Alagi Yorro Jallow

It’s time to let the Gambia’s political dinosaurs go extinct? The old guards of the first and second republic political dinosaurs are tackling the 21st century problems with obsolete ideologies from the 19th century. Where is the future of the youth in the Gambia? What is the future of the young people in New Gambia?

Why is the Gambia so saddled with leaders who ought to be enjoying their retirement in peace and quiet, instead of in the unforgiving political corridors, be on the campaign trails and taxing political brinkmanship that challenge even the youngest leaders?

At the very least, all political parties can make more conscious efforts to improve youth participation in their organizations, develop new leadership cadres and ease people into retirement. For two generations of the Gambia, the country’s post-independence politics were also predominantly about the age-old politicians. But the nation’s political change has unleashed long-repressed voices that are reshaping how the country thinks about its past. Under a septuagenarian, the Gambia is on its way not gifting a young generation a new history.

It is true that wisdom is something that accrues with age and is indispensable to making political choices. But the Gambia must also have leaders who look more like the people they represent. After all, young people are the ones who will be dealing tomorrow with the consequences of the decisions made today.

The Gambia’s sepuagenarian politicians never leaves the political scene. They may be old, very old, even dying, but the burning zeal to serve us never leaves them. Even when the whole world knows they are as stale as yesterday’s baked bread, they would rather class themselves as vintage wine – the older, the better. They are like the creature called salamander. It holds on to whatever tree it clings to, even in death. It seeks, too, to defy nature, regenerating its dead organs.

The Yahya Jammeh government in 1994 banned old politicians from its political experiment and attempted to supplant them with a new breed of leaders. Yahya Jammeh said then that he wanted a saner political environment free from corruption and failures of the past. A brand-new generation of political faces soon sprouted in the nursery bed of the Jammeh political experiment.

As Jammeh moved forward in that experience, he routinely banned and unbanned even many of the new breed as they proved to be worthy copycats of the old order. The new breed soon became the new greed, greedier than the greedy. Today, the new breed of the 80s have become grandparents on today’s political turf, doing it the old, ugly way. Staying put forever.

Today, in the Gambia, there is a scramble for positions in the United Democratic Party, the People’s Progressive Party (I read that Halifa Sallah said that this National Assembly will be his last term as National Assembly member for Serekunda Central not sure of Sidia Jatta) by a coterie of old men and women whose goals and motives are never clear. In the Gambia, political parties have the worst reputation in parading men and women who will never know when to quit.

At a recent political gathering of one political party, at the high table, what we saw were aged men and women who took to their seats but still would sit tight and insist that they were not tired. These are men and women who are old and aged. We know that while age is in the number of years, ageing may not necessarily be so. Some are aged because they’ve been around for decades. Some get aged at noon, spent and ineffectual in everything. Now, we have a combination of these banding together and branding themselves as leading lights to a future which nature won’t allow them to be part of.

And there appears to be no difference across the viable parties. If what we operate were a monarchy, we all would surrender to the finality and consequences of our choice. After all, Japan has an Akihito, 82 years, who took over from his father, Hihorito, in 1989 as emperor. And there is Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, 86 years old, fifth emir of Kuwait who had previously been foreign minister for 40 years. And, of course, there is Elizabeth II, 90-year-old Queen of England since 1952.

The Gambia is a democracy, and democracy works best for the people only when the best is allowed to rule the rest. And, it is not as if today’s sit-tight old men and women had spent their long years in public space promoting the greatest good for the majority. They have always seen the Gambia as their company, even at their old age.

We cannot insist they are the best of us with a tired engine and a creaking chassis. Even if they have been very good to the people, they still cannot be the best forever, no matter the sweetness of their goodness. Nothing, in truth, is evergreen and that is why nature applies brakes here and there, replacing trunks with shoots.

Some will blame the young’s “unseriousness” for the tenacious resolve of the Gambia’s aged to continue to rule parties and governments. They will point at the tepid fire in the youth of today and the deficit of ideas in some who have strayed into power in recent years. We would rather insist that the forest consists of crooked and upright trees. The chaff and the grain won’t cohere for long; water will always find its level. The disappointment in some conspicuous young ones should not be seized as an excuse by the old to ventilate their lust in perpetuity in a space that is supposed to serve everyone.

A festival that alienates the young will soon be spoken of in the past tense, even lost, forgotten forever. Any system that fast-forwards to the past cannot serve the future. Anywhere there is no regeneration, decay and death set in. The Gambia’s politics and apocalyptic solution to the suffocating influence of a blundering generation of old men and women who won’t let go of a dying country should not be funny at all.

We have simply lost faith in the system, lost faith in the operators of the system and lost faith in life. Persons of their generation who silently think same as solution are many. It is what we get when a nation suffers an army of ruinous old men and women, assisted by misdirected young men and women, misgoverning and sitting tight at all levels. They kill hope and set off such suicidal possibilities in the hopeless

Let’s think and reflect on Africa’s two octogenarian leaders: Inside the minds of Robert Mugabe and Abdoulaye Wade, though, they had initially won praise for championing one of Africa’s best education systems and for holding their leadership deteriorated as they became more autocratic and pursued damaging economic policies. They oversaw corruption and patronage, broke with international creditors and eventually oversaw one of the world’s worst bouts of hyperinflation, which led to the scrapping of the Zimbabwean currency and a reliance on US dollars.

As economic conditions deteriorated, they resorted increasingly to state intimidation to stay in office. Mugabe and Wade had a history of outmaneuvering their rivals, but their refusal to groom a clear successor triggered a bitter battle within their respective political parties. As their health failed and their leadership flagged, Mugabe’s younger wife, Grace Mugabe and Abdoulaye Wade’s son Karim Wade, began openly angling to be successors, using a clique of younger generation politicians to purge the party of rivals.

One political pundit said it was a sad moment for Africa, after nearly decades of what he called a gerontocracy ruinous rule of the continent.

It certainly time to let the Gambia’s younger people- under 40s, please- have a go at running the country they will have to live in when the fat old men are long dead.

Much of the progressive world embraces the innovativeness of youth — its energy, vibrancy, adaptability, willingness to embrace change and enthusiasm to learn. In the Gambia, on the other hand, wobbles behind, unable to keep pace, thanks to its conservative aging leaders.