It has been four months since our fateful presidential election in December and what a four-month period it has been! Our transition has been anything but smooth and peaceful. If we are to call a transition that took place only after the intervention of a regional military force peaceful and smooth, then I wonder how a non-peaceful transition will look like. The nature and manner of our transition has a direct bearing on where we are today and the status of our politics will definitely shape our political dispensation moving forward, at least for the next few years. I will hasten to say under these trying circumstances, you have done reasonably well in steadying the ship. During the time that you were supposed to put in place plans and personnel so that you can hit the road running once you take office, was basically spent fighting for your life and survival. We were all fighting to see the next day due to recalcitrant behavior of Jammeh Kanilai and for that matter thousands of our other Gambian brothers and sisters who curiously enough are still living and dining with us in the homeland. This chaos and trying circumstances is to a large extent what brought us to this toxic political environment we find ourselves in during this national assembly elections. If there had been a smooth transition, The Coalition would have gotten enough time to trash out any differences they may have so that we can present single candidates representing the whole coalition. However, we instead find ourselves fighting pitch battles among different coalition members, who are supposed to be coalescing around single candidates in each constituency.
Mr. President, this situation has led to what elders call: “Peeing on the mat”. Various surrogates of different family units in your coalition are literally eating each other. The vulgar language, the insults and character assassination being peddled by these political “warriors” and “gurus” is not only damaging to the recipients but to our young democracy as a whole. What we fought for is not a politic of divisiveness neither for now nor for tomorrow, but political discourse based on issues and civility. After all we are only 1.9 million people and we are all connected to one another in one way or the other. Our political leaders may disagree and may have different visions on the way forward for our country but to call any of them uneducated, selfish, divisive and other insults that I cannot mention here is too much! Who in his right mind will look at Halifa Sallah or Seedia Jatta and called them uneducated or incompetent or dishonest? These are people who sacrificed everything for our country and have earned impeccable reputation over the decades of their service to us. Who in his right mind will call Ousainou Darboe divisive or power hungry when he spent the last twenty-two years sacrificing everything for the Gambia like a catholic nun? These leaders have all become idols and legends in our society and we need to respect and honor them and not destroy them. If they have differences in opinion on way forward, that does not justify the insults and lies against any of them. Remember, people like Desmond Tutu, Kathrada etc. who fought tooth and nail with ANC against apartheid in South Africa ended up criticizing ANC policies but that did not lead to their hanging. This is because these people have done a lot in fighting injustice and they continue to earn their respect till death for what they have done for their country. People like Ousainou, Halifa, Seedia etc. deserve nothing less than our full respect and honor. They fully earned it!
Mr. President, it is too late to undo the damage that has already been done by our toxic NA campaign among the coalition members. However, you being the leader can do a lot to repair the damage done and bring your family together. One step you can take is to ensure that PDOIS who are not in any executive position are given the speakership of the National Assembly. Should any of the key people in PDOIS lose the parliamentary elections, appoint them as nominated members and give them speakership. If anybody tells you any member of the coalition is not going to support your agenda, they are deceiving you. In a political dispensation, it is always healthy to have differences. If we all agree all the time and no one ever challenges you, then you will not be much different from Jammeh Kanilai. It will also be of interest to you Mr. President to reflect on the following issues once you settle down from your campaign tour:
DOES THE SMALL GAMBIA NEED TWENTY PLUS EMBASSIES?
