Rule of Thumb President Barrow, travel not during national crisis

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By Samsudeen Sarr

I read a hysterical suggestion from an opposition-political-activist that President Adama Barrow should cancel his trip to the 77th UN General Assembly from 21-23 of September 2022 and stay at home to mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth 11. Identically, another untutored fellow proposed the utilization of our National Assembly for the signing of the Queen’s book of condolence instead of the residence of the British High Commissioner. In addition to saying heck no to both indefensible propositions I will but urge such mentally enslaved Gambians to visit the Facebook page of our erudite but mysterious Arac Remes Pacobii for special lessons on decolonization and psychologically subjugated. In his recent posting on the laughable proposal to avail our National Assembly for the Queen’s-condolence-book signing, Pacobii analogized the concept to requesting the British government in 2019 to allow the book-signing condolence of late President Jawara to take place at the British House of Commons or Parliament instead of at the Gambia High Commission in London.

Or, better still, why not advise these fellows to listen to Julius Sello Malema’s thoughts about the death of the Queen as the quintessential rendition of the British Empire that for centuries was and is still responsible for the colonization, balkanization and impoverishment of the African continent and its people with unprecedented brutality and normalized racism. Mr. Malema is a South African Member of Parliament and the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighter Party.

That said, I may agree with the idea of President Barrow cancelling his UN General Assembly trip but only if the current impasse caused by the nationwide strike of commercial drivers is not resolved before his departure, especially if the majority of Gambians are still adversely affected by the effects. I am saying so because of my empirical experience during the first republic on the breakdown of civility imputed to two major mistakes committed by late President Jawara for leaving unattended crisis at home for relatively unimportant journeys abroad.

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I am not saying that attending the UN General Assembly is not an important journey for the president to make; but I believe that settling a domestic crisis like this strike is far more significant if not resolved before his  departure date on Sunday, 18 of September. It will be recalled that in 1981 Sir Dawda Jawara made the regrettable mistake of prioritizing his attendance of the wedding ceremony of Prince Charles and Princess Diana on the 29 of July 1981 over the looming national security crisis at the Field Force Depot after the assassination of Commander Eku Mahoney in 1980 by 1st Class Constable Mustapha Danso. Consequently, in the early hours of the 31 of July 1981 while still in England partying, the Field Force under the hypnotic influence of a civilian politician, Kukoi Samba Sanyang, wheedled the troops into that bloody abortive coup attempt  against President Jawara’s government.

Correspondingly, in 1994, although he later wrote in his book, Kairaba, that he was not at all aware of the crisis in his army, precipitated by the command vacuum from the two feuding Nigerian commanders, President Jawara unfortunately left a volatile situation in the country and went on holiday to England. However, this time, the coup plotters waited for his return on the 21 of July 1994 to overthrow his government on the 22 of July, the day after.

It was hard to wrap one’s mind over how President Jawara missed the severity of the turbulence in the Filed Force Depot in 1981 and still left for the trip to the Buckingham Palace wedding.

The question therefore continues to linger over whether the information about the security threat in 1981 was shielded away from him by those useless technocrats he had surrounded himself with and would do whatever necessary to  conceal his imperfections.

However, in his book, he bewailed over how and why his most trusted aides including his then Secretary General of the civil service, Sarah Janha, never informed him about the heated conflict between “General Abubacarr Dada and Colonel Lawan Gwadebe that tore apart the command structure of the GNA despite their full knowledge of the situation. All that was needed to pacify the situation and perhaps stop the coup was for President Jawara to meet General Dada and express his gratitude to him for his service and advice him to hand over to his successor Colonel Gwadebe. Dada told both Captain Gassama, Sir Dawda’ ADC, and I that that was all he wanted to happen before handing over the army to the new commander. But the braggarts thought they knew better and persuaded the president to leave without a solution.

