Age shall not weary them: Mugabe and his Gambian counterpart – Parallel rhetoric and divergent destiny
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Gambia’s president Yaya Jammeh are two interesting individuals in African leadership analysis. Both heads of state have led their respective countries for decades; Mugabe following Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 and Jammeh since 1994 when he overthrew the democratically elected government of President Jawara in a military coup. Taking into account certain parameters in comparing the two leaders, there are remarkable differences that set them apart. Both rule countries on opposite poles of the African landscape. Mugabe and Zimbabwe were engaged in protracted struggle for freedom from settler colonialism. Jammeh was not involved in freedom struggle of any kind, although he has made incessant effort since 1994 to make the claim stick that he risked his life for his country, similar to the ‘saviour of a nation cult’ Saddam Hussain created for himself in Iraq. The Gambia emerged from British colonial rule to independence in 1965 through one of the most serene constitutional processes and Jammeh’s predecessor leadership maintained a democratic and human rights regime with few parallel in the immediate post-independence period in Africa. Key differences also relate to the degree of influence their respective countries have on the international stage, with Zimbabwe economically and culturally more relevant to the international community than tiny Gambia with a population of less than 2 million people and lacking resources of strategic importance to the outside world. The relative age of the two leaders is another differentiating factor, as Mugabe is old enough to be Jammeh’s father.
Notwithstanding these differences, there are certain elements of chemistry that binds the two African leaders very closely especially in their rhetoric and approach to leadership. There is little evidence of the existence of diplomatic ties between Harare and Banjul beyond their membership of the African Union organisation. Closer diplomatic relation is less likely as they are geographically far apart and more importantly both leaders preside over impoverished countries, making returns on such investment too insignificant. This factor becomes a particular disincentive to leadership if its preoccupation is on self-interest and short term measures rather than on building a lasting geopolitical understanding between nations. Therefore, it is not difficult to see why in the Gambia under Jammeh, the focus of diplomatic effort has been less on the neighbouring African countries but with rich nations of Europe, the Far East and Middle Eastern countries. Such relations, as the Gambian example shows, can initially flourish but are often built on house of cards and crumbles in dramatic fashion.
Jammeh’s first intimate friend was Muammar Ghaddafi of Libya, who bankrolled his new military regime following the coup in 1994. It was inevitable that the relationship would hit the rock but the bad blood was swept under carpet for several years. As a Gambian civil servant, I recalled when directives reached us in early 2000s that one of the main thoroughfares in Banjul, which was renamed following the coup after the Libyan leader, was to revert to Marina Parade, its pre-Jammeh name. No reasons were given, but Gambian observers viewed it as signifying the cooling of relations between Gambia’s erratic young leader and his megalomaniac Libyan counterpart. However when the Libyan uprising foretold the inevitable fall of his friend, Jammeh openly denounced Ghaddafi and declared the forfeiture of Libyan assets in The Gambia. Even more dramatic was the relationship between The Gambia and Taiwan which lasted for 20 years until when it was terminated abruptly in November 2013. A Taiwan Foreign Ministry official claimed the move ‘appears to reflect the personal decision by the Gambian president.’ It was claimed afterward that Jammeh’s request for a sum of $10million from Taiwan was refused for lack of clear oversight measures. It follows also a period of intense scrutiny in Taiwan of its foreign policy budget leading to the imprisonment of former president Chen Shui-bian.
The Gambia’s relation with traditional donor countries, in particular the EU, also became severely fractured over differences on human rights issues. Although, like Mugabe, Jammeh spares no effort in branding the West of neo-colonialist posturing, often vowing that ‘Gambia would not be colonised again,’ the EU continued to support development funding to The Gambia until 2014 when 13 million Euro of funds were withheld due to Jammeh’s lack of commitment to basic human right standards. In May, the EU Permanent Representative was expelled. Her expulsion was part of a long list of diplomatic staff and experts who suffered similar fate if they appear to express divergent opinions to those of Jammeh. Thanks to the indefatigable effort of the Gambian diaspora community, the regime’s human rights abuses are becoming widely acknowledged around the world. Recently described as the ‘North Korea of Africa’ in the US media, the people of the Gambia have always been aware that despite the popularisation of Zimbabwe as the worst human right abuser country in Africa, Jammeh is at par or worse than Mugabe. The country’s small size and geopolitical insignificance obscure its plight from international view, very much to the frustration of Gambian people, particularly for the opposition movement.
