By Omar Bah
Lamin Keita is a Gambian PhD student at the Northwestern University in the US. Prior to that he studied at CUNY Manhatta, UW Madison and once worked at Citizen FM Radio and now at State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Keita currently lives in Evanston, Illinois. He talks to Standard’s Omar Bah from his base in USA.
What do you make of Gambia’s current political situation?
The current political situation in the Gambia presents a fascinating political evolution, which is equally an indictment of hope coupled with pessimism. With all honesty, the new political scene in the Gambia is unhealthy as well as disturbing because what we see now after transitioning to democracy is the double speaking of the politicians. It is quite apparent that our State House to our streets corners and our towns to the villages are now sanctimoniously turned into political theatre. While the national resources, specifically the taxpayers’ money is heavily exploited to fund these state gatherings as a propaganda tool. While ordinary citizens continue to live in acute poverty—live below a dollar a day.
Certainly, Gambia’s coalition government political maneuvering is a slap in the face of our new-found democracy, and it equally creates an overwhelming sense of uncertainty of the trajectory of our beloved country. The current political hostility among the coalition members or political parties might precariously set a lousy precedent and distorts the prospect of laying a solid foundation for democracy. As the sayings go democracy, don’t fight democracy. Precisely, I believe that the majority of the Gambians embraced the new changes after the departure of Jammeh with the euphoria that there will be rapid and remarkable system change within a population less than two million people. However, it invariably happens that after two years less have been archived due to relative politicking and foot-dragging on the key issues such as constitutional reform, the building of our roads, youth employment, institutional reform as well as the reduction of food prices. Addressing these issues are fundamental and essential in governance and for the healing process.
Is Barrow deviating from the Coalition agenda?
It might be a bit lost or a slippery slope to say that President Barrow is within the agenda of the Coalition. Frankly speaking and at a personal level, I believe the question is rhetorical because we need not be political scientists to know that Barrow has deviated from coalition agenda even before the middle of his first year in 2017. I think what is essential here for Barrow or any other politician in The Gambia to understand is that “the coalition agreement is not the Bible” as Von Stetten of German once told journalists. However, if Barrow and seven other opposition members, ages above 50 or 60, a combination of bona fide Muslims and Christians, presumably God fearing people could agree before coming to power. What on earth would he deviate from that agreement? Does he have the country at heart? The Gambia is an interesting case study in term of how it’s politic evolves and influenced by the small elites.
It seems that history is repeating itself because we saw that Jammeh promised Gambians that he would stay in power for two years and go back to the barracks—describe politics as dirty and unholy. However, certain people in the country micro-managed him by mobilizing selfish people who do not have the country at heart to shower praises on Jammeh and prevail on him to form APRC. Jammeh ruled us for 22 consecutive years with iron knuckles even more than our colonial masters who have enslaved us. As a consequent, it might not be farfetched to replicate President Barrow with Jammeh because of their desire to extend their stay in power. Because currently, what Barrow is doing alludes to the same path dependency theory of broken promises, which Jammeh and his flatterers substantively explored. The truth is, Barrow’s coalition government did not come to power with policy agenda. They only agree on whom to select as Coalition flag bearer to get rid of Jammeh, but overwhelmingly failed to agree on how to formulate policy agendas that would translate our meager resources into equitable resources and replace the tyrannical rule with genuine democratic change. In this manner, every Gambian citizen would have a fair share of national resources because the system in place will serve as checks and balances to eliminate corruption and poverty. It is equally important to remind Barrow about Robert Greene famous quote that “Reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation alone you can initiate and win; once it slips, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides.”
Will Barrow have any chance in the 2021 presidential election?
Barrow succeeding or not succeeding in the 2021 presidential election is a question of living up to the vicissitudes of the political dynamics he found himself. Meaning, it will ostensibly depend on the political dynamics, which will shape the behavior of the electorates. More importantly, it will also depend on the types of political parties we have in the country who can rigorously and robustly engage and compel the voters about their agenda through civic education. Honestly, I would not underestimate Barrow and his team because, in context, they are well situated, but the application of the theoretical method to succeed has some severe fundamental discrepancies. Admittedly, Barrow is ill-equipped with all the instruments variables and if he knew how to translate them into equitable resources for the ordinary people, can make him a salable candidate. However, understanding and having the practical skills to transform the Gambia is a different thing. More so, due to the concept of modernization, resources or wealth might not be a necessary and sufficient condition to buy people’s steadfast loyalty. By and large, Barrow may conceptually find it tremendously challenging to win the hearts and minds of Gambians after deviating from the programmatic agenda of the Coalition. What does his deviation reveal to Gambian? Is he someone to be trusted? What has he achieved or accomplished in term of development or ameliorating the sufferings of the poor people and the unemployed youths? What are the status of our hospitals, schools, security sector, electricity and roads? Are the needs and aspirations of the victims of Jammeh been addressed and healed? I think these are some of the questions that await Barrow at the next election.
