By Madi Jorbateh
What does this statement? Who are those who make this claim? What is their motive? Nowadays it is common to hear some Gambians claim that people should leave the Barrow Government alone to do their job because we elected the government.
When you raise an issue or concern, they tell you that you cannot speak about that because you are not an expert in that area. Some would even go to the ludicrous height of questioning what you did during the past 22 brutal years. Some even claim that we cannot know better than the government because the government is led by knowledgeable people. Some entertained the meaningless idea that in fact Barrow inherited a 22-year brutal regime. There are others that even give the impression that the government and Pres. Barrow cannot and will not do anything wrong!
But we all know that experts make mistakes. Leaders make mistakes. Governments make mistakes. The evidence of that is right now unfolding before us at the Janneh Commission. Therefore why are we thinking that Barrow and his government cannot make a mistake? Are we trying to say that Barrow is God and therefore knows everything and cannot make a mistake? Are we trying to say that all the people who work in our public service and security sector are infallible human beings? In which society have we seen citizens “leave the government alone to do its job”? In fact what does that idea mean in the first place?
Jawara was the first president of The Gambia, yet we know that he made lot of mistakes, deliberately or not. After 30 years in power he left The Gambia poor with weak institutions and poor social services with widespread corruption. During his tenure many Gambians joined opposition parties and other groups to challenge Jawara in the way he managed the country.
At that time people did not say let us leave Jawara alone because he knows everything and he can do everything. Instead many Gambians stood up by raising issues and concerns. No one said let us give time or space to Jawara because he inherited a government from the colonialists who were ruling The Gambia since 1889. We did not qualify anyone as an expert before they could speak their mind.
When Yaya Jammeh overthrew the Jawara regime, most Gambians welcomed the coup because they considered it at least a necessary evil to break the long and inefficient rule of the PPP. By then most Gambians expressed goodwill towards Jammeh wishing him to succeed. As citizens we wanted the best for country and ourselves and therefore people engaged the junta in various ways until we got out of the transition period and ushered in the Second Republic.
But since assuming power, Jammeh illegally personalised the entire state and all of its institutions and resources. The current Janneh Commission is now showing how Jammeh had circumvented, damaged and ignored all laws, processes, rules and procedures just to enrich and entrench himself. He had engaged in all forms of human rights abuses including subjecting Gambians to health hazards in his fake treatment programs for HIV/Aids and other diseases. He mismanaged the entire public sector and suppressed both the parliament and the courts to serve only his whims and caprices. Yet he was a president who was leading a government!
While indeed many Gambians aided and abetted him in various ways, there were also very many Gambians who stood up to him in various ways and means. We did not say at that time that we should give Jammeh time and space because he inherited a corrupt government of 30 years. We did not say only experts should speak. We all spoke up in our various ways. Many took to online radios, Whatsapp groups and other social media platforms to vent out their issues and concerns.
Most of us in opposition parties and other civil and armed groups opposed to Jammeh did not condemn each other for not being experts. We did not say let us leave Jammeh alone because he knows everything and he can do everything. Rather we exposed his mistakes and condemned him.
Therefore when we got to 2017 with a new president and government, one would imagine that all Gambians should learn from the Jawara and Jammeh experiences. From that history it should tell us that it is not necessarily true that an elected president or a government will always be honest, open and effective. There is evidence around the world that in many cases presidents and governments get corrupt deliberately and underperform and mismanage public resources. The reason why there is poverty and conflicts and abuse in any society is because leaders and governments fail to do the right thing. Not that they do not know their job but rather they deliberately abuse their office and flout the rules.
Thus if The Gambia gets to this level, it is indeed shocking for anyone to therefore conclude that Barrow and his Cabinet know everything and they will do things right. Yes, we expect them to know and do the right thing, but it is also true that they might not know and do the right all the time. Hence it is necessary that all citizens voice out their issues and concerns. We can disagree with each other’s opinions, but we must not suppress each other on the basis that one is not an expert or that the government knows what it must do or even ask that we give Barrow chance or time.
In democratic governance, there is nothing like giving time or chance to a president. What is chance? How much time should you give to an elected president in a term of five years? In politics, presidents or politicians are not saints or angels. History has shown that corruption and violations in any country is caused by presidents and politicians. It is presidents and politicians who are the leaders of society entrusted with public institutions and resources to manage. Yet in many cases, these leaders mismanage, plunder and abuse.
Therefore why should we think that Barrow is different from Tony Blair or Yahya Jammeh or Dawda Jawara or Donald Trump or Emanuel Macron or Macky Sall or Mobutu or Jacob Zuma or Paul Kagame or Xi Jinping or Ellen Johnson Sirleaf? They are or were all presidents and politicians and leaders. God bless The Gambia.
Madi Jobarteh is the deputy executive director of the Association of Non-Governmental Organistions, Tango.