There may have also been an element of the West turning a blind eye to Jammeh’s human rights abuses against vulnerable Gambian citizens as demonstrated by the opposition within the EU bloc to the decision on suspending funding, with fears expressed that such decision could encourage increased cooperation with wealthy Arab states, fan anti-western sentiment and fuel radicalism within the Muslim population. The website, EurActiv.com highlighted these differences between the southern and northern EU nations. The Wikileaks documents also revealed similar sentiments expressed in 2010 by Barry Wells, the US Ambassador to The Gambia, who appeared to have urged American support to the Jammeh regime. Conversely, John Campbell, a senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York viewed as ‘sloppy analysis,’ the idea that sanctions on the regime will fuel Gulf collaboration and the rise of ‘jihadism’ in Gambia. The regime is cognisant of such feeling of nervousness in the West and capitalising on it by organising choreographed anti EU matches in Banjul, involving a reluctant population that is aware Islamic fanaticism is unlikely to gain ground in their country.
In spite of the age gap between Mugabe and Jammeh, both leaders can be categorised as belonging to what the Ghanaian, Professor George Ayittey branded as the ‘hippo generation’ of African leaders. He described the ‘Hippos’ for what they clearly are: lazy, slow, mean and above all greedy. Professor Ayittey’s analysis of Africa’s crisis of leadership stroke a cord because what he has described of African leaders is what the people tend to recognise in many of their leaders. Both Mugabe and Jammeh have made it clear over and above that they are not amenable to share power. Whereas Mandela gave handed power over to a younger generation of South African leaders, Mugabe continue to rule in his 90s and resorting to coercive tactics to do so and surrounding himself with kleptocratic elements. Accusing the opposition of being under the direction of the West, Zimbabwean security forces beat the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in 2007, leading to his hospitalisation. Mugabe boasted afterwards that ‘the police had to do their job.’ Another morally backward claim of his is the brag that he is in possession of a degree in torture, in addition to the many academic degrees he holds. Taking a cue again from Professor Ayittey’s assortment of African leaders, the two can both be referred to as Swiss Bank pan-Africanists, but can each be given one more credential: Jammeh a ‘fu fu head military dictator’ and Mugabe a ‘crocodile liberator.’
Mugabe and Jammeh can be described as two hippos ‘littered in one day.’ And Mugabe the elder but not necessarily the more dangerous – indicative of the fact that the younger African leaders have not learned much from the lessons of the past. Professor Ayittey also pointed out the ‘coconut republic’ that African leaders often establish which serves as the engine through which nefarious activities are transacted to the detriment of the people. Leaders of coconut republics are impervious to reform because reform is the enemy that most threatens their power. The coconut imagery, with its hardened outer cover, also personifies the gravity of misrule in these countries, one that calls for a strong and sustained effort to break through it.
The Gambian leader often threatens that he will remain in power for a million years. Media practitioners have faced harassment, torture and disappearance. Jammeh originated from humble background and was an army lieutenant when he seized the state. Thanks to the power he wielded, The Gambian leader now has business interest in virtually all sectors of the economy – including selling meat, vegetables and bread. He transformed his village into a bustling town, owns large swaths of land around the country, lavishes gifts and incurs heavy expenditure on praise singers from far and wide, including celebrities from the African Diaspora. Jammeh also owns a $3.5m property in Potomac, USA. All these for a leader of a country with a predominantly subsistence economy and ranked eighth poorest in the world. In the meantime, observers have hinted that on the economic front, ‘chickens are coming home to roost.’
