By Pa Louis Sambou
The fourth anniversary of the Barrow Presidency, unlike the previous three, appeared to have been accorded a much greater degree of recognition and publicity with the cross-cutting theme much more conventional than that of the previous anniversaries. To a very large extent, this year’s theme centred on his achievements thus far rather than whether or not he will honour the non-legally binding Coalition ‘agreement’ and step down. Whether the absence of the latter from the general public commentary regarding the subject matter is an achievement (or perhaps the singular achievement thus far albeit not for commendable reasons) or not, is arguably a subject for debate. What is however not a subject for debate is that this anniversary’s theme sets a much more conventional and stringent assessment criteria: President Barrow’s achievements so far.
Whether or not the elevated test as per the above should be a cause for concern for President Barrow depends on whether one deems his time in office so far as one worthy of commemoration or, one to lament. In any case, in examining such fundamental question of pristine significance, the reasons which necessitated his election into office must take centre-stage. What better barometer to use to measure such than the promise made in December 2016 by the man himself which, as reported by Foroyaa Newspaper reads:
“I have offered myself as an Independent Candidate who will serve for only three years at the head of a broad based and inclusive Coalition Government aimed at conducting Constitutional, institutional and administrative reforms that would establish the foundation of a democratic system of administration that would put an end to the culture of impunity and self-perpetuating rule and usher in an era for Gambians to enjoy liberty and prosperity under a system of government that is sensitive and responsive to the needs and aspirations of its citizenry.“
In simple terms, the promise was to:
? serve for only three years;
? head a broad based and inclusive Coalition Government;
? conduct Constitutional reforms;
? conduct institutional reforms;
? conduct administrative reforms;
? establish the foundation of a democratic system of administration;
? put an end to the culture of impunity;
? put an end to the culture of self-perpetuating rule; and
? ensure the enjoyment of liberty and prosperity under a system of government that is sensitive and responsive to the needs and aspirations of its citizenry.
It is therefore my view that rather than loosely premise the assessment of President Barrow’s 4 years in office on fluid notions and perceptions of what people would have wanted him to do, it should be one tested against those promises upon which he acquired office. The former is of course much more of an interesting premise and its fluidity and elastic nature renders it all the more susceptible to spin and contested opinion all of which offer very fertile ground for and arouse much more public interest, increased views and clicks than the latter which I would admit can be a very bone-dry subject especially for a digital media audience of our fast-moving social media age. Therefore, the media’s tact is perfectly understandable and one which I do not seek to criticise at all. It’s certainly not my intention to indulge it either — an assessment based on the facts rather than subjective opinion and feeling is, for all intents and purposes a much more helpful one. Well, this is my view anyway.
As for the promise to “serve for only three years”, it is quite clear that the architects of the Coalition hitched their wagon onto the wrong horse (or “political animal” as he likes to characterise himself). Without needlessly belabouring the point, this is now water under the bridge. The choice has already been made and it is now for President Barrow to make that choice successful, something which by its very nature presents a much trickier obstacle to navigate than the former. The decision to unilaterally depart from the promise to “head a broad based and inclusive Coalition government” was clearly not one the ‘bus driver’ (President Barrow) managed to make successful; the tremors of the dramatic fallout (between ‘Moses’ and the ‘Israelites’) continues to play out in public, a clear demonstration that seeking strength through the exploitation of allies can be a source of perpetual unstable existence. Now, whether the unilateral decision to serve beyond the agreed three years will suffer a similar unsuccessful fate or not is one for voters to decide come 4th December 2021.
As for the subject of reform, it was front and centre of the campaign which would later propel candidate Barrow into President-Elect Barrow. Without being too unkind, I think I will be speaking for the majority of Gambians in stating that the subject of reform has since somewhat been relegated down the list of priorities to the disappointment of many. In the circumstances, one might be inclined to suggest that the emphasis on ‘reform’ during the 2016 campaign was after all a honey-trap; this would of course be stretching the bounds of credibility albeit not a pie-in-the-sky argument in its entirety given how well represented contra-reformists are within government. The object of a reform is effectively to design and effect progressive changes to personnel, systems and practices, something which is obviously practically impossible to achieve when put in the hands of personnel whose appointments and continued (dis)service rely on the absence of reforms. I don’t know of any turkey who’s ever voted for Christmas, do you? So, quite frankly, the subject of institutional reform to be more specific does not even merit an analysis – not the Security Sector Reform, and not any others. Just like what was supposed to be the Think-Tank, all indications suggest that the subject of institutional reforms will highly likely suffer a similar fate: extinction into insignificance. This may come to bite someday but I guess that’s an entirely different subject altogether for another day.
Institutions inherited from the Jammeh regime remain as they were, albeit with significant increase in the litany of incidents which give the impression of widespread dysfunctionality and depravity in some, if not most of such institutions of government. President Barrow’s 4 years in office when objectively revisited, one notices that on this front (institutional reform), an environment of the sort is created and allowed to fester (whether by design or convenient omission) wherein a lot of undesirable things have become possible no wonder we have a Police Force which is gradually self-accumulating revenue collection powers and spending more time devising schemes to generate unjustifiable revenue at the expense of mainly motorists rather than making the roads safer or protecting citizens from criminals, we have an anti-narcotics agency which zealously cracks down on users rather than disrupt corporate dealers and suppliers, we have an electoral commission which gives the impression that it is reluctant to organise any elections without being pressured into doing so and the non-exhaustive list goes on.
