There is so much I want to say to friends, colleagues and students who share my shock and alarm at our fledgling democracy. I wish I could say, it will be fine; our emergent democracy is not strong, and our institutions will constrain whatever abuses of power President Adama Barrow might commit.
I wish I could say President Barrow is not as bigoted, sexist, impulsive, narcissistic and unbalanced as he often appeared in some of his actions, his behaviors and policies will not be as extreme as we feared. But the truth is that we don’t know any of this, and I have no confidence in any of this kind of political leadership.
Throughout the past two years and more, I have worried about Gambian politics in a way I never worried in African politics before. But I have worried about Ousainou Darboe in a way I never worried about any previous serious presidential contender or a political godfather. Certainly, no politician has campaigned in such authoritarian and demagogic tones, exploiting prejudice and fear in the quest for personal power. However, the truth is that we don’t know how long it will it take for President Adama Barrow and Ousainou Darboe to continue to be engaged in political somersault and political embroideries as it is already evident in some of the utterances and actions it has taken.
Again, journalism is crucial to democracy and I believe there is no better time to show the Gambian people the type of original journalism and cut the rise of media distortion, bias, fake news and misinformation that we have witnessed since President Barrow assumed the presidency. Democracy is characterized by the existence of legal rights among the citizens of a given sovereign state. The people are the sole source of political power which they should exercise either directly or through representatives, but the principle of legitimacy is always bound up with the will of the people. Where do the media, a de facto power that was initially national but has now become global -fit into this conception of democratic legitimacy.
What principles guide journalists’ responsibilities? Where do they stand with regards to the rule of law? These are fundamental questions that need to be adequately answered if they are to fulfill their mandate to the society. How do they analyze future conflicts between the institutional powers by which the constitution has organized the consultation of the will of the people and the reality of media power which claims to be voice of the voiceless?
Therefore, for all intents and purposes, I fear for the health and safety of our democracy. I fear for people in our society who are vulnerable and different. I fear for the rule of law. But the antidote to fear and horror is not withdrawal. Neither can it merely be righteous indignation. We need to understand why many people who are not bigots voted for President Barrow.
President Barrow needs to understand why so many people voted for him which made him triumph over a well-entrenched dictator like Yahya Jammeh. We need to summon courage in the face of what will likely be abuse of power accompanied by threats and intimidation of opponents. And we need to never lose faith in our democracy and its core values. I hope I am wrong, and I think I could be wrong, but I fear the next two years could test our democracy to a degree we have not seen in 54 years. We must rise to the challenge.