Several years of poor policy decisions, excessive borrowing and corruption has rendered the Gambian economy on the brink. The government has already made two requests this year for IMF bailout under its Rapid Credit Facility, citing the West African Ebola epidemic as justification for the poor performance of the economy. Meanwhile the general population are paying the price for his inefficient economic management with high unemployment, depressed wages and skyrocketing cost of basic necessities.
In what other ways can we analyse the leadership of these two African heads of state? Laymen more conversant with both rhetoric and leadership practice of the two often would label them as having some form of mental or psychological deficiencies. Leadership theorists have for long recognised some association of leaders’ background, in particular their childhood and social development, with leadership performance. Perhaps more understanding of this phenomenon in relation to the two should be sought. It can be said on layman’s point of view that Jammeh rarely show signs of the ability to understand other people’s perspective on matters of public interest, an important component for political leadership, and a common inhibition identified in the ‘theory of mind’ studies on autism spectrum disorder. Furthermore as alluded to by many people, Jammeh has had an unstable childhood, with very few blood relations, a rare phenomenon in Gambian society, which also fuelled speculations that his origin is really from the southern Senegalese province of Cassamance. Similarly, Mugabe is said to have been a loner as a child preferring to keep to himself, and his father abandoning the family to move to Bulawayo.
The eccentric nature of the two have been documented variously over the years. The Gambian leader, in particular, has elevated his own eccentricity to comical proportion, shaming the good name of the country when he claimed to have a cure for HIV AIDS. This ridiculous claim nearly rivalled the act of Caligula in appointing his horse as Roman consul.
Jammeh’s claim is part of a broader strategy to create the impression that he has supernatural powers, a throw-back to the old age concept of leadership virtue that claims leaders are born with special qualities to lead. In his calculation this still resonates strongly in Gambian society. But his real power lies in the ability to use state apparatus for personal gains. Outlandish attacks on the West is particularly the rhetoric that binds Jammeh and Mugabe more firmly. However, many observers recognised that the underlying factor behind this schism is the hatred both leaders have for democratic principles, one of the fundamental building blocks of Western societies. Jammeh, for instance, played on the pan-Africanist sentiment in taking a personal decision to withdraw The Gambia from the Commonwealth, but the truth behind it was his desire to continue perpetuating human right abuses against Gambian people and also avoid the scrutiny Commonwealth imposes on its member states. For such leaders, no noble initiative is beyond use for imposing their will on the people, a phenomenon the pan-Africanist movement should take care to recognise.
Jammeh also uses the name of Islam in the predominantly Muslim country to achieve similar aims. His attack on gays and lesbians, more famously at UN General Assembly where Mugabe also attacked the West, is aimed at appealing to a society still very much attached to traditional and religious beliefs. In the same vein, several Islamic scholars, many with a background of scholarship in the Arabian Gulf have fallen for Jammeh’s ostentatious Islamic posturing, and, not just condoning his human rights and economic abuses, but actively partaking in it. In recent times, these scholars have become the most vociferous defenders of Jammeh, as if this is part of plan for the exportation of Saudi despotism to the West African nation. Already there are signs that this is leading to a decline in moral authority of Islamic leadership enjoyed in the period before 1994, exemplified by the media attack on preachers and imams deemed to be collaborating with the regime. A parallel can be drawn with the decline in fortune of the Catholic Church’s authority in Spain and Latin America resulting from its support to military regimes’ human rights abuses in the 1970s and before.
