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President should speak the language of democracy and accountability

Madi Jobarteh is a Gambian civil society activist

By Madi Jobarteh

Over the past few weeks and months Pres. Barrow made several statements that directly point to dictatorial tendencies and inclination towards corruption that are utterly unbecoming of a president who is immediately following one of the most corrupt and autocratic misleaders ever seen in Africa. Therefore, these statements by Barrow raise concern as to his quality of leadership and the future of the Gambia. Hence it is necessary that Gambians are alerted to these unfortunate statements so that we do not become complacent again while a budding dictatorship is brewing under our feet.

Few months ago, in Turkey, Barrow condemned citizens who criticised his government as insincere and attention seekers. Few weeks later he directly attacked the person of Dr. Ismaila Ceesay by falsely asking where the man was during the days of APRC Dictatorship. Not long ago he also threatened that he is ready for anyone who would cross his line. Last week he told GRTS that his Government’s spending of over 300 million dalasi on travels was insignificant because other countries spend more. This week he went further to say that striking teachers are testing the waters and going too far in abusing democracy and that his government will not tolerate such strikes.

These statements are indeed tyrannical, condescending and purposely geared towards perpetuating corruption and bad governance in our country that no citizen must allow. Barrow must accept, as a president who had sworn to defend the Constitution of the Gambia, that all citizens have fundamental rights and freedoms as stipulated in Chapter 4 for which his Government, under Section 17 is bound to respect, protect and fulfil those rights. Hence it is utterly unacceptable that Pres. Barrow would condemn any citizen for merely exercising those rights as stated in our Constitution.

Barrow can only disagree with the lawful opinion or actions of citizens, but he cannot deny citizens from expressing their lawful opinions and performing their lawful actions. Every Gambian has a right to strike in line with the Constitution and Barrow cannot take that right away. Whether a citizen was vocal against Jammeh or not cannot be used as the yardstick today to determine who should criticise Barrow or not. Hence Barrow’s attacks on citizens must be exposed and condemned for what it is, Dictatorial.

Barrow and his Government have consistently lamented that they inherited a tattered economy and an empty coffer. For that matter he has been going around the world to seek help. Therefore, it is utterly wrong and immoral for that same government to be seen spending millions of dollars on travels alone. If China or UK or Ghana can afford millions of dollars for travels that does not mean the Gambia can and should also spend even thousands of dollars. The Gambia is Gambia. Ghana is Ghana just like every other country is unique. Therefore, we cannot equate ourselves with any other country especially when it comes to bad practices such as wasteful spending.

If indeed it is true that the Jammeh regime was corrupt, wasteful and autocratic as claimed by Barrow and his Government, then what we do not expect Barrow to do is to be also corrupt, wasteful and autocratic. Our expectation is that this Government should be open, honest and democratic as well as become efficient, responsive and accountable to Gambian citizens. This is the only path we expect this Government to follow. But it appears Barrow is deliberately closing his eyes to blatant inefficiency, corruption and abuse in his own Government only to now face citizens with venomous attacks.

Let Pres. Barrow realise that this Gambia never belonged to Dawda Jawara and Yaya Jammeh alone and surely this Gambia does not belong to Adama Barrow alone. Let Barrow realise that he was elected on the basis of our Constitution which states in Section 1 that the Sovereignty of the Gambia resides in the people of the Gambia. This section went further to state that the Government derives its authority and legitimacy from the people of the Gambia and that the Government performs it functions only on behalf of and for the welfare of Gambians. Hence Pres. Barrow must be told that he must humble himself and submit himself to the sovereign will of Gambians.

Gambians have a right to criticise him in the most severe and unpleasant way they think fit and he is bound to accept those criticisms by responding to the issues and not threatening and attacking citizens. We want only true democracy in the Gambia. We do not want a kind of democracy such as in many other African countries where citizens enjoy all civil liberties yet live in poverty and deprivation thanks to corrupt, inefficient and dishonest governments and leaders. Gambians must not only enjoy civil and political rights but that those rights and freedoms must also translate into social and economic benefits to enable citizens enjoy the highest standard of living. This is the only mission before Barrow that he must fulfil or betray.

The Government of Pres. Adama Barrow is annoyingly corrupt, inefficient and unresponsive. The facts on the ground attest to this sad and unfortunate reality. His Government is not being transparent to citizens on a number of fundamental issues and continues to ignore the genuine concerns of citizens. It is only when citizens cry out that his Government will come up with a crisis management response after the damage has already been done. The recent memo from the Minister of Finance on foreign travels is one example. The release of a paedophile was another.

Meantime, contrary to public outcry, the Government has gone ahead to sign a contract with a dubious foreign company that is under criminal investigation in their own country to produce our national ID cards. Both the President and his Minister of Justice continue to give the misleading narrative that just because Semlex had a contract with the former corrupt regime of Yaya Jammeh therefor this Government is bound to comply with that contract less they be accused of breach. Yet the Minster of Justice, as a lawyer knows that every contract has termination clauses that either party can invoke. Why didn’t they do that given the potential national security implications of giving national documents to a foreign company?

Gambians must stand up to demand transparency, accountability and responsive government now. After 50 years of nationhood the standard of living in this country is unbearable and unacceptable thanks to bad leadership since 1965. Therefore, we must not allow another government and president to emerge that seeks to throw the usual dust into our eyes while they bastardise our resources and undermine our lives and damage our future with prolonged poverty, deprivation and high cost of living.

We need a president who values and upholds the principles and standards of democracy and accountability and respects each and every Gambian. So far Barrow has drifted away from these principles and citizens must not condone that in anyway. The Gambia has no reason to be poor and underdeveloped. We are a highly endowed country with natural resources. We have a highly capable citizenry. Unfortunately, we have never had an effective government and an efficient leader who is democratic and accountable which is the very and only reason for our poverty and underdevelopment. We expected that Barrow would be that kind of a president but unfortunately this has not been the case so far.

Stand up for democracy and accountability!

For the Gambia Our Homeland.

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