Presidential Debate – The Winners and Losers

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By Tamsir A Mbai   –   Dallas, Texas

Conclusion:   In conclusion, Halifa Sallah handily won the debate and the right to the presidency. He has earned the right to be president of The Gambia because of his unimpeachable decades-long service to the nation. He deserves the mantle of power not only because of his patriotism and honesty, but also because of his clarity of vision for how he intends to govern, and what policies he sees as required to uplift the nation and the collective citizenry. More importantly, he will not try to entrench himself nor his party in power. We trust he will make the appropriate constitutional changes for term limits and thus rein in the insatiable desire of an imperial would-be aspirant for a lifelong presidency.

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Okay, I join you, the astute reader, in observing that this article starts with the conclusion. So, I understand your bewilderment if you are tempted to ask, “What is matter with the author of this article? Who starts an article with the conclusion?”  In my defense, I did so only because the article is a little lengthy, and I fear some people may not read all of it if they see how far they have to scroll to get to the end. To ensure everybody reads my conclusion and my recommendations for president for the upcoming election, I chose to publish my conclusion at the top of the article. Halifa Sallah is my choice for president, and I recommend every Gambian voter to vote for him so we can save our country from the brink of being a Failed State. With that out of the way, let’s get to reading the article.

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The Willing Contenders   –   Winners

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  1. Halifa Sallah
  2. Essa Mbye Faal
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The No-Shows   –   Losers

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  1. Ousainu Darboe
  2. Adama Barrow
  3. Abdoulie Jammeh

Each of the no-shows above flunked the debate, but they did so to spectacularly different degrees. From last to first, here is the ranking as we assessed the debate.

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Ousainu Darboe & the UDP   –   In last place is Ousainu Darboe and the UDP. This was the easiest choice to make in the rankings, not because Darboe is unqualified to run The Gambia, but because he has a track record of reneging on prior agreements. When you combine that with the fact that he, justifiably or unjustifiably, is one of the most polarizing figures in the Gambian political landscape, he was the one that could least afford to skip the debate. He needed to show up, dominate the debate as a lawyer accustomed to answering tough questions, but above all, show the nation that he has the pedigree to run the affairs of the nation. He needed to be trite and apologetic for past mistakes that led to the breakup of Coalition 2016. He needed to show he understands the challenges that confront the nation and how he would remedy those challenges. He needed to extend an olive branch to the other contenders so that even if he eventually wins the presidency, he could pull the nation together and bring about collective healing. By failing to recognize this enormous need, and by failing to recognize that many (not me) hold him personally responsible for the disintegration of Coalition 2016, he has shown himself to either take it for granted that the people will blindly vote for him, or worse, that he has such contemptuous disregard and disrespect for the Gambian people that he does not believe he owes us any answers about what plans he has for the nation, and how his agenda is better than that of the other contenders. Neither of those positions is commendable.

As any gentleman would know, when you are the suitor to a girl whom you want to convince to entrust you with their life in blissful matrimony, you do what it takes to win their heart and mind. You not only say the right things, but you also do the right things by frequently calling and going to visit her. That shows interest. It shows respect. It shows commitment. As a presidential contender, what Darboe seeks is no different from the scenario of the gentlemanly suitor described above who is wooing a girl. In Darboe’s case, he is wooing a nation toward whom he is nonchalant and disdainful of our need to have him come to us at the debate and explain his plans for our future. But did Darboe do any of the acts expected of a suitor? No, he did not! When given the lonesome opportunity to come and answer questions of relevance to the Gambian people in how he intends to run the affairs of the nation, he chose not to show up. Worse, he offered no tangible or acceptable excuse for his nonchalant attitude toward the Gambian people who tuned in to watch and listen to the debate.

There is no greater job in any country than the presidency. If we don’t know what plans you have to run the country, why should we trust you with the levers of power? If Darboe had previously run the affairs of the country and performed an incredibly stellar job, then we could rely on his prior performance to gauge his future performance. Since he does not have the luxury of incumbency, he, more than anyone else, should have shown up at the debate and told the nation about his plans. He failed to do that. We must therefore take it that he has nothing to offer the nation, or if he does, what he has to offer is inferior to what the other candidates have to offer. Those are the only two logical conclusions one can make from his absence. For crying out loud, the man is a renowned lawyer used to contentious debate in the courtroom. Indeed, his supporters barely ever call him by his name. They call him Lawyer Darboe. Some go as far as calling him The Gambia’s preeminent lawyer (Gambia la lawyer baa). Given such high praise, if Darboe had anything convincing to say about his vision or his party’s platform, it is inconceivable that he would not show up to the debate and overwhelm the public and his fellow debaters with the superiority of his message.