Jammeh craves the friendship of the African Diaspora, but the same may not be said of Mugabe. Celebrities from the African Diaspora are often invited by Jammeh and sometimes at great expense to the state. When Reverend Jesse Jackson visited The Gambia to secure the release of Dr Amadou Janneh and another Gambian American on long-term prison sentences for treasonable offences, his request was granted. Jammeh carefully cultivates this generosity to the African Diaspora as a way of buttressing his charitable pan-Africanism that never began at home. The older leader, on the other hand, is less meticulous about cultivating friendship with the African Diaspora, once branding Jamaican men as ‘chronic drunkards and unambitious pot smokers.’ Taking the totality of tongue-lashing the two leaders consistently engage in, it often defies logic in attempting to determine their motivation. Jammeh’s own collaborators have sometimes come under even more severe castigation and abuse than his opponents. Dr Janneh’s autobiography related such an embarrassing incident in one of Jammeh’s overseas travels. In that incident Jammeh ordered that a government official, who later became a cabinet minister, be covered in leaves as a demonstration of the official’s relationship to the forestry sector. In Jammeh’s hotel room in Pretoria, I witnessed an occasion when a cabinet minister came under severe chastisement from him for supposedly having a slip of tongue while reading a report and a Gambian diplomat mocked for his Anglo Saxon name and for wearing a tie.
Talk hurts but not as severely as the amount of repression Jammeh loyalists eventually go though in the form of imprisonment, extra-judicial execution and exile. Of all the high profiled fallouts he has had with his collaborators none captivated the nation’s psyche more than that of Mr Baba Jobe, who served as Jammeh’s right hand man in various portfolios, both official and unofficial, from 1994 until his imprisonment in 2004 on trump-up charges. Mr Jobe’s notoriety as Jammeh’s henchman ended in tears for he was never to come out of his incarceration as he died mysteriously in October 2011, apparently nearing the completion of his prison sentence. The regime also confiscated personal properties of Mr Jobe and evicted his family from their home. In doing so, the regime evoked a UN resolution that previously indicted Jobe on charges of arms trafficking, but was for many years shielded by Jammeh. It was a similar form of backstabbing The Gambian leader had done to Ghaddafi and many other former friends.
Unlike the two leaders’ differing approach to the African Diaspora, they have had a unity of mind in relation to their own diaspora communities until recently when this too appears to diverge. The Gambian diaspora, in particular, can be described as the last frontier in Jammeh’s determination to pacify the country and eliminate all forms of opposition. The diaspora found a safe haven in many Western countries and in Senegal, where scrutiny and criticism of the regime continue unabated. As a result, Jammeh has developed a near pathological hatred for the Gambian diaspora. With the assistance of his cronies, no effort is spared in taking a swipe at them. Like Mugabe had done before with his own diaspora, Jammeh labelled the Gambia dissidents as unpatriotic and bent on destroying the country. Both leaders heaped scorn on their diaspora citizens, branding them as ‘bottom cleaners,’ a reference to the social work that immigrants in the West may be engaged.
But there is an inescapable fact about the two diaspora communities that even autocratic leaders cannot ignore. Both countries are facing severe economic difficulties and the diaspora plays a major role in bolstering their respective economies. A recent UN report pointed out that The Gambia could face severe food shortage without the remittance its diaspora community makes. Jammeh himself must have realised their valuable role for the economy as monies remitted to families are increasingly being needed to buy goods and services provided by his ever expanding personal business interests. Even Gambian commuters have to resort to using the president’s green buses, as these are the ones that can ply the roads he brags about for constructing, without having to endure the frequent police harassment. This is perhaps the single most important reason why Jammeh occasionally toys with the idea of mending fence with the diaspora community. One of these attempts was in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 election when the government convened a diaspora conference in Banjul. Few if any diaspora activists heeded his call as the vacillating nature of Jammeh’s mind can be compared only to a wind vane. The gap between his massive ego and the determination of Gambian activist community to bring sanity to their country is too wide and rough a gulf for bridging. Among the few diaspora Gambians that attended included Mr Famara Jatta, who died shortly after this conference, as well as Mrs Fatou Bensouda, the ICC Chief Prosecutor. They have both previously served in Jammeh’s cabinet. Earlier this year Jammeh offered what he called ‘an amnesty’ to dissidents with the exception of few unnamed individuals. This is in the immediate aftermath of the 30 December, 2014 unsuccessful armed attack on his residence and Gambia’s golden jubilee celebration. Many responded that this should be called a travesty of justice as they felt that Jammeh has all along been the aggressor to the Gambian nation and people.
