By Madi Jobarteh
On 1st December 2016 about 60% of Gambian electorates decided to vote out the Yahya Jammeh Dictatorship. Out of this 60%, Barrow got 43% and Mamma Kandeh got 17%. Hence this democracy that we have is the creation of Gambian citizens. Barrow has now served for one year. How well or not did he serve the Gambia? In other words has he met the expectation that as a new president he has expanded democracy and entrenched good governance within the wider framework of system change? How has this happened or has it not happened?
After one year, Barrow has sought well to connect with the rest of the world by embarking on massive foreign travels to states and organizations to re-establish Gambian’s erstwhile enviable position. However the uncontrolled and exorbitant cost of foreign travels remains a major challenge; not just for the per-diems but also because of absence of ministers and their officials from their desks to attend to urgent national issues at home.
After one year, I see minimal effort in expanding democracy. For example, Barrow promised in his campaign that within six months of coming to power he would repeal all laws that infringe on democracy, human rights and limit people’s participation in the political process. Not only has Barrow failed to do that, but also the Supreme Court made it even worse by declaring the obnoxious Public Order Act as constitutional contrary to regional and international human rights norms and principles of democracy!
However Barrow has so far demonstrated decorum, humility and civility at the personal level to make the presidency an embodiment of respect contrary to the outrageous arrogance and stupidity characteristic of the Yahya Jammeh presidency. There have been some instances where the government accepted its errors and corrected itself such as in the first constitutional amendment on the age of the vice president and judges when it was noted that the process was unconstitutional. This means Barrow indeed listens to and accepts public opinion.
But it is concerning that Barrow has maintained or appointed the same Yahya Jammeh enablers in strategic and critical positions in our public and security institutions. Some of those people were not just enablers but were also accomplices in economic crimes against the Gambia as being exposed by the Janneh Commission. A lot of these institutions such as the NIA, Prisons and the Police including the PIU remain intact with more or less the same leadership and personnel.
One wonders why Barrow still keeps these people to run his government as if he did not realize that we voted for him to effect system change in our society. How can we have system change when abettors and aiders of tyranny still maintain their positions, power and influence in the state? For example I still cannot fathom how on earth Barrow could ignore the petition of the Legal Adviser of the NIA Mr. Badjie who raised some serious issues of corruption, evidence tampering and lack of system change within the county’s topmost spy agency.
Barrow did well to set up the Janneh Commission and also create laws for the establishment of a truth commission, a human rights commission and a constitutional review commission. This is a step in the right direction even though these commissions could have come much earlier to better demonstrate the sense of urgency and seriousness of this government to fully democratize the Gambia.
After one year, my greatest concern is the emergence of political patronage, the use of executive directives and the general slow pace of system change by Barrow. For example the refusal of Barrow to disclose or declare the donation of houses by a Senegalese businessman and the subsequent donation of 57 vehicles by an unidentified person or entity are a direct threat to our democracy and good governance and a violation of the constitution.
Also the incidence of appointments into the public service on the basis of party affiliation, family or tribe and other sectarian considerations are a major cause for concern. Then you have the unexplained dismissal of former Minister Mai Ahmad Fatty and the arbitrary redeployment of Nani Juwara of NAWEC as well as the growing influence of so-called Ambassadors at-large and ‘Advisors’ at State House are indeed concerning. These are the acts of poor leadership perpetrated by Yahya Jammeh hence it is indeed frightening to see similar practices under Barrow.
Furthermore the creation of the Barrow Youth Movement is an undemocratic practice that is only perpetrated by dictators. In a democratic society, there are no such movements or organizations named after sitting presidents. And in the case of the Gambia it is even more concerning given the way and manner such practices have damaged our politics since independence.
After one year, Barrow has not done much to exert his full presence on the Gambian society as is expected of a president. The periodic press conferences by the Ministry of Information and the Director of Press are indeed good practices in the right direction. However it was important that Barrow had given more time to visit Gambian communities, give more press conferences and deliver more public statements more frequently in order to further stabilize and energize the country.
Given the polarized nature of our society due to the dictatorship and the dire social and economic conditions, the role of a president to provide assurances, direction and unify the people cannot be over-emphasized. The mere presence and visibility of Barrow would have also served to generate a greater sense of security as well as dilute the strength of negative forces seeking to sow seeds of tribalism, nepotism and other forms of sectarianism and division in our society.
One of the most severe damages Gambians suffered under Jammeh was the denial of social and economic rights by seizing people’s lands and other properties and closure of businesses. While many individuals and communities have recovered their lands and other properties, yet after one year Barrow has not dealt adequately with the Bakoteh dumpsite and especially with the Golden Lead factory in Gunjur that is now dumping more toxic waste in other communities further away.
Similarly the plight of the victims of APRC Tyranny continues to worsen daily without any tangible solution. From April 2000 to April 2016 and many more victims, there are lot of Gambians in physical and mental pain yet there is still no definite government program to provide urgent medical services to them. The demise of Solo Koroma, Lang Marong, Ebrima Ceesay and just now Femi Peters point to the urgency of the issue. In fact Barrow could only meet victims for the first time in December 2017 in the wake of the visit by the German President. Why?
Barrow must however be credited for fulfilling his negative obligation of not directly and blatantly interfering with civil liberties. Over the period Gambians have been able to express themselves as much as they could on various platforms without fear of reprisals. Not only does he maintain the supremacy of the constitution, but Barrow has also spoken in very clear terms of his commitment to human rights. The incidence of arbitrary and rampant dismissals of public officers or arrest and detention of citizens has been almost absent hence contributing to ensuring the stability of the government and country. This is indeed in the right direction in order to nurture democratic culture and constitutionality.
In light of the foregoing, Barrow’s one year did make significant contributions yet also leaves much to be desired. The pace and manner with which we envisage himself and his government to perform and conduct themselves could have been far better. While it is commendable that there is a more reasonable budget yet the 2018 budget contains some allocations that are unjustifiable and exorbitant such as Office of the President and Donations while others are provided pittance.
Fundamentally, system change has been largely minimal and his impact on the social and economic conditions of the population is low. Delivery of public services remains more or less at the same appalling state while public sector efficiency appears to have either remained at the same level as at December 2016 or even gone down. There have not been more deliberate and urgent steps to entrench efficiency, transparency and accountability of public institutions and officers.
Barrow must realize that the Gambia continues to be peaceful today and democracy is flourishing mainly because Gambians made it so. His job therefore is to expand that democracy by conducting himself along the principles of good governance and human rights and generating national unity. Barrow must realize that the verdict on December 1 was not primarily because of him, rather it was first and foremost a vote against Jammeh and Dictatorship and in favour of democracy and good governance.
Hence Barrow must realize that in order to vindicate that verdict and uphold the expectations of the people and make his legacy invaluable and historic he must be seen to demonstrate a better leadership. This means he must stand firm on the side of expanding and protecting the civil, political, economic and social rights of Gambians. He must ensure that bad laws are removed and good laws are created and enforced. He must ensure that the public service is transparent, accountable and efficient by appointing competent and clean professionals into strategic positions. A lot of these have not happened over the past year. We hope his second year will witness a change in style, leadership and performance.