In a poor country of 1.9 million people lingering at the bottom of the world poverty index, I believe we should use our meager resources in a more effective and prudent way that will accelerate the improvement of the wellbeing of our people rather than maintaining expensive embassies all over the world. Some of these embassies are in countries that have very little impact on the wellbeing of the Gambia and do not justify keeping these embassies opened. You can consolidate these embassies on regional basis. For example, an embassy in Saudi Arabia can oversee the whole of the Middle East or an embassy in the United States should be able to oversee Latin America including Venezuela and Cuba. It is not a question of do we have Gambians in those individual countries who would want to have a Gambian embassy or is Gambia’s interest best served by having a dedicated embassy in all those countries, but a question of can we afford it? We must learn to live within our means and use our limited resources for productive purposes. Mr. President, it is tempting to open many embassies in order to reward many of your supporters with position. However, you can better reward us by improving the economic, political and social conditions in the motherland that will expand opportunities for all of us. During the first republic, we had less than ten embassies and our standing in the world was far better then, than in the past twenty-two years when we had over twenty embassies. Let us cut our coat according to our size!
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR THE EXECUTIVE TO DECLARE THEIR ASSETS?
If I hear you correctly Mr. President you mention that your senior officials will declare their assets. A lot of people applauded that statement from you for a good reason. We are just learning that the former president has amassed over 130 compounds in twenty-two years. He did not have a single developed property when he came to power, even though we knew he had Allah’s World Bank at his disposal. A lot of other government officials have amassed ill-gotten wealth under Babili Mansa and your commissions of inquiry will reveal a lot if you dare set them up. We know you are already rich by our Gambian standard and if general attestation to your character is anything to go by, you will not take a butut from the poor people of the Gambia. However, you are working with numerous people in positions of access and authority and to help you protect the integrity of your government, you must follow through your words and require every minister to declare their assets. This should be extended to other senior government officials such as managing directors of parastatals. Once the declarations are done, we the ordinary Gambians will be your ear and eye and we will let you know whoever start to live beyond their mean. Please set high standards so that we will not have to relive the same cycle of corruption that we were used to under the Jawara and Jammeh administrations. Remember, Macky Sall declared his assets when he assumed office and we are watching and waiting for you now.
DO GAMBIANS LIVING ABROAD NEED TO VOTE IN GAMBIAN ELECTIONS?
Mr. President the simple answer to this question is yes! However, sometimes simple answers are not the optimal solutions. There are countries that allow their citizens abroad to vote in national elections such as the United States and if you ask Gambians abroad if they want to vote in Gambian elections the overwhelming majority will say yes. Every country is different and our electoral system is unique and even monster Jammeh declared it as the most free, fair and transparent election in the world. On-the-spot counting makes it almost rig-proof. You may be tempted to reward Gambians abroad who have supported you overwhelmingly in bringing about the democratic change by extending voting opportunities to them. It is human to reward people for their good deeds but this issue needs deep reflection before any decision is taken. To protect the integrity of our elections and prevent abuse of the electoral system by future administrations, I believe it is better to restrict voting to within the confines of our borders. There are multiple reasons for this:
- Due to our small size, history and literacy level, the pebble voting system may be simple and old fashion but it has work well for us and we have almost perfected it and even Jammeh Kanilai attested to that. We do not have to mix that with any other system such as paper ballot or electronic voting system that will make any ordinary Gambian lose faith in the system. If we are to extend voting abroad, our pebble system will not work as it will be open to abuse.
Who is going to conduct elections abroad, the embassies? This will be subject to fraud or perception of fraud as embassies are controlled and loyal to government in power. No matter what the outcomes, there will be people who will distrust the results due to government influence over the process.
Logistical issues. Are we willing to spend our limited resources in conducting elections for Gambians all over the world? Are we going to send IEC officials all over the world to monitor and conduct every election? Does the benefit justify the cost for 1.9 million Gambians?
Which countries are we going to cover and which ones are going to be left out? A lot of people will cry foul if the opportunity is not equally extended to everyone. If Gambians in Nigeria are allowed to vote, then Baba Sawaneh living in Tonga must also be given the same opportunity.
There are always tradeoffs in life and we as a people cannot have everything we want. Gambians abroad can always have influence on our elections in their interactions with those back home as shown in the last election.
THE GAMBIA HAS A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY, ARE WE GOING TO GRAB IT OR BLOW IT?
