Alagi Yorro Jallow
I am still struggling to get my mind around what democracy means for our collective future. I won’t try to sort it out here in a Facebook post. Alas! The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to the point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That is a dictatorship—the ownership of a government by an individual, by a group, or by any controlling private power is an anathema to democracy.
What I will say is that what happened can’t be explained simply as a failure of the political establishment—although it has failed spectacularly. Nor is it simply a problem of demagoguery or sycophancy—although both are alive and well and flourishing at this moment. Nor is this fledgling democracy simply a matter of humans being treated as disposable—like plastic bottles tossed in a landfill—as political and social media elites spew propaganda that encourages us to view “the others” as the enemy.
The problem runs deeper than all of that. The truth is we are stumbling badly in large part because we are just beginning to learn to walk. Roughly 22 years ago, we had a quasi-democracy; it was not a true democracy by any stretch. We still don’t have a real democracy. But we’ve recently managed to revive a new democratic-like system. In the words of William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Our leaders should be aware of democracy and avoid demagoguery but again be mindful of “clicktivism and sycophantism politics.”
It is said that humans are creatures of habit; perhaps that is why George Sanataya cautioned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” On the other hand, maybe you agree with Mark Twain who said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” In today’s Gambia, with what rhyme and reason do we proceed? As we listen to our nation’s leaders and watch their ways, it is becoming quite apparent that history continues to repeat itself. Consider the following.
Our political leaders are often misadvised and misdirected because the majority of those they rely on to govern are demagogues and sycophants who hardly tell them the truth.
The extent to which demagoguery and sycophancy have taken over reality and stunted our political development can be gauged from the daily praising of failed politicians, so-called muckrakers, and spineless pundits on social media, often selling to innocent Gambians falsehood and propaganda to the extent that the wrong people are appointed to sensitive and important positions. No leader would say that things should not move forward in the country.
The problem is the people around them, who don’t advise them well. I have observed that ninety-nine percent of people who hover around our political leaders are sycophants and praise-singers. Let us be frank with our leaders to get us out of where we are today. Gambian politics is in trouble because the citizens have allowed deception, denial, disinformation, diversion, evasion, exaggeration, indoctrination, lying, media manipulation, mind control, propaganda, scapegoating and smear campaigns, which are the signs of sycophancy in our politics and governance.
I believe our democracy must be freed from the suffocating grip of an all-knowing typical “African Big Man” myth. Comrades Solo Sandeng and Deyda Hydara, along with other folks, did not die for us to have a quasi-democracy. They died so that we can be free; they died so that we can reap the abundant benefits of a democracy. Think of Colonel Lamin Sanneh, Captain Ngaga Jagne and others who died fighting for our democracy. Gambians will spit on their graves when we let democracy slip away into the sewer of benevolent dictatorship akin to Yahya Jammeh. Never Again!
Gambia is a country ready to be taken—in fact, longing to be taken—by political leaders ready to restore democracy and trust the political process after all the bitter horrors of Yahya Jammeh’s rule.
The Gambian people don’t want a democracy that can’t guarantee its citizens one square meal a day, a democracy that can’t guarantee three hours of electricity daily, a democracy that can’t afford to allow people to protest, a democracy that can’t guarantee the freedom of the press and of speech and respect for the Constitution, a democracy that is standing on its head, a democracy that takes one step forward and three backward.
Let us never forget that the government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not President Barrow and government officials, but the voters of this country. The government is us; we are the government, you and me. We can heal the wounds of this nation or aggravate such wounds. We can bring peace to this nation or cause chaos to erupt in it.
We are very hungry for a new beginning. We want President Barrow to help “Make the Gambia Great Again” by making our institutions strong, as strong institutions would make our democracy great again. We want our leaders to build a thriving multi-ethnic, multi-faith, egalitarian democracy out of the rubble of dictatorship. Gambian people are interested in being part of something larger than the sort of small, petty, slash-and-burn politics that we have been seeing over the past several years.