By Saul Saidykhan
A year from now, Gambians would have validated Adama Barrow’s leadership style by giving him his first personal electoral victory, or a public rebuke by sending him packing. Contrary to Barrow’s claims, his first election in 2016 was not a personal endorsement. He was in fact the consensus candidate of ALL the non-APRC affiliated political parties. In 2021, he will be running in his own name; something that has not worked well for him in the past. More importantly, in 2016, Adama Barrow was an unknown quantity without any record of public performance, lack of, or general leadership/managerial deficiency one could judge him on.
These would not be the only differences between 2016 and 2021 for Barrow and Gambians in the next presidential election.
There are several other stark differences between the two elections worth noting. The differences cut both ways – some will enhance Barrow’s chances of tenure elongation while others will be real bottlenecks to that ambition. In short, Barrow has both remarkable strengths and weaknesses that will be working for or against him in 2021.
How Gambians deem these will be the deciding factors in the next election. It will be foolish for him to ignore these factors just as it will be for his opponents to make the same mistake.
First, no complete or honest appraisal of Barrow’s performance as elected president is possible without referencing the key targets or Benchmarks (Coalition MOU/“Agenda 2016”) of the Opposition Coalition that sponsored his candidature. Barrow’s main assignment was to be a transitional Reformer President that will help Gambia transition from the classic dictatorship we had become under Yaya (Jakut) back to the admirable Jawara era imperfect-but-gradually-deepening democracy he overthrew.
In a nutshell, Barrow’s two key challenging but surmountable tasks since 2017 are:
1. To Superintend a thorough postmortem of the most egregious elements of the Jakut Jammeh dictatorship especially the industrial scale looting of public resources and gross human rights abuses – HOW and WHY it happened, and WHAT needs done to prevent a recurrence.
2. To Reform our Public institutions – the Civil and Security Services, the Electoral Umpire, the Judiciary, Oversight/Regulatory Agencies and parastatals.
On both scores, Barrow’s dismal record thus far is crystal clear to anyone with a discerning mind and the ability or integrity to accept truth/reality. A Gambian legal luminary told me recently “people keep saying Barrow is taking pages out of Jammeh’s playbook. He is not just copying pages from that playbook, he is using and implementing it wholesale! The man has no idea of his own”. Poor Gambia.
Yet it would be a serious mistake to count Barrow out because of the Gambian (character).
Barrow’s remarkable strengths
If the 2021 presidential election is to be based strictly on Barrow’s record as the incumbent, he’ll be in serious trouble. His litany of broken promises, subterfuge, and outright dereliction of duty on his core assignments is damning. Close to four years in office, there is yet to be any substantive Reforms in either the Civil or Security Services. In particular, the corrupt, unprofessional, inept, and inefficient oppressive security apparatus (of coercion) built by Jakut Jammeh to retain power at all costs still remains largely intact under Barrow.
Worse, Barrow has – for purely personal political reasons, deliberately set aside the recommendations and or findings of both the two Commissions that have thus far wrapped up their review of the excesses of the APRC dictatorship. They were set up to identify the factors that enabled the pervasive abuses in the financial sector (Janneh Commission) and the legal and institutional sector (Constitutional Review Commission); the key enablers of that abuse, and to make informed recommendations on how to rectify what is amiss and prevent a recurrence.
In Barrow’s not-so-secret plan, adopting the recommended actions especially against the erring high-level Jakut era officials will hurt his chance of poaching the dejected tyrant’s APRC supporters. Equally disappointing is Barrow’s lack of interest in carving any new paradigm for the majority Gambian youth to stop the suicidal Backway phenomenon to which Gambia has lost hundreds of youths in the past decade to the Mediterranean.
Good thing for Barrow, we’re yet to usher in an Issue-based political era in the Gambian republic. Gambians continue to vote AGAINST (as oppose to FOR) personalities mostly based on subtle ethno-cultural contours as we have been since 1960. If Barrow defies odds and prevail in 2021, it would most probably be because most voters won’t vote FOR his opponents on the ballot.
The foregoing, and the shameful acceptance and normalization of moral turpitude displayed by public officials – elected or appointed, are the “Strengths” that offer Barrow some hope of hanging on beyond 2021.
These key strengths by design or default that will be working in Barrow’s favor – in no particular order are:
1. Barrow has no scruples when it comes to giving or taking bribes. He is a man very much at peace with corruption. Fortunately for him, most Gambians especially the western educated elite are no better. And Barrow already has a lot of money from mysterious “Anonymous” donors to pass around which will give him the ability to buy votes from dirt-poor voters as he did in two recent by-elections.