In his absence at the debate, we can only surmise that he does not wish to expose himself to the scrutiny of a nation yearning for competent leadership and a visionary mind that can diagnose the ailments of the country, but beyond that, leadership that also has viable plans that can transform a decadent and almost-failed nation into a prosperous and thriving state. His failure in this regard is paramount. It must not be taken lightly. When you need our support and our votes, but are intransigent to attend a national event hosted to determine the best candidate to lead our nation, and when you further demonstrate an indifference to even feign any interest in addressing our concerns and aspirations at a nationally televised debate, we must look the other direction for someone who not only values our time, but also shares our national anxiety about the future of the nation and the next generations. We must therefore look for someone confident enough about their future plans for the nation to be able to tell us how they see the current state of affairs in our country, and what policies need to be implemented to change course and put our nation on a pathway to glorious prosperity. Halifa Sallah effortlessly did that at the debate. Essa Mbye Faal did that at the debate to a varying degree. Congratulations to those two gentlemen!

We must recognize that there is no leader who knows it all. Leadership is therefore about choices. So, it goes without saying that the one that makes better choices will usually succeed better than the one that does not. I mentioned in my preamble to why Mr. Darboe won last place at the debate that it is partly because he has a track record of reneging on prior agreements. Let us investigate that.

In 2016, as we all remember, while Darboe was unfairly jailed by the Yaya Jammeh regime, a coalition MOU was crafted that won the election and thus won our collective freedom from a brutal 22-year dictatorship. The benevolence that poured into The Gambia from the Diaspora and the international community was overwhelming. That soon subsided once it became obvious that Mr. Darboe’s personal ambitions superseded the interests of the nation. That ambition led to the collapse of the coalition as he sought to entrench his party in power in blatant disregard for the agreements and commitments his party made as spelt out in the MOU. Even if we are to give Darboe the benefit of the doubt as I have done in numerous debates and conversations with others because he was not a party to the MOU since he was in prison at the time of its crafting, the fact Darboe has repeated the offense of reneging on a prior agreement and commitment is characteristic of a repeat offender, and that cannot be brushed aside. Mr. Darboe and his party were a party to the negotiations about the debate parameters. Once those parameters were agreed upon, the debate committee set out to publicly advertise the eligible contestants that will partake in the debate, and thereafter established a date for the debate. Despite the best efforts of the debate committee, Darboe decided to walk away in blatant disregard of his prior commitment. We have seen this behavior before, and that is why it stuck out like a sore thumb this time around to those of us who pay attention to history. So, the question becomes, why did Darboe pull out of the debate?

We can only speculate about his reasons for pulling out of the debate, but the most obvious ones are the possibility that his party’s lack of a credible manifesto spelt doom for him at the debate. The party did come out with a FIVE-point campaign ad that later morphed into a TEN-point campaign ad. However, those were woefully inadequate for an individual running for a class prefect, much less someone seeking the highest office of the land. It showed a lack of preparedness for the job they seek. It showed a lack of understanding for the challenges that confront the nation. In short, their shortsighted TEN-point agenda is a recipe for disaster for The Gambia. That is the main reason why I chose to pen this writeup at the penultimate hour of the election cycle.  It could also be that Darboe feared he would have to answer at the debate to the disastrous debacle of his staunch advocacy for a 2017 Tactical Alliance that caused the disintegration of the coalition that won our freedom and independence. How does anyone explain that away to a discerning public? Faced with those two daunting challenges, Darboe chose to abstain from the debate, but that only heightened the public curiosity.

Whatever the reason, by choosing to abstain from an event of paramount national interest, Darboe and his party miserably miscalculated our collective desire to vote on the substance of a candidate’s agenda and party platform, rather than on the pomposity and meaningless beats of drums and wailing sycophants. We have matured in our desire to be led by competent forces. As a result, Darboe and his party owe the nation an apology for their intransigence, for their disrespect to the nation, and for their contemptuous treatment of the Gambian people. I must emphasize that Darboe and the UDP need us. We do not need them. Though I am sure they can help improve our lot from what Adama Barrow has given us, we don’t need them to prosper as a nation. We have a sufficiently high number of qualified candidates to pick from who can do the job as effectively and as efficiently as our national resource pool allows. Adama Barrow is not one of those qualified candidates!

