By Janko Camara
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley
“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell
There are two things in this world – Truth and Falsehood. We all have a choice; that choice is to accept either the truth and be on the right side of History or accept falsehood and live with the guilt and be on the wrong side of History. I have decided, henceforth, to be on the side of Truth and I would stick with the truth no matter whose axe is gored.
Just under a year ago, Gambians were crying for help from everywhere to get rid of Africa’s latest dictator – Yahya Jammeh – whose two decades reign witnessed nothing but terror and horror. We finally had the rare opportunity to boot him out, through the ballot, on December 1. He initially conceded to his opponent only to recant a week later. Out of hopelessness and frustration, we cried much louder and prayed much harder and, this time, Allah (God) answered our prayers. By His grace, the world listened to our cries and came to our rescue and bundled him out – a rare occurrence in Africa. A new government was installed and finally we regained our freedom. Thus, a once caged people eventually started talking again.
What I have not been able to comprehend since that episode is the skulduggery of a few but contagiously dangerous individuals, most of them living in the Diaspora, who want to throw a spanner in the works because their personal objectives, in the aftermath of Jammeh’s departure, could not be realised in the new dispensation. It might not be unusual for people to pursue personal objectives on the pretext of pursuing higher and more important national objectives. History is replete with scenarios like these. However, what makes these individuals daring is their seeming willingness to set the country alight in the pursuit of their parochial objectives. In the process, they employ tribal hatred and spreading of fabrications against decent people in an all-out diversionary scheme to divert people’s attention away from matters of national import to matters that are truly secondary, if at all important.
I have spent the last 3 months in The Gambia where I have not failed to notice a remarkable sense of freedom and happiness despite the economic challenges. People are now going to bed without fear of deadly nocturnal visitors; people are talking freely and literally pouring out their hearts’ contents without fear of being arrested or molested. A new sense of freedom and re-birth exudes in the air all around. The youth appear to have taken a keener interest in politics and the newspapers, once gagged almost to a point of extinction, have suddenly sprung up and have become very vibrant once again. The endless checkpoints with gun-toting soldiers have largely vanished. The Central Bank’s latest MPC minutes show a decent improvement in our the country’s economic fundamentals, a far cry from the December 2016 MPC minutes. At No. 1 Marina Parade, there’s a jolly fellow – Adama Barrow – who appears modest and keenly listening to his people, a clean break with the past when we had a professor who knew everything. So knowledgeable was the Professor that he reduced Economics to a matter of “Common Sense”. Therefore, in my view, the above are significant milestones that tell even a casual observer that the New Gambia is on the right track.
One of the proposed Commissions of Enquiry (The Janneh Commission) is sitting and the daily revelations are as heart-wrenching as wickedly, for a nation with a GDP of under a billion US Dollars. The squandering of almost two billion Dalasi Provident and Pension funds of mainly non-Government workers is as unfathomable as the manner in which the Central Bank of The Gambia was turned into a personal safe for Yahya Jammeh and a handful few who broke all the laws of decorum to loot the Bank clean. We now understand how and why the value of the Dalasi was on a slippery slope; we now know why our economy went dead; we also now understand how power was concentrated in the hands of one man who did not know how to wield it in the public interest. We are yet to hear testimony on the Panama Papers, arguably the climax of the Janneh Commission, where it is allegedly revealed that up to Nine Hundred Million US Dollars (US$ 900 Million) of Gambian loot has been stashed away by Yahya Jammeh and one or two of his cohorts. This is greater than the GDP of the country in a given year. By IMF accounts (IMF Country Report No. 15/272), The Gambia’s GDP from 2012-2014 was below US$ 900 Million.
In view of all the above revelations, I expected our “educated” folks in the Diaspora to scream aloud for the whole world to hear. I expected them to scream and ponder over the pervasive institutional weaknesses which the Janneh Commission helped to reveal. But no! A number of our “educated” folks in the Diaspora have other ideas – namely – 1) the new government officials are travelling too much; 2) Minister X asked for the cancellation of the Q&A session with President Barrow and his delegates when they visited New York; 3) this is a Mandinka/UDP government because the president and most of the Ministers are from this tribe/party; 4) the source of 57 vehicles donated to the president should be explained; crime rate is getting higher since the change of leadership; #Occupy Westfield is a legitimate right which should be accommodated, etc. etc. Sadly, the only place we think these matters could be discussed is the various social media and we make such a nuisance of that public space that some of us are now allergic to Social Media. How much petty can one be? When shall we stop chasing shadows and focus on the things that produce them?
