By Njundu Drammeh
“The significance of political democracy is primarily that the positions of power in society are open, in principle, to everyone, that there is competition for power, and that the holders of power at any time are accountable to the electorate” Bottomore.
My dearest friend, Madi Jobarteh, is making a very passionate plea for first degree, in whatever field of study, to become the minimum academic qualification that any aspiring candidate for our presidency must possess. He has made very compelling arguments in favour of.
Madi is an intellectual giant and very critical and analytical. But I seriously defer with on this aspect. I think on this my numero uno sparring partner is in Cloud Nine and needs to gracefully come down to earth. Of all his posts, of all your writings, this one, this argument, this rationalisation, this justification is idealistic, a tall order, suited for “gods”. I love standards and we must have them in whatever we do, in administration, management, service provision, human rights, etc. However when it comes to political participation, in a democracy, the standards which would exclude must be justifiable, justiciable, in the best interest of those who are excluded and proportionate. Setting a university degree as a minimum requirement for political participation, to be voted for as President, falls flat on it face as it cannot be said to be in the best interest of those excluded.
Madi has made a strong argument for the acquisition of a university degree, how it prepares one for life in the future. And none is pooh poohing that. We should all aspire to acquire university education, to get that degree. And I respect anyone who’s gone to university to bag that degree. Really worth celebrating when one is awarded it.
But that is where the meeting of our minds end. Transferring his argument to the political field, and insisting that to be President of the Gambia one has to have a university degree is elitist in form and nature. “Elitist” in political theory because its basis is that only people with the rigours of university training through which one acquires special abilities, talents, analytical mind, superior intellect [ I doubt if university actually gives these “abilities”] can be President. It is wrong in both theory and practice. Examples abound and he has referenced them.
Madi’s argument itself goes against “democracy”, a government of the people, for the people and by the people. Its key element is popular participation. Your argument is in support of “government for the people” and opposed to “government by the people”…. Madi wants to give the presidency to holders of a first degree and above, his minimum academic qualification for an aspiring presidential candidate, not because of their leadership quality, capability, economic acumen or entrepreneurial skill but mainly because of their superior education. This presupposes that the vast majority of the people, due to the non-possession of a university degree, are not fit to be President.
Madi’s theory does not seem to believe that the people, the vast majority of the people, can engage in serious policy decision making and understanding and cannot entrust them that critical role. He wants them to have the “right to vote” for the President but not the “right to be voted for” as President. He is afraid that if a vast majority of the people, non-elite, have the right to be voted for as President, they would not be able to analyse the vast data they would be receiving, would not be able to analyse and put into perspective the array of conflicting interests and powers they would be confronted with. Only people with university degree can confront such mammoth tasks. By this argument, the sole basis of democracy becomes one thing, election of the “rulers”.
The people are capable of rational thinking and behaviour. That is not the preserve of only those who have university degree or undergone the rigours of university education. Democracy is maintained by the masses, the basis of good democracy being active citizens and citizenship.
The great optimist he is Madi believes “Requiring university degree will make our society cherish knowledge as the basis of our politics, engagement and governance as a whole. It will cleanse our politics from sectarian and personality politics to am issue based politics. It will kill patronage and abuse and promote equality and non-discrimination”. Unfortunately the criterion he wants to promote will cause exactly these “sectarianism, personality politics, patronage, abuse, inequality and discrimination”. How can two-thirds of the people considered unfit for critical thinking and analysis, unprepared by a university, control one-third or less with superior ability and education? The vices of politics are fought through strong institutions, not by people with university degree.
Elections do not necessarily give the people the “best” person as President. A flaw of majority rule. We must insist that political parties give us aspiring presidential candidates who fit the description, through party mechanisms and processes which would get the best. We must encourage the learned to have interest in politics, to join political parties and learn and grow therein. Our better bet for have great leaders is through political parties.
University degree is an important asset. But more important for political leadership are leadership qualities and education through a political party which prepares one for political leadership. I respect Madi’s opinions but I disagree with them.