Unlike Jammeh, his older counterpart has made some progressive moves to give Zimbabwe’s diaspora community greater recognition, albeit theoretical at this stage. Heeding the advice of his finance officials, Mugabe now admits his country’s diaspora is too important to be ignored in national development. This differs from Jammeh’s move to engage the Gambian diaspora because he called his ‘a pardon,’ with strings attached, including the order for dissidents to refrain from criticizing his policies.
The subject of longevity in African political leadership, one that unites Mugabe and Jammeh, is a vexing one in political discourse. But there is a clear recognition that succession planning and transfer of power is integral to leadership performance. The educator Andy Hargreaves, cited classic examples of leaders who felt reluctant to allow succession to take place: ‘The Emperor Caligula murdered half his children. England’s ageing Queen will not cede the throne to her eldest child. Saturn ate his own son.’ At the core of the two leaders’ detestation of democratic principles is their determination to remain in power indefinitely. If there is an inevitability in Mugabe’s move to give some degree of concession, age having brought him critically close to the finishing line of his long political career, Jammeh continues to consolidate his power even after 20 years, reiterating his determination to rule The Gambia for two million years. Organisations and political entities that provide a planned mechanism for new leaders to take over allow new thinking and fresh energy in creating a synergy that elevates the organisation or transforms society. For instance, lessons can be learned from sports. Comparisons can be made of athletics 4x100m relay with the 400m individual race. While the record for the 400m individual men stands at 43.19 seconds held by the American Michael Johnson since 1996, the record for the relay at the same distance now stands at 36.86 seconds made at the 2012 London Olympics by a Jamaican quartet. In addition, the record times appear to have been broken more often in the relays than in the individual event. Similar scenario exists in the women’s race. I believe this could be useful lesson for leadership succession that is regular and orderly as in a relay, providing better leadership outcomes.
Jammeh’s recent pledge to rule The Gambia indefinitely was made during a nationwide tour at which he also pointed out his preference to work with the country’s other tribes rather than the Mandinka, Gambia’s largest ethnic group, calling them traitors and unpatriotic. Jammeh embarked on this tour earlier in May after the conclusion of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP)’s tour that was initially blocked by the security forces at a rural village, leading to several days’ standoff, attracting international condemnation of the regime. As usual the diaspora was instrumental in exposing this standoff and in providing emergency funds for the sustenance of the entourage. In addition, his attack on the Mandinka ethnic group has been seen by most Gambians as a ploy to divide their country on ethnic lines and as a vehicle to consolidate his power. The Mandinka are particularly aware of Jammeh’s moves but cognisant of the emptiness of the rhetoric as all ethnic groups, including Jammeh’s own Jola people, have borne the brunt of the 20 years of his decadent rule in equal measure, a phenomenon that prompted Ms Mama Linguire Sarr, a Gambian radio presenter, to describe Jammeh as an ‘equal opportunity human rights abuser.’
Having said all these about Mugabe and Jammeh, the field of leadership is a contested one, and the argument provided thus far may still be insufficient to enable the constituencies that these leaders command to pack their bags and leave. Therefore more rigorous test is required to make the case that the two leaders have failed to pass not just Professor Ayittey’s leadership yardsticks but many more contemporary formulas for successful leadership. Secondly, Africans have often been labelled, rightly or wrongly, as a tribal people and judging these leaders on Professor Ayittey’s interpretive lens only could feed into this accusation.
