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City of Banjul
Friday, October 30, 2020

My Eid message to my President: no Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark

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Dear Mr. President,

A leader is a dealer in hope, Napoleon Hill averred. And people become hopeful when they know their leader listens to them and respects and considers their views in the grand scheme of governance and power politics. Often all that a people want from their leader are respect, character or integrity and connection and they would run through fire for the leader. Thus, I see hope on our horizon. The coast may not be definitely clear, but we can see our way through the smock. And it is through your leadership that we expect to arrive at the port. Faith, facts about the weather, knowledge of the seas, capable and committed sailors with drive and passion and quality leadership will help in the sail.

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Kudos for the Press briefing that your Director of Press had with journalists the other day. It was the fulfilment of a promise and thanks for keeping your words. We hope to see more of this. But we want to be hearing frequently from our President and not just bi-annual. Staging Hamlet all the time without the Prince of Denmark can make the play less attracting. The Press Briefing was mainly with journalists, of course as the name implies, and was conducted in English Language and centred mainly on what the Presidency is doing or plans to do. Well….. It is better to be speaking to the whole nation, in languages they understand about every facet of Government. Who is speaking for the other Ministries? How do we know what grand schemes they have? How do they get the connection with the people? The Director of Press is for the President. Who is the Government’s Spokesperson? The Director of Press at State House or the Minister of Information? Or any Minister can? Nothing is more destructive of government than conflicting messages coming from different sources about the same thing.

I see that you are replacing heads of institutions bequeathed from the Jammeh Government. You know best why you are removing some and retaining others. Your prerogative. My sparring partner Madi Jobarteh and others are insisting on systems change, not cosmetic, not window dressing, not a facelift. Systems change….. Systems give us not just the kind of leadership we want but also internal accountability, progress, achievement of goal, competency and adherence to good governance. Strong systems give us strong institutions and by extension strong leadership….. But a strong head is vital. Everything rises and falls with leadership. A fish rots from the head, our people say. So change of heads may be very necessary, especially of those who were Jammeh’s paws or subverted their mandates to fawn for Jammeh. But that is where i have a problem. We seem to believe that when we change the face at the helm all other things will change automatically. Aah the magic wan……. I don’t think so…… The men and women who did us great damage; who betrayed their fellow country people; who sold their friends, work colleagues and family members to the devil; who murdered and tortured; who name dropped and threatened and abused their bosses and others and sometimes called the real shots were not the heads of institutions. They were the middle level and lower staff, people at the floor level. Information has it that the ‘junglers’ were directly answerable to Jammeh. Holding the head of the army for the misconduct of these men may be too high a call…. Am sure similar things happened in most departments of the past government…… Cleansing the Augean Stable would require not just a change of face but also establishment of ethics, discipline, structure, systems at the floor level and at the periphery. What happens at the station or health centre or school level or in the field can have effect on the centre. Mind the heads but insist that the heads mind the floor.

Mr. President, there may be one or two lessons you could learn from Jammeh, not to repeat. He heavily relied on transactional leadership or patron-client relationship to buy loyalty and support. There was the small carrot and the big, menacing stick. And our people, knowing the narcissist he was, indulged him in hero worshipping and cultism, and gave him names and titles for their opportunistic end. For some it was a survival tactic; for others it was to milk our coffers. Men and women even from afar competed for his attention, for wads of dollars. The President supplanted the State and became the much sought after philanthropist. Be mindful of such: we must know we will only earn your attention when we do our work for which we are paid for. That you are not a patron of the people and every dime spent out of the public coffers must be accounted. That merit and competent will be the key determinants.

Mr. President, thanks for the directive that all your Ministers declare their assets. Better late than never. I hope such a process will not merely depend on the good will of the Ministers, the benefit of the doubt of what they reveal on paper. That would be mechanistic and tokenistic. It must be thorough and well scrutinised. False declaration must earn a penalty. It must also be indicated that at the end of their term, another asset declaration will be made. That should be the way to go. If the rationale is to fight corruption, then we should not forget corruption that takes place downstream. Sec. 223 of the Constitution which obligates public officers to declare their properties, assets and liabilities to the Ombudsman should be effectively implemented or enforced. Setting up an anti-corruption bureau will aid your fight against corruption.

Above all else in leadership, I place Trust. It is so difficult to earn but so easy to lose. And when a leader loses the trust of the people, she or he finds it difficult to regain it. Continue keeping your words with the people; strengthening your connection to the people and focusing on the bigger people, where we want to be. In the quicksand of politics keeping one’s words with the people is very difficult but it is what makes or breaks politicians.

Mr. President, your actions and words are helping to demystify the Presidency, to disabuse our minds of the myth we think the President is- an all knowing, supernatural, above the law, terrifying bogeyman who knows what we do or say even in our bedroom. Keep it up. You must continue to insist on accountability, probity, transparency and non-discrimination, for yourself and from others, without fear or favour. When the Presidency is exemplary on these counts, who would dare to be tardy or fall behind.

Mr. President, “Barrow mangnaa siilaa” deh. So you should actualise the term limit demand. Most leaders don’t care about their legacy. But they should. Legacy is what history judges leaders, to remember and honour or not, long after they have gone or disappeared from sight.

Eid Mubarak to you and yours. I pray, as I am wont to doing, that your Presidency be rough. And if it is rough, i pray that Allah gives you the wisdom and the fortitude to overcome the roughness. It is only through the daily challenges that you face, confront and overcome, not calmness, that we will continue to appreciate not just your mettle but the sterner stuff you are made of, the quality of the leader we have. May you road be rough.

By Njundu Drammeh

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