In modern electoral politics, voters are often subjected to an elaborate game of bait and switch. Politicians – or at least most of them – looking for votes make you look at that thing over there while they do something else over here. The hyperbolic promises of a campaign — more roads, more schools, easier access to potable water, better pay for civil servants and security officers, lower taxes, better secco prices for groundnut and other farm produces and general prosperity for every Lamin and Fatou — would eventually give way to the glacial, knotty reality of governance after elections.
Every five years, the same game is replayed with the people. And yet it seemed we never learn – never learn to discern the politicians’ grain from the chaff and hold them accountable to their words. Here in The Gambia, most of our people look at politics and politicians with our hearts and not our heads. We join or follow politicians because they are our family members, members of our tribe, or hail from our village or region. Not because they are honest, upright, credible, competent and visionary.
Yet if the inept and corrupt people we vote into office fail to deliver to build the schools, roads and hospitals they promise on the campaign trail, we complain. When the garbage and refuse is left to litter the street and clog the gutters, we complain. When the school graduate pupils and students who are barely literate and ill-equipped for the workforce, we complain. When there are no monies at the seccos to buy the groundnut during the trading season, we complain and smuggle the nuts to Senegal. We complain but we do not have anyone to blame but ourselves because we put the wrong people in power.
Admittedly, sometimes it is because the people were not empowered with the right information to make informed choices. But most of the time, it is because of petty considerations based on nepotism, tribalism or regionalism. And we must own up to this failure on our part. As a country, we should be striving towards establishing rule by the people in the true sense of the word, beyond just one vote every five years. It has to be about inclusiveness, consensus, harmony, social justice, decentralisation, and enhanced civic engagement, to name a few. We have so many challenges ahead in each of these areas, many of which require systemic and perhaps even constitutional changes.
If we can stay focused on solving the challenges that face the country and worry less about who is going to be the next president, we might just make some headway in setting the country on the right track. If the media and the educated classes expand the debate beyond individual personalities and focus more on the issues and their prospective solutions, real leadership will automatically emerge — not in the form of one cult leader or prima donna who has all the answers.