One of these compelling leadership analysis came from Mumford et al on problem solving and its impact on leadership performance. Problem solving is referred to as the ability to employ creativity for addressing complex social problems. It is also referred to as the capability model because it assesses leaders’ skills and capabilities in relation to their performance. Mumford et al.’s model has five variables namely: 1. Individual attributes 2. Problem solving abilities or competencies 3. Problem solving or leadership outcomes 4. Career experience, and 5. Environment. The essential point about the model is that it demonstrates the relationship that capacities of individuals have in relation to leadership performance. It provides a clear demonstration that leadership can be developed and therefore open to all people. The component parts interact in any individual leadership setting to determine how the leader performs.
The first variable, individual attributes, is essential for a leader’s competencies to be demonstrated. Individual attributes include general cognitive skills such as intelligence and general reasoning skills. It also include crystalized cognitive skills that can be learned such as creative thinking and divergent thinking skills. Furthermore, motivation is crucial part of individual attributes that enables leaders to have the willingness to tackle complex problems and to have a commitment to social goods. The leader’s personality is also a component of individual attributes and enables him or her to develop the ability to take risks, and to develop openness and tolerance to ambiguity. The second key component of the model relates to competencies that can enable leaders to have problem-solving skills and social judgement skills including the ability to take into account understanding of other people’s attitude towards a particular problem. It also entails the ability to adapt and change behaviour in light of understanding of differing perspectives. Knowledge is also a part of competencies as it is the sum total of the information and mental capabilities that can make it possible for individuals to think through and devise appropriate solutions to complex problems. The dynamic relationship between individual attributes and competencies lead to the third variable, leadership outcome, that can be described as effective, logical and also a novelty, determining the degree of leadership success.
Two other variables have crucial impact on the three stated above. These include career experience which has profound influence on attributes and competencies in for instance shaping leaders’ knowledge and skills in tackling complex problems. Outside of the direct control of the other four variables of leadership is environment influence, but significant in Mumford et al.’s model. Environment factors are important to the extent that they have an influence on all other variables of the model. Leaders need to develop the awareness of the environment at all times and modify or adapt their practice accordingly for positive leadership outcomes.
It has been specified earlier how Mugabe and Jammeh have failed in the motivation as well as the personality attributes required for successful leadership. Motivation requires a commitment to social goods which has been clearly lacking in both leaders because in the political context this will require accommodating alternatives inputs in the governance mechanism through, for instance, creating the ground for freedom of opinion as social goods can only be identified through public participation. Accusing the opposition, the independent press and other civil society organisations of lacking patriotism and unleashing state apparatus against them is antithetical to achieving the public good. Their reluctance to accommodate opposition and determination to remain in power indefinitely are also indicative of a personality deficit that makes them unable to develop tolerance to ambiguity. For instance the ambiguous circumstance of life without power is resisted as shown by their reluctance to implement the term limit. Gambia is only two West African countries without term limit. The lack of tolerance to ambiguity can also be identified in the concentration of power in the Gambian presidency rendering the other arms of governance, including the parliament, very much powerless.
In Mugabe’s case, Tom Ambrose pointed out the downward trend of his rule over the years, beginning with the release of Nelson Mandela leading to a diversion of international attention and fame from him to Madiba. According to this theory, the centre of gravity on Mugabe and Zimbabwe as the champion of anti-colonialism and anti-apartheid effort and his country as an investment hub shifted to Mandela and South Africa. Mugabe therefore resorted to despotic rule as a response to this situation. There is a theory also that pointed to the death of Mugabe’s first wife in early 1990s and his marriage to his present wife as significant in changing his personality. But there is evidence to suggest that Mugabe was about to abandon his late wife in favour of Grace, in much the same way that Yaya Jammeh had done years later when he left his former wife for a Moroccan woman.
