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Leadership sets the tone

If you take a close look at our makeup as a society, power is entirely concentrated in the executive, and the executive is headed by one man, ergo, one man rule. Our self-proclaimed democracy is a sham, regular elections, not even fair or free elections is the only yardstick we care about. With the defeat of Jammeh in 2016, we were largely of the conviction that democracy has returned but cannot ignore what is right in front of our eyes.

It is a time tested and proven fact that democracy thrives or at least is ensured through strong institutions. A non-negotiable condition for strong institutions is independence. In that sense, institutions are non-existent in The Gambia as they are all subject to the whims of the executive except in very rare cases all of which can be found in instances when the judiciary passed judgment that did not side with the executive’s position. But in cases as clearcut as the case of Ya Kumba Jaiteh’s case against the state, there is no ambiguity in the constitutional provision, therefore the courts had no other choice than to rule in favor of the obvious; that the executive wields no power over a co-equal branch of government.

To elaborate further on the case of the judiciary, there is a vast difference between a fearful judiciary held under duress by a tyrant as was the case under Jammeh, (which is no longer the case), and a judiciary that has the freedom to operate impartially but rules in ways that chips away confidence in the institution (as currently obtains).

The National Assembly has a few patriots  who consistently show up on the side of the people they represent, but as an institution, they have consistently failed to serve as an oversight body that keeps the executive in check, especially when it comes to fiscal responsibility as seen in the latest budget proposal.

A lot of commentators on the issue point fingers at “the opposition” in failing to curb the excesses of the executive through their members, although this is understandable in the face of the frustrations, we all face, it is misplaced criticism. In other words, the institution is more worthy of criticism than individual parties. Although they bear some responsibility in caucusing to align their members along the particular party’s legislative agenda, as it stands, should a member disagree with the political party on whose ticket he or she was elected and as a result the party decides to take disciplinary action, all that does is make a public statement on what the party’s position is because we all know as the laws stand, if a member of the National Assembly is expelled from his or her party, they still remain in the assembly as “independents” which we all know means siding with the executive because there is additional gains to be had.

In a nutshell, we have a character issue at the heart of the issues we face as a country, and that is not confined to one sector. Worse yet, none of us is willing to admit that we are wrong (when we are). We pass off our biases as informed objectivity and our flaws are brushed off with whataboutism.  We are incessantly self-righteous. In that defensive strategy of “what about”, we are in fact not only deflecting from our flaws but pointing to the greater ills of society. Essentially what we are saying is “yes, this is wrong, but instead of focusing on MY wrong, what about all the other wrongs?” That speaks to pervasiveness, and it is tragic.

In as much as we want to debate and institutionalize policy issues as the basis upon which we build our political disagreements, the fact remains that we are held captive by the whims of one man, and needless to say not a smart one at that. The country will go in the direction that the leader we choose to put at the helm decides to take it, and for Barrow, that destination is personal wealth for him and his cronies at all costs.

Adama Barrow’s demeanor typifies your average Gambian; often unassuming, meek looking, pretentiously religious, lies with ease but lacks conviction and excessively self-serving. This unassuming personality is us effectively judging the book by the cover. The real test of character lies in tasking the person with a responsibility and boy has Adama Barrow proven to be complete opposite of who he pretends to be. We saw the same with tough talking, self-styled pan African Yaya Jammeh. The unconscionable greed and disregard for the impact such corruption of values has on the people only makes one pity The Gambia and Gambians.

No country breaks free of tyranny, corruption, and maladministration until the educated and informed citizens (middle class) are willing to selflessly take on such excesses, but sadly for us, that category of Gambians are not immune for the same “Gambian-ness” of being self-serving. Just look at how many people in the current government were critics of the same rot that they shamelessly embraced out of opportunism and many more are lined up to do the same.

No one can truly know another person, but public records of conduct are good starting points in assessing who is a person is likely to be if entrusted with public affairs and what their capacity is.

We need to do better, we deserve better.

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