By Madi Jobarteh
It carries life and death responsibilities. It is the most crucial position in the state in which the lives and destiny of all citizens lie. It is the office that has the highest accountability responsibility to ensure that all organs of government function to protect the rights and lives of citizens and deliver efficiently and responsively to citizen needs. It is the position that is responsible for the individual and collective security of each and every citizen.
It is the position that ultimately determines if our natural resources and tax money will be well utilized or wasted. The office of the president is the place that determines if our security institutions will be protectors of our lives and territorial integrity or will become weapons against citizens. This Office bears the responsibility in ensuring that the peace and stability of our country is assured or not.
Ultimately the quality of our democracy and governance depends first and foremost on the kind of person who holds the office of president. That president holds the key to the unity or division of our society.
Reading through the pages of history one can see how heads of states in various societies have either been catalysts for progress or agents of destruction. Societies fail or succeed largely and primarily because of the leadership they have, at the head of which is the president as the most critical and crucial.
United States has become a world power and a success case today because they had a president called George Washington and Abraham Lincoln whose believe in the rights and progress of their citizens was unquestionable. On the other hand DR Congo failed because there was a president called Mobutu. Today Trump has shaken the foundations of 240 years of American Democracy within 18 months because he holds the office of the President.
Therefore the person who assumes that position must be severely scrutinized and tested. The president cannot be any other citizen. That office must not be for free for all.
We have many offices such as ministers or directors or CEOs or Executive Directors all of which require high standards and requirements. But we have only one President of the Republic and that person cannot be any Samba or Kumba with a Grade 12 certificate!
The office of president is an envious, prestigious and heavy position in which lies the development or destruction of the nation. The poverty and underdevelopment of The Gambia since Independence lie squarely and primarily at the feet of the presidents we had since then until today. Singapore is a first world country today because they had a president called Lee Kuan Yew!
Hence the qualification for Office of the President must be a level that is fit for the Office in view of the duties and impact of that Office on our lives.
Whatever requirements are set for president it is to ensure that the best son or daughter assumes that position. While that qualification is not a foolproof against corruption and inefficiency or abuse it is however assuring that whoever assumes that position has the requisite technical capacity to hold that position.
To further safeguard against abuse and ensure efficiency the checks and balances in the laws suffice coupled with active citizen participation, a strong free media and a vibrant civil society. But let those checks and balances find the right person in post in the first place.
It is true that each and every Gambian has a right to vote and stand for election into any public office provided one meets certain requirements. Among these requirements are age, sound body and mind and academic qualification among others. This means that in practice not each and every Gambian can automatically stand for election as a councillor, National Assembly member or President without those requirements.
The academic qualification currently required for a presidential candidate is a WASSCE certificate. I agree with Almami Taal that Garde 12 is too low a qualification and I fully concur with Dr. Ismaila Ceesay that for the position of president a candidate must have at least a bachelor’s degree.
The argument that this is discriminatory is unfounded because already the current requirement for president in themselves are discriminatory. The fact is in life nothing is achieved without the process of elimination otherwise we cannot separate success from failure, right from wrong or day from night. Grade 12 is basic education that only equips a person to know how to read and write. It is too low and inadequate to equip a person to understand the complexities of policy, development and the general issues of society.
With a Grade 12 requirement there is possibility to produce more unprepared candidates than with a BA degree. Hence it is better to use BA as a yardstick for president so that in the final analysis we will be able to produce a few more prepared candidates hence creates the opportunity to better serve the best interest of society.
It must be understood that the Gambia’s republican and democratic dispensation is less than 50 years. Our political parties are still largely weak, closed, undemocratic and not driven by knowledge and good governance practices. Hence unlike in advanced and mature democracies where leaders naturally are already well educated, in our case the tendency to produce untested, unprepared and lowly educated leaders has always been prevalent.
The Republican Party in the US or the Labour Party in the UK cannot ever produce a leader who has no such high academic qualification because the nature of those parties is such that no such individual could emerge and assume top leadership. In the Gambia such a possibility is always high as one can see in the qualifications of most of our political party leaders. On the other hand, advanced democratic societies and their political parties have had a longstanding tradition of democratic governance to the point that some things are second nature to them.
To be a president is not just having leadership qualities such as ability to influence or inspire and to demonstrate humility and having integrity. But in addition to those moral qualities, the deciding factor in a president is having the technical competence to conceive and understand issues and be able to articulate and implement those issues. Such technical competence is acquired through a formal dedicated training for which a university degree in any field will suffice. Grade 12 is not a level that subjects an individual to any rigors of discipline and high-level training of the mind.
Not that when someone is educated to the level of a bachelor’s degree he or she is therefore an all-rounder, impeccable, perfect and efficient and free from being corrupt and all other vices. No. Rather the demand for such level of academic qualification is only in terms of acquiring technical capacity. A president with a university degree provides minimum safeguards or assurances that such a person is capable of processing technical information and applies such understanding to better function.
Going through a university is expected to make an individual acquire the skills and tools for observation and analysis in order to independently arrive at an objective understanding of phenomenon. University is structured in such a way that it should elevate a person above superstition, mysticism and intuition in seeking to understand phenomenon and oneself. Part of that education also gives person moral qualities hence the importance of university education.
The office of a president is a position that places before a person a wide array of information from diverse sources about diverse set of issues. It helps such a person to have therefore experienced and be trained in the searching, acquisition, management and analysis of information in order to enable that president meander through a wide set of ideas, policy options, advisors and other competing and conflicting stakeholders and interests and yet be able to identify the nation’s best interest.
A person who was not involved in the business of receiving, producing and management technical ideas based on research, facts and evidence may be too naïve in understanding policy and development issues in their proper context. Thus, it is better to have a president with a university degree than one without. As I said it does not necessarily follow that the person with a university education could not be corrupt or will perform better. At least a university degree certifies that such a person indeed knows as opposed to Grade 12 qualification.
I therefore join Dr. Ceesay and Mr. Taal that in our new constitution there is need to set as a requirement the acquisition of a bachelor’s degree to serve as president. The benefits of such requirement are immense for our society as a whole as well as for political parties. It means that political parties will have to seek candidates that met such requirement. This will only serve to therefore bring in our intellectuals into the political space directly.
Furthermore, such a requirement will seek to transform our political discourse and culture from being based on non-issues and personalities or based on tribal, religious, family and other sectarian considerations to become knowledge-based and issue-oriented politics. This will serve to therefore reduce or eliminate political patronage and outright chicanery in our politics. For that matter it will serve to bring about an enlightened leadership that is more likely to serve our society better.
We must bear in mind that the values of honesty, justice, commitment and readiness to serve one’s people can be found in any individual, educated or not educate; literate or illiterate. These values can be considered as moral capacity that a leader needs to have. But these values must not be confused or substituted with leadership in terms of technical capacity. While one does not necessarily go to school to acquire moral capacity, but certainly technical capacity is acquired through formal training and it is technical capacity that makes a president effective and deliver.
Leadership is not by chance. God does not identify or choose leaders for any people. People are not born leaders. Rather leadership is about capacity to be acquired and delivered. Individuals who became great leaders in the world either trained themselves or were trained to be so. Such leaders did not live by superstitions and patronage and mysticism. Rather they lived by the principle and practice of knowledge and objectivity and analysis.
To be continued