By Edrissa Ken-Joof
In part 1 of this article, I did emphasize the need for us to embrace nationalism instead of the more short-sighted ethnocentrism. I didn’t choose this topic in order not to be forgotten when I die, as said by Benjamin Franklin that: “if you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing”; but to remind ourselves of the realities of life that can help us develop our country. I believe that most of us are aware of the fact that aligning our development towards ethnic differences can never do any good but doom. Rather, as previously emphasized, we should endeavor to propagate a more pluralistic country, based on the common understanding that any nation, is supreme to the individual, this, includes our divisions through ethnicity. We still need to remind ourselves of our roles as patriotic citizens; being patriotic should always serve as a reminder for us of our responsibilities to nation-building. We should always look for what we can do for our country, but not what our country should be doing for us.
How can we contribute to nation-building? The answer to this is multifaceted but in this article, I will discuss pertinent issues but not limited to the following: our role in choosing our leadership, their mandates and what stake we have in making sure that the chosen leadership serve our nation for our betterment. In short, how we can use democracy at party-level to enhance nation-building.
To begin with, we need to understand our expectations of our leaders in our quest for a developed nation. Do we need people who would always keep their ears to the ground; who would always gauge the success of our country to their own growth rather than of the citizens? Do we need people who would always bully our votes and our constitution? Do we need egocentric leaders? Do we need people who will cling to positions for life?
Our leadership, I think, should have some traits including the ones described by Jim Rohn that: “the challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly”. It is with no doubt that we need leaders that “have the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others,” (Douglas MacArthur) because like Winston Churchill once said, that “the nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are keeping their ears to the ground”. The voices of the citizens need to be listened to.
The latter statement is always misinterpreted by many. Some people think that the voices are only synonymous to the results of votes cast during elections. It’s not only about their action of choosing a leader but who that leader should be. The meaning goes beyond that description. It’s mainly about post-elections. It includes the policies being formulated and implemented; it includes how the common people could be efficiently engaged in the decision-making processes; it includes a consideration of how those decisions could impact their lives and of generations to come; it includes how they could express their concerns, concerns that can positively impact the country, and how those concerns are listened to or accommodated by the leadership.
Choosing that leadership, by the people and for the people, is a real challenge for so many reasons. Typical are the limitations in the number and caliber of candidates available, which some critics might say is always made available through democracy but this I refute for the simple reason that: “we’d all like to vote for the best man, but he’s never a candidate”, (Kin Hubbard); transparency of the electoral system; availability of resources and the fair utilization of such resources by all candidates as prescribed by our constitution; the awareness in our citizens about what factors should motivate them to cast votes for a particular candidate – whether it should be policy-based, fear-based, community-driven, ethnic-driven, religious-driven, clan-led, change-motivated, etc.; a clear distinction between a nation and a ruling party (we have, in our country, confused a nation with a governing political party); how democratic our parties themselves are especially, the power of party members irrespective of status or positions held at a point in time; etc.
The latter limitation is very crucial to note but I wonder how many of us ever noticed an ‘irregularity’ in it. If we want to talk about democracy of a state, we should begin from the very nature of our political parties. The most undemocratic nature in our parties is how they become ‘owned’ by either a few people or by an individual and how these people grip to power till death. I will not go far to search for proofs to this statement; history can help us through. From the Democratic Party (DP) of John Colley Faye, the United Party (UP) of Pierre Sarr Njie, the Muslim Congress Party (MCP) of I M Garba Jahumpa, People’s Protectorate Party (PPP) of President Sir Dawda K. Jawara, Common People’s Party (CPP), National Convention Party (NCP) of Sheriff M Dibba, Gambian People’s Party (GPP) of Assan Musa Camara, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of Lamin Bojang, People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) of Seedia Jatta and Halifa Sallah, of the First Republic, to the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) of President Yahya Jammeh, United Democratic Party (UDP) of Ousainou Darboe, National Reconciliation Party (NRP) of Amat Bah, NDAM of Lamin Waa Juwara, both of the Second Republic, how many of them are still functional after either the demise or the inactive political participation of their leaders?
In the First Republic, aside from PPP and PDOIS, all the other parties died a natural death, the reasons I need not to discuss further. In the Second Republic, aside from PDOIS (who I can say only leap-leapfrogged), none of the others ever changed their leaderships. From this premise, how can we advocate for democracy when our primary institutions aren’t willing to adopt a fair transition of party leadership? Are we saying that other party members aren’t competent to lead their parties? Are we saying that it’s only the party-founders who have the mandate to lead? I think we should look at other democracies around the world. Am not saying that we should be copy-cats (which we are very good at in many instances of our policy-making) but we should be able to look at those democratic parties around the world who do effect regular changes in their leadership and how effective this is to nation-building. This is because they believe in the equality of their membership; because they believe that most of their members are also competent enough. “If we say that we believe in democracy, if we say that the fabric of a democratic society is one which allows for the free play of idea…then, in the name of all the gods, give that free play a chance to work within the constitutional framework”, (Opposition leader Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore Legislative Assembly, Oct 4, 1956).
If our parties fail to democratize their political apparatus, if the party leaders cling to power forever, then I would like you to help answer the following question: how can we have and respect term limits for our presidency? Our “politicians and diapers should be frequently changed and all for the same reason”, (José Maria de Eça de Queiroz). In choosing the leadership, we should always remember that our: “politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river”, (Nikita Khrushchev). We should value our votes and cast them in the proper way. If need be, where one believes that none of the candidates vying for the leadership positions are incompetent, one should rather stay away from casting his vote. This doesn’t mean a dislike for one’s nation. It’s another element of patriotism. What we should always accept is that a vote belongs to an individual, it’s your constitutional right, and casting a vote wrongly can harm a nation and not only the individual. You should only use it in a situation where you firmly believe could benefit your nation as a whole, but not the individual politicians. Additionally, we shouldn’t indulge into dirty-politics where we sell our votes; insult each other; create hatred for one another. Our politics, nowadays, is so dirty that we need not to pay a d’jali anymore to trace our lineages; we just go into politics and our opponents will do it for us. This is the time they will tell us how we were even born. This is not politics, its bullying the votes of our citizens.
To conclude this article, nation-building, folks, cannot go in the absence of democracy. Democracy is not synonymous to hypocrisy, rather to truth, honesty, and love. “We either believe in democracy or we don’t. If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally. If you believe that men should be free, then, they should have the right of free association, of free speech, of free publication. Then, no law should permit those democratic processes to be set at nought, and no excuse, whether of security, should allow a government to be deterred from doing what it knows to be right, and what it must know to be right…” (Lee Kuan Yew, Legislative Assembly Debates, April 27, 1955).