A little digression here will help to demonstrate the thought process (or intellectual maturity) of these individuals and some of our educated Gambian folks. I have been fortunate to attend/witness a few Board meetings in my career. In one such meeting, held many years ago in Banjul, a colleague of mine walked up to me after the meeting. After a few banters, he jokingly said while we were busy “thinking” for the future of the enterprise in the Boardroom, he was also busy “thinking” very hard. Out of curiosity, I asked what he was thinking about. He retorted thus: the “big round table” around which you all were seated, I was thinking how it was installed in the Boardroom given that the door to the room is not as big. I wonder if you decided to change the venue to another, how the same “big round table” could be carried through the door to the new venue. I couldn’t stop laughing and, even up to date, whenever I think of that short conversation, I laugh. How silly could anyone be?
Now, as funny and silly as the above is, this appears to be the thought process of these individuals and some of our “educated” folks in the Diaspora. With our supposed level of education and exposure, we still cannot see the bigger picture because we spend valuable time on things that do not really matter. Let us take some of the concerns one after the other:
The new government officials are travelling too much: – In the last few months this point has been touted to the point of monotony. So I ask: How soon could we forget that it was the world beyond The Gambia that came to our rescue to evict the sit-tight dictator who had turned the country into a pariah state? I ask: the new leaders of the country have inherited empty state coffers, as the revelations in the Janneh Commission now confirm, how else could they run the country without foreign assistance? And could that foreign assistance come only through “Telephone Diplomacy”? I further ask: Do we understand the sort of efforts – the behind-the-scene diplomatic “toing” and “froing” that culminated in the tabling of The Gambian Agenda on the UN Security Council for their consideration and issuance of a unified stance backing the people of The Gambia? I still fault the Foreign Minister for not going to ALL the countries that contributed troops to the force that chased Jammeh away. This is a basic “Deylo Njukal”, the dividends of which could help maintain our fragile peace and democracy. Imagine what could have happened if the Ecomig forces had left The Gambia immediately Jammeh left or six months after! The continued stay of Ecomig in The Gambia is, to a large extent, a guarantee of our fragile peace and, by extension, the democracy that has been restored with international assistance. Meanwhile, I am not aware that The Gambia will be/is paying for the full cost of their stay in Banjul, thanks to the solidarity and goodwill shown by our sub-regional and international friends. Thus, if there are any ministers that should be travelling a great deal, these should be the Foreign Affairs and Finance ministers, to return the country to the comity of nations and to mobilise resources to rebuild our shattered economy and country. This cannot be done by telephone calls. In as much as foreign trips need to be monitored, the point to care most should be the dividends to be derived from such trips. That is where a proper Cost-Benefit Analysis begins. But to ask for a total embargo on foreign trips, in my view, is more of an exhibition of ignorance on the part of the proponents. Let us show a little bit of humility by accepting to learn. Let us try to understand how governments across the globe are run. Most importantly, however, let us be humble and show gratitude to countries that put their military hardware and the lives of their citizens at considerable risk to liberate us. They deserve commendation not condemnation. So, our Foreign and Finance Ministers should keep travelling to ensure the interest of our beautiful country is advanced. We must also be ready to hold them accountable and ensure they render account for each foreign trip.