Mr. President, out of the 1.9 million people you are chosen to be the JARIGA [herdsman]. If any good thing happens to the country, you will take full credit likewise you will take the blame for any bad thing. This is a huge responsibility and I have no doubt that you are capable of handling it. At this point in time the Gambia has a lot of goodwill as can be seen by financial help coming from all over the world including EU and World Bank. We as a country need to put all these financial inflow into good use. We need to build our productive base that will kick-start economic development. Our goal should be to wean ourselves (The Gambia) of foreign aid dependency in the very near future. We can either use this opportunity to (the goodwill we are currently enjoying) to develop our agricultural, fisheries, manufacturing etc. basis, the sectors are the engines of any sustainable economic development, or use the money coming in to conduct millions of workshops etc. without showing any tangible benefits. We will start showing tangible and sustainable benefits when we start producing enough rice not only to feed ourselves but export; when we are able to catch and raise enough fish not only to feed ourselves but to export; if we are able to produce and process enough orange and mango juice etc. not only for domestic consumption but for export market. These are just few productive areas that can jump-start our economic miracle. All these are doable because we have all the resources we need. We do not have to have gold, diamond or oil to develop. Singapore is so resource drought that even water that they use for domestic and industrial consumption is imported from Malaysia, but they figured out their strengths and used it to become a developed country in thirty years. By the way Singapore also became independent in 1965 from the same British. Meeting these goals will only be possible with continuous development of most important resource, human capital.
WHY SHOULD WE BE AWARE OF VULTURES?
A vulture is a very special bird who always have the capacity to locate dead carcass. Vulture does not fly for no reason and when you see them flying in your backyard, make no mistake there is a dead carcass that they are looking for. It is also human in nature that when a person is in dare need, a lot of genuine people will come in to help you. However, there will be a category of people who will come to take advantage of your vulnerability. The same thing goes for nations.
There is going to be a lot of potential investors flocking into the country and not all of them are genuine and honest. Some will just be like typical vultures who see a vulnerable people desperate for development and will use that opportunity to grab the little resources we have. Your government should put in place very good systems and structures that will evaluate every potential investor coming to the country so that we do not end up being defrauded by questionable people calling themselves investors. Every foreign investment must first and foremost benefit Gambians otherwise we do not need it. We do not have to go far in our history to remember MSG that took over NAWEC and milked it, Alimenta that took over GPMB and Gamtel’s relationship with Spectrum as well as its current fictitious contract with MGI. All these foreign investors took over our national assets and milked them without making any tangible investment. They will never get such deals in their home countries.
THE BRIDGE, I WOULD LIKE YOU TO BE THE REAL BABILI SERVANT!
The issue of Bamba Tenda-Yili Tenda Bridge has been lingering for decades and there could be real strategic reasons for this. Former PPP government could not resolve the construction of the bridge. Babili Mansa could not overcome the devils in Farafenni to build this bridge. Now that the Senegalese government has done for you and for that matter the Gambia something that is unprecedented, you like most Gambians may feel that we are indebted to Senegal. This is obviously true because without the unwavering support, both diplomatic and military, of our brothers in Senegal, Jammeh would still be the president butchering us. It is human to be grateful and even without the good help of Senegal in helping to liberate us, it is our responsibility as good neighbors to build this bridge and ease mobility and commerce between different parts of Senegal and for the entire region. Hence it is important that we build this bride soonest possible.
Having said that, the bridge is so strategic and important that we need to protect our strategic interest and sovereignty 100% in constructing the bridge. One day you will not be president, neither will Macky Sall and hence it is important to protect our national interest for the future. Any future bridge must be under the full control of the Gambia as a sovereign state. Any future bridge must cater for unhindered navigability of River Gambia from Banjul to Koina. How this will be done, let the engineers and contractors figure that out even if it means adjusting the original design blueprint.
Thank you Mr. President. Keep the faith and stay on the course.