By Madi Jorbateh
Today April 28 marks the 100th day in office of Chief Servant Adama Barrow. I give a C grade for his performance.
This score is earned more for his personal demeanor and less for his leadership as a president. Since assuming office, he has demonstrated decorum and consistency in his few words. He continues to speak the language of democracy and tranquility.
This is reassuring and filled with opportunities if strategically exploited with hard, concrete and consistent actions. As a president, Barrow appears to have good intentions and indeed some important moves have been made.
The greatest weakness of Barrow however is the lack of strategy and effective communications. Since assuming office we have seen several decisions and actions undertaken but in a rather piecemeal fashion.
These have generated doubts and questions and even when a press statement followed a few times they only raised more questions such as the statement on the visit to Congo.
Interestingly, since assuming office Barrow has yet to address the nation to lay out his roadmap. This is utterly necessary and non-negotiable.
Barrow was elected on the basis of a Coalition with its MoU and manifesto. His regime is coming on the heels of a 22-year brutal regime that had severely mismanaged the economy, shattered the public service and divided the country.
Hence it is necessary that Barrow tell Gambians on the outset, what and how he is going to run the Gambia for the next three years as per the Coalition MoU. For that matter, Barrow needs to draw up his own development agenda and budget.
The last such agenda was PAGE which ended in 2015 and since then the country has no development plan. In December 2016 Yaya Jammeh drew up the 2017 budget without an action plan. So what and where is Adama Barrow’s agenda? Can he rely on the budget left by Yaya Jammeh with no action plan? I doubt.
To highlight weaknesses of strategy and communications, a look at a few decisions and actions would be necessary. For example, the action on the Solo Sandeng Case and the exhumation of bodies was necessary.
However these actions seemed to be implemented in a rather piecemeal fashion and without necessary coordination.
Such kind of approach could be problematic as we saw initial challenges in the NIA 9 Trial between the ministries of Interior and Justice. We witness coordination challenges also as ECOMIG forces faced obstacles in visiting Yaya Jammeh’s Kanilai compound.
The visit to the prisons by the Interior and Justice ministers was also a great move, but again this was followed by silence and the narrative was not well managed. One would expect that such visits would continue to other prisons and detention centres and even to victim families and well publicized. This would have well connected the regime with the masses and further strengthen the leadership. I hope these initiatives will be taken up again and all of them linked into a holistic strategy.
I understand the Interior Minister had engaged in mediation efforts in some communities in Foni aimed at calming the waters and engender reconciliation and the good neighbourliness we used to know. Once again the missing link here has been communications. The same applies to the release of political prisoners, which was also not followed by an official statement.
The effective use of the media to showcase the good work of the government is limited. Thus Barrow needs to understand that his biggest weapon is communications. It will strengthen his leadership by enabling him to dominate the narrative and therefore mobilize the people toward his vision and direction. That way he shows that indeed he is in full control.
For this reason, it is important that Barrow understands that in digging into the APRC atrocities, there is need for a holistic approach. This will require a broad-based multi-expert commission to pursue the cases. But by taking them one after the other in what appears to be separate efforts has the potential to cause some evidence or crime scenes to be wiped out even before action reaches them.
Once again, the weakness has been strategy. Which raises the questions to how do Barrow and his Cabinet function? Are they meeting regularly, sharing information and discussing issues? So far the nature of decisions shows such meetings are not taking place, as they should.
But Barrow’s administration is not just about the past, it is also about the present and the future. What kind of vision of the Gambia does he have and what is his mission to implement that vision? This is why one of the first actions of Barrow must be to go to the National Assembly to lay before them his policy agenda in repairing and rebuilding the Gambia.
But since taking office he did not do that with the old parliament and it is now three weeks and he has yet to step his foot in the newly elected National Assembly. Why? Barrow has to distinguish himself as a true leader or become a complete failure. So far the signs are yet to show that indeed Barrow is his own man who is dedicated to building his own legacy. Some few actions are critical here to review.
