By Madi Jobarteh
On Saturday 2, December the Coalition and President Barrow launched a massive celebration at the Buffer Zone marking the first anniversary of the end of dictatorship in The Gambia. As typical in our history, scores of citizens were transported from around the country to grace the occasion. The same musicians who sang and praised Jawara and then Yahya Jammeh were again on stage to sing the praises of the new dispensation. T-shirts and ashobi dresses bearing the head of the president were in full display depicting the same old practice of celebrating leaders in the name of the country. This is how personality cult and dictatorship are built and nurtured through patronage and sycophancy in any society.
I wish to therefore state my total opposition to this celebration because this is not what The Gambia needs. Yes, we have ended 22 years of dictatorship but we are a nation of 52 years in which poverty, deprivation and inadequate social services remain widespread and supreme. The country faces so much dire conditions that the idea of celebration must not have existed in the first place. Rather our nation needed to mark this first year of democracy with a national stocktaking exercise.
I expected that Barrow and the Coalition leaders would have known that what we needed was a national conversation after one year in office. In the first place it was important that Barrow makes a national address and convene a press conference. This was necessary to report back to the people and address prevailing issues and concerns. Such national address and press conference would have provided assurances to the population as he lays out his efforts, achievements, challenges and the way forward so as to generate more confidence and hope in the people. But sadly neither the government nor any political party made any public statement on the occasion of this first anniversary!
I expected the government and the coalition to develop an all-encompassing, relevant and inspiring theme for this one year anniversary as the platform to mobilise the people toward a common national objective. For that matter, what we needed were various public forums held across the country where political leaders and government officials report back to the people. This would have further strengthened this government and the leadership of Barrow. It would have promoted the culture of transparency and accountability as well as lay the basis for the building and nurturing of a democratic culture.
These public conversations would have engaged the people to speak to their issues and concerns and how and where they think The Gambia should go. Citizens would reflect on the gains registered so far and the issues that lie ahead so that everyone would have repositioned and refocused himself or herself in building a future where we can obtain both individual and collective prosperity. We must bear in mind that we still have many victims of the dictatorship who are still languishing in pain and misery!
It is therefore sad that a very huge opportunity has once again been lost to Barrow and his government like many before. This government and the coalition needs to understand that they must first and foremost be seen to promote the supreme interests of The Gambia over their individual and partisan political objectives and future. They must not use national issues as a cover to promote partisan objectives or give their partisan interests a national character just to promote their individual political objectives.
This was the practice under Jawara and Jammeh where national events are celebrated under the cloak of their parties or they give their party activities a national character. Such practices must stop in the New Gambia! This is unfair to Gambians.
The brandishing of T-shirts and ashobi dresses bearing the face of President Barrow is the same practice we saw in this country for decades at every national event. One year after the defeat of dictatorship the celebration should not be about Adama Barrow. It should be a national event. If one person’s face is to be shown on a T-shirt then all citizens faces must be shown on all T-shirts. Hence we do not need any person’s face on a T-shirt. Rather, we needed to see Gambia T-shirts and Gambia ashobi. Gambians defeated the dictatorship. It was Gambians who brought democracy and the anniversary of that event must be to celebrate The Gambia and no one else.
Now that the Gambia Government under President Adama Barrow and the coalition have misused a national event for their own individual and partisan political objectives, the time has come for the rest of the Gambian citizens to commemorate this anniversary in a better way. Let us open discussion forums to assess The Gambia one year after the fall of the dictatorship. Are our expectations met? Is President Barrow effectively responding to our needs and practically protecting our rights? Is The Gambia government upholding the ideals of democracy and good governance? Let us ask ourselves about what did we decide for and against on 1 December 2016 and is that decision being upheld or betrayed? After one year, are we on track or is it more of the same?
Let the people engage their parliamentarians and public officers to ask the fundamental questions about bread and butter. Let us bear in mind that the protection of human rights and promotion of good governance will not be necessarily done by President Adama Barrow or the Minister of Justice or the Inspector General of Police even though the law requires them to do so. We can only obtain good governance and ensure protection of human rights and the satisfaction of our needs when citizens become consciously vigilant and actively participate in the affairs of the nation.
Citizens must realise that in practice they are the leaders of the country and not the president. Let us make the president follow us in the protection of our rights and the satisfaction of our needs as spelt out in Chapter 4 of the Constitution. Democracy is a political system in which the will of the people determine the manner of governance.
Hence in a democracy, it is the people who lead and rule. We must not follow leaders anyhow. Rather citizens must make leaders follow the will of the people. In its 50 years of independence, Gambians have only followed leaders. First, Jawara ruled for 30 years only to deliver us to poverty. Next came Yahya Jammeh to also rule for 22 years of blood and tears. Therefore the lessons are too many for Gambians to once again follow any leader anyhow. For The Gambia, our homeland!