Dear President Barrow,
It is a Question of Leadership, To Be or Not To Be
On 1st December 2016, we ‘made a tryst with destiny’ and woke up to a life and freedom. We threw away the shackles of oppression, impunity, dictatorship, human rights violations and untold suffering. It was a moment which Nehru believed ‘comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance’. On that day, the Gambia rediscovered herself.
The trepidation which followed the rejection of the elections results, a nation gripped in fear and uncertainty, nonetheless galvanised the people, like never before, to ensure their voice and verdict is respected. They won.
Mr. President, your swearing in, in a foreign land but on Gambian soil, was greeted with national euphoria and jubilation. We celebrated not just the freedom eventually won but the greater prospects and opportunities that lied ahead. The international good will, the indescribable optimism of a nation which once was a pariah, the joy in the air, your appearance on the horizon, the belief in your ability, even if not in your experience, to lead us to the land of Canaan- all these gave us hope for a better future under your presidency. Eighteen months into your presidency, it is anyone’s guess whether you have grasped these opportunities and if you are ready to take on the challenges of the future.
Mr. President, there is disquiet in the land, a certain feeling of disenchantment, of uncertainty of direction and of disbelief in the news we get, that all is not well at State House. The expectations are turning into hope which is dimming by the day, a flicker of the glow that once illuminated State House. A chasm is growing between the facts of national life and what your government thinks it is; between what the people want and what your Government is giving us. As our President, we want you to have your ears to the ground, to hear the unheard, to listen to the imperceptible, to read the ‘body languages’. A leader who hears and listens only to the obvious is likely to misread the sentiments, emotions and actual feelings of the people. If you engage in some introspection, and I think you do, you would realise a disenchantment and detachment from the crowd, a sort of disillusionment, because what was expected and what is being doled out are diametrically opposite. There is a chasm between the base and the top.
Mr. President, a leader does not have to pander to the whims and caprices of followers but rather should ‘connect’ with them and be concerned about facts, figures, the truth, how to galvanise the people in the direction of his or her vision and the legacy, how he or she would want to remembered long after he or she is off the political stage. What I seem to observe is that you want to please everyone and hesitate in taking decisions at the right time, and consequently end up in ‘displeasing’ everyone. Truth is that a leader who wants to hunt with the hounds and run with the hares end up in pursuit of futility. A leader must be willing to take the tough, unpleasant decisions, so long as they are in the best interests of the followers. No leader is strong enough unless he bears within his character antithesis strongly and clearly marked. Great leaders throughout history have recognised the need for blending opposites and thus they were hard and soft, gentle and tough, tender and strong.
Mr. President, it is agreed that the effectiveness of any system, including a state and an organisation, is determined by the effectiveness of the leader. The two are proportionate-effective leader, effective state; ineffective leader, ineffective state. So how the Gambia progresses, what hallmark it reaches, what bottom rock it hits, would be determined by your effectiveness as the captain of the Ship of State.
Mr. President, at the beginning of your presidency, you promised probity, transparency, accountability and a war against corruption. It is time your redeemed these pledges. The hobnobbing with the ‘anonymous donors’, the mysterious bank transfer to the Foundation of the First Lady, the Barrow Youth Movement which reminds us of the Green Youth, and all the allegations of corruption in the corridors of power, point to some incongruence between words and practice. They call into question the foundation of leadership, which is TRUST. It is easier to lose trust then win it. And a leader loses trust, when the people realise a credibility gap in deed and word. People buy-in the leader first before they buy-in his or her messages.
Mr. President, when a leader wants to bring in a change, either through revolutionary or piece meal approach, it is important to be ‘choosy’ in the types or kinds of people one surrounds himself or herself with. A leader’s inner circle and ‘techno-advisers’ would determine to a greater extend how far the leader flies or leads. Such a circle should be peopled by men and women of unimpeachable and sterling character and integrity, highly and professionally competent and experienced, unblemished antecedent and track records, and exemplary in deed. You cannot create a new path through old, trodden roads and with people who engineered the construction of the trodden roads which led people astray. The old order has changed but paradoxically it refused to yield to the new. For a leader, it is ‘who you are, is who you attract’. Look to your inner circle if you want to go farther, not faster.
