A heated debate is raging in the country these days on whether we should introduce a certain level of education as a requirement for the presidency. There is a faction of our people who believe that for someone to be eligible to contest for president, s/he must hold at least a degree as opposed to the current minimum of a senior secondary school leaving certificate. In the camp of those who wish to see a minimum of a university degree are prominent Gambians like Almamy Fanding Taal, Lecturer at the University of the Gambia, Mr Madi Jobarteh, Human Rights Defender and leading activist, and Dr. Ismailia Ceesay of the University of the Gambia.

To some, the debate has become acrimonious as some people have resorted to personal attacks and character assassinations instead of talking to the issue at hand. To begin with, let it be clear that opinions are not the same as facts and everyone has a right to his/her opinion. All the folks who have given their views on this issue have presented their views as opinions and not facts. They are entitled to their opinion. We have a right to ours as well. We may agree or disagree, but we must maintain decorum when we do it.

I happen to believe that we should stick to the current requirement of at least a senior secondary school leaving certificate. This is important on many fronts. The first is that it will give the majority of Gambians a chance and the ability – if they so desire – to run for president. Every Gambian should have the right to vote or be voted for in the presidential election as guaranteed by the Constitution. Having a minimum of a degree will disenfranchise those who do not.

However, this minimum of senior secondary school leaving certificate will then place another burden on our shoulders, that is strengthening the democratic institutions in the country. If we agree that the president needs not be highly educated, we must ensure that the institutions are there to help him, guide him, keep him in check so that we will realize the development aspirations we aspire for.

In a democracy, we value the concept of the separation of powers for there to be proper and effective checks and balances. The judiciary should be there to check the executive and the national assembly do the same. With these institutions in place and functioning effectively, it will not matter much if the president is highly educated or not.

In my opinion, it would have been more beneficial if the debate was on how to strengthen the democratic institutions instead of how educated our president should be. We have seen highly educated presidents perform woefully in office and we have seen some who are not so educated perform very well. Just take the United States of America as an example. It is very clear that had they not had strong democratic institutions, Donald Trump would have destroyed that country even in his first one hundred days in office.

Having now aired my view on this debate about the degree or senior school leaving certificate for president, I want to say a word or two in defense of Dr Ismaila Ceesay. The attacks on Dr Ceesay are totally unwarranted and unacceptable. The man has a right like any other Gambian to air his views on any, and all things in the country and no one should seek to stop him from doing that. It is wrong to try to silence someone in a democracy. Even if you find his ideas absurd, you should never resort to personal attacks.  We can disagree without being disagreeable.

The other point I want to address on this issue is the repugnant question of ‘Where were you during the past twenty-two years’ that many people keep raising especially towards Dr Ceesay and others who hold dissenting views. This is absurd because that is what we all fought for; to be able to air our views and opinions without let or hinderance. So, if I was not talking during the past regime because I did not have the opportunity to do that, should it mean that I should remain quiet now even if I see an injustice or something going wrong? If I remain quiet, then our purpose would have been defeated. So, give Dr Ceesay a break, he has every right to his opinion. And I daresay that when Almamy Taal profeferred the same opinion, no one attacked him like Dr Ceesay is currently being attacked. I am in no way saying that Mr Taal should be attacked; but it shows that there are double standards being displayed here.

To Dr Ceesay, Madi Jobarteh and Almamy Fanding Taal I say, I disapprove of what you say (on the university degree being a requirement to run for president) but I will defend to the death your right to say it. (Voltaire)