2. ALL Yaya Jakut era dollar millionaires are now secretly but solidly behind Barrow. All continue to receive sweetheart business deals at tax payers’ expense. They’re paying Barrow back in cash.
3. Conventional virtues alike honor and integrity are dying values in Gambia. Corruption, shameless lying, double-dealing, prostitution, and outright criminality are now all rife and generally accepted as normal in Gambia. Growing up, this “Whatever Works” urban thing was called Taff-Taff. Now it’s called Raba Raba. It’s an unscrupulous politician’s dream constituency.
4. Barrow is a slow learner with scant intellectual curiosity. However, what he lacks in mental capacity is more than compensated for by his naked lust for power and primitive appetite for wealth accumulation. With an experienced and tested Master crook from his predecessor’s team as his Finance point man, he has gotten up to speed on how to feather his nest with our common weal while carrying along like-minded members of the elite. As they did for Yaya Jakut Jammeh, many of this group are quietly morphing into Barrow’s flyswatters.
5. Barrow has shown himself to be a lousy manager of people and resources, but he is proving to be an expert on his predecessor’s Machiavellian streak when it comes to ethnic-baiting. Barrow is both Chief Uniter or Divider; victim or lion-slayer, minority or majority depending on his audience. His ethnic identity now depends entirely on who he is talking to and where he is. This worked well for his predecessor for years so why not stick to it? In a literate clime where many exercise their right to ask questions or bother to try to decipher tea leaves, this trick will fall flat. Gambians generally lack both characteristics.
6. With only nominal Regulatory bodies, an overstretched judiciary, a fragmented opposition, and a seriously compromised legislature, Barrow has enough leeway to abuse the considerable powers of the presidency to muffle the protest of local dissenters. Distance accords him some breathing space from the more effective and mostly incorruptible Diaspora critics.
7. Like his predecessor, Barrow has a bogey named Ousainou Darboe. This is also the name of the man he considers his chief or Real opponent. The name is the only thing the two Darboe have in common. The bogey is a fire-breathing Mandinka nationalist, the Real Darboe is an urbane professional who has been married to and has children with two cultural Wolof women; the bogey is the reason notable Yaya Jakut enablers were retained in key public positions – from the diplomatic corps to State House liaisons, (from reliable sources,) the Real Darbo was simply ignored where his recommendation is contra to Barrow’s then-secret resolution to jettison the Coalition 2016 agenda. Barrow was particularly irked by the Real Darboe’s frequent injection of ethics and law in issues that come up in their early days in the Executive. For instance, a carpetbagger offered them millions of dollars to build up Party structures in every District in the country, hire several paid staff in each bureau, and vehicles at each location. Darboe balked at the impropriety and started asking questions. Barrow got mad as hell and soon started crying sabotage. One of his own senior aides told me this story probably looking for sympathy. This is the betrayal “Janfa” charge Dou Sano and others throw around. Regardless, Ousainou Darboe the bogey theory is meekly consumed by almost half of the Gambian population without much inquiry including – shockingly, by many of the elite. This is considerable help to Barrow.
8. Barrow is NOT Yaya Jakut. Despite his increasing deftness at copying his predecessor’s Machiavellian ways, Barrow has thus far let Gambians be. The dizzying madness of weekly arrests, firings, torture, killing, and disappearances of Gambians in all spheres of Gambian life under Jakut has abated. Gambians are still desperate for quality life – food security, meaningful employment, night-time home security, good healthcare, good roads, etc., but they no longer need look over their shoulder to speak their mind. This is a given in saner climes, but given the collective trauma Gambians went through under Yaya Jakut, who can blame some for crediting Barrow for this return to basic normalcy?
9. Barrow is NOT the worst political leader we have. Some of the Party leaders jostling for his job are worse than him. In fact, some of the Parties are purely con operations meant to enrich the conmen at the expense of clueless Gambians. From personal knowledge going back decades, I know several whose entire life pre-politics was scandal-ridden. Yet they want us to give them control of our national purse. As much as I want Barrow gone, I prefer him to these fellows. How many of my type are among the Gambian electorate?
10. Gambians are opportunists! At least 20% of the Gambian population belongs to the AGIP group – Any Government In Power. And Barrow as incumbent, has the deep pocket of the Gambian State behind him. Without any resistance from our Revenue guards, Dalasi will rain everywhere in 2021!
To be continued.