By Gibril Saine
Friday, 19th January 2018, marks exactly one year to the day since President Adama Barrow was sworn into office on a coalition government ticket. At a time of heightened tensions & concern in the region amid a lunatic tyrant, Gambians rose in their thousands by voting for change in the most unlikely of election surprises West Africa has ever known. A lot has happened since in terms of the country’s image & its relations with the outside world; incidentally the premise of this piece.
In a vibrant democratic setting such as the United States, one of the avenues or criteria by which a president’s foreign policy credentials are measured and analysed is through a simple, albeit complex definitional ”doctrine” typology. From the founding fathers of American liberalism in Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, to the Clinton years, Bush Dynasty, and the Obama administration respectively – successive American presidents have been subjected to this analytical toolkit in ‘White House’s application of foreign policy around the world. The ‘State Department’, led by the Secretary of State, is the public face & advocate of American foreign policy shuttling from one country to the next carrying the President’s messages to world capitals.
Since advent of ‘The Berlin Wall’, past American president are known to pursue a ‘Containment’ policy in tussling with the Soviet Union for supremacy. Bill Clinton though came to power by putting economic competitiveness at the heart of U.S. foreign policy. Presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley, described the strategy as ‘Democratic Enlargement’ given that administration’s push for democracy in Asia and ‘Eastern blocks’. The ‘Bush Doctrine’ can be summarised as ‘pre-emptive war’ with regards to all the wars America started under his watch ‘unprovoked’. Bush was a total failure in the arena of external relations pursuing an aggressive policy style dividing countries into friends or foes. President Obama came into office with renewed purpose; and history weighing on his shoulders. He settled for a measured doctrine ‘negotiation and collaboration’ in international affairs especially after the memorable speeches he gave in Cairo and Berlin respectively. And he has governed that way too ending 50 years of failed U.S policy on Cuba, the Iran nuclear deal, The Paris climate accord, among others. As for Trump, he does not count – a ‘Twitter President’ lacking conscience driving America into a ditch.
In the United Kingdom, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office run the show, staffed by a complex network of diplomats as the Ministry tasked with expanding Britain’s influence across the globe. For better or for worse, Britain had dominated & ruled the world through systemic dominance & deceit designed on ‘national Interest’ terms. That policy has remained somewhat constant since ‘independence’ regardless what political party or Prime Minister holds the sway of power at ‘Westminster’.
Coming to the ‘Barrow Administration’ and its venture in international affairs, certain factors need counting before getting into analysis, or ‘doctrine’ type semantics! Arriving into Banjul with a clear mandate from The Gambian people, a jubilant crowd stood welcome chanting ‘weew-Barrow’ ‘New-Gambia’ on a momentous day entering ‘Third Republic’. The administration began in earnest appointing Hon: Ousainou Darboe in charge of Foreign Affairs. Like every other Ministry, what he found at No4 Marina Parade was ‘messy’ as relations with the outside world hang at a near-halt.
We should give credit to senior officials at the Foreign Ministry highly trained in the mechanics of international diplomacy. These are the men and women, technocratic, pushing for excellence on a ‘national interest platform’ for the greater good of country. I was, therefore, not surprised to find the administration getting major policy decisions right reengaging with the world. But it is the president who deserve applause setting the agenda & tone for his administration for this turn of events. On the bilateral level, the list of cordial ties with friendly nations keep growing, further reattaching The Gambia to multilateral institutions. The Riyad-Doha crisis, and Trump’s ill-advised ‘Jerusalem’ policy stood as prime examples and a test for the Barrow-government; stood with allies on moral high-ground.
But they have also got certain decisions wrong in my estimation. For instance, given recent experiences, the president should have been the leading voice at ECOWAS calling for more pressure on TOGO and CAMEROON governments respectively to stop the violence against their own people. There is untold human suffering perpetrated by dictators, yet he remained silent. I expect experienced officials at the Ministry to brief foreign minister Darboe on this, as ‘conflict expectation’ grew ever loud.
Another area of concern is the Senegal-Gambia integration framework being patched up without parliament having a say on it. Although I welcome rapprochement wholeheartedly, the president needs to be reminded he cannot just sign major agreements without parliamentary oversight. And at a time of rising rebel-activity across the ‘Cassamance’ border, free movement of people between the two countries should be halted – until a final solution on that crisis is resolved. The Gambia’s national security is at stake here, raising major questions for a young democracy still finding its feet.
From the tip of the South-China Sea to the decked halls of the European Union, in Brussels, the question Gambia analysts are grappling with is what ‘The Barrow-doctrine’ is with regards to foreign policy. My own take is that the administration is only one year old and that the president, like any other statesman around the world, is growing stronger and wiser with time getting to grips with the magnitude & intricacies of that office. ”Time is a great healer”, so they say; today he has grown confident into his role in the manner he directs day-to-day state matters. Whilst it is useful to analyse and criticise the administration on policy governance, and how it goes about spending tax-payers cash, it is equally worth our while to remember where we was and how far the administration has pulled the country out of the deep sinking hole it was in a span of twelve months. From what I’ve seen thus far, the ‘Barrow Doctrine’ could be described as
‘Reengaging with the World’.
I will say The Gambia has some really wonderful people working daily for the betterment of the country; but so are insincere characters, in it for themselves and selfish. As for President Barrow, he is an honourable man, and I dare dream what could be achieved should sincerity and National Interest be the administration’s calling card. Today, he is the main man in town; as vested interest approach from every corner seeking audience, albeit profit from that ‘elevated position’. Please, close the investment desk at ‘State House’, for GIEPA, and to separate oneself from businessmen. Be mindful of nepotism also; and to hold weekly Cabinet meetings. If the Janneh Commission is anything to go by, power is inherently corrupt. And as a student of history tracing Africa’s political culture driven by sycophancy and oversize egos, it is wise to reflect on that playbook from time-to-time as guide in day-to-day governance.