By professor Alhagi Manta Drammeh (PGCerTHE, FHEA, FRSA, UK) Associate Professor, Al-Maktoum College of Higher Education
The return of Mahathir to the forefront of Malaysian politics deserves a serious analysis. Malaysia is an important country both within the context of ASEAN and the Muslim world. Malaysia appears to be an important text case of multiculturalism where the big three religious traditions and races coexist in peace and harmony. In addition, the country has achieved remarkably in science and technology. All in all, the country is doing extremely well in terms of economic and technological development. In fact, the target is to make Malaysia a fully developed country like the so-called developed world. This is the vision Mahathir had envisioned almost 40 years and is referred to as wawasan dua pulo duwa pulo (vision 2020). Being a former student and Lecturer in Malaysia, I can reflect a lot on the Malaysian socio-political and economic trajectory. Literally, I saw development taking place before me in Malaysia. Literally, I saw the great transformation of Malaysia from basically an agricultural society to a technologically based society and the secret was heavy investment in knowledge creation and production. One of the French thinkers Michelle Foucault notes that knowledge is power and that is a simple logical conclusion but to achieve that level requires sophistication and concerted efforts.
Who is Mahathir? Why he is so important nationally and internationally? Why bring him to politics after departure for about twenty years? How come a 90-year father figure of the country has to come back to Malaysian politics? These are very difficult questions to answer as Malaysia is a very complex society. However, I will endeavor to shed some light on them. Mahathir was the 4th Prime Minster of Malaysia and now the 7th Prime Minster. He was born and raised in Kedah where he excelled at school and later became a medical doctor. Mahathir first stood for parliament in 1964 and became the Leader of UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) in 1981. UMNO is the main constituent party of the National Front (Barisan Nasional) that ruled Malaysia from independence in 1957 to 2018. Mahathir left active politics in 2003 and was motivated to make a comeback because of his dissatisfaction with the corruption scandals Najib Razak the Prime Minster was embroiled in. During his premiership, Mahathir was able to mordernise Malaysia and the country made noticeable improvements in its economic growth in 1990s. Mahathir fell out with his one-time protégé Anwar Ibrahim in 1997 due to the Asian financial crisis and in the end sacked him in 1998. Anwar led political reform protests and was arrested under the notorious Internal Security Act and jailed for corruption and sodomy charges that Anwar has vehemently denied. In 2016, they buried their differences and vowed to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak. Mahathir quit UMNO and formed an Alliance of Hope (Pakatan Harapan). The Alliance consists of centre-left parties including the Party of Anwar Party People’s Justice Party (parti Keadilan Rakyat) as the main component. Now that the alliance of Hope under the leadership of Mahathir has commanded a parliamentary majority, the country needs to heal and come together to move the country forward and consolidate the development agenda laid down by Mahathir to attain vision 2020. It is heartening that Anwar is now free. Those of us who lived there for many years could not believe a dime of the bogus charges against him. Anwar was one of the humblest people I have seen. He encouraged scholars from all parts of the world to come to Malaysia to educate generations of Malaysian young men and women in different disciplines. He was the main architect of the International Islamic University of Malaysia. Thanks to this University that graduated many Gambians who serve in different capacities. It has produced scientists, political scientists, theologians, lawyers, jurists and economists just to mention a few. The philosophy of this University is also to allow Malaysians to have that internationalist view of the globalized world enabling them therefore to learn different cultures and traditions. In my view, the fall out with Anwar was the biggest political miscalculation made by Mahathir. It is welcoming they are coming together. They proved it by forging an alliance to stamp out corruption in Malaysia. I think the success of Malaysia has much to do with discipline in all senses and anti-corruption. On the contrary, cronyism, favoritism, tribalism and blind partisan politics can ruin a country. This is what has been realized by wise people of Malaysia before it becomes too late.
Coming closer to home, I think the new Gambia has a lot to learn from Malaysia yesterday and Malaysia Today to map out for the future. Gambian talents should be tapped into regardless of political affiliation, gender, tribe or religion. Emotions do not move nations. Moving nations requires what we call in politics pragmatism. Malaysia started its journey to progress and transformation the same time as many African countries. Malaysia has since achieved a lot. We have talked the talk and now it is time to walk the walk! Let us stop empty slogans and work in the best interest of our country.