On 1 Dec. 2016, we had a tryst with destiny, to vote out or not. We chose the road less travelled by in our part of the world. Disgusted with our status as a pariah nation, we walked out of the shadows of a Colossus of a tyrant, to find our truer meaning and self, to live life as an independent sovereign, to take charge of our destiny, to pursue our dreams as a member of the comity of nations, to taste, once again, the sweetness of liberty, equality, freedom, democracy and good governance. The jubilation showed the people had enough of the humiliation, oppression, exploitation and suffocation at the hands of their bogeyman. People Power won the day.
Nine months since the new dawn, I am still full of hope and optimism that The Gambia would not only rise above her difficulties like the phoenix but would also emerge successful, happy and buoyant. We should not, though, lose sight of what suffering The Gambia endured, what sacrifices her children made and the price it was forced pay to purchase this newfound democracy and freedom. These ideals for which much was lost or given up should remind us of what we must do for ourselves and posterity. We have rediscovered ourselves, our pride and honour. The opportunities are still wide open. Like Nehru asked at India’s Independence in 1949, I ask too: ‘are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?” Hopefully we are. While I am optimistic that it would not rain, I still carry my umbrella.
‘New Gambia’ was the battle cry which energised and galvanised a whole nation, and provided the impetus which emboldened the foot soldiers and provided the vision for those at the vanguard. ‘New Gambia’ we all sang in unison, at least those who know how powerful that idea was. No army, no threat, no manipulation, no juggernaut was able to stop it. But ‘New Gambia’, as an idea or a force, to be a reality, a transformational slogan, must give birth to ‘New Gambians’, men and women who not only appreciate their past but are willing, ready and have the drive to abide by a new Code of Conduct, new set of values and principles, rule of law and democratic tenets, and are willing to be accountable to themselves and others.
While I agree that ‘old habits die hard’, New Gambia must insist on the total abandonment of unconscionable practices, total lack of values and creeds, indescribable credibility gap, utter contempt for rules and ‘due diligence’ and sheer disrespect for human rights and dignity which propped the Jammeh tyranny for that long. As said by the sage, we cannot usher in New Gambia with the same set of beliefs and values and same Old Gambian which created our problems in the first instance.
The Bible tells us that old wine must be removed a bottle before fresh wine is dispensed else the bottle will break. So too it must be with New Gambia. A new approach is required, one in which values are clarified and agreed upon, thorough sieving done and new orientation, based on what we all agree New Gambia stands for, articulated and manifested in other behaviours and attitude, the badge of character we wear. There is New Gambia without the New Gambian and New Gambia is meaningless without the New Gambian. A lot of people in higher positions have lost trust with the people, have depleted their emotional bank accounts with the people and replenishment with be hard.
For New Gambia to become a reality, it cannot and must not be work as usual. We cannot continue to be defined by the old work methods, practices and thinking which brought us nothing but inefficiency, administrative malfeasance, abuse of power and abuse and complete rot. The civil service, or rather the heads, is still old wine in old bottle. New Gambia must set up its values and principles, its expectations and goal and insist that leaders and managers and all those on the pay roll of the tax payer align their personal values and creeds to these. Anyone whose values and creeds are out of sync or harmony must be regarded as a ‘misfit’ and therefore ‘at the wrong place’. New Gambia must endeavour to part ways with Old Gambia, to institute systems-change, otherwise what’s a revolution for? We cannot remove a Yaya Jammeh and still have miniature Yahya Jammeh’s straddling over most departments of our lives, or remain in the Yahya Jammeh mode.
The disheartening but sometimes utterly laughable revelations at the Commission of Inquiry show the definite need for not only systems change but also a clear enunciation of what New Gambia stands for, its values, creeds, ethics, etc. This is necessary because most of the ‘drivers’ of New Gambia are the Old Gambians, people who sheepishly followed orders without questioning, who sold their souls to the devil, danced and dined with the devil, connived with the power that be to rob the public treasury, threw all scruples to the wind, and abandoned their values and principles, if they had any. Without any value clarification with people in the service of the State, it could be the usual ‘how high should I jump?’ dangerous obedience. Thus, the State and its higher functionaries must articulate the New Gambia and its characteristics.
The sacrifice of the April 10 and 11 students (our first batch of freedom fighters), the Solos, the December 30th martyrs and all those who paid the ultimate price for the people was for us to be able to live in justice and dignity, to hold our heads high among the comity of nations, to enjoy freedom, liberty, human rights and be sovereign again, as individuals and a country. These ideals are not beyond our reach. But until we get them, our work will never be over. And getting them will require the jettisoning of old habits and practices and if need be, and there definitely is the need, the retirement of Old Gambia. New Gambia must insist on probity, transparency, accountability, consistency, character, integrity, trust, truth, honesty, leadership, citizenship, defence of what is right, justice, equity and equality, observance of the rule of law, respect for human dignity and honour, hard work and all those values every democratic person and nation must have and adhere to. . .
I know President Barrow does not have the magic wand, that this problem cannot be solved overnight with Government retreats or conferences. But exemplary leadership and individual commitment are essential. The Commission of Inquiry into the financial dealings of Jammeh tells all our leaders that whatever power that is gained through manipulation and control will eventual fail. Fear and deception may keep the citizens in line but these same people, when pushed to the corner, will throw off the yoke and regain their lost power. ‘True power and influence never come through fear, deception, or even compromise’. The New Gambian must not only know but must have the confidence that he or she can question, petition and if need be disobey orders and instructions that are illegal or against his or her service rules and work ethics without reprisal or intimidation, and would be given a fair hearing. Everyone on the payroll of the State must know that ‘doing things rights’ is different from ‘doing the right things’.
New Gambia is an idea whose time has come. And the New Gambian must be ready to embrace it. There is no turning back.