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Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Gambian political culture: An obstacle to change the political leadership of the country

By Matida Jallow in Belarus

An American political acientist, Lucian Pye, defined political culture as the set of attitudes, beliefs, and sentiments, which give order and meaning to a political process and which provide the underlying assumptions and rules that govern behavior in the political system. This concept , which was first used by Alexis de Tocqueville before its current use in political science by Gabriel Almond, describes how culture impacts politics. Thus, every political system, including that of The Gambia, is embedded in a political culture which shapes our beliefs, sentiments, attitudes and expectations towards political events, policies, political institutions, political decisions and political actors and forces.

However, given the concurrent existence of cultural beliefs about traditional ruling and rulers one the one hand, and the democratic ruling which remains alien to belief of average Gambians, on the other hand, and due to the existing gab between the immature social process through which the country has gone through, and the existence of advanced political system plagued by immature and underdeveloped political institutions, political culture of the Gambia, like many African countries, depicts a publicly-held belief that government’s publicly funded services and projects are privileges and handout from the President to the people who should return this charity with unconditional support to political party of the President . This has made consecutive Presidents of the country not only to expect deserving word of thanks for doing what they ought to do as the servants of the people, but it also to implant in the people sense of moral responsibility to vote for the president, despite the evidence of his leadership failure, and his impotence to make an effective and efficient delivery in vital sectors.

The typical demonstration of this political culture has been that Presidents as well as government officers , including Ministers and other public servants refer to publicly funded projects and services as well as those projects financed by the local and international development partners of the country through loans and grants given to the people of the Gambia , as sufficient evidence of why the people should unconditionally support the political agenda of the sitting president. This notion is persistently corrupting the mindset of the average Gambians many of who lack minimal requirements of political maturity to establish that such projects and services are not only financed through the taxes and services fees they pay to the Government agencies and institutions , but to also realize that these services and projects are part of and parcel of government discharging its responsibilities and obligations for which the president and his cabinet ministers are given remunerations and unlimited privileges and undeserving allowances, unlike other ordinary citizens who are actually charged through taxes to enable the government to actualize these financial commitments.

Despite this indispensable component in the government- people relation, the current President of the Gambia, Adama Barrow and his cabinet ministers as well as the government officials and the executive members of his political party continue to exert their influence and the power of incumbency on the people by urging them to vote for the president, who according to them, is extending to the public the helping hands in the form of development projects and services in different sectors. The President and his minister go to extend of discouraging voters to distance themselves from the oppositions, who, according to them, have no mean to embark on similar projects hence they have lack an access to the resources which are already made available for the President. Unfortunately, given this political culture, many voters ascribe their support to President Barrow’s NPP to this very pretext, as they argue that the president has already started working on projects; thus, there is no justification for one to vote for an opposition who is yet to be a president to carry out what are being done by the sitting president. This political belief might constitute an obstacle to the leadership change in the upcoming elections, as voters might deny the opposition the opportunity to translate their strategic visions into  reality and impact a transformative change which the current government appears to have failed to achieve.

The misleading trend of linking communities’ access to the government services and projects to electoral support for president is not only a betrayal to the spirit of our constitutional rules, but it also stands in stark contrast to the democratic principle which rests on the notion that a President and his government gain legitimacy and thus power to rule only through the consent of the governed. Thus, as articulated by the 17th century English political philosopher John Locke, in legitimate political system, the public is connected to the government by a contract in which the people give up some of their natural inborn rights so that government can establish a well-order political, economic, and social system for the benefits of the people. Hence, government exists primarily to serve the collective interest of the people .

Therefore, it is the fundamental right of the people to be served by the government, and this creates inescapable responsibility and obligations upon the government to provide basic services that will ensure that people’s basic human needs are met, and to ensure that they are protected from internal and external threats. These responsibilities are translated in using public resources to provide public utilities, social services, development projects and security services to the people. The government is bound to lose the legitimacy to exercise authorities over rest of the people l, and to use the force to ensure peace and stability if it abuses power or failed to deliver to the expectation of the social contract.

Despite this, still entrenched in our politics is the tendency on the side of the President to present his publicly financed services and projects to the people not in fashion of right of the public and the responsibility of the government, but rather in the fashion of handout or gift from him to people, which requires that people register their appreciations for such project in the form of giving an unconditional support to his party.

Ironically, the President and his cabinet as well as the top government officials never return parallel gratitude and appreciations to the public for the unlimited privileges and immunities granted to them by virtue of their public positions. Like many other countries, the Gambia spends the taxpayer’s money on the president and his cabinet in the form of free vehicles, 24/7 security for them and their families, publicly financed houses and furniture, free meals for the president and his entire family, the privilege of staying in the state house, the privilege of traveling in first classes or on the board of private jet, and receiving per diem for overseas travels, the privilege of representing the country in international fora and meeting with internationally recognized figures, the privileges of receiving different allowances including responsibility allowance, telephone allowance, clothing allowance, impresses, night allowance, fuel corpus, public funded overseas medial treatments and other ranges of luxurious lifestyle which were unattainable by the president and his cabinet before their position as public servants.

Until the electorate are sensitized about this reality of the social contract through an effective civic education in the media , the President and his cabinet ministers would continue to mislead the electorates into believing that the government’s community projects should be rewarded with electoral supports for the ruling party by these communities. This political attitude would only diminish the chance of effecting leadership changes through elections despite the proof of leadership failure as demonstrated in the rampant corruption, unproductive civil services, abuse of power, misappropriation of state resources, deterioration of public service delivery, economic hardship, and insecurity. This political culture has prolonged the rein of former regime, and it is more likely to facilitate the possible victory of President Barrow, as he continues his deceptive political campaign and the unleash of unlimited empty promises

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