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City of Banjul
Friday, October 30, 2020

Slave of a habit

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With Aicha

I found a wonderful poem with a deep meaning By Martha Medeiros. It is very long, but I will share the last part with you:

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He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know, he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
die slowly.

Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.

Dear readers, some of you who read my article from last week, the one called “A man of his word”, might think that I dislike our president. As I don’t know him on a personal level I can’t say that I either like or dislike him. All I can do is judge him by his actions, or rather inactions.

I must say that I rather pity him, than dislike him. It must be lonely up there on his throne. Well, of course he is surrounded by a lot of people – but are they there for him or for what they can gain by his presence? Who are his real friends, the ones he can trust? Can he call someone and trust that this person will keep his confidence? Can the president sit together with the ”boys” under the mango tree and enjoy his attaya as everyone else? I wonder if he is missing the simple life he lived before the election.

I remember photos of him, from the early days of his presidency.

He looked so insecure, like he was thinking of calling his mum to ask her for guidance. I felt sorry for him! He should have got advice from people who are used to interact with the media.

They should have advised him how to stand or sit, how to greet people, to show confidence in his eyes even if his knees were trembling.

He was let out to the wolves, unprotected, and he was an easy prey.

The expectations of a president are high, and rightfully so, but what if the president deep there within felt that he wasn’t ready for the task? It is not an easy task to be the leader of a country, so that person needs to be well-prepared both on an educational level but also on a mental level.

Everyone was hoping (…eh, not exactly everyone, but anyway…) and not many dared to believe that the outcome of the election in December 2016 would be the one we faced.

Things were upside down, The Gambia was shut off, secret plans were whispered from one man to another because it would be fatal if Jammeh knew about them. Highly qualified men were in jail or lived somewhere far away in the diaspora. Solutions needed to be found, a candidate everyone in the coalition could agree on was one of these solutions.

All of us know that the education level is not high for most Gambians. We also know the reasons for that so I don’t need to belabor the point. Finding a willing candidate with the right qualifications for becoming a president must have been a struggle.

Wise men knew that being a president is not only about the benefits, they could see the risks, the workload and the great responsibility too.

In this mish-mash politicians tried to do the best they could, and now we have seen the results of that. It must have been a hard task from the very beginning, but in a situation like that it is even more important to be level-headed.

The one who needs to be the most level-headed of the whole bunch is of course the president. He needs to have the mental skills and not let his head spin when he is surrounded by all of them who give him praise.

A president must also be surrounded by good and wise advisers.

These people must be able to give accurate advice, they must also be the ones who tell the president to slow down a bit if his power begins to affect his common sense.

The president needs to be wise enough to listen to his advisers and not get rid of them if they don’t please him anymore. That is a warning sign if the president begins to kick out one after another without good reasons and especially without declaring the reasons.

That is what Donald Trump has done so many times in the US, and I don’t think many of us think of him as a rolemodel. A president is a public servant, the people are his employers and it is they who pay his salary.

The people have the right to know what goes on in the government. The Gambia government has been criticised by the US for its lack of transparency. The US gives financial support to The Gambia and has, of course, the right to know how the money has been used.

In old times it was possible to hide financial dealings, especially in under-developed countries, but in these days where every country has access to the Internet it’s not that easy anymore.

Donors don’t accept to be fooled; they expect every butut to be accounted for. It is embarrassing that the government in The Gambia is not able to live up to its promise of transparency.

Does the government believe that the donor countries are stupid? Financial aid can be withdrawn if it is found out that it is not used correctly. What a shame if that happens!
The problem in this case is that the financial support might have been used correctly, but as long as it is not declared correctly the suspicions grow. Everyone knows that the level of corruption is high in The Gambia, so proving the opposite should be number one on the to do-list.

It will never be possible to kill prejudice about African affairs if we don’t begin somewhere. Shouldn’t the government be our role models; shouldn’t the president and his family be above all suspicions? The world is watching and putting two and two together.

Let us go back to the poem I began with:
He or she who abandons a project before starting it, who fails to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know, he or she who don’t reply when they are asked something they do know,
die slowly.

Let’s begin with the two last words in this part of the poem; ”die slowly.”
Don’t take it literally, it’s not meant that way.

It is more of a mental death, of a huge loneliness that spreads in one’s system. When you feel that you don’t achieve what others rightfully expect of you, you isolate yourself. You isolate yourself because you feel embarrassed to meet people who might ask questions you don’t know how to reply. You believe that as long as you hide behind a shield you are unreachable.

The isolation I speak about is a living death, the solitude that comes with a high position can be devastating.

Then how to break this curse? By reaching out to people, by interacting with other intellectuals. By creating connections through the passion you feel for your task.

“Abandoning a project before starting it” is what I spoke about last week, in “A man of his word”. Never give more promises than you intend to keep, and make sure that you do your best to keep the promises you have given.

“Fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know” – for a president there must be no prestige in asking questions.

It is better to ask one question too many, than too few. Never try to impress someone by fake knowledge, your shortcomings will shine through the cover and it will only be more embarrassing the day people find out that you didn’t have a clue.

What we expect from a president is that he has great knowledge, but we also expect him to surround himself with good advisors in all areas.

“… he or she don’t reply when they are asked something they do know, die slowly.” There are many questions that remain unanswered so far, a large amount of vehicles given to members of the government, more millions than you and I will ever see in our entire life that suddenly appeared in the first wife’s bank account.

Ministers are sacked and we are not allowed to hear the reasons. All of you Gambian citizens, all of you who are paying for the services, you have the right to expect but you still live without them – are you satisfied with the current situation? It must be very lonely on the top! Hiding behind body guards, locked doors, surrounded by back patters who will leave him the day they won’t gain anything from that relation anymore. Well, at least he will have time to drink attaya with the ”boys” if they still are under the mango tree.
”Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.”

This is good advice for all of us, let us embrace our lives and do our best with the time we have left. None of us has any guarantees for how long we are here on earth. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, we only have one life which is given to us as a gift.

I read about a nurse who cared for elderly people who were dying. She told that what people regret most, when they lay on their deathbed, is not what they have done – but what they had failed to do.

”Death in small doses”, all the times we have avoided to do something because we were scared, let others’ opinions affect our lives, postponed things that were meaningful, restrained ourselves for some reason.

These are some of the times when we have made ourselves small and unimportant, we made ourselves feel like we didn’t matter.

That is not life, that is just existence without joy or meaning, it’s a small death.

“Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.”

A burning patience sounds like a contradiction, but try to think of it as determination. By being patient, finding a meaning in things that happen in life we will find happiness.

The opposite will only make us stressed, happiness can’t be forced. So how can we apply this on our subject, our accidental president? I want to go back to what I told you in the beginning; that I feel sorry for him.

He wasn’t prepared for the task, he has done his best but it wasn’t enough.

We must all learn from this experience, next time we must elect a president who has huge political experience and skills. He must be well educated and passionate for the task.

Being a slave of a habit is like not trusting your ability to change your life for the better, you just keep on doing what you always have done – even if you know it’s wrong. No, face your task, do your best and you will be a master instead of a slave.

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