On the upside however, a Human Rights watchdog (National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)) is established. This institution isn’t one without problems of course, the catalogue of failures by this body are a very unusual trait for a newly formed institution: Faraba Banta incident investigations bungled (see the Gambia Times) recommendations which are to date not implemented and which the NHRC is not seeking to enforce despite having powers to do so under NHRC Act section 13(2)(f), a slap on the wrist for Senior Police Officer found to have instituted a false arrest and detention and forced labour of youths and torturing at least one and lying to the NHRC led investigation (see Gainako article). From inception, all investigations conducted to date resulted in the laundering of the perpetrators (when the complaint is not actively undermined that is). The failures of this body are such that, it would be an understatement to suggest that if say a TRRC style inquiry were to become necessary at any time in the future, its failures are gross enough to render them eligible for bona fide adverse respondent status.
For reasons already stated, it is absolutely justifiable to blame on President Barrow every failure of every institution inherited from the former regime. Suggesting the same in the case of the terrible failures of the NHRC may be sliding on thin ice one has to humbly admit but, as it is an institution under his purview, it is reasonable to reflect its failures onto his office as a general principle rather than anything more substantive except to state and firmly emphasise that there is a strong correlation between the absence of institutional reforms and the culture which drives the aforesaid failures across the spectrum of public service. The driver of such regression is of course not the failure(s) of individual employees and appointees or, the inner workings of some spiderweb conspiracy to sabotage the administration out of power as some supporters of the President often claim but rather the failures are symptoms which emerge from an entirely self-engineered plot to fail. Unless the ‘disc-jockey’ changes the tune, the dance won’t change.
To give credit where it is due, unlike the infamous Janneh Commission into former President Jammeh’s financial dealings, the mechanism employed as the vehicle for transitional justice (the Truth Reconciliation and Reparation Commission) is one which undoubtedly has the consent and confidence of a vast majority of Gambians. Well, that was the case at least until the manipulative narcissism of two gross human rights violators (Edward Singhatey and Sana Sabally) who in their own perverse delusions believe themselves to be ‘victims’ managed to lure the unsuspecting Commission into hosting their sham ‘reconciliation’. This taxpayer funded public mockery of their victims undoubtedly compelled most to re-evaluate the favourable lenses with which they viewed the TRRC. If I, who isn’t a victim found it too painful to watch, it must certainly have been an extremely horrifying re-victimisation for the victims. With the benefit of hindsight, I would like to think that the Commission would realize the impropriety of such gross indiscretion; the last time I checked, no part of the TRRC Act mandates nor justifies such.
In light of the far from desirable circumstances under which the Janneh Commission was disposed of, there is widespread belief that the anticipated TRRC recommendations may suffer a fate similar to it. Whilst a genuine concern, its premise ignores the fundamental differences between the nature of the two issues as well as the edge the TRRC has over the Janneh Commission in terms of public support, public consent and public confidence. One would be naïve to overlook the fact that politicians can be a bit of a cold-hearted bunch for whom understanding the feelings of participants in society comes secondary to their perpetual desire to win and retain power. I guess I’m right in stating that the public can take comfort in the timing (election year) and, given the overwhelming public desire for meaningful accountability, unilateral executive action of whatsoever nature which runs contraflow to such desire could after all be the difference between winning a re-election and the humbling alternative. I do not suppose Presidential elections 2021 is a hill upon which President Barrow desires his political career to die hence my firm belief that he will do what is right by the victims and justice.
The above of course comes with a healthy dose of rational cynicism especially given how well-represented those against whom adverse action is warranted are in the Barrow administration among other things. To put it more bluntly, President Barrow’s failure to beat the ‘stink’ out of the curtains at the State House upon assuming office as required is evidently a source of needless consternation for most.
The omission of the subject of constitutional reform is no doubt an obviously noticeable void. That’s because there isn’t really much to say other than that the government did its part but, the process was fatally crashed by the divide and conquer scheme by those charged with the responsibility to compile a draft (the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC)), this is the uncomfortable, unpopular and nonpartisan truth which overtime, more and more people are waking up to. I’m really not sure this monumental CRC failure is one worthy of any more analysis. However, if you’re so inclined, please do not be put off by my downbeat commentary, please see Comprehensive Report on Draft Constitution 2020 and comparative table and form your own independent conclusions.
My personal verdict on the subject of this article is a mixed bag as one would have extrapolated from all the aforesaid: Coalition agreement dishonoured for an alternative which later disintegrated, institutional reforms completely abandoned, transitional justice on the balance and constitutional reform attempted but obstructed by the experts put in charge.
Other promises around good governance, ending impunity, self-perpetuating rule etc. are of course contingent on the successful coming to fruition of all of the above hence the necessity for these to be vigorously but, sensibly pursued to successful fruition moving forward.