On leadership: A letter to my friend


Dear Sheriff,

It has been quite a while since we last conversed on this platform under the inspiring title of your making, “Epistolary”. I woke up with some inspired thoughts this morning and felt it is urgent that I share some of these mental impulses with your esteemed readership.

My topic for today is Leadership. Of course you know my interest in this subject, over the years, to the point of creating my own youth empowerment and mentorship outfit labeled “Sabally Leadership Academy”. This is due to the fact that I believe our problems as communities and nations on this continent are wrapped up in one word Leadership.


But as you must have found out over the years, Leadership, is more complex than what appears to eyes on the fringes. You know that it is easier to criticise leaders and their actions than to become one who would deliver in spite of the odds. You have been blessed to be on the critical side of things as you penned dozens of essays very critical of this country’s leadership even as you manned an institution owned by the man at the helm of affairs of our nation back then. Then you came to join the leadership and so you know how it feels to be at the top, under the beaming, and often cynical, searchlights of the nation’s critics.

Whatever your own experience in the corridors of power, I will never forget that you were brave enough to pen the immortal lines of a poem entitled “Canny Lie”. Nor would I ever forget your “Letter to My Nephew” and the immortal lines you threw at your recalcitrant ‘nephew’: you are sans power, sans ability sans capability!


So much for the digression and now to my point; one of the features I like about Facebook is the memory bit of it that throws to your face things you posted a year or years back on the ‘anniversary’ of the post. This past weekend some memories popped up about things that happened when I was leading the Observer Company as well as GRTS. The first was a news report video that heralded the first Sarahulé news magazine programme on TV initiated under my leadership at GRTS. A good Samaritan, incidentally hailing from your town, Brikama, tagged me to the post. And sure enough, I said, “Alhamdulillaah! How good it is to sow the good seed when you are in position of leadership!”

And then this morning again, another gentleman from Brikama tagged me to a post that heralded the initiation of another programme that started when I was head of the state broadcaster. This GRTS’ “Perspective on Gambian Music Show” later metamorphosed into the current “Top Notch Convo” still airing on national TV. And it all reminded me of something you told me when you were Information Minister under Jammeh. Discussing the difficulties of serving in Jammeh’s cabinet where things were, more often than not, out of your control even regarding matters clearly within your purview as Minister, you told me this “all I do is to try to do as much good as possible and to help as many people as I can while I serve in this office!”

The above two are among the good seeds I sowed while occupying public office by the Grace of Allah. As for the not-so-good seeds, you will have to wait for my memoir, set for release in a few weeks insh’Allah.
So how then does one play effective leadership roles in “our small town” as you would put it?
My take is to realise that regardless of the processes that one goes through to become a leader, be it elections or otherwise; leadership is a favour from Allah as He clearly tells us in Sural Ali Imran: “Say: O Allah, Master of the Kingdom! Thou givest the kingdom to whomsoever Thou pleasest and takest away the kingdom from whomsoever Thou pleasest, and Thou exaltest whom Thou pleasest and abasest whom Thou pleasest in Thine hand is the good; surely, Thou hast power over all things.”

In view of the foregoing one should know and act the fact that a position of leadership is a trust, an honour and a favour that one must exercise with due diligence and commitment to the principles of the entity that one leads. It is true, what my former boss at the Central Bank told me about leadership; he said in Wolof “Foroh-Neh la”, it is bittersweet. So one should be able to enjoy the privileges while bearing the not-so-pleasant parts of it especially in this our small town where things easily get personal. It is my contention that no matter how bitter the experiences, if you are endowed with the qualities of a leader, you should never shy away from that duty whenever you see it fit to step up to the challenge.

The haters and naysayers will always be there to berate and chide you as a leader. You should not let that make you decide to take a backseat because as my son Muhammed recently posted on a comment of his mentor at “The Voice”, Lamin K Saidy, what the philosopher Plato said is right “one of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being led by your inferiors!” What a fact!!!

Looking at the terrain in Africa, over the years, we have had some of the worst dictators the world has ever seen. But where were our thinkers and intellectuals all along. Why have they disappeared from the scenes when they were needed the most? You know I am not sure whether I will ever do this, but a friend has recently told me to do a special issue of a magazine with the subject “The Great Retreat” focusing on fact that most Gambian intellectuals went MIA during the past 22 years. What were the factors that orchestrated this and what is the verdict on this state of affairs?

My good friend, why should the unbridled tongues of the cynics and the haters cage us away from our natural roles in society? You know, I once saw an Adidas T Shirt worn by a market vendor while I was on my customary Saturday ‘nduga’ with my wife at Bakoteh Market. It read: “Haters will always be haters.” This is so true because whether you assume your rightful role in society or not people will always chide you and call you names; and I do believe that such matters get worse if you fail to take the roles Allah has assigned for you through the passions that burn in your heart as sense of purpose. Is it not a verse of the Qur’an in Surah Furqan that teaches us “And thus have We made for every prophet an enemy from among the criminals and sinners. But sufficient is your Lord as a guide and a helper.”?

So who are we as secular mortal leaders that we should not face the criticism and vengeful verbiage of haters and cynical bloggers? And speaking of that, I saw a New York Times tweet earlier this week that got me laughing the whole day. Here’s what they quoted US Senator John McCain as saying: “Stop listening to the bombastic loudmouths on the radio and television and the Internet. To hell with them. They don’t want anything done for the public good. Our incapacity is their livelihood.”

I don’t know about you, my good friend, but for me leadership is now a paramount goal of my life; only with the caveat that leadership doesn’t have to mean presidency or a cabinet position, a distinction that most of us fail to note; thereby leading to serious political problems on the continent. Let us build the qualities and habits of leadership with a view to be of service in our communities and organisations.

And now lest I bore you my friend, let me conclude with some observations I proffered as advice in a keynote speech I delivered at the end of an Intensive Leadership Training Seminar organised by Cross Road Youth Development Association last month: “Our young aspiring leaders must learn to respect and support the current leaders. It is okay to defer and to criticise; but disagreeing does not have to mean being disagreeable. The culture of apprenticeship should also be enhanced in our systems so that young people can have practical avenues to learn and grow under competent experts and leaders. It is okay to aspire but what is even more important than aspiration is perspiration!”

My good friend, hear the words of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “let us then be up and doing with a heart for any fate!” Surely that is inspiring; but my personal soundtrack of late has been one composed by your brother from Brikama, the one and only Brikama Boyo, ST: “sing kuntu mang Kunta Kinteh stop-no ntol beh motivate rinneh. Lyrical Musa Molloh, nkoyyeh nteh long Kunta Kinteh ti!”

I will let you render ST’s lyrics into the Queen’s tongue (like you did for Foday Musa Suso on the “Jooka”) for your non-Mandinka speaking readers, if and when you decide to respond to this letter. In the mean time, let me bid you farewell with the ringing vibes of our mutual friend, Mr Mention. None said it better than Buju Banton, and this is certainly fitting for the subject of leadership:

It’s not an easy road
Many see the glamour and the glitter
And think it’s a bed of rose
Who feels it knows
Lord help me sustain the blows…
God bless your pen my friend.
Momodou Sabally
Former Presidential Affairs Minister.

Momodou Sabally is a prolific author; Founder and CEO of Sabally Leadership Academy (SLA)