The Gambia faces both a promising and an uncertain future at the same time as we prepare to usher in the administration of Adama Barrow. We face a promise because of the incredible enthusiasm and determination of our people demonstrated in this election in which we managed to peacefully save a nation from the brink of violent conflict. That enthusiasm and determination come against the backdrop of a longstanding brutal dictatorship for which the people were determined to crush to and never to rise again. It is safe to say indeed that the people now want to transition from dictatorship to democracy. The people are looking up to a leadership in which they have entrusted so much confidence. At the same time the people have huge expectations, which can only be measured against the huge damage that has been inflicted on the nation over the years.
It is in view of both these huge expectation on one hand and the damage caused on the other that we also face incredible amount of uncertainty. That is, how well the new leadership would be able to mobilize and organize this incredible energy of the people and manage their expectations such that we are seen to utilize every opportunity efficiently and effectively. This is a delicate exercise, which requires the full and active participation of the people on the one hand. On the other hand, it also requires leadership that is full of wisdom, smartness and strategy. Thus there is the need to balance the hunger of the people for solutions and real change in their lives with the effectiveness of the leaders to make the right choices and deliver promptly. This is no easy task.
In my view, the key to this balance, to enable us to harness the opportunities and fulfill the promise and therefore prevent the uncertainty lie in the kind of administration that Mr. Barrow and the coalition will create. Essentially, it is about what kind of Executive he will compose such that if it contains the right people, there is every opportunity for them to fulfill that promise. Failure to do that then we risk spiraling into everything except democracy. Let us bear in mind that just because a country emerged from dictatorship does not mean it could not go back to it again pretty soon. Uganda is one classic example where one dictatorship under Idi Amin came to be replaced by another dictatorship under Yoweri Museveni from 1986 to date. The Cabinet of Adama Barrow is therefore the key.
What kind of Cabinet?
For his Cabinet, I would suggest that Mr. Barrow and the Coalition consider bringing in individuals who are not politicians, but experts who have the scope and experience of policy and development with an international touch. We need a set of smart and progressive technocrats with the scope and capacity to create the necessary tools, be they policies, laws, institutions and processes that will modernize our governance system and the economy. For example in bringing the economy anywhere near viable, it is urgent we review the necessary laws and policies, i.e.to change, abolish or create new ones altogether. It will be those laws and policies that will come to strengthen our institutions and processes, which will feed into strengthening our macroeconomic fundamentals. These are about the interest rates, which must be set at levels to enable local entrepreneurs to access credit and make profit from their investments while at the same time enabling the banks to conveniently recoup their loans.
It also means looking at our tax laws because currently the Gambia has one of the highest total tax rates in the world. While taxes are an indispensable source of revenue for government, yet high taxes also stifle the economy as it breaks the backs of potential entrepreneurs and investors, and causes rise in cost of doing business hence raise prices without the requisite profits. Also we need new policy makers and economic thinkers who realize that government borrowing kills the economy, as is the case in the Gambia now. Our domestic debt is already more than 900 million dalasi per annum. This is not sustainable as it also eats into our external reserves, which are currently less than two months secure. Above all we need to wipe out corruption, inculcate a culture of efficiency on the basis of transparency and accountability. Thus given the juncture at which the nation is, the least distraction it needs is to have a Cabinet saturated with partisan politicians. We need smart technocrats.
As a three-year transition regime, I am of the view that Barrow’s main pre-occupation should be to conduct constitutional, legal and institutional reforms in order to cleanse our governance environment to ensure level playing polity. In this process he would have also strengthened public and democratic institutions and processes, which would enhance efficiency, transparency, accountability and performance of the state to ensure quality service delivery and revitalization of the economy. When he includes the career politicians in the Cabinet the tendency is to give rise to political jockeying in which these politicians would be repositioning themselves and for their parties in preparation for the 2019 elections. Consequently, the urgent task to transition from dictatorship to democracy will be severely weakened hence we would have missed the great promise of ushering in a new viable democratic third republic. It is typical of politicians to always seek to promote their political objectives by any means. Hence in this transition period, we do not wish partisan issues to derail or delay the nation from conducting an overhaul of the vestiges of dictatorship totally in order to create a new society.