Jammeh’s personality deficit betrays his leadership performance in more ways than one. If Mugabe had problems with shifting centre of gravity and respectability from him to Madiba, Jammeh would like the planets to revolve around him. His lack of tolerance to ambiguity dictates that he cannot handle any situation where all powers of the state do not rest with him. They extend as far as his concerted effort to control the grassroots as well, in for instance maintaining the power to appoint village heads, a role that the colonial administration left to the locals. Recently, speaking in the local Wolof language, Jammeh declared that he ‘owns the country.’ This probably explains his overbearing attitude to all aspects of the state including dictating what day local Muslims communities observe Eid festivals and bringing imams and village heads to court if they fail to comply. In an interview on Fatu Radio, a member of the Jammeh’s protocol team who spent over two years in incommunicado detention without trial described the president as ‘an amoeba.’ The former official, who escaped the jurisdiction of The Gambia earlier this year, was explaining the unpredictability and the lack of logic or order in Jammeh’s decision-making process, a personality problem that translate into a high degree of incoherence in the country’s political process.
A leader’s environment also has strong relation with his or her style of leadership. People who lead complex organisations are even more likely to have their leadership impacted by the external environment. Environmental factors were differently influential in both leaders’ assuming power in their respective countries. For Mugabi, the anti-colonial wind of change sweeping the continent clearly influenced the Zimbabwean independence movement. The decades after independence ushered in the era of military opportunism, particularly in West Africa which experienced no less than 20 coups during the period from 1960 to 1994, the year Jammeh overthrew the government of Sir Dawda Jawara. It is ironic that Mugabi came to power at the tail end of the period of anti-colonial movement, while the coup in the Gambia happened when the region was moving away from military adventurism to political pluralism. Yet both leaders were oblivious to the change of mood in governance in the wider African environment and the international support to democratisation that impacted not just Africa but Latin America and Asia. Zimbabwe descended into a new form of dictatorial rule and relations with the West deteriorating to the lowest ebb, leading to sanctions and economic collapse. Meanwhile the right of citizens continued to be violated, a circumstance which in addition to economic hardship led to an exodus of Zimbabwean citizens out of their country. It is estimated that more than a million Zimbabweans left their country in the last 15 years. The Gambia’s democratic credentials, that earned the country international recognition, evaporated and in its place dictatorship of the worst kind in Africa took over. The regime has little consideration for global and regional trends in governance that can impact economic and social progress in The Gambia. The regime demonstrated its inability to understand the interconnectedness between external factors and leadership decisions.
Regardless of the many misgivings enumerated thus far about the leadership of these two, they continue to be promoted and supported by significant constituencies of their respective nations and even by outsiders. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, whose country was planning on investing US$ 3 billion on a platinum extraction plant in Zimbabwe, described Mugabe as ‘an African legend and a historic figure.’ In the aftermath of the 21st anniversary of the military coup that brought Jammeh to power and the prisoner release by the Gambia government, several of Jammeh’s supporters exhausted the known superlatives in praising the Gambian leader for his positive leadership qualities. One such commendation came from the Gambian vice president who described Jammeh thus: ‘Your magnificent benevolence is unparalleled and unprecedented in our modern generation.’ In neighbouring Senegal, 500 prisoners were earlier released under a presidential amnesty. In Ghana, 900 prisoners were pardoned earlier this year. The prerogative of mercy had always been exercised by the Gambian leadership before Jammeh came to power. Therefore to call the release of 200 prisoners, many of whom were unlawfully detained and never brought before a court of law, as unprecedented will be seen by many observers as a mere praise song by a high ranking crony.
She also described president Jammeh as a transformational leader which will undoubtedly call the attention of leadership theorists to scrutinise the veracity of the statement, considering that in recent decades, transformational leadership ideas have attracted enormous amount of attention. General Colin Powell described Senator Obama as a ‘transformational figure’ in declaring his endorsement of Barack, perhaps just falling short of calling him a transformational leader. And General Powell, who also stated in the ABC television interview that he was not looking for a job in an Obama administration, clearly did not have the same motivation as Mrs Njie Saidy. The Gambian vice president, like Jammeh, is happy to occupy her office for as long as it takes. Her recent praise of Jammeh may in time be seen as another frivolous statement that is commonly made by the president and his cronies. But her false statement that peacefully demonstrating students were armed and responsible for the killing of 11 students and injuring others in April 2000 still resonates in the nation’s psyche and will not be easily forgotten.