Mr. President, you were selected by the biggest political party as its party candidate and consequently by 6 political parties and an Independent as the opposition presidential candidate against an incumbent. You won thanks to that backing and the support of a multitude who are utterly and indescribably dissatisfied with the status. You therefore have no reason to not raise up to the occasion and lead us to our Promised Land. In that community, your party and coalition, there are enough experience, expertise, education and drive to tap and drink from. Within the country and the Gambian diaspora, there are men and women who would be willing to support your vision if they are called upon and if they are congruence of values, people who would be actuated by nothing but love for the Motherland and the success of the your Government.
Mr. President, you are the national spokesperson, the only national voice in affairs. Your position takes the imagination of the country. You are the representative of no constituency but of the whole people. In writing about the President, Woodrow Wilson writes “when he speaks in his true character, he speaks for no special interest. If he rightly interpret the national thought and boldly insist upon it, he is irresistible; and the country never feels the zest of action as much as when its President is of such insight and calibre.
Mr. President, when the chips are down and the script is getting blurred, I think you should be remembering the ideals for which many people suffered privation and some paid the supreme sacrifice; the raison d’etre of the coalition which supported you, the high ideals of the party which supported your candidature, the sacrifice of the ordinary men and women who braced the elements to cast their votes for you. These ideals of democracy, human rights, dignity, responsive and accountable government, freedom from want and fear, better lives, for which many gave up much to get in return should be your guiding light, unforgettable objectives which should characterise not just how you govern but what you achieve for the people.
Mr. President, leadership and power bring responsibility. That responsibility, to lead, steer, motivate, produce results, control, promote accountable, be exemplary, rests upon you, the only one person who was elected by the whole nation to represent their interest sans party line or affiliation. You role and position is above all else. Upon your shoulders lie the fulfilment of our aspirations and the pledges and commitments of the Coalition; the provision of succour and solace to countless who still bear the pain of torture from the previous regime; the ending of poverty, inequality of opportunities, diseases and ignorance.
Mr. President, the future is beckoning and there is no turning back. You should be provide the leadership and the direction. Fulfilling the pledges you took at your inauguration in both Dakar and Banjul would require steadfastness, consistency, persistence, incessant striving, , holding everyone accountable, fighting corruption and administrative malfeasance. You would have to show the way, through effective and exemplary leadership.
Mr. President, I am sure you appreciate the enormity of work that lies ahead of this nation, really hard work ahead, one that you have been called to not only carry but also implement. One is either up to the task or not all; there is no half way. We have the past to deal with and which clings on to us in greater measure. We cannot dodge from it; must face it and address it adequately, with justice and speedily. Before we confront the challenges of the future, we have to deal with the truth of the past. How you handle this past, what seriousness your Government gives it, will greatly determine your legacy, what the future remembers or writes about you.
Mr. President, am sure you know you now have a woken citizenry who would not allow their governors to take them for granted, ride roughshod over their interests, pooh pooh their concerns, milk their resources or make corruption a fact of national life or a pillar of the State. Like Nehru told his countrymen and women at the dawn of India’s independence, the people of The Gambia too ‘shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest’.
Mr. President, on your shoulders lie the task of building the noble mansion of great Gambia where all her children may dwell, in freedom, equality, dignity and equity. In such a Gambia there cannot be any place for corruption, malfeasance, nepotism, political patronage or deadening personality conflicts. In such a Gambia there cannot be any resting for any of its citizens until we redeem our pledges in full, till we make all of our people what destiny intended them to be.
We are on the edge, and only a bold, conscious, conscientious, ready, commitment leadership will make us fly, will make us live up to that high standards and ideals for which we fought the dictatorship. You are the political leader…