Great people die every day. Yet not all of them affirm for us the goodness in humanity and leadership the way Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara did. He passed away last year August 28th, 2019, and left a legacy of positive experiences in participatory and deliberative democracy, bereft of any authoritarianism or dictatorship, laden with consultations and inclusivity. Most young people may not know Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara but they can learn from the legacy he left.
Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara was a professional veterinary Doctor. Contrary to popular opinion, his career as a politician wasn’t one he chose because it paid big bucks (at that time such jobs don’t pay). It was a huge sacrifice, he said “after just five years of work I was already head of the government department and earning a European-scale salary! Others were surprised that I was sacrificing the sweets of such high office to answer to the call of my people”. Rather, he had a passion for serving the Gambian people he said, “I went to bed resolved to take the challenge in spite of many people’s concern about my career and my young family; I was ready to serve faithfully and diligently in any situation I found myself”. This is to confirm, he didn’t take the path of politics because it was easy. If that were true, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with it.
His passion and hard work led him to become a great leader with the ability to navigate the perils of leadership, guided by the strong believe in the message of unity; One Gambia, One Nation and ensure PPP become the party of the people, by promoting inclusiveness and ensuring that leadership of the party are mere servants of the people, hence the reason for the Motto: Vox Popli Vox Die (The Voice of the People is the Voice of God) making sure whatever decision he made would have to be approved by the majority within the executive or the general body of the party. Imbued with these values, he successfully became an elected Prime Minister and eventually to become the first President of the Republic of the Gambia after successfully taking the Gambia to independence in 1965. He took tons of public criticism with diplomacy and grace along the way to unify the country. Especially when it becomes clear to the world that he wanted full independence. So many people disagreed with him that he was too ambitious, in that the Gambia virtually have no resources to sustain itself as a country. The viability of the country was questionable, hence the infamous phrase, “an improbable nation” from skeptics.
Sir Dawda Kairaba, loved the people and was willing to do the hard work it takes to build all kinds of relationships both at home and abroad, irrespective of their political or ideological persuasions. He intentionally built the kind of relationships in the Gambia especially with his style of politics, he was able to bring people together. This enabled him to achieve tangible results and will be the first to acknowledge everyone’s efforts in collectively attaining a goal.
It would have been easy for him to slip into an authoritative power mode as he was under immense pressure to declare the Gambia a one-party state as was the norm at the time, but because of Sir Dawda’s humility and democratic convictions, he did not fall for such temptations! He chose the path of Multi-Party Democracy, the rule of law and respect for the dignity of human rights. These values earned him the international accolades that culminated in locating the headquarters of the African center for Human rights in The Gambia, in recognition of his efforts to promote and broker peace. This is what he had to say “In all my time in politics in or out of office, my preferred role has been to influence my surroundings with the principles of equity and to encourage due consideration of divergent views. Difficult as the actual practice of fairness, thoughtfulness and tolerance were, they were central to the focus and conduct of the convicted democrat. Every conflict in the field of human endeavor needs the benefit of hearing the other side. If it is true that every face tells a story, then listening to the other side becomes paramount in the search for peaceful solution”. Of-cause, Sir Dawda as a human being also made his share of mistakes. The difference between him and other leaders is that he pondered those mistakes and quietly learned from them. They weren’t made a second time, and he grew and developed because he had a learning mindset. We all thought we knew him, but now we know that we would have liked to have known him even better and had him stay around longer.
If we could look back on who he was and what he did, I think it came as no surprised to see that his passion for prosperity, democracy , upholding the rule of law, respecting the constitution drove the Gambia to higher heights and ideals than the one he inherited. Before independence Gambia had only ten university graduates, most of whom are medical doctors, it has no natural resources, the book written by Berkeley Rice explained the situation of Gambia at the time, but with his determination and foresight the Gambia is still a sovereign state. He also embodied the mantra of “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Sir Dawda not only made positive changes in the Gambia he was a part of, but he also cared about people. He believed that positive change and caring about people were intricately linked.
Sir Dawda was also known for mentoring others in the profession he loved; he was the “go-to” person for young leaders to gain the self-confidence needed to do the difficult work of public service. He sought to develop the people who worked in Public Service because he knew they would be better leaders as a result of what they learned.
It is right to say that Sir Dawda will be missed, or that he went away too soon. The bottom line is that he was a great leader. And when you pulled back the curtain of all that entails, you can also see that he was also a good person who cared about others. We can all learn a lot about his leadership style and humanity by following Sir Dawda’s many examples. May his soul continue to Rest in Perfect Peace!!!