Monday, April 22, 2024

Enjoy Your Independence Day, Gambians. But You Can Do Better Than That!

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OPINION

By Cherno Baba Jallow

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Happy February 18th, Gambians.

You, the People, should still be proud of what you did in 2016. You peacefully dislodged a long-standing African dictator, not a small feat in the annals of African politics. It was a surprising victory but it almost wasn’t.

Almost half of you wanted the dictator to stay on. And by your own inability to defend your vote and protect your country’s future, you allowed an interventionist force in. Now, you have foreign soldiers traipsing around, protecting this native land!

A democratic victory that only needed an icing on the cake, the plaudits becoming deservedly, and entirely, your own. But instead you failed to finish the job. What did you expect? Yours is a nation of half-steppers. Nothing you start ever gets finished. Along the way, and too often, you relapse into your time-traveled laggard ways, hoping for help, a sense of direction, from outside.

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It’s often said that leaders are products of their societies. In your 59 years of national Independence from British colonial rule, you’ve had only three presidents — an abysmal record. It’s not only about the paucity of leaders you have had so far, it’s also about the quality of leadership you have been dealt with. It’s neither impressive nor inspiring.

When next another leader in your country tries to repress you or forces an undue, prolonged stay in power, you should take the matter into your own hands. No, I am not talking about settling matters through force majeure, through arms, a guerrilla civil war campaign —- those methods are nasty and brutish and counterproductive. They do more harm than good. In fact, they do only harm.

I am talking about people power, the leveraging of the power of crowds. If you have 100,000, 200,000, 300,000 of you on the streets of Banjul, Serrekunda, Brikama, Basse, then you have a people’s revolution on the way. No government or leader is more powerful than crowds, the sheer immensity of a galvanized cause and movement. Consider:

The 1989 Romanian Revolution and the fall of Nicholai Ceausescu. The 1989 East German Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall and that of Eric Honecker. The 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the fall of Viktor Yanukovych. The 2011 Tunisian Revolution and the fall of Ben Ali. The 2014 Burkinabe Uprisings and the fall of Blaise Campoare.

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Crowds. It’s something about them, their spontaneity, their bohemian ethos, the elasticities of their reach and potency, their ability to force leaders to the negotiating table, or worse, take detours and flee for safety.

But it’s more than just crowds. It’s also about who will lead them, who will mobilize the people around a core set of beliefs. Among you all, there should emerge a latter-day Edward Francis Small, the great Gambian nationalist or somebody like his fellow countryman M. E. Jallow, the veteran trade unionist. Those leaders had a superlative combination of brains and guts, a remarkable ability to move people, to stitch ideas with actions.

Mass movements need inspirational leaders. Look around and see if you have leaders in your midst who possess the same kind of steady resolve and charm offensive like Small and Jallow. Ahem, they don’t make those kinds of leaders anymore in The Gambia. Instead, all you have available are sycophants, turncoats and opportunists —- a burgeoning industry of them.

In your 59 years of nationhood, your country’s next-door, big brother-neighbor Senegal looms large in two seminal events in your nation’s history. In 1981, they quelled a mini civil war in your country and returned to power your late president Dawda K. Jawara. In 2016, they forced your one-time dictator Yahya Jammeh into exile and helped you finally see the change you had voted for. In these two instances, the Senegalese were the enforcers of democratic mandates in your own country. It’s painful when outsiders become protagonists, and major ones at that, of groundbreaking moments in your country’s history.

When and if President Adama Barrow turns into a dictator and tries to deny you your democratic gains or when a resurgent Gambian army tries to dislodge him from power, take a stand inside your country. Don’t cut and run. Don’t ask for help across the border. Stop groveling to Senegal. Enough.

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