Mr President: Speaking truth to power

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With Aisha Jallow

Mr President, some days ago I saw an interview with you where you said that you are not a politician, you are a businessman.You made it sound almost like it would be your advantage to be a businessman.Is it really?

A businessman is always looking for his best deal – what’s in it for him in every deal. That is a good trait for a businessman, his first and foremost task is to make money – for himself and for his company. The problem is that The Gambia is not a company. Being a president for The Gambia is not a source of income, it is a confidence that the Gambian people repose in you. They trusted that you would be the man of the people, the man who should lead them out from their misery.

Have you? Can you look at yourself in the mirror and say that you are proud of what you have accomplished this far? I don’t think so. Deep down somewhere, in a corner of your mind, you might feel a sting of bad conscience. You try to act as a president of today should, but you don’t know how. You fumble and stumble, get irritated when people question you. You are unable to communicate with the citizens of The Gambia, your sisters and brothers. They believed in you, they trusted that you would make their lives easier. The expectations were high, and rightfully so. The expectations should be high on a president. If you are not able to live up these expectations, then you are not the right man for the post.

So many times you promised that you will stay for three years and then it is up to the Gambian people to decide. The reality bit you after a while and suddenly this promise was only hot air. You said yourself in another interview that in times of election you can say anything. No, Mr President, you can’t! Not anymore, not today, not when everything you say in public is recorded and can (and will) be found on the Internet. You shouldn’t improvise when you speak in public, not many have that control over their own minds and are able to think while they are speaking. When you speak in public you must choose your words wisely or they will come back and haunt you.

I feel sorry for you, Mr President. I think you are trying to be a leader but you really don’t have the capacity. You didn’t want to step down after three years because you had the sense that you wouldn’t be re-elected. You don’t seem to realise that this is clear as the day for everyone – but you. You cling to power because it thrives you. This is the first and probably the last time in your life when you will have this much influence. The problem is that this influence is not here for you to use for your own purposes. You are a servant to the people of The Gambia. They are the ones who should use you for getting a better life, not the other way round. It is sad that you don’t understand that by yourself, and it is sad that you are surrounded by bad advisers.

A great leader must be able to listen to advice as well as criticism without getting a temper tantrum. The walls of the State House might be thick, but gossip peeps out from every little crack in the plaster on the walls. A weak leader surrounds himself with back-patters and yes-men. Co-workers are not chosen for their merits, but for their abilities to keep friends with you. You tell us that you are a businessman, you almost brag about it, but if you run a business like this, would it become prosperous?

Are you familiar with the expression: ”Actions speak louder than words”? This expression can be interpreted in various ways, but as I am the person I am I will twist this expression around a bit. My variation of it in your case would be this: Inaction speaks louder than words.

In one of the interviews I heard you that three years is not enough to achieve all you need to do, not even five years! This is true, but sadly I’m not able to take you seriously because from what we have seen this far, it would take forever to get anything done with this lack of speed. Where is the commitment, where is the passion, where is the encouragement to all citizens of The Gambia that together we will build up a strong economy and a good life for everyone? They have lost the little hope they had in you , Mr President. Isn’t that sad? A new era began, people were filled with hope and joy, and now what?

The corruption has become even worse than before because you are not even able to keep it outside your own household. Mr President, all your actions are sending signals to the people, and what do you think the citizens of The Gambia think about you? What do you want them to think about you? Do you want the people to look at you and say that this is a man of honour? Do you want the people to speak about you and praise all your achievements? Are you prepared for the truth, or does everything you hear has to be sugarcoated? The truth, Mr President, is that only those you have bought are satisfied with you. Only those who have something to gain from your position say they are satisfied with you. Of course they say that, because they know that if they will upset you somehow, you will kick them out.

The truth about the situation in The Gambia is that the rate of criminality is high. Domestic violence is still a norm, gender-based violence the same. Still we have a lot of poor kids who do not go to school because their parents can’t afford it. These kids have to work at farms, in the tanka-tankas, as apprentices in garages doing small repairments without proper training and proper safety gear. You see kids out on the streets late in the evenings, trying to sell some fruit. What happens to these kids if they get home late and haven’t been able to sell enough or even have been robbed of their small money? What happens to these vulnerable kids who are an easy prey for paedophiles and other maniacs? Have you any plan for how you are going to help these kids, Mr President?

What about the girls who die of infections or blood loss because of FGM? It is against the law in The Gambia, but we all know that this custom still exists and still we have people who defend it. Do you have daughters, Mr President? Are you prepared to risk their lives and let them suffer as so many other girls have done? FGM is a sensitive subject to speak about, but still we must do that. So many men have no clue how FGM is performed, but you can find instructive videos on Youtube if you are interested. Let us just say that the private parts are cut with a knife, or a razor blade or something else more or less sharp. The same tool is used on all girls, no disinfectant available. I will not give more details, but all of you who have cut yourself on something will understand the pain. So, Mr President, did you become a bit pale? Good! I wanted you to react, because then you might act and do something about this issue.

I could give you a long list of issues you need to deal with, but isn’t it strange that I, being a toubab who is living far away from The Gambia, apparently more committed to the welfare of the Gambians than you?

You might ask yourself why on earth I am writing about problems in a country that is not my own. I can tell you why, Mr President; because I love The Gambia and I hate injustice. I’m originally from Finland, a very small and war-torn country in Scandinavia. My people were killed, they were imprisoned and tortured. People starved to death and when the war finally was over Finland had nothing. So many men had died in the war and Finland had lost a part of the country to Russia. What we did have was a very good president – Urho Kekkonen. He was a strong leader, he was determined to build up Finland to something it hadn’t been before.

Before World War 2, Finland’s economy was mainly focused on agriculture. As the country is small, about half the size of Sweden, and the climate is cold it is not easy to grow anything there. What Finland had, after the war, was great forests and the timber could be sold to make money. People were willing to work hard to build up the country. President Kekkonen decided that we were not going to borrow money from abroad. What we will achieve will be through our own hard work and determination.

I come from a small country with proud, hard working people. I know that it is possible to build up something from nothing if you are determined. President Urho Kekkonen is my rolemodel. He was a man of the people, he was a strong leader who did everything in his power to encourage the Finns and build up the country. Look at Finland now, it has one of the strongest economies in the world and the students’ results are exceptional. If Finland could do that, why can’t The Gambia do the same? The answer is that The Gambia doesn’t have a strong leader who is a man of the people and who is determined to build up his country. You should have your loyalty to your people, Mr President, not to your bank account.

The day you have to step down from your throne and become a private citizen will be hard for you. It will be hard to go back to being a businessman, as you have told us that is your plan, because I doubt that many Gambians are prepared to pay for any of your services . They will wonder if you don’t have enough money already, money that they have paid you during your mandate period. Considering the large house you are building I don’t think your salary is enough to pay for that, so there must be other sources of income too. I know I am stepping on a sore toe now, but you need to hear the truth, Mr President. The truth hurts sometimes. Maybe it is time you step down from that white horse you have chosen to be your party symbol. A white horse? What has that to do with The Gambia? Kim Jong-Un, the leader of North Korea, is using the same animal as his symbol when he is trying to appear as a strong leader. (Kim Jong-Un is a dictator, if you didn’t know ).
Don’t gallop away too fast on your white horse, Mr President. The speed might make you blind to the people you meet.