By Madi Jobarteh, Human Rights Activist.
If the Barrow administration had done what they are constitutionally mandated to do from January 2017 to date, today Vice President Alieu Badara Joof would not have stood before the nation to solemnly acknowledge failures, lament poor performance and admonish colleagues for ineptitude and corruption. Since 2017, there have been more than enough voices calling on the Barrow Government to uphold the rule of law and stick to its 2016 manifesto and ensure good governance in order to create the envisaged ‘New Gambia’. But they never listened; rather they engaged in infantile political rantings against anyone they perceive to be an enemy. The issues VP Joof lamented at his Cabinet retreat may be new to him and his fellow Cabinet ministers, but the masses of Gambians have been suffering these horrendous conditions under their leadership over the past five years.
Therefore, on a day like today, I wish to put it to VP Badara Joof that the Gambian people have elected Adama Barrow who has appointed all of them as Cabinet members to do a job, as he rightly said. Collectively they have woefully failed this country when they had all the opportunities and resources to salvage their people. As he rightly said again, the people have great expectations since 2017 and because of the unforgivable failure of the Government, the people are no longer at ease today. It is important that this fact is re-echoed to the VP.
Having said these, I wish to indeed welcome the tone and direction that VP Joof has started with since his appointment. In one sense, I welcome it because for the first time I have heard a vice president of the Gambia since Independence speak bluntly, honestly, and passionately about the conditions of our people and the obligation of the Government. But on the other hand, I am hugely saddened and angry that these terrible conditions still prevail after more than 50 years of Independence with no end in sight.
There is no doubt that these horrifying conditions are man-made, perpetrated by none other than the Cabinet in particular, and the civil service in general. This is because Pres. Barrow’s Cabinet just like Jawara and Yaya Jammeh’s cabinets and the entire public service cannot tell us that they do not have the knowledge and the skills and above all the resources to meet the expectations of Gambians. Certainly, they do. But because of greed and corruption and outright reckless negligence, all of these presidents and their cabinets and public service decided to miserably fail their own people without shame or fear.
Going forward, I wish to remind VP Badara Joof that he and the President as well as each and every member of Cabinet have a moral, political, and legal obligation to salvage the Gambia so long as they hold public office. For that matter, I wish to strongly advise the Vice President to put in place robust accountability mechanisms to ensure that the vision he expounded today is materialized immediately. There is no reason why this cannot be so.
While I do not have confidence in most of his fellow Cabinet members because of their corruption and failures in the past five years, however it is the duty of the VP Joof to ensure that his vision is not derailed by anyone both in the Cabinet and in the public service. This is why he needs to establish strong and comprehensive transparency and accountability mechanisms which he alluded to already. These mechanisms are necessary not only to ensure discipline. performance and delivery but also to encourage citizen participation in the process to further strengthen professionalism, efficiency and the attainment of results.
This country has suffered for so long since Independence in 1970. We had great hopes and expectations in 2017 that a new Gambia will be born. Yet six years down the line none of the fundamental objectives set were achieved. The constitutional, legal and institutional reforms necessary to build a new Gambia are either abandoned or poorly implemented. Today, the Gambia remains stuck with the poor 1997 Constitution while all the draconian laws remain, and the usual malpractices in the public service continue to be rife! This is unacceptable.
I call on the Vice President that his vision cannot be realized until there are serious, robust, and holistic legal and institutional reforms across the board. In that regard, the implementation of the White Paper on the TRRC Recommendations must be considered primary and urgent. It is necessary that VP Joof takes particular interest and leadership on the TRRC Recommendations which have addressed all that are required for the social, cultural, economic and political transformation of the Gambia and ensure a lasting and durable peace and freedom in the country.
Furthermore, it is necessary that discipline and order are brought into the public service and particularly in the Office of the President. The long list of political appointees at State House, including the ridiculous presidential advisors should be removed asap so that State House becomes a true and respectable national institution focused only on serving Gambians. The abuse of the foreign service as a platform for favoritism and a dumping ground for failed and corrupt ministers and political surrogates should end. In a nutshell, VP Joof should ensure that the State House is sanitized, civilized, and professionalized.
In this regard, I wish to advise Pres. Barrow to look up to his Vice President as his chief advisor and confidant. There is no doubt that Badara has a longstanding expertise and experience in policy and development spanning over both the public sector and the international scene. His remarks clearly show the depth of the man’s knowledge and experience. Hence Badara cannot and should not fail. If he fails, it is his choice and fault. For the President, if he wishes to succeed and retire from the presidency in 2026 in peace and respect, let him make Badara Joof his guidance and guardian!
As I always highlight, the greatest honor a citizen can obtain in his or her society is to be elected or appointed into public office. Public office is sacred because it is public office that provides the opportunities, services and goods that are necessary to protect rights and fulfill needs to give the highest standing of living to citizens hence guarantee their dignity. Therefore, when public officials fail in their duties, they directly and indirectly kill dreams and futures and take away lives hence plunge people into perpetual misery as highlighted by VP Joof himself. Therefore let Pres. Barrow and VP Joof and their Cabinet colleagues realize that they have a duty to deliver and salvage their people. This is non-negotiable.
I wish to call on all Gambians to indeed give the Vice President the benefit of doubt that this time we indeed have a leader who means well, even if it is by words alone, yet. Let us provide him all the support and encouragement as much as we can until he proves otherwise. I want to believe that he is a man of integrity whose words match his actions. We do not owe Pres. Barrow and VP Joof anything other than to hold them accountable. Let us therefore hold them accountable without ill-will or kindness with a view to enabling them to succeed.
Finally, I am elated that today we have a member of the Government at the highest level acknowledging the cries of our people. As VP Joof was speaking, I was wondering whether this was one of our activists at the Occupy Westfield Protest in 2017 or the Dafadoy Protest in 2018. Yet when activists raised pertinent national issues, it was this Government that had threatened and ridiculed them. Today all activists for social and economic justice, civil liberties, development and environmental rights, women and minority rights, inclusion and equality, and democracy and good governance should feel vindicated that none other than the Vice President himself has acknowledged exactly what we have passionately been speaking out about at least since 2017.
For The Gambia Our Homeland