In the final analysis, I think Darboe is qualified to be president. He is better qualified than Adama Barrow by a million miles. However, if you won’t tell us at a nationally televised debate how you intend to run the country so we can assess the efficacy of your plans, then we are left with no choice but to look the opposite direction. If we cannot trust that someone can honor their prior commitments, there is little reason to believe they will honor future agreements and commitments. What that means is that whatever promises Darboe makes now can dissipate into thin air when he later calculates that a prior agreement is no longer in his best political interest. Of course, we must recognize that when this type of flipflopping is done in the interest of the nation, it could be advantageous for everybody. For example, if a prior president had entered the country into international agreements that were self-serving to them, but pernicious to the nation, then a flipflopping president can come in, renege on the said agreements, and thus undo the damage to the nation. That could be the one positive way to look at it. Unfortunately, if we are to go by past behavior as a predictor of future behavior, we must recognize that Darboe’s prior flipflopping were indeed damaging to the interests of the nation. At a time when we needed to reset the carnage wrought by the 22-year dictatorship, in contravention to the Coalition 2016 MOU, Darboe encouraged the idea of a 2017 Tactical Alliance that split the coalition into fiefdoms. His only rationale for doing so, the national interest and prior party commitments be damned, was that it would advantage his personal ambition and that of his party. That act derailed the transitional government that we all wished for. This is crucial because by then, the massive deficiencies of Adama Barrow as a leader were glaringly obvious for any honest observer. We needed him out of State House as quickly as possible (3 years), but alas, thanks to Mr. Darboe’s personal agenda reneging on prior agreements as spelt out in the aforementioned MOU, we still have Adama Barrow as president when he has nothing to offer the nation. We are therefore still paying for Darboe’s miscalculation.

In light of the above, Ousainu Darboe and his party have lost any credibility to lead our nation. We must pick a different individual to lead our country. This individual must have the patriotic fervor and protective zeal toward the nation as that of a hen toward her chicks. This individual must be an intellectual powerhouse with a visionary mindset capable of not only diagnosing the ailments of the patient (The Gambia), but also able to prescribe the appropriate remedies to triage the patient and nurse them back to health. That individual is the Honorable Halifa Sallah!

Adama Barrow and the NPP   –   In second to place is Adama Barrow. He, of course, is on the seat of throne. He knows he is unqualified and unfit to occupy that seat, and he also knows he has little to offer the nation. His understanding of the machinery of government and the instruments used to keep those machines churning is rudimentary at best. He knows he cannot win any debate of substance that requires a broad spectrum of intellect imbued with the nuances of the complex systems of the state’s cornucopia of institutions. Faced with the daunting task of exposing the magnitude of his intellectual shortcomings for the entire nation to see and for history to indelibly record, he chose to run for the hills for cover rather than face a barrage of poignant questions about the state he heads. He knows he is expected to know the answers to these questions after being in office for 5 years (5 years too long), but he also knows he neither knows the answers, nor could he articulate them in English language, the chosen medium of communication for the debate.

Barrow’s absence at the debate is troublesome in many ways. It was a missed opportunity for him to provide Accountability to the people by answering questions about his government’s activities. It was a missed opportunity for him to attempt to:

  1. Defend Fatoumata Kodolay
  2. Defend the D10,000 monthly stipend he gave to some members of the national assembly
  3. Defend the 57 trucks he claims were donations from a mysterious donor
  4. Defend the abuse of our waterways and fish resources by the Chinese, and
  5. Tell the nation the current state of the country, and how he intends to improve our economic prosperity and promote our national security interests especially given the exorbitantly high number of foreign forces in our country.

This was a missed opportunity for Adama Barrow to explain the deplorable state of our healthcare, the regressive state of our educational system, and the barren productivity of our agricultural land. All these missed opportunities were not missed of course. He does not have an answer for any of the issues I enumerated above. Therefore, his absence at the debate was not unexpected. This low expectation for him is why he earned second-to-last place and beat Ousainu Darboe who is more qualified than he is.

Abdoulie Jammeh   –   Abdoulie Jammeh gets honorable mention for being able to corral enough votes in every region to qualify to contest the presidency. He does not have a high-profile name recognition, so I cannot grade him. That said, because he did not show up for the debate, he is in no position to rank higher than the two candidates who respected the nation enough, and were confident enough of their vision and plans for the country to courageously face the nation to compete on ideas and promote their vision for the country. We acknowledge Abdoulie Jammeh, but we bow down to the gentlemen who competed at the debate.

Essa Mbye Faal   –   Essa Mbye Faal held his ground and did well against a formidable foe well known for his sharp mind and clarity of vision for where he wants to see The Gambia. There is no bias about the well-deserved accolades Essa received in the post-debate analysis, except from members of the UDP whose candidate didn’t even bother to show up, yet they incessantly lauded Essa’s performance against the UDP archrival. It was an unfortunate manifestation of their schadenfreude. Overall, I rank Mr. Faal second because his policies largely mirrored those of Halifa Sallah. Since Halifa has been advocating for these policies for several years, I concluded that Mr. Faal was the borrower of those policies. I am a firm believer that there is no need to reinvent the well. If you deem the policies of those who came before you, including Halifa Sallah’s policies, as great, then I see nothing wrong with borrowing some or all of them, and then refining them. That said, to leapfrog Halifa into first place would have required an originality of ideas and plans that were so divergent from Halifa’s, yet transcendental and viable. In the absence of such transcendental ideas, I must salute Essa for his composure, his eloquence, and his professionalism. We need sons and daughters like him at the forefront of our national institutions. Bravo, my brother!