First is the issue of the VP, which is major drawback on the Barrow leadership. The appointment of a VP should be the first action of the president. This is non-negotiable given the role and position of the VP in the running of the state. Instead we saw how Barrow jumped from the frying pan into the fire by pursuing constitutional amendments to that effect outside of the rule of law and then withdrew.
This did not tell well on a government that has three seasoned legal minds in the Cabinet in the persons of the ministers of Justice, Interior and Foreign Affairs. Until now Barrow has not spoken to citizens about his game plan regarding his vice president.
That apart, he has yet to tell Gambians as to why the prolonged stay at Kairaba Beach Hotel and at what cost. He has not spoken to Gambians why he could not move into State House until now. What is the problem? He has not also spoken about the reasons for the massive changes we have seen within the public sector such as hiring and firing of MDs and security chiefs.
One would expect that on a weekly basis Barrow would address the nation to speak to these various issues. In that address he could also promote unity, reconciliation and provide reassurance to citizens. In that way he would have bonded well with the people, allay fears and further stabilize the nation.
However Barrow scored a diplomatic success when he made Senegal his first port of call. But this was followed by the scandalous visit to Congo to appease a tyrant. Better late than never; that Barrow has now decided to conduct a-thank-you-tour to Monrovia, Abuja, Accra, Freetown, Conakry and Nouakchott.
This visit should have come earlier soon after the Dakar trip, but to jump the entire subregion to visit that despot Denis Sassou Ngeusso did not tell well. Secondly he has appointed five ambassadors-at-large without providing any public justification. For his information the United States has only five such ambassadors!
Few days ago his government decided to reduce import duties on some commodities. On the surface and in the short term this is a right move. But given that the Gambia is a tax-based economy how therefore would Barrow cover up for the reduction of revenue accruing from this move? Why a few selected commodities and not the whole spectrum of basic commodities.
When he took such measures, has he considered the impact of such food imports on the local producer? That apart, the 2017 budget was premised on projections such as the current taxes hence if he reduces these import duties, how is he going to adjust his budget to fit his program? Therefore what this further emphasizes is that Barrow needs to formulate his roadmap, which includes drawing up his own budget.
Relying on the Yaya Jammeh budget and then reducing those taxes will cause imbalances in his accounts.
Going forward, Barrow must be told that he needs to develop his own development blueprint and budget, and provide a roadmap to Gambians as to his vision and mission. Furthermore, he needs to communicate more and more clearly to Gambians as to the rationale for the various decisions and actions he has been taking.
These decisions and actions must be seen to emanate from or lead to his vision and roadmap. Only effective communications will show such a linkage.
Barrow must realize that when the Gambia decided on December 1, it was a decision for the building of a new Gambia. A Gambia where the culture of silence and misinformation by the government was broken.
We expect a government that speaks to us all the time on every issue. Barrow must realize that he has inherited a very backward governance culture and it is his responsibility to transform the Gambia into a modern democratic state thriving on human rights and good governance.
Such a modern state cannot be built in the absence of well-informed policies that are discussed through broad-based participatory processes and then effectively communicated to the masses.
Finally Barrow needs to understand that there is some apprehension building up on his leadership, unfortunately. So long as Gambians feel that he is not in full control or that that he is slow, that also translates into a sense of fragility and an environment of insecurity.
Such a situation will cause certain threatening reactions in individuals and communities as we have seen already. Such reactions, typical of democracies in transition have the potential to compel the government to take high-handed responses.
This is how leaders become isolated as they get heavily guarded by armed security causing the nation to drift into heavy militarization, which only foments abuse and then impunity. This means leadership has a direct bearing on security and stability.
I hope Barrow will learn lessons and re-adjust in the next 100 days. Until then I wish Adama Barrow and his Administration a better 100 days ahead.
God Bless the Gambia.