By Alagie Jinkang and Amat Jeng
Writing in 1965 (published in 1969), the African Marxist revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, advised his Comrades: “Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories.” This maxim should be the point of departure for every society after it has liberated itself from authoritarianism.
Post-Jammeh Gambia has come to be defined as a political and economic buffer zone characterised by the mad scramble for the country’s meager resources in the expense of the poor – and the poor class knows this. President Adama Barrow seems to have good intentions for the country. However, a country is not an NGO: to run it, one needs more than good intentions.
President Barrow has to use his position as a moral fulcrum to rattle the chains of what Sidi Sanneh (Publisher of the Sidi Sanneh Blog) calls ‘Brief-case investors’. The persistent upward mobility of the masses and those unable to keep their heads above water has to be protected and supported vis-á-vis the petite bourgeoisie (the Faraba incident is a result of government’s failure to protect the masses).
The news of rapacious, per diem-zombies, and flabby-cheeks bureaucrats (Social Security heads, Ports Authority heads, Agriculture heads), misusing taxpayers’ money on travels and construction projects, and the bitter reality of the environmental catastrophes caused by Chinese investors, together, have created some ‘false’ nostalgia amongst the masses for Jammeh, or to paraphrase Comrade Njundu Drammeh, for a leader who is committed to stepping on other people’s toes and ruffling and plucking out their ‘golden’ feathers.
This nostalgia is not true for all the masses; however, today, we can observe a longing by some of the impoverished masses for a ‘strong’ (mind the emphasis) leader and robust institutions that can tame the petite bourgeoisie and the zombie-bureaucrats, scrambling for our meager resources.
To raise the economic and social positions of the poor, it would require bold and concrete actions by Mr. Barrow; and that would mean, among other measures, breaking away from the politics of quid pro quo – a maiden mission that the two previous governments woefully failed to achieve. It might be interpreted as a deliberate act of historical reductionism, but to a varying degree, Barrow is repeating some of the mistakes committed by both Mr. Jammeh and Sir Jawara. Jammeh succeeded, to some measures, in cracking down on bureaucratic corruption, but created a vicious circle of political cronyism; Jawara demonstrated no interests in cracking down on both, thus making his government looked weak like a table lamp, yet had some democratic vestiges in its cupboard.
Minister Omar Jallow (OJ), in a Press conference characterised by a rhetorical sham and a stream-of-consciousness lullaby, refuted all claims that the Jawara administration was corrupt. Given our age, we cannot remember what happened in Jawara’s era, but we are not giving OJ the wisdom of hindsight: Empirical evidence has shown that Jawara never succeeded in lifting Gambians from the veneer of poverty and that his government was corrupt to the core.
Today, while the bourgeoisie class scrambles for our resources, and the poor class too poor that they cannot afford internet megabits (Mb) to join the noise on Facebook about the direction of the country, a part of the middle class has become a keyboard warrior with reactionary traits, waging a war against political activism by posting dishonest opinions. The denunciation of the #Dafadoy protest is the highest demonstration of political ignorance.
These denunciations have shown that what we are encountering now might be harbingers of a difficult time ahead; and this is not something the government should be blamed for, because neither Barrow nor the Minister of Interior has ever told activists not to protest. The anti-protest voices are coming from a small number of reactionary elements who want to undermine our growing democracy by defining when and when not to protest. But as Comrade Eden Sharp argues, “there is really no ideal time for a protest.”
Our history, since gaining independence, has been defined by a triangular struggle: from Jawaranomics to Jammehism, and now to consolidating our growing democracy while at the same time striking a balance between a laissez-faire economic doctrine (EU calls for a laissez-faire economy) and interventionism (Gambians call on President Barrow to intervene and save us from people such as Julakay and the Chinese).
The socialist proponent, Sidia Jatta, argues a few days ago in the National Assembly (NA) that the Faraba incident could have been avoided had the government had control over state resources. This view, while representing a departure from the doctrine of laissez-faire, is arguably required to help lift ordinary Gambians from abject poverty. The concentration of wealth in the hands of a few should be seen as a threat to our democracy because where economic inequalities exist, the idea of democratisation would be tantamount to a real baptism by fire – a difficult task.
Arguably, a government of any given society must play its cards well to prevent chaos. Conflicts and even violence might be a recurring process, especially where economic interests run the gamut. Therefore, the government of The Gambia and the direct victims of Gunjur, Sanyang, Faraba and other places can/should/must work together to find a fairer developmental plan that is less detrimental to the country’s ecosystem by taking into consideration the issue of intergenerational justice.
Extracting resources for our use is a necessary undertaking, but a one exacerbated by the demand brought by capitalism and the globalisation of the world economy. However, the capitalist demand for resources should not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This is why environmental activism should become a powerful driving force which gives life to our political identity.
The mining at Kartong and Faraba, the fishing industry in Gunjur, and the extraction of other natural within The Gambian territory should be promoted if the majority of the people, especially those found in these localities, stand to benefit from them. Where these activities are to merely perpetuate the survival of the venture capitalists and the elite class at the expense of the masses, they should be nipped in the bud.
We do not want to argue about the legality of the detention and the subsequent trial of the Gunjur activists; however, their commitment and courage to stand up for their community are applauded. Their environmental activism and its consequences have qualified the argument that the government – African governments, to be idealistic here – has to engage in radical and bold industrial intervention in order to overcome the deleterious legacy left behind by Jammehism and decades of cronyism and corruption.
The bureaucracy: a stealth vehicle for self-aggrandizement
When a country’s bureaucracy becomes a goldmine for getting rich, it devolves into a bureaucratic bourgeoisie, turning citizens into victims of clientele politics and numbing any chances they might have for cultivating a high political culture. The masses cannot afford to continue having such a system, nor a system where the entire bureaucratic structure is a facade behind which personal networks and exchanges continue to drive politics.
For a political democracy to be meaningful, appointed officials must be accountable to politicians, who in turn are accountable to the general public. Mr. Barrow should be wary of appointing senior bureaucrats who do not share the ideological enthusiasms of his government because this would compromise his ability to fight corruption – a menace Comrade Njundu argues “harms the poor, …derail all development efforts, make the ‘vision’ of… [our] ‘National Development Plan’ unachievable, scare away foreign investors, undermine our democracy and security, and deepen poverty and inequality.”
The idea that when a government interferes in the working of the bureaucracy it’s demonstrating some authoritarian traits is subject to debate (In April, the Swedish Prime Minister sacked the head of the country’s Social Security, Ann-Marie Begler). In most, if not all major democracies, senior bureaucrats are appointed based on their loyalty and commitment to the government’s sense of direction.
The aim of our argument is not to call on Barrow to politicise or depoliticise the bureaucracy, or that the bureaucracy should resemble a patchwork of a politicised clan; rather, the argument is that the country’s bureaucracy is becoming or has become a petri dish for getting rich, caught living between the past (breathing some air from Jammeh’s era) and the present, and seemingly unprepared for the future. This is consequently leading bureaucrats to act as dragons rather than stimuli for growth, thus undermining the Barrow administration.
The country does not seem to be on the right course in fighting corruption, and this has consequently dampened the consciousness and hope of the masses. If Barrow is to succeed in saving The Gambia and himself from a bad political mojo, he has to distance himself from the petit-bourgeois, political clientelism, and show some bold steps in taming the burgeoning flabby-cheeks bureaucrats. In a nutshell, he has to show a plebian commitment to the wishes and aspiration of the masses, otherwise, in a couple of years, The Gambia will witness the creation of a new ‘Commission of Inquiry’.
Above all, Comrade Amical Cabral inculcated in us to: “Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children.”