By Sheriff Kora, Tyler, Texas
The Gambia’s democratic transition is back in the limelight, and the political debate this time is not centered around the callousness of a bloodthirsty dictator. The discourse and fury is focused now on a plethora of issues ranging from the practice of selective bias, the use of identity politics to advance the tribal interest of the majority party in power, electricity crisis, and expediting the process to bring transitional justice. As citizens, we will always have varied interest and different levels of urgencies on how the government should deliver public goods. It is beneficial for our political leaders running the government to listen to and learn from the relevant complaints of the citizens.
The recent public clamour and exchange of competitive ideas has not been scarce within the new democratic dispensation in The Gambia. Many will applaud this development as a trophy of our hard earned victory against the former regime that was intolerant to dissent and freedom of expression. As a liberated country, our political actions prove that we have taken it upon ourselves to hold our government accountable where we deem necessary. Following the banter on the online media, whilst some were very logical and decent, others even where relevant the language and mode of delivery reduced their legitimacy. I’ll court controversy to say that some of the comments were nothing but toxic and inappropriate. This brings us to the importance of reminding ourselves that freedom of expression also comes with certain duties and responsibilities. It is quite true that where as dictatorship demands consensus and silence, democracy begs for voice and dissent; however in this new found freedom of ours, it is wise that our demands be guided by common sense and logic, and not anger.
The recurring indecency makes one wonder what could be so delightful in insulting or dragging our political leaders in the mud as we have seen in recent debates. We have countless evidence of what unfettered democracy has unraveled in countries around the world and Africa in particular. For most of Africa shortly after independence the optimism of many citizens and Pan Africanists fizzled, giving way to the challenges and effects of the age old divisive politics exercised by the colonial masters. Citizens with high and illogical expectations of their governments took to the streets, leading many countries into civil strife. To sustain themselves in power, most African liberators transformed themselves into dictators. Ultimately, military coups erupted, curtailing the evolution of democracy in many countries. Democracy needs to be respected. It is a political energy, and like any other energy, if you don’t respect it and harness it properly, it can destroy.
This is not an argument against democracy, but rather a reminder that no democracy wins without social cohesion. Besides, although democracy is a necessary condition for sustainable economic development, democracy in itself is not sufficient to ensure that a country will witness dramatic economic development once it adopts it. There are dictatorships around that world that outperformed liberal democracies in economic growth and infrastructural development. We all have different expectations of what we will like to see in the New Gambia – an aspiration that is natural within citizens. However, it might help to also remind ourselves that it is easier to break things than to fix. It is important to understand that although [the former ruling] APRC has been voted out of office, what that repressive regime left in our country is nothing but surmountable political problems and economic challenges. After 22 years of utter economic mismanagement, our desired goals will not be achieved overnight. The wounds might heal, but the scars are still there. We have great challenges ahead that will not be solved by mere rhetoric and condemnation of our political leaders.
The intent here is not to stifle debate or dissent. I believe debate is a key element of democracy. It fosters the exchange of ideas and illustrates our common interest. However, a protracted political debate that leads to gridlock or one that drowns the voice of those with relevant ideas is not healthy for the development of any country. Freedom fighters and liberation movements often perform two functions: to free citizens ‘from’ tyranny and ‘to’ empower them to realize their self-worth and to reach their maximum potentials. Leading up to the last elections, the unity and untiring effort of Gambians was undoubtedly, the envy of many oppressed people around the world. We pulled our resources and efforts together to free our country from the clutches of dictatorship and we won. We have liberated the country politically, and now the onus lies on us to harness the same creative energy and unity of purpose towards social and economic initiatives that uplift the ordinary Gambian out of the problems associated with cyclical poverty.
There is a clear need to form a common theme around finding sustainable solutions to issues such as energy, transportation, health, irrigation, education, poverty, environment, and youth unemployment. If this government fails, we all fail as Gambians irrespective of tribal affiliation or political ideology. Talk is cheap, what we owe the Gambia is our collective action, not the sing-song and gibberish of so-called political pundits and policy wonks influenced by sublime mysticism and a crippling shortsightedness of the economic woes and intractable sustainable development challenges the Gambia and ordinary Gambians face.
The need for patience cannot be overemphasized in our current political situation. If we could divert some creative energy and sound ideas into addressing social and economic development issues, and refrain from exclusively focusing on the tribalism and divisive politics of late, our efforts will certainly make a big difference. It will help to create a space that complements efforts of the government and also helps to fill some of the resource gaps on the ground. Government is complex and messy, and no government can change this fact. Politics on the other hand is flexible and can be improved overtime to allow change to happen. Asking the Barrow administration to immediately solve structural problems that have worsen over 22 years of irresponsible governance and treachery is asking for the impossible.