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‘Gambia needs ethical leadership to thrive’

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By Omar Bah

Dr Satang Nabaneh, an award-winning Gambian legal scholar and human rights practitioner, has said The Gambia is at a point where it needs not just strong and capable leadership but ethical leadership to thrive.

Speaking at a public lecture organised by the Centre for Research and Policy Development (CRPD) to honour the late Dr Saja Taal, a renowned Gambian intellectual and senior lecturer at the University of The Gambia, Dr Nabaneh stressed that ethical leadership is the cornerstone of any successful nation.

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“I think part of our challenge is not that our leaders don’t have good intentions and ideas, but I do think that partly we do have leaders who come to leadership roles in very different ways, sometimes in accidental ways. So, when thinking about how we can strengthen our leadership, we should think about what our leadership capacity needs are, especially for those who are currently in leadership or coming up. It could be as simple as having leadership training for somebody who is newly appointed as head of an institution or a minister. A one-year leadership course or something that engages you in terms of what it takes to be an ethical and inclusive leader,” she said.

Dr Nabaneh said The Gambia currently has a democratically deficient constitutional framework, which has established and continues to establish a system where power resides in the presidency and the executive.

“What that means, especially as we think about going forward from where we are, especially as it relates to more inclusive leadership and ethical leadership, is that the 1997 constitution, despite its good elements, has led to unchecked power, giving the need for a new constitutional framework that speaks to the needs of our time currently,” she stated.

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She added that the constitution also continues to disadvantage women, who are the majority of the country’s population.

“Due to the fact that we still have the 1997 constitution, we are maintaining the status quo from the Jammeh regime, despite obviously the incredible work that has been done by the current government,” she said.

Commenting on the issues of governance with a specific focus on the judiciary, Dr Nabaneh said: “As we know, during the Jammeh regime, the judiciary was corrupted, but there were also active attempts at eroding its independence, whether it was through threats or a lack of security, but also as I recently indicated in a book chapter that I did as part of the Cambridge HandBook on Foreign Judges on Domestic Bench. I talked about foreign judges on the Gambian bench and the implications for that, but as we are thinking of the judiciary now, we can also acknowledge positive threads, which include its Gambianisation, which has been one of the most progressive things we have seen since the transition.”

Dr Nabaneh also critiques the country’s education system, saying it is not fit for purpose.

“I think that our educational system as it is is not fit for purpose, and that is a reality,” she argued, adding that the World Economic Forum recently did research where they sort of emphasised that skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and digital literacy in the modern workforce are needed.

“So, thinking about going beyond the traditional teaching to one that is holistic and provides students the opportunity to engage in special learning where our classes are project-based, and this doesn’t just have to be at the university level, but you can have students that are in the basic and secondary education systems to be able to engage in problem solving and critical thinking,” she said.

She also touched on the country’s economic development and drugs, among others.

Dr Nabaneh’s lecture focuses on ten contextual issues, including constitutionalism, education, agriculture, and governance.

Olimatou Taal, Dr Taal’s eldest daughter, delivered a statement on behalf of the family highlighting her late father’s selfless commitment to public service, especially in education. She commended CRPD for initiating the lectures.

“He was kind, humorous, understanding, down to earth, a gentleman, and a true embodiment of fatherhood,” she said, remembering the good moments Dr Taal shared with his family.

Sait Matty Jaw, co-founder and executive director of CRPD, who spent ten minutes recalling how Dr Taal inspired him and other Gambian generations, said the lecture is purely meant to remember and honour Dr Taal’s service to humanity.

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