In order to ascertain whether describing Jammeh as a transformational leader is correct, it will help to analyse his leadership quality and practice against the dynamic balance, in other words the 4 ‘I’s, of transformational leadership which are: (1) Idealised influence is through which the leader’s moral standing serves as positive marker and inspires followers. But Mrs Njie Saidy should have known that Jammeh’s human rights abuses, his corruption and land grabbing is not only morally backward but cannot be an example for Gambian people to follow, lest the country sinks into the abyss. (2) Individualised consideration enables leaders give respect for and recognition to individual differences and unique talents of followers. In the political arena, it allows respect for diversity and recognition of diverse ethnic groups. Jammeh’s tribal politics, some of which have already been stated above is antithetical to transformational leadership as it does not auger well for social cohesion that African nations need in order to reverse the adverse effects of the colonial system they have inherited. (3) Inspirational motivation allows transformational leaders cultivate the conditions for their followers to thrive by, among other things, creating a vision, communicating this vision and valuing followers’ contribution in meeting goals. Recognising followers and providing them incentives must not be selective as president Jammeh is well known for. In political leadership, visions that are likely to motivate followers are those that promote national cohesion and socioeconomic advancement. The last 20 years of Gambian history witnessed the opposite as the Gambian human rights activist, Pa Samba Jow posited that before Jammeh came to power, there was no ‘struggle.’ ‘The struggle’ is the term dissident organisations collectively gave to their fight for the restoration of democracy in The Gambia. Another Gambian political analyst stated that the country is in a state of ‘national fitna,’ which can be described as emotional and psychological conflict. Jammeh, however, had never been daunted in his will to create division in the country. Likewise, he is never apologetic in governing for sectional interest as he put it bluntly on several occasions that he would look after the interest of what he disingenuously called the ‘majority’, and that ‘the rest,’ in his own words, ‘can go to hell.’ (4) Intellectual stimulation relates to the transformational leaders ability to encourage innovation. Puchio and colleagues described intellectual stimulation in transformational leaders thus: ‘Through their behaviour, they create a work climate that supports others’ creativity, encouraging followers to pursue their own solutions to problems, to explore complex challenges by reframing them, and to question decisions and practices.’ The climate of bullying and fear generated through Jammeh’s style of leadership failed to inspire intellectual stimulation. Power and decision-making is concentrated in the presidency. Moreover, the constant hiring and firing of state officials and their imprisonment on frivolous charges never enabled Jammeh’s followers the freedom to be creative let alone to question his dicta. This may have contributed to the unprecedented brain drain the Gambia is experiencing. C. Omar Kebbeh provided estimates of 2000, suggesting that skilled emigration from the country reached 63 per cent, which ranked it among the top 20 worldwide. This figure may have increased substantially since. Furthermore, intellectual stimulation cannot be created at national level where media freedom is perceived as an anathema, and independent press is subjected to daily harassment.
The two leaders’ determination to hold on to power at any cost betrays the expectations their citizens have for a leadership outcome expected to provide them greater freedom and increased living standards. Moreover the two leaders consistently put the future of their countries on perilous grounds. Such approaches also defy theoretical prescriptions for progressive leadership in modern societies where citizen expectation for greater freedom, equality and sustainable development are increasing. Undoubtedly, the two leaders have, by their own approach to leadership, created polarised societies and sections of which have adopted radical views on issues relating to their subjugation. In the Gambian case it is the anti-apartheid styled ‘struggle’ that in some instance have sharpened its daggers for violent confrontation as evident in the 30 December, 2014 armed attack on the presidential palace in Banjul. Jammeh’s response to such show of hostility is not to bulge but to tighten his grip on power. The people of Zimbabwe, on the other hand, would have realised that their nonagenarian head of state is nearing the inevitable end to his long leadership career and would rather bide their time to allow for a natural conclusion to Mugabe’s leadership.