What is your take on the reshuffling of cabinet?
The reshuffling of Barrow’s cabinet is not a surprise to me because any political science theorist would know that Barrow’s appointments of many of these UDP folks, including his former vice president, Darboe were an attempt to purge them since they have reached the pinnacle of power. As Bruce Bueno Mesquita, political scientist would argue that the longest a coalition government stays intact is between 6 to 12 months and it will start disintegrating. This means that in politics, there is no bedfellow. However, Gambian should now be well schooled from the manipulative mechanism Jammeh used to rule us for 22 years through purging. Now, under democratic context, we should be more prudent and vigilant about those coercive apparatus. Overall, the reshuffling could potentially be counterproductive by rendering Barrow’s government ineffective. I think this action has even become reflective in the daily operations and functions of the state. For example, what we have now is day-to-day politicking. Our state house is turned to a campaign platform while other opposition parties like UDP, GDC and others are also campaigning, which would ostensibly affect Barrow in focusing on his programmatic agenda.
In theory, I think we are yet to see formidable transparency initiatives that can direct toward greater government accountability. The Gambia is a “ticking bomb” after transitioning to democracy. What has happened since January 2016 is a longstanding assumption about how democracies can—and should—emerge in the aftermath of 22 years of authoritarian endurance in The Gambia. Even the neoconservatives, who seemed passionately attached to the notion of democratic revolution, told us, post-dictatorship is never easy and would take a generational struggle for consolidate democratic norms to gain root. This is why people are often asked to be patient, and to wait. To move toward democracy, they would first have to build a secular middle class, reach a certain level of economic growth, and, somehow, foster a democratic culture. It was never quite explained how a democratic culture could emerge under dictatorship so quickly without following the trajectories we are now following in The Gambia. In this vein, I predict our struggle for democracy will not be in vain, but it would also not be easy for The Gambia for the next ten years to come. We have lots of challenges and task ahead because you know it or not the old regime always wants to make a come-back. In retrospect, the former government of Jammeh’s moral, economic, social, political and human rights abuses are embedded all over our institutions. This kind of malady is a rock bed that is extremely difficult to uproot in our system unless we have a committed, sincere and influential leader surrounded by competent technocrats to avert this problem. If not, thus the country will slide back into what we fought against two years ago—dictatorship.
What would you recommend to the Coalition as regards Barrow’s fate?
I would recommend to the Coalition to see the interest of the country first. The national interest surpasses the individual interest, and each Coalition member will account for what he or she did for the country here or even in the next world. While it is equally essential for Barrow, as well as those brothers, fathers, sisters and uncles who surround him, should know that the collective interest of The Gambia trumps the individual interest. Barrow should be ready to take the mantle and lead The Gambia to a prosperous nation where his children and our children would have good roads, excellent universities meant for exploration of research in the sciences, social sciences and technology. I am with the fervent belief that is easy to develop a country like The Gambia with a population less than 2 million people, less than the population of Wisconsin in the U.S.Crisscrossing the State House should not be taken for granted for little chit-chat “Bantaba” only to project for one’s political goals while ignoring the sick and the poor who are struggling to make ends meet. It is therefore apparent and incumbent upon all Gambians, notably our intellectuals to see the future of our country instead of seeing the short-term benefits. Let them expose the regime where it deems fit, but also be a source of guidance to the government for good governance thrive. Because history is also about to indelibly record their names for good or worst as it thus for Jammeh and the rest. Ultimately, the things that had held back The Gambia include an ineffective and corrupt state and a society where they cannot use their talent, ambition, ingenuity, and what education they can get. However, we all recognize that the root of these problems is political. All the economic, institutional, constitutional and even security reform impediments we faced stem from the way political power is exercised and monopolized by the few elites. We all understand they are the first that have to change. Overall, these transparency initiatives are a welcome step in the right direction towards greater government accountability. Departments must be made more accountable in each functional area, and the public can track progress, costs and changes in how the government at all levels interacts with its citizens.