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City of Banjul
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Dei gratia

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With Aicha

This is Latin, an ancient language, and it means ”By God’s grace”. It was in common use very long ago as we can find it in medieval writings. It was used to justify the crowning of a certain king and it was meant to stop people from questioning the wisdom of that decision. The nobilities said it was God, who had chosen a certain person to become king, and who could question God’s decision? We must remember that most people were illiterate during that time, so it was impossible for them to find adequate information that contradicted what the nobilities said. It was even dangerous to have another opinion as you could lose your life.
And since the medieval period was one where the rule of religious authority was much more pervasive than today, if God picked a king, then the people obeyed him without question.

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The medieval period lasted between 476 to about 1400 AD and arithmetic shows it ended more than 600 years ago. Isn’t it about time we left these old-fashioned beliefs behind – that the king (or in our case the president) is chosen by God? Unfortunately, still a lot of people in The Gambia are illiterate, but does that mean we have the right to use their ignorance for our own purposes? Doesn’t every kind of leader for this beautiful country have the obligation to be a role model and an educator? Having a high position in society doesn’t mean that you are automatically allowed to oppress people somehow.

Oppression doesn’t only mean that you put people in jail or torture them if they have an opposite opinion. Oppression also means that you keep people in place by speaking about things in a way they can’t argue with because they don’t have the knowledge. You make them feel stupid and when you mention God in the same context, you make them fear some kind of punishment from God. You put yourself in God’s place, meaning that you can speak for Him. That is blasphemy, only God knows His intentions. God is not a puppeteer and we are not His puppets moved by His strings. We were born with a free will to do good or bad. What we need to fear is what happens to us in the afterlife.

That fear goes both for high and low, it has nothing to do with your position in the society. The higher you come, the larger are your responsibilities, so don’t use your position in a way that harms people.

The Gambia is nowadays a democracy, right? This is still very fresh for a lot of people, including the leaders of the country. The current leaders also have suffered under oppression for 22 years. Well, maybe not all, because I understood that some of those who were allied with Jammeh are still in positions where they can influence the political play.
The only way to learn how to handle a new situation is by knowledge. If you find yourself in a rowing boat and the one responsible for rowing it has fainted – then what do you do? Will you sit there feeling sorry for yourself or do you try to row the boat yourself?
You might find it a bit hard at the beginning, you don’t know how to handle the oars and the way to your destination can be a bit crooked at first. After a while, with some practise, you know how to handle the new situation and when you finally land the boat onshore you feel contented. If you are a wise person, you will prepare yourself for the next ride by speaking to people who have more experience than yourself. You will listen to them, ask for advice and learn from their mistakes. Wise people realise that they don’t have to make all the mistakes; they can learn from others and get to know how to avoid repeating the history.

There is a reason why we say that leaders of countries need to be educated.
A president as well as the vice president needs to have studied political science. Subjects like law are also important to know, philosophy is another because every society is based on the understanding of the human mind. Combining law with philosophy can both help you to interpret the law, predict law breaking, understanding why people are breaking the laws and take actions to prevent law breaking. The laws go so much deeper than what we have learned to be right or wrong from our parents. Leaders of a country are always surrounded by well educated people, but they need to match these people with their own level of education so they can speak on the same level and not get fooled.

The noun philosophy means the study of proper behaviour, and the search for wisdom. Proper behaviour is not only about using proper language, acting politely and so forth. Combining proper behaviour with wisdom can and shall make a president to avoid speaking about himself as either a bus driver or chosen by God. This should make a vice president to avoid telling the citizens of a country that they are not supposed to criticise the president because he is chosen by God. Both of them should understand that they are giving the completely wrong signals to people living in a country that are still vulnerable. Both of them should have had the wisdom to realise that the signals they give are that the oppression is not gone, it’s only hiding.

A democratically elected president is elected by the people and it is up to the citizens of The Gambia to tell if they are satisfied with their leader or not. That is how it works in a democracy and if our leaders don’t know that, they must study other democracies to avoid mistakes. The only thing God has to do with the case is if He blesses a leader or not – and of that we know nothing because that is up to God. It is time to make a reality check here before things go really wrong. By the time of the 2016 election, parties came together to find a presidential candidate they could agree on. Before that election, Adama Barrow was a rather unknown person. In 2016, the citizens of The Gambia were so desperate to get rid of Jammeh so they used this a bit unusual method to create a coalition of parties.

They went together to discuss who to choose as their candidate and agreed on Mr Barrow. I am sorry to be one of the truth tellers, but you couldn’t have done this on your own, Mr President. You needed the people who were closest to you, to support you, to advise you, to protect you, to market you as their candidate. You needed the people around you to convince enough citizens in The Gambia to vote for you, because you couldn’t do all this on your own. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” and you needed every link that held the process together. A president in a democracy can’t rule on his own; he can’t even become a president on his own. It wasn’t your election , Mr President, it was the people who elected you and thanks to those people you have your current position. A little bit of humility would be in order, because it could appear that the weakest link in the chain is yourself.

People expect a lot from their president, and they have the right to do so. It is not only those in your party who are citizens in The Gambia, even your opponents are and they have the same right to have expectations of you. The Gambia seems divided not only in the usual faultline of tribes like Mandinka, Fula and others, but also a kind of tribe that is made by the party people vote for. Can The Gambia really afford to be split up in a lot of small parts? Isn’t it your obligation, Mr President, to make the people come together in a Gambia that feels as a home for everyone? Community and solidarity should be your key words and you should make your best to show every citizen of The Gambia that you are committed to the cause to make the Gambia strong.

This strength can only be found if we all work for a common goal. Whenever you hear about people who are trying to split up large groups in smaller you should react. You should be like a father for your people, because people need to know that you care about them. You will always hear people criticise you, that is a part of your job. It’s not a nice part, but you chose to accept the role as the president of The Gambia and not only benefits came with it. Show by your actions that you are the president for the whole Gambia, fancy speeches mean nothing in the end. You don’t need to bring your whole entourage to follow you around in The Gambia. What you need to do is to decide some areas you will look into a bit deeper, meet people, speak with them, listen to their problems and try to answer their questions.

Be a president of the people, because you are one of the citizens – the main difference between you and them is that you are elected to be their leader. There will soon be an election again, but before that you have a lot to do. The vice president says that we are not in the time of politics right now, but doesn’t she know that everything in a society is about politics? Health care, infrastructure, the education system, even the fire at the Bakoteh dumpsite is about politics.

This is a quote from an article in The Standard newspaper, and the words are the vice president’s: “We should support the president so that God will help us to better our country. We are not in the time of politics and all our attentions should be focused on helping the president.”
We are not in the time of politics? Dear Mrs Vice President, you are wrong because politics is surrounding us 24/7. Politics doesn’t have an on or off button you can switch whenever you are tired of it.

Politics has nothing to do with prayer and vice versa. Politics is pragmatic, it is the reality. Things are happening around the world that sometimes also affect us. Prayer doesn’t fill the fishermen’s empty nets when Chinese fishing boats have taken every little fish they can get to feed their pigs. Yes, pigs! Our people starve so others can feed their pigs with fish. This is politics, madam, and it happens every day now. Young women dying because they can’t get the right treatment when they are giving birth. Young people don’t stop feeling that there is no future for them in The Gambia. Parents avoiding sending their kids to school because they can’t afford school fees etc. Small children begging on the streets with the risk of getting molested. This is politics, Mr President and Madam Vice President. It goes on forever and as long as it does, people will continue expecting you to do something about it. Please don’t let them down!

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