The much anticipated press conference came and went with much to digest. Credit must be given where credit is due. There is no arguing that Halifa Sallah is very passionate about his beliefs and steadfast in his quest. The press conference reflected that passion and much more, it was fiery even. Mr. Sallah’s patriotism is not in question as some would like to allude to. No one will dedicate as much time of their life as did the folks in PDOIS and beyond for naught, however politics is a game of differing views and not all share similar views in that regard. Challenging his political views and stance on issues therefore does not amount to attempts at discrediting the man, although in some quarters he may not be so favorably viewed but that too comes with the terrain. Mr. Sallah has been and remains one of the most respected political and opinion leaders in the country even among those who disagree with his politics. The recent reactions from Gambians can mainly be attributed to disappointment rather than disrespect. Disappointment in the decision to pull the entire membership from taking up any executive positions in the coalition government that they have been equal stakeholders in; granted that choice has to be respected and yes the National Assembly is an important institution of state in a democratic dispensation, but that move was not the very best of political moves and has left many disappointed, that too has to be respected. That disappointment speaks more to the people’s desire and believe that he, or any of the prominent PDOIS members will have only contributed to the executive rather than take away from it; that view too is likened to skirting responsibility for a collective achievement. So no, the spate of criticisms aimed at Halifa and the PDOIS is not borne out of hate as some would like to believe, not that this write up is likely to change that believe, that’s not the goal either.
Coming to the press conference, some issues have been elaborated on but more questions arose as well. The statement issued prior to the press conference was that some investigations will be made to confirm the origins of the press release that was said to have emanated from the office of the President and then a press conference held to give a “fitting response”. From the press conference though it seems the author of the release is unclear still, not that it should matter.
According to Halifa, the release has not been signed by anyone, that it just listed a contact person. In conventional terms though, I’d like to think that since the release has been attributed to the Office of the President and listed the Director of Press as the contact person should be enough to determine the origins of the release. Secondly, since the release aired on the national broadcaster and the said Office of the President has not come out to dissociate itself from the release, it is safe to say that indeed the release came from the Office of the President. Did Halifa reach out to the contact person listed on the release to verify its authenticity? Does listing a contact person at the end of the release suffice under law? Was the release on a letter head with contact details? All these are questions not clarified in that regard. Just as corporations are legal entities, so too are state institutions; that is the very reason why they can sue and be sued in a court of law. So if Halifa wants to take the matter to the courts for example, it will likely be ‘Halifa Vs the Office of the President’, so as to who actually put pen to paper or who dictated it becomes irrelevant. The office holder takes ultimate responsibility, that’s clear.
Next Halifa mentioned following up with the GRTS, but what really should be followed up with GRTS is to determine if they exercised due diligence as to whether the release was indeed from the Office of the President before airing it in order to not falsely attribute the statement to the wrong entity. That is as far as GRTS’s responsibility should go. As to whether they should have aired it or not is not even a question worth asking as we live in a democracy and the state as much as any party has a right to the airwaves with regards to clarifying issues.
Halifa also cited the section of the constitution as regards the conduct of public officials, but how has that code been violated with regard to the content of the press relaese was not cleared up.
The statement that generated this whole hullabaloo appears to have been clarified. In Birmingham, UK what Halifa was quoted as having said was; “what we have in The Gambia is regime change, not system change.” At the press conference he stood his ground but gave a little more clarity and context; “we have attained regime change but are yet to attain system change…” sounds a lot more relatable than the former. With the former, people grew disgruntled as a result of having had the impression that what Halifa was alluding to was that there was no difference between the Jammeh regime and the current administration just the difference in personalities; that was what was construed to having being said. Now with the latter, it becomes clearer that system change is a process that cannot be attained overnight. But by all indications, the current dispensation is by far much closer to our desired ideal than what used to obtain. How I wish the initial statement was that clear. Regime change by default is the prelude to system change and we are in the right direction; that too deserves acknowledgement.
Halifa highlighted, as an example, the fact the country still imports its entire stock of manufactured goods with virtually no capacity to manufacture its own wares; that this has always been the norm since independence. That is a fact. But that aspect speaks to specifics, not the overall system of governance. Beyond that, even in the developed world, the government is only a facilitator. Through the governance system that abides by the rule of law, the government facilitates the environment needed for citizens to unleash their creative minds and transform raw materials into finished good. The government ensures through laws and governance practice that the people are not short changed in transactions involving the use of our collective resources. The government may run some parastatals or partner with private ventures to maximize welfare and ensure the proper management of our shared natural resources. I as well as all well-meaning Gambians are completely; without reservations, in for a self-sustaining and truly independent country with prosperous citizens. The issue now becomes what policies better ensures such an atmosphere; this is where the governance policy comes into play but the government must not be viewed as a provider as opposed to a facilitator. So we should not expect such transformative economic gains to emanate out of government investment but rather from the abundant opportunity it facilitated for its citizens to compete and unleash their potential through laws and policy. The main task of any government should be to regulate and ensure fairness, as soon as it is viewed and relied on as the provider for the people, then it becomes such a large entity that it is in every aspect of the citizen’s life, the very anathema to a sovereign citizenry.
Finally there was the insight into the role of Halifa during the impasse and the overall mission and role of the larger PDOIS in The Gambia. I have always maintained that the PDOIS is akin to a hybrid between a pressure group and a civil society organization with no disrespect intended. Rather it is an acknowledgement of the role they have been playing in the country since inception, which is why I believe we get constantly reminded that position and power are immaterial to their cause as opposed to an enlightened citizenry. That is the role of a civil society organization; political parties sell their programs and agenda to the people in their quest to assume power and office. That factor qualifies them as a political outfit, but by their own admission they give more credence to an enlightened sovereign citizen than to being a party in office. Depending on what perspective one looks at it from, their efforts in relation to enlightening the citizenry could either be through enhancing access to information (which enlightens) or one through selling particular concepts (which indoctrinates), but that is discussion for another time.
On the role Halifa played during the impasse, the question remains thus; were steps taken in consultation with coalition partners or were they independent of input from other stakeholders? Was the President-Elect in the picture as to what Halifa was doing and gave his blessings, or did Halifa took what he deemed the best course of action? What consultations were done behind closed doors before Halifa emerged in front of cameras and microphones? Was there consensus to the positions he relayed over the media as the position of the coalition in his capacity as the spokesman, if not who objected to what position and why? How were disagreements resolved?
You see, it will be disingenuous of anyone to try to take away from Halifa as to what his role was within and outside of the coalition before all this. He earned our respect and he earned the credits given him, but to make it exclusively his and his alone is equally disingenuous if not more so. His love for country is not in question, his contribution thereto is not in question either; from the mid-eighties to date. His politics, his views, and his approaches are not beyond scrutiny or criticism just as any other citizen who dedicates him or herself to public service. Those views and approaches will be questioned, held to scrutiny and reproached even when necessary; and that he wouldn’t mind, that is why he would gladly debate anyone who disagrees with him; an opportunity to defend his position against ill-favored scrutiny.
Disclaimer: The views herein espoused are those of a private citizen with an equal stake in the country as any other citizen. They are not representative of any office or political grouping. Although the said citizen has political views and leanings, he has no capacity (assumed or assigned), to speak for on behalf of any political establishment within or outside of the country.