Thank god, there is today a third avenue of registering our concerns outside the rigidly insulated channel of government bureaucracy in the form of the free press and social media where concerned citizens can always sound the alarm bells when danger levitates in the horizon. Perhaps, the government will pull through this standoff without negotiating with the striking Transport Unionists, and I think the tension yesterday is slowly but surely diffusing into normalcy with taxi drivers breaking the pact one by one; anyway if it does, I want the government, from now on, to respect the rule of thumb that presidents don’t leave their countries for any reason when there are unresolved national crisis worth attending to. President Barrow is not an except to the rule.

The Gambia Transport Union and their believers may be blamed for being inconsiderate for demanding “the impossible” but taking into account their three major listed grievances, namely (a) the high cost of fuel, (b) the one-year only validity of driver’s license when the law states three and (c) the hostile police checkpoints found everywhere only to illegally squeeze money from them, I believe they may have one or two legitimate points for the government to look into.

Starting with grievance (a), the high cost of fuel, many Gambians including me find it inconceivable that a basic commodity like fuel will be cheaper in Senegal than in The Gambia at a time when global fuel prices are decreasing rather than increasing. In other words, it is hard to justify a liter of diesel costing D57.00 in Senegal while costing D75.00 in The Gambia. Likewise, petrol is also sold cheaper in Senegal than in The Gambia. I was with the impression that President Barrow is very close to President Sall for him to be taking special pointers from his “brother” to avert such difficulties. 

Does the cheaper rate in Senegal have anything to do with the recent visit of President Sall to President Putin when the West started to hit Russia with multitude of sanctions over the Ukraine war? Or is it something else? Because I don’t want to believe that corruption at the highest government rung is responsible for the unsustainable discrepancy as indicated by several critics. Gambian drivers crossing into Senegal to purchase fuel is both unsustainable and unheard of. A little bit of explanation on this one might help the sympathizers of the government in defense of the status quo.

Then (b), the one-year only validity of driver’s license when the law states three; I totally agree with the need to extend the validity of a driver’s license to three years especially if the law says so. But I also think that the counting of the year should start from the day the license is issued and expires exactly one year later. I don’t know who in The Gambia came up with the idea of a driver’s license being valid from January to December with those issued even on the 31st of December to expire twenty-four hours later, ie  on the 1st of January; but whoever those pioneers were must have been very dumb. If the three-years request doesn’t work, I think the one-year period should be twelve months starting from the issued date.

And last but not the least is (c), the hostile police checkpoints found everywhere to illegally squeeze money from commercial drivers; I heard the Honorable Minister of Transport, works and infrastructure development Mr. Ebrima Sillah explaining this morning, 13 September 2020 to radio host Peter Gomez the main reason why police checkpoints are needed in our highways which is according  him to curb the frequency of speeding vehicles culminating in deadly-road-accident. Brilliant! And a great job from the honorable minister.

But was it not Vice President Badara Joof who during their cabinet retreat condemned the rampant corruption of the police whom he said would be on the roads asking drivers to pull over or, as he put it in the Mandinka Language, ask them to, “sillo bulla and dasamo dinna”? The vice president didn’t stop there but went on to illustrate a host of glitches in the policies of the government ranging from the country’s questionable  land distribution policies to the its archaic tourism industry and down to our doubtful foreign policy that has no tail or head. He indeed ended up arming the opposition forces with the requisite arsenal for anti-government propaganda.

I will however suggest to the  government to consider equipping the police checkpoints with the right tools and digital facilities like cameras that will allow them to carry out their duties accountably and transparently. I cannot share the details of what  I mean but I can guarantee its effectiveness when implemented properly. Although, on the flip side, most commercial vehicles in the country, especially the yellow taxis, may cease to run because of their road unworthiness. But it will also require better salaries for our police officers than what they are paid today.

Finally, I almost forgot to report with satisfaction that the AK-47 toting PIU officer at the London Corner NAWEC office has been withdrawn and replaced by a private security guard. My respect goes to the IGP for doing so.

Till next time, thanks for reading.