By Samsudeen Sarr
Many Gambians I posed this question to merely expressed their misunderstanding of the word or their unfamiliarity with the case. But having watched the Gambian president labouriously struggle with reading some simple English words and sentences and embarrassingly mispronouncing commonly-used expressions and phrases, I am somehow counter-intuitively predisposed to assume him an invalid, hinging on clinical dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a brain disorder that makes it difficult for those affected to learn to read or interpret words, letters and other symbols, but are not necessarily unintelligent people.
Over 40 million Americans are confirmed dyslexic victims including prominent celebrities such as Anderson Cooper (CNN), Justin Timberlake (musician), Henry Winkler (actor), Steven Spielberg (film writer, director and producer), the late Muhammed Ali (boxer), Whoopi Goldberg (comedian and actress) and many more successful men and women.
All these people have confessed their harrowing experiences, living and growing up with the handicap and how they had eventually succeeded in overcoming their difficulties although after grueling attempts to hide it from the public and even their charitable teachers to avoid the “stupidity stigma”.
Until recently when doctors discovered the defect as a natural condition, little or no scientific remedies were explored to deal with it, attributing the abnormality to utter stupidity.
But thanks to modern science and technology, successful educational antidotes have now been put in place to help sufferers. Anderson Cooper in sharing his experience explained how as a top-class journalist, he still relies on a team of hired readers and interpreters to help him in his presentations, including the CNN programme he anchors, Anderson Cooper 360°. Modern devices have also been invented to assist affected CEOs in their everyday businesses. So, like I said, it has nothing to do with a person’s level of intelligence and productivity especially those engaged in their fields of fascination that I am afraid is outside the orbit of a head of state.
In the 2018 Hollywood movie, Night School, comedian and actor Kevin Hart played the part of a young man Teddy Walker, who after dropping out of school later decided to go back and take night classes for his General Education Development. However, shortly after the commencement of classes it dawned on him that he was suffering from both dyslexia and dyscalculia, with the latter being another mental disorder impeding people’s ability to understand numbers and simple arithmetic. Actor Henry Winkler suffers from the acute form of the problem.
President Barrow often applauded as once a successful rent-collector in the best moments of his adult life, keeping balanced sheets of sizable accounts, cannot possibly suffer from dyscalculia. So it is only the dyslexia condition of our “business tycoon” now president, I want us to scrutinise.
Apparently many Africans or Gambians are unaware of this natural disorder which is tantamount to someone being born blind or deaf and having, like I said, nothing to do with a person’s intellectual ability. Notwithstanding I stand to register my concern over whether a dyslexic person can be an effective president, bearing in mind the continuous volume of written materials given tohim for reading, comprehension, interpretation and action. There is no excuse or second-guessing about how a dependable “team” is always at his disposal for necessary guidance. If that should be the answer then we might as well forgo electing presidents and start electing a board of governors.
But I think it should be obligatory for every head of state to prove his ability to read rapidly with perfect comprehension faculty and an informed-decision-making capability on every policy, treaty or suggestion written and submitted on the spot. Two heads of state are sometimes duty bound to confidentially or secretly meet on consultations and deliberations exclusively restricted to only the two of them, where they would read, discuss and agree on policies before notifying their government agencies. If Barrow is dyslexic then The Gambia will logically be at the mercy of crafty leaders, always driven by their national interests first before the mutual or collective ones.
Subjected to confirmation, witnesses claiming to have access to State House activities have reported incidences where the president was repeatedly coached in a series of rehearsals to make him satisfactorily read prepared speeches before he is trusted to deliver the final message for recording; and even with all the run-throughs, the coaches would out of hopelessness settle for one or two mispronounced words or phrases that just wouldn’t sink in. I have always been avoiding to raise this observation about President Adama Barrow but when I lately saw his struggle to read ordinary words like “Addis Ababa” and “money laundering” and still got them wrong, I decided it was now time to raise my concern about the possibility of his tribulations with dyslexia.
It wouldn’t be fair to conclude without drawing the attention of my readers to President Barrow’s impressive confidence, eloquence and passion as a normal crafty politician every-time he speaks in the local languages, and yes, from a laudable mind of a rare-multilingual person. Bur additionally, if it is left to my single vote to elect a president into office, no matter how well educated the person, the dyslexic contender will never have it.
Samsudeen Sarr is an author and former Gambian diplomat at the UN.