Many moons ago, Gambians would give their all just to see Jammeh hit the exit point. Then they decided. And Yaya left. A new dawn set in. With it arrived free speech. You can freely speak your mind. Anonymity is no longer necessity for many a Gambian. “This new political dispensation is liberating, and should, if handled right, redound to our national development. You have to give credit to President Barrow for being the custodian of this new-found freedom. He and the Gambian people worked side-by-side to reach this threshold. None could do without the order”.
Then the procedural errors began to erupt. As the celebration was overtaken by reality check, some cajoled the to be leadership both “visionary and quick on its feet”. The change disoriented some of the old school activists. For them nothing actually changed but regime. The institutions, instruments and practices remained unaffected. Prompting the rebirth of a new street talk. The governance style got dressed as low-energy, incoherent and vacillating. “It’s neither here nor there. It’s a-grope-in-the-dark kind of leadership, a leadership bereft of ideas and inspiration”. Consequently, some began to travel back in time in search of answers to why the newly minted democracy is failing where dictatorship has succeeded. “Love him or hate him, and put away his wanton human rights abuses for a fleeting second, Jammeh was a bold, transformational leader. He was an action-man, never the one to wait and waffle and procrastinate.
His leadership style had spurts of energy that defied imagination. With him you felt a certain earnestness about what is it that he plans to do. There is boldness, there is intensity. I guess his military background had something to do with it. Military governments, unlike their civilian counterparts, tend to be bold, swift, and encompassing in their deliberations. At this point in 1994, in Jammeh’s 100 days in power, there was no mistaking his intensity and priorities. He had assembled a strong cabinet, he had conducted a plethora of cabinet meetings, the contours of commissions of inquiry into Jawara’s past had begun to emerge. You felt the immensity of the changes happening all around you. It was hard to keep up. But with Barrow, one is at pains to decipher where things are going”, reasoned Cherno Baba Jallow.
Mr Jallow was not speaking alone, Mr President. He echoed the view of many others who fought with and want you to succeed. After 22 years of repressive years and Yaya constantly in people’s face, it will take Gambians to appreciate a modest and people oriented style of leadership. Besides, everyone seems to have their personalised expectations from you. To satisfy all will equate chasing flicking shadows on a slippery surface. Perhaps, engaging the public more often by enlightening them that meaningful change of instruments, institutions and practices of a democracy particularly one which inherited from a brutal Dictatorship must first repeal all draconian laws that enabled abuse. This cannot be achieved without due diligence, resources and support from the citizenry. We have seen the errors made when you rush to satisfy. Change is never easy. Some are disadvantaged by it while others benefit from it. What matters is for it to be an inclusive change nurturing equal opportunity.
Fixing the decayed economy will not be easy and quick. Firstly, the factors which eroded the economy must be identified and addressed. Care must also be taken to avert falling into suffocating economic strings that willing donors attached to their aids and grants. Attitudinal change to work is another necessity which must come from citizens. Government can appoint citizens to look after institutions but can’t determine who is working for self or state. How many ordinary Gambians have unapologetically stolen from national coffers and are celebrated a good sons and daughters? How many of us put country before self? That change cannot come from the leadership but us.
Are we ready to work for less to get the country where we want her especially during unsociable hours? Everyone wants it cut and dry but is unwilling to get dirty to see the change we so much can’t wait to have. How many civil servants will report on duty at 08:00 and stay in their offices for all their shift time doing only official duties? Are we cutting on expenses by using public facilities for official duties only?
We as a citizen must lead the change. If our attitudes to country isn’t changed, any government effort will be but cosmetic. The infighting at work, the hypocrisy and greed must all change to help bring about the change we want from government. After all who is the government? It is not only Barrow and his cabinet but you and I. The Wolof say before you ask someone to have a shower, you must be clean first.