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President Adama Barrow: Integrity and Credibility on the Line?

President Adama Barrow has made it abundantly clear that he was elected to serve as President for 5 years, and that is what he is going to do. We all heard him recently say, unequivocally, that stepping down at the end of the first 3 years as President of the transitional government, as was agreed with the Coalition parties, is not in the cards. So, why is the ‘Three Years Jotna group’ continuing to make unnecessary fuss about him relinquishing power in December 2019 when his three years in power is up? What is the point of taking to the streets to ask him to step down? I do not see why people should embark on a protest march which will not produce the desired result. No amount of protesting or demonstration will make him step down!

Gambia we want meeting-3-years jotna

Though I do not understand Mandinka, the language he spoke when he made that statement while addressing a group of people who had come to State House to express their unflinching support for his presidency, I could sense from his gestures and tone of voice that he meant every word he uttered. Thanks to the interpreter, those of us who do not speak the language, were able to know what he was driving home. Well, I was the least surprised by the statement, as from the very first time he spoke on this issue, I was convinced that he was not sincere. 

Former President Jammeh ©AP

We could all recall Yahya Jammeh’s words as junta leader, when the reins of government were wrested from President Jawara [RIP] on 22 July 1994, as to how long they would govern. The story changed barely a year after! I wasn’t surprised then, and so were quite a number of citizens. What happened after he occupied State House and started enjoying power? The same has happened with Adama Barrow. Once he entered State House and started enjoying what he never dreamed he would in his lifetime, he became evasive about how long he will serve, until that day when he dropped the bombshell to the consternation of many at home and in the diaspora.

It could be recalled that when he was interviewed by the BBC last year, or in the first year of his presidency, he said five years was not enough to fulfill his plans for the country; at least fifteen years was needed to do so. What did we make out of that statement? Was he not telling the Gambian people, plainly, that his intention was not just to serve the constitutionally-mandated term, but to do a second or third term, or stay as long as he could? 

We should by now realize that Adama Barrow is no different from the majority of African heads of states who once they assume that high office, find all ways of perpetuating themselves in power. Either they rig elections or manipulate the Constitution to realize their desire to remain in power and enrich themselves, their families and friends, at the expense of the nation. We see it every day and everywhere in Africa.

The Adama Barrow we elected as President, as a protest against the erstwhile dictator in December 2016, is not the Adama Barrow we see today. He has morphed and matured politically, learned and adopted the tricks of African leaders to hold on to power until they die or bequeath it to a successor, usually a son. Macky Sall, his mentor, has taught him well, and he has learned very quickly how to deal with disgruntled citizens. 

By telling the Gambian electorate that he was “elected and not appointed”, and, therefore, will serve his full term as President, he is reaffirming that he has the power and authority to stay put as Head of State until the next elections are due, and no amount of pressure will make him relinquish the position he has been legally entrusted with.

We have heard the pronouncements by his lackeys how he will deal with any demonstration, peaceful or otherwise, that the ‘Three Years Jotna Group’ plans to carry out, or any other dissatisfied entity for that matter, come December 2019. Recently, we have seen another hot water tanker being offloaded at the port. Is this not a clear indication of the lengths to which Barrow is prepared to go to quell any such activity, irrespective of public reaction, both at home and globally? Let us not underestimate the determination of the ‘Three Years Jotna Group’ to go ahead with its plans, and, in the same vein, the resolve of the Barrow administration to ruthlessly deal with the protesters in the event. We are all witnesses to what is happening in Hong Kong. This is the last thing we as peace-loving Gambians want to see happen here. 

There is no legal basis for ‘Three Years Jotna’ would-be protesters to take to the streets in December 2019 to demand the stepping down of President Barrow. Barrow cannot be forced out of office at the end of three years. For political observers at home and abroad, by reneging on the gentleman’s agreement Barrow made with leaders of the Coalition, who came together to ensure Yahya Jammeh’s ouster, and who agreed to a transitional government of three years if the elections are won, he has destroyed his integrity and lost credibility as a leader and a politician. By going back on his word to serve the agreed term and stepping down thereafter, he has shown himself as a man who cannot be trusted, someone whose word is not his bond. A leader must be credible in words and deeds. You cannot make a pronouncement today, and later say or do the opposite. That is not an attribute of a forthright and respectable person.

We should understand why Barrow has not lived by his word. It is not easy giving up power as President of a country, which means foregoing the trappings of being Head of State, once you have tasted it, especially if you come from a relatively low, socio-economic background. Barrow, in his wildest dreams, never envisioned being President of the Republic of The Gambia, nor did any of his family and close associates. After three years of living in opulence, residing in a mansion with sprawling, well-manicured grounds, riding in a Bentley [one of, if not, the most expensive and luxurious vehicles in the world], being saluted by uniformed personnel who surround you to ensure your safety and that of your family, hobnobbing with powerful world leaders, it will be difficult for him to say to his household “It’s time to vacate the State House and give way to the Vice-President to steer the ship of state for the rest of the constitutionally-mandated term, as I had promised the Gambian people and the Coalition government.” Wow! That will be the day. 

When you have yourself surrounded by ignorant, self-serving sycophants whose advice is not in the best interest of the people you serve, you will follow their counsel if you are not a man of principles, whose name and integrity matters more than anything else. I want to believe that Barrow, in his heart-of-hearts, wanted to fulfill the agreement he made with the Coalition parties, but the people who surround him, especially ‘you know who’, are the ones who have pushed him to “wah-wahet”, as the Wolof say, which former Senegalese President Abdoulie Wade was known for.

Opposition Coalition 2016 that ended the 22-year-rule of Yahya Jammeh

I do not think that when Adama Barrow was making the pronouncement that he will serve his full 5-year mandate he thought about his integrity, how society would regard him, and how posterity will judge him. I want to believe that he is consumed by the realities of the present, obsessed with power and desire to amass wealth, and oblivious of the writing on the wall. He has forgotten, inadvertently or deliberately, that he is on record saying that