This is a Mandinka/UDP Government because the president and most of the Ministers are from this tribe – Of recent, one rhetoric that has reared its ugly head in our daily discourse and is dangerously tearing our society apart is the false assertion that the Coalition government is a Mandinka one. The proponents of this false but divisive theory are mainly in the Diaspora led by a certain Gambian online radio. This is not only a misrepresentation of facts but also, a deliberate attempt by a few to muddy the waters of progress so far achieved. In April/May of 2016 when Gambians took to the streets demanding electoral reforms, culminating in the arrest and torture of some UDP supporters including their leader – now the Foreign Minister, an anchor on this same online radio claimed in a live broadcast that the language spoken in all of the videos he watched was Mandinka, meaning it was only this tribe leading the defiance. He wondered where others were. He was not praising the Mandinka tribe, as was misconstrued by some. Rather, it was a coded message. Yahya Jammeh decoded the message and, in his subsequent broadcast on the issue, he regurgitated the same nonsense. The reality is that the crowds that gathered on the streets and in court grounds were Gambians from all (or most) tribes. Being the dominant tribe in The Gambia, it was natural that statistics of attendance of those demonstrations would always be in favour of the Mandinkas – a clear manifestation of the Law of Large Numbers, period! But my point is: If at the time, this same online radio had the temerity to reduce a national affair to a matter between the then President Jammeh and the Mandinkas/UDP, why are they now whining about the supposed Mandinka/UDP dominance in the new government? Going by their own logic, isn’t there a saying that one does not reap where one did not sow? So why the cries now? How about the Ambassadorial appointments? Didn’t they see any tribal dominance in that too? Do I conclude that because that is convenient and congruent to their objectives, it was conveniently ignored? That sense of entitlement should be jettisoned for it does not belong to the global Good Governance practices in this 21st century. So hateful are some of these individuals/groups that they equivocally equate the Barrow-led government with the previous regime. Nothing is further from the truth and nothing is more hypocritical than this statement. The truth is, all tribes fought hard to end dictatorship in The Gambia and all tribes have a say in this new dispensation. In fact, there appears to be a big ideological dichotomy between some of us in the Diaspora and Gambians in The Gambia. Majority of Gambians in The Gambia are quite happy with their new found freedom and are going about their businesses and have no time for this tribal petty-mindedness. We may have our different agenda, however, putting country first is a sacred duty of every citizen. Those pushing the country to the brim should know that the preservation of peace and unity in that country is a responsibility of all of us.
In concluding this piece, I would like to summarise my observations of the events since the advent of the new government as follows:
There are a few but extremely loud noisemakers bent on making the country ungovernable for the leaders simply because the new government does not reflect their choice. Since they have decided to exclude themselves in an all-inclusive government, they rather make life miserable than see the majority enjoy the change they have fought for.
As part of the grand scheme of making the country ungovernable, these few but chancy elements would, from time to time, invent false narratives and get people spend valuable time debating these, not just for any reason but purposely to derail the government of the day from focusing on things that matter. Mark Twain, the author of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, once said “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” It is, therefore, important for the Barrow-led government to know that 3/5 years, in reality, is not long. If they want to continue engaging these self-serving individuals/groups, their mandate would elapse without them significantly fulfilling the promises made to the electorate in December 2016. This will then provide these individuals/groups, and their allies among the politicians, all the ammunition they need to sway voters on their side. Politicking may not be so wrong. However when it obstructs national cohesion and advancement, it becomes a grave sin and morally reprehensible, more so when those involved tend to make the rest believe they are standing on a somewhat “moral high ground”. Love for country should supersede anything else. This is what patriotism is all about.
The Janneh Commission is doing a great job and all truth-loving Gambians must encourage them to keep up the good work. Those trying to undermine the credibility of the Commission might have something to hide or an interest to defend. The Lady who won her way to the hearts of all patriotic Gambians, Mrs. Amie Bensouda, is doing a great job and no amount of calumnies against her would change the majority’s view of her competence and integrity. In fact, if anything, the calumnies being peddled should strengthen our resolve to ensure that this government fully implement the Commission’s recommendations.
As toxic and distracting as these frivolities may appear, they provide President Barrow and his team an opportunity to embark on 1) Mass civic education on what Democracy is all about 2) Manage the public’s expectations on the possible deliverables, given their zero-starting base 3) and most importantly, create more awareness on the gains they have registered since coming to power to deny people with ulterior motives the chance to control the narrative. This way, falsehood, in whatever form it is masked, will be clearly distinguished and taken for what it is – utter rubbish.
Finally I want to re-emphasise this saying of our people: “Degga du daow, degga dou tohou, te degga du nah saie”, in Mandinka, this means “Tonyaa Bukka Borri, ā Bukka Sawung, Andung ā Bukka Mo Neenee” meaning Truth neither runs away (hide), nor does it migrate; and Truth does not deceive anyone. In the end, only truth shall prevail.
I would like to send my profound gratitude to all those who stood up and continue to stand up for truth and justice. The Kaironews Crew, The Gainako Crew, Sambagate.com and individuals who have won my admiration for their patriotism, amongst them Mama Linguere Sarr (Woman of Substance), Fabu Sanneh, Saul Saidykhan, Musa Saidykhan, Demba Baldeh, Dida Halake and others too numerous to mention here. I am done.