In 2008, former US President Barack Obama famously declared that the “biggest threat to our democracy is indifference”.
In what was seen by many observers as a dramatic break from the normal respect former presidents usually demonstrate to incumbents, Obama ended a long period of public modesty by tearing into Donald Trump.
He did so, and rightly, after he came under immense pressure from Democrats who were frustrated that he remained absent from the political stage as Trump dismantled his legacy and shattered norms that governed presidents of both parties.
Thirteen years following his laceration of Donald Trump for attempts to “shatter US norms”, Gambian president Adama Barrow is today attempting to achieve what Trump couldn’t.
The Gambian leader, as has become customary under him, was addressing a group of Serers at State House when he criminally asserted: “Since I took over in 2017 you have people who are still doing politics. The politics cannot end. Every day they are beating drums, they are blocking roads. Every day they are on the social media, every day they are insulting people. That will end on December 4 after the victory. We will give instruction to the Inspector General of Police and anyone who applies for a permit will not get a permit.”
These comments by the Gambian leader were not only reckless and callous, but dangerous and treacherous. The president has been using the seat of power for years now to make discourteous and thoughtless statements that have the potential to tear into the seams of the social fabric and undermine democratic gains to usher in democratic recession in the country.
His dangerous and dishonest statements made before various and all forms of crowds at the State House have been well-documented. Indeed, it is baffling to accept that those comments were made by a head of state.
Rightly and fittingly, his latest remarks outraged many Gambians, from political players to CSOs, who slammed him for “being utterly irresponsible”.
The Centre for Research and Policy Development summed up the feeling of Gambians in its reaction to the president’s remarks: “President Barrow’s remarks are regrettable as they pose a risk for Gambia’s fledgling democracy. Therefore, we call on President Barrow to be mindful of his seemingly populist statements and instead focus on bridging the social divide in the country. His latest statement will undoubtedly further exacerbate the political polarisation and divisions in the country, ahead of the December presidential election”.
Tellingly, the reaction to his unguarded comments demonstrated that genuine Gambians will no longer stand by and watch either Barrow or any other populist politician attempt to tear into the seams of the social fabric.
By coming out loudly, and publicly to call out Barrow and his ill-thought statements, Gambians and other stakeholders have sent a signal of intent that populist politicians and their destructive tendencies will no longer be tolerated or accepted in our nascent democracy.
“Democracy is when the people keep the government in check”, according to Aung San Suu. It is only through political rallies and other civic actions that that can be made possible. The citizens must be seen to be doing, and nothing can stop it under the rule of law. Let the Head of State realise and accept that.