In the making of New Gambia and a continuum of politics of clientelism and its neo-patrimonial statecraft

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By Abdoukarim Sanneh

New Gambia is an old wine in a new bottle. Our archaic and crude clientelist partisan politics and its kinship configuration will never uplift our citizens out of poverty.

Since ILO and Gambian Government household poverty survey in 1992, thousands of our citizens still continue to be living on the edge confronted with development challenges such as poor housing and sanitation, child and infant mortality, environmental degradation and poor quality of life, malnutrition and undernourishment, low life expectancy etc.

The wretched of our country is intergenerational/ multidimensional poverty. We are still classed as a Less Developing Country.

With even neoclassical economic growth indicators which our politicians continue to indicate to such in terms of Per Capita GDP, we are a country with no visible rising middle class population.

A country like Cape Verde or Cabo Verde which gained its Independence in 1975 and with a Semi-Arid Agroecology like the Gambia, is today classified as a developing country because its democracy transformation values in marketing of good governance, intolerance to corruption, development of human capital, coupled improving access to social service, supporting private sector activity and effective use of state resource.

From my observation, the New Gambia of today seemingly looks like a country of angry citizenry alienated from their predatory leadership similar to Basil Davidson narrative in his book- The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of Nation-State.

What are the reasons behind this discursive framing of our current situation? This article aim to look into our current political realities and why we as a country still fit in the author Christopher Clapham descriptive framing of political development perspective in Less Developing Countries in his book- The Nature of Third World State neo-patrimonial statecraft
Gambia is a neo-patrimonial state and political corruption in the form of political clientelism is and continues to characterise the pathologies of our democracy.

From the Former President Yahya Jammeh to Current President Adama Barrow, patronage becomes part of statecraft in the Gambia. The Jammeh Foundation, 22nd July Youth Movement, Barrow Youth Movement, First Lady Foundation, are all social hierarchical systems which comes with patronage and loyalty in the use of state resources on communities and individuals to foster political interest.

For too long, because of political corruption and the absence of civic education our politics is dominated by direct change of votes for favour.

With current political competition between certain political players political clientelism is deep rooted in our budding democracy which could be a recipe for political corruption. We have seen a catalogue of issues that we the citizens of New Gambia should be concerned with.

We have seen vehicles from undisclosed sources to National Assembly Members and also to political parties.

We heard allegations of Brown Envelopes of money given to National Assembly members.

There was a container impounded at Banjul Ports with semi-automatic rifles and a drugs container.

No individual was charged and brought to court for these offences.

To my surprise, even the National Assembly Members are virtually muted in silence on these issues and everything just vanishes in The Gambian sky.

Gambia citizens, political corruption in many parts of Africa is linked to poor administration and because of the neo-patrimonial nature of our statecraft and its clientelist configuration.

As we have seen in Guinea Bissau a Mafioso takeover of the state as a drug transit country.

Political corruption in many parts of Africa is linked to poor administration and has become a magnet for organised crime.

Corrupt exchanges in politics extend clientelist networks through favour that makes democracies fragile with the state taken over by bastard patronage.

We have seen from the evidences of the Janneh commission how Yahya Jammeh’s neo-patrimonial politics have developed the capacity of being able to divert public resources from our national tax revenues and aid funds for private lucrative gain and thus undermining development possibilities.

Gambia, our democracy cannot be put into sustainable footing if we don’t want to embrace discipline, pragmatism and meritocracy.

Our system of democratic governance cannot effectively be responsive to our development challenges with rule of government favouring intelligence and aptitude.

It is through this we can build core values in public administration such as integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality.

A government functions properly when the executive surround themselves with intelligent policy makers and advisers and not partisan advisers driven by selfish opportunistic agendas.

We can only address our development challenges only through a political system in which economic goods and political power are vested in individual people on the basis of talent, efforts and achievement rather than political affiliation, family connection, religious ethnic/ tribal grouping.

Putting merit into our system of governance will foster not only administrative competency and performance but will enhance productivity within civil service delivery systems.

It is unfortunate for many of us who fought for better a Gambia all these years to see that since President Adama Barrow came to power, civil service reform which was part of coalition campaign promises and agenda only end up with just a head counting of the number of people in civil service.

Gambia need to put in place a Civil Service Reform Act that stipulates that government jobs should be awarded on the basis of merit through competitive exams rather than ties to politicians or political affiliation.

The business of politics of patronage cannot continue in our pathway in the making of new Gambia based on democratic principles of equity and social justice for all.

For example shortly when Adama Barrow came to power we have seen political appointments in our Foreign Service and we can count how many ambassadors came from a small geographical area of Bansang alone.

We can count many UDP members were appointed protocol officers in our foreign missions without going through a formal recruitment process through the remit of equal opportunity.

We are a budding democracy let us stop political sensationalism by shifting the blame on one individual and start to act now if we want to build and just Gambia for all.

We cannot continue to practice the same archaic system of public administration.

Now is the time to formulate laws in our constitutional setting that promote equal opportunities based on skills, education and qualifications.

Now is the time to set laws to fight corruption and corrupt practices in our public administration. Now is the time to protect whistleblowing.

With corruption and corrupt practices in our public administration, Gambia needs whistle-blowers. They are really crucial if we want to build a healthy democratic society.

Any employee who in the interest of the public has the independence of judgement to challenge malpractices or illegality is a kind of public hero to be protected by the laws of our land.

The United Nation Convention against Corruption which came into effect in 2005 recognised the protection of whistle-blowing for enhancing sustainable democracy.

Gambia has to move away from its archaic culture of quasi democracy if we as a society are serious and committed to addressing our sustainable development challenges.

These can only become a reality when equal opportunities shape our system of democratic governance.

The fundamental of democracy and sustainable development is opposed to all forms of negative discrimination on the bases of political association, tribe, religion disability, gender etc.

In many Departments and ministries, people surrounded themselves with friends and family members.

Some public institutions are run like family enterprises.

Let us put in standards and merit and do away with the culture of whom you know but what you know.

Abdoukarim is a native of Brufut. He has a postgraduate degree from University of East Anglia in Environment and International development and undergraduate degree in Environmental Science from University of Bolton.

He currently works in Public sector organisation in East London as development planner.