Halifa Sallah   –   Halifa Sallah is a known commodity in Gambian affairs. His name is synonymous with intellectualism, with patriotism, with humility, with living within ones means, with honesty, with subservience to the truth, and with an unwavering principledness to the protocols of good governance that can be used as a launchpad to propel the Gambian nation and that of the Melanin man everywhere on planet Earth. He has earned the admiration and respect of a nation because of his intellectual prowess, but more pronounced, because of the consistency between his public pronouncements and the manner in which he lives his live. Halifa Sallah is a man of impeccable character. He loves his country and can be trusted to run a well-oiled machine free from the impurities of the albatross of corruption at the highest office of the land. Those glorious characteristics, while admirable and laudable, are not sufficient to win a debate. In my assessment, Halifa Sallah won the debate handily because of his depth of understanding of the pesky details that have hamstrung our development since independence. Without rehashing the debate, please allow me to cite one such detail-oriented understanding of the issues that confront the nation. When asked about healthcare, Halifa categorized the four tenets of a good healthcare system, and sought to explain what those are. Unfortunately, because of the 90 second limit at the debate, he couldn’t offer a robust enough answer to demonstrate the overwhelming superiority of his answer. I was impressed. Here is what he said that was so impressive.

When questioned on healthcare, Halifa Sallah identified the four cornerstones of a good healthcare system, namely

  1. Preventive care,
  2. Promotive or Proactive care,
  3. Curative care, and
  4. Restorative care.

I was impressed. This is what I need in my leader; someone who can think outside the box and articulate the deep thinking required to fix complex problems. In my judgment, Halifa Sallah is a National Treasure who must be celebrated, but beyond that, he must be given the opportunity to bring us national salvation and prosperity.

On the proactive and preventive scope, he promised to:

  1. Utilize the Gambia college of nursing to ensure the country is graduating enough qualified medical professionals
  2. Establish a local mini-clinic in every village. He would use the existing maternal aids. These are the grandmas who deliver babies in the provinces. His plan is to train them as midwives and auxiliary nurses in maternal care to supplement those graduating from the college
  3. Allocate an ambulance (not sure how many) to the regions
  4. Build regional hospitals to handle regional patients
  5. Create a national database of the diseases and ailments pertinent in each region so we can have the appropriate medication that is most needed in each region, rather than have stockpiles of paracetamol in each region when that may not be the need. I was impressed by this!
  6. Allow paternal leave to allow fathers to assist the nursing mothers because as he sees it, women are the producer base (bear children) AND the productive base of Gambian society. They work on the farms, gardens, and rice fields to grow food and simultaneously do household chores and operate market stalls and food sales.

After reading item 6 above, one must ask, “Where are the men”? Well, if we have Halifa Sallah as president, that question will be answered because he has an understanding of the burdensome yoke on women’s necks, and he has the vision to remedy that predicament by making the men available to support the women and the family. So, if you are a woman reading this article, you must recognize the leader who understands your challenges and has a plan to fix them. Choose Halifa Sallah.

See, Halifa is detail oriented. Unfortunately, the debate was limited to 90 second answers. These heavy topics cannot be articulated in 90 seconds when you provide details. In my assessment, the time constraint was the biggest problem working against Halifa. That’s why he couldn’t deliver his lecture style oratory that the country is accustomed to seeing from him. I hope I have helped you put your finger on the pulse of why Halifa didn’t appear to be as dominant at the debate as he normally is, but on substance, as shown in his response to healthcare, he was a master-class.

On the issue of reviving the economy, Halifa went to the guts of the problem, wisely identifying the need for us to rely on utilizing our land, sea, and air to generate the agricultural base and marine productivity to offset the trade imbalances between our overdependence on imported goods and services. We must fix that trade imbalance if we seek to usher in prosperity. This is what demonstrates an understanding of the problems and how to fix them. Talk is cheap!

Debate Committee

I applaud the debate committee for hosting such an excellent event. The initiative is brilliant and progressive. There are a few areas that can be improved upon, but with this being the first nationally televised presidential debate, there is a lot to celebrate. We thank them, and we commend them for their ingenious creativity to bring to The Gambia the concept of the Presidential-Debate that the modern world has adopted as a more sophisticated way to pick our leaders based on the novelty and nobility of their ideas, rather than based on other ethnolinguistic relationships or regional affiliations. Thank you, Debate Committee!

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