It is true that each and every Gambian has a right to vote and stand for election into any public office provided one meets certain requirements. Among these requirements are age, sound body and mind and academic qualification among others. This means that in practice not each and every Gambian can automatically stand for election as a councillor, National Assembly member or President without those requirements.
The academic qualification currently required for a presidential candidate is a WASSCE certificate. I agree with Almami Taal that Garde 12 is too low a qualification and I fully concur with Dr. Ismaila Ceesay that for the position of president a candidate must have at least a bachelor’s degree.
The argument that this is discriminatory is unfounded because already the current requirement for president in themselves are discriminatory. The fact is in life nothing is achieved without the process of elimination otherwise we cannot separate success from failure, right from wrong or day from night. Grade 12 is basic education that only equips a person to know how to read and write. It is too low and inadequate to equip a person to understand the complexities of policy, development and the general issues of society.
With a Grade 12 requirement there is possibility to produce more unprepared candidates than with a BA degree. Hence it is better to use BA as a yardstick for president so that in the final analysis we will be able to produce a few more prepared candidates hence create the opportunity to better serve the best interest of society.
It must be understood that the Gambia’s republican and democratic dispensation is less than 50 years. Our political parties are still largely weak, closed, undemocratic and not driven by knowledge and good governance practices. Hence unlike in advanced and mature democracies where leaders naturally are already well educated, in our case the tendency to produce untested, unprepared and lowly educated leaders has always been prevalent.
The Republican Party in the US or the Labour Party in the UK cannot ever produce a leader who has no such high academic qualification because the nature of those parties is such that no such individual could emerge and assume top leadership. In the Gambia such a possibility is always high as one can see in the qualifications of most of our political party leaders. On the other hand, advanced democratic societies and their political parties have had a longstanding tradition of democratic governance to the point that some things are second nature to them.
To be a president is not just having leadership qualities such as ability to influence or inspire and to demonstrate humility and having integrity. But in addition to those moral qualities, the deciding factor in a president is having the technical competence to conceive and understand issues and be able to articulate and implement those issues. Such technical competence is acquired through a formal dedicated training for which a university degree in any field will suffice. Grade 12 is not a level that subjects an individual to any rigors of discipline and high-level training of the mind.
Not that when someone is educated to the level of a bachelor’s degree he or she is therefore an all-rounder, impeccable, perfect and efficient and free from being corrupt and all other vices. No. Rather the demand for such level of academic qualification is only in terms of acquiring technical capacity. A president with a university degree provides minimum safeguards or assurances that such a person is capable of processing technical information and apply such understanding to better function.
Going through a university is expected to make an individual acquire the skills and tools for observation and analysis in order to independently arrive at an objective understanding of phenomenon. University is structured in such a way that it should elevate a person above superstition, mysticism and intuition in seeking to understand phenomenon and oneself. Part of that education also gives person moral qualities hence the importance of university education.
The office of a president is a position that places before a person a wide array of information from diverse sources about diverse set of issues. It helps such a person to have therefore experienced and be trained in the searching, acquisition, management and analysis of information in order to enable that president meander through a wide set of ideas, policy options, advisors and other competing and conflicting stakeholders and interests and yet be able to identify the nation’s best interest.
A person who was not involved in the business of receiving, producing and management technical ideas based on research, facts and evidence may be too naïve in understanding policy and development issues in their proper context. Thus, it is better to have a president with a university degree than one without. As I said it does not necessarily follow that the person with a university education could not be corrupt or will perform better. At least a university degree certifies that such a person indeed knows as opposed to Grade 12 qualification.
I therefore join Dr. Ceesay and Mr. Taal that in our new constitution there is need to set as a requirement the acquisition of a bachelor’s degree to serve as president. The benefits of such requirement are immense for our society as a whole as well as for political parties. It means that political parties will have to seek candidates that met such requirement. This will only serve to therefore bring in our intellectuals into the political space directly.
Furthermore, such a requirement will seek to transform our political discourse and culture from being based on non-issues and personalities or based on tribal, religious, family and other sectarian considerations to become knowledge-based and issue-oriented politics. This will serve to therefore reduce or eliminate political patronage and outright chicanery in our politics. For that matter it will serve to bring about an enlightened leadership that is more likely to serve our society better.
We must bear in mind that the values of honesty, justice, commitment and readiness to serve one’s people can be found in any individual, educated or not educate; literate or illiterate. These values can be considered as moral capacity that a leader needs to have. But these values must not be confused or substituted with leadership in terms of technical capacity. While one does not necessarily go to school to acquire moral capacity, but certainly technical capacity is acquired through formal training and it is technical capacity that makes a president effective and deliver.
Leadership is not by chance. God does not identify or choose leaders for any people. People are not born leaders. Rather leadership is about capacity to be acquired and delivered. Individuals who became great leaders in the world either trained themselves or were trained to be so. Such leaders did not live by superstitions and patronage and mysticism. Rather they lived by the principle and practice of knowledge and objectivity and analysis.
For the Gambia Our Homeland