New Role for Politicians
Therefore, I would suggest that members of the Coalition as politicians should have a new role in the transition period, which would enable them to help the nation build stronger foundations for democracy, civic empowerment and popular participation. Thus I would suggest that the new administration consider creating what I would call ’Council of State’. This is going to be an institution in which I foresee it having members like Ousainou Darboe, Fatoumatta Tambajang, Isatou Touray, Omar Jallow, Hamat Bah, Halifa Sallah, Sidia Jatta, Bolong Bojang, Mai Fatty, Hendry Gomez and Mama Kandeh among others. The Council of State would be a transitional institution, which shall serve as the conscience of the nation. It shall play an advisory and social mobilization role for the promotion of republican values and civic education. This is necessary to build the culture of democracy and develop and strengthen the sense of sovereignty of the people. At the same time it will be an instrument that will provide the necessary guidance to the new government especially given the arduous task of cleansing the ship of state after so much damage by the dictatorship.
We must bear in mind that the transition period would have to establish some commissions of enquiry to bring out the truth of the dictatorship and ensure justice. In countries where such endeavors were undertaken, it sometimes generates some vibrations for which independent, respected and recognized personalities and voices are necessary to calm the waters. While it is true that there has been so much pain over the years, yet in the urge to correct the wrongs, we cannot afford to burn the country. We need some voices, institutions and personalities to serve that role of pacifiers, mediators and confidence and assurance builders that would calm down everyone until we reach our objectives. This is where these seasoned politicians would become quite useful as they play the role of the elders of the society.
At the end of the day, we have every opportunity to usher in a new democratic society. We have the capacity. There are hundreds of competent Gambians at home and abroad with the requisite capability who should be in the Cabinet to steer this nation to safer shores. We also have many wise personalities who should rise above partisan politics by now to focus on the wider national goal of moulding this nation into a beacon of democracy, further cement national cohesion and reconciliation. They should be in the Council of State.
Finally, Mr. Adama Barrow must bear in mind that it is also his own personal legacy he is now building. He is taking leadership at a very delicate time in a society that is just emerging from a brutal experience and severely impoverished. Not only did AFPRC/APRC damage our institutions but this regime also polluted moral values and undermined the social cohesion of our society while inculcated a shameless culture of corruption and dishonesty. Hence Barrow will receive all sorts of individuals and proposals some of whose sole purpose is to secure their own selfish interests because we cannot change attitudes immediately. Therefore he must shield himself from any bias, control and influence from any quarter but to stand his ground to ensure that he pursues only the best interest of the Gambia knowing full well he has very limited time.
He has only three years to make or break the Gambia. If he allows parties and individuals to misdirect him and the state of ship crumbles down, all of these stakeholders will wash their hands off and point to him as the man in charge. In that case Gambians and history will judge him as the man who messed up a historic opportunity and failed his promise to his people. He must bear these in mind. He must look beyond the coalition and seek more information and engagements with all Gambians in order to enable him make the right choices and take the right actions. Failure to provide the leadership we deserve, rest assured Gambians would never forgive him until the end of time. At least I will not forgive him as I will not ever forgive Yaya Jammeh.
For the rest of us as common citizens, our role must be to stand for our country. To share our ideas with each other and to let the leaders know that we cannot accept anything les than success, unity and national development under a democratic dispensation. We must shun all ideas and practices that will bring back dictatorship, but to stand together to support the new administration in doing the right thing. We must be prepared to criticize them where they go wrong and applaud them to continue where they go right. We must change our perception and approach to leadership and governance to realize that Allah or God is not making decisions here; rather it is you and me who are making the choices. Every choice, good or bad has a consequence, good or bad. If we fail to play our role, Adama Barrow will fail, and if he fails, the Gambia will fail. But if we succeed in standing for our country and giving Adama the necessary support, and he also opens up to that genuine support, he will succeed. And if he succeeds, we succeed.
Forward Ever. Backward Never.
By: Madi Jobarteh