who whines “even me… me.. me…” is puerile, to say the least. Adama Barrow, if you don’t want to be criticized by the Gambian Diaspora critics on social media, Mr. President, you should vacate the office. Only then your voice will be credible. Why you be afraid to be criticized. Mr. President?

President Barrow, you tell Gambians that you are a victim of oppression by social media from the Diaspora community, and because you never used to be a victim like other politicians. But, politicians like you are screwing up our hospitals and schools as they seek treatment abroad and send their children to private schools.

So, Mr. President Barrow, Gambians have the right to criticize you, your government, your policies and your style of governance, if we want, but you don’t have the right to be mad at Gambians considering that you are not an ordinary person.

President Barrow, your responsibility is to accept criticism in good faith and defend your integrity, not be a sourpuss. Adama Barrow, you lost the right to ridicule the Gambians in the Diaspora when you and your coalition partners accepted to use our campaign fund contributions for your elections.

What is expected of Diaspora citizenship: One of the role of Diaspora citizenship is to be skeptical but not cynical. And it turns out this approach to life doesn’t just benefit Diaspora citizenship. I have heard some version of it from lawyers, sociologists, scientists, economists, judges, great leaders and so many others.

Webster dictionary defines “cynical” as: “believing that people are generally selfish and dishonest.”

Webster’s defines “skeptical” as “having or expressing doubt about something (such as a claim or statement).” That seemed to be the job of a leader and a good citizen, saying “I hear what you have to say but I am going to check it out.” I was happy to march under the banner of skepticism, and I have ever since.

 Cynicism is a downward spiral. Skepticism is a healthy way to find truth in a complex world. And yet today, we, as a nation, are in danger of losing the battle to cynicism. We have a broken government because some have decided to play to cynicism for their own political gain. We have a press corps that has too often confused cynical slogans with prescient analysis. We have had the motives of experts from science and industry challenged with cynicism by those who do not like the conclusions based on fact.

I believe that when citizens lack even the most fundamental access to what its governments are doing in their names, then they cease to be involved in the act of citizenship. There is a bright distinction between citizens, who have rights and privileges protected by the state, and subjects, who are under the complete control and authority of the state.

 President Barrow the Gambia urgently needs legislation to protect the public’s right to know, free speech and a free press, to protect them from the actions of the executive branch and to promote the integrity and transparency of government. These measures would go far – toward ensuring that citizens can continue to be able to question and criticize their government without fear of being publicly humiliated and prosecuted by their government.

It would also set a clear example to the rest of the world that, the Gambia is a truly modern democratic republic, the suppression of dissent and sources by criminal prosecutions cannot be tolerated. The Gambia shall no longer be a repressive government.