Alagi Yorro Jallow

Adama Barrow is Gambia’s President today. He did not meet a perfect country when he took over, but his job is to make it less imperfect. His responsibility is to solve problems that he met on the ground and the ones that have sprouted since his occupation of the office. He can explain the difficulties he meets on the job and we can empathize with him, but he does not need to find scapegoats on the things that go wrong accusing journalists and diaspora critics of his government. He received a lot of flak a few weeks ago when he tried to explain away the incompetent handling by his government mushrooming corruption and of the violence unleashed by police killings in Faraba Banta and at Foni

It is obvious that President Adama Barrow does not always filter his words before they come out. If he filters them at all he does not fully appreciate the connotative and denotative meanings of the words he uses. All words have meanings and can be subjected to literal or metaphorical interpretations. We have had several occasions when the President’s handlers have accused the public of misinterpreting or misunderstanding or misconstruing what the President had said. Sometimes they claim that the president’s words were taken out of context or have been stretched to achieve a political purpose. I sympathize with the President’s minders who have to lick the vomit from time to time to make the President look as presidential as presidents are expected to look.

 It seems that Adama Barrow don’t understand that being a president is not being an ordinary person or citizen; it’s being an extraordinary person. What does it mean to be an extraordinary citizen? It means that citizen who occupies that only seat of power at the Statehouse who is accountable to all people under the sovereign republic of the Gambia. It means having a tragic sense of life: that being fair and just matters more than being right. It means being able to give up personal gain for the greater good of all Gambians.

The fact that the President makes too many controversial statements means that there is something wrong somewhere. It is either his public utterances are not properly managed, or he does not listen to advice. None of the reasons is good for our country. It is the convention that whenever the President is likely to have an interview, or meet a crowd or make a speech, he ought to have a serious briefing session with his handlers. The handlers must compile possible questions for him and play the devil’s advocate so that his answers can be finetuned for best reception by the audience.

It is possible that his handlers are shut out by the hawks within the kitchen cabinet and are not allowed to have the kind of access necessary for them to ensure that Adama puts his best foot forward in the public arena, especially in speaking matters. Each time the President makes a gaucherie and the handlers try to panel-beat his speech for him after delivery I feel sorry for them. And when they comb the streets and bushes looking for the motives of the critics I feel even more sorry for them. The reason I feel sorry for them is because they are doing a very difficult job and they know that most of those who criticize the President are not looking for his job. They are simply bothered that with his unguarded tongue he is making their country look uglier than it is expected.

President Barrow political rallies and town hall meetings represented a very false description of his government as far as democracy and fight for corruption is concerned. There is corruption in the Gambia as there is in most other countries. The only difference is that while most of these other countries vigorously tackle their corruption problems our governments do not pay serious attention to the extirpation of the scourge on a non-partisan basis. So, it festers.

The naked truth is that Adama should never have said at all what he said about the construction of 60 Mosque nationwide especially at a forum for showcasing our country’s best attributes for the ears of potential donors and investors. No president does that except Adama. He has a penchant for demeaning his country globally apparently without knowing its full ramifications. His speeches are a validation of the stereotypical image held by some non-Gambians, which is fueled by some jaundiced foreign media.

The International community, the donor and Christians are piqued. The government spokesperson in a statement indicated that the “Barrow Youth Movement for Development, have availed themselves to the President with promises of boreholes, farming implements, seeds and fertilizer to support his development initiatives as well as the voluntary construction of 60 mosques following requests by local worshipers”. But there is actually no need for this nitpicking semantic gyration on the matter.

A trial in the public square can be unforgiving. Unfounded allegations have a heavy strain on one’s physiology. Allegations of professional impropriety, however unfounded can have a detrimental effect on one’s relationship with family, professional members and the general population respectively. If you are a public figure or a professional, the allegations can damage your credibility and moral standing for life. The public does not make its mind from facts. Minds are made from what is said, the conduct of those involved and an assessment of known past behavior of an individual. The assessment is never objective. Trials in public square are won or lost bases on the perception of one’s “believability.”

President Barrow is not winning the trial currently happening in the public square, courtesy of ambiguities in his response and that of his minders. In a case where Adama Barrow doesn’t name people and diaspora Gambians approaching him through the back door seeking for employment, (name these journalists asking for money in exchange of favorable coverage) due to some sense of wishing to shield people from the wrath of the law, or the people, he may be deliberately compromising the relationship between diaspora Gambians, journalists and the people. He may also be guilty participating in eroding the credibility and reputation of all hard-working Gambians abroad and journalists. These allegations from the Adama Barrow has weaken journalists, impact negatively on their ability to hold government to account and signals a wrong perception against diaspora Gambian visiting home.

 If Adama Barrow is telling the truth, then as the country’s chief law enforcement officer, he should not make public allegations without providing evidence to substantiate his allegations against independent journalists. What sort of president would be subject to blackmail from anyone, let alone a journalist?  Adama Barrow doesn’t know this, but what he accused journalists can be defined as ‘extortion’ and, this is illegal; it can be a crime. These allegations could be the prelude for sanctioning and muzzling journalists or a good reason to justify that the media law on ‘false news’ to clamp down on ‘fake news’ that the presidency deem unfavorable or uncomfortable. This is the beginning, evidence for ‘slippery slope’ to both official and self-censorship.

The concluded Meet the People’s Tours episode is the latest in the series of presidential gaffes not forgetting his past foreign media interviews that defied presidential interview precedent, turning blunders into a shot at the presidency. Adama Barrow in his pronouncements in political rallies has exposed his shady and dodgy political propaganda.

The construction of mega infrastructural developments (construction of Banjul -Barra ferry crossings estimated $1.5 billion), without National Assembly approval; construction of 60 Mosques nationwide; free WIFI connections in villages and townships; and display of billboards on all major roads and cities. He reminded and warned of would be protestors the of the Public Act law will be fully executed by police. This whiplash has generated a storm of criticism in both mainstream and social media especially for the construction of 60 Mosques announced by president Barrow. The Gambia remains a secular, constitutional democracy where all are free to believe and practice their faith and it is not government’s business to interfere in people’s religious beliefs.

The president’s role wherever he is home or abroad is to promote the Gambia’s good image, not to balloon the negative stories that already exist about the country. The international community already know through their embassies and citizens about Gambian politics. They know about Yahya Jammeh’s dictatorship, the corruption scandal and the Gambia’s courts and rule of law but in totality these constitute only a very minute portion of our huge population. But they become bigger than they actually are when Adama gives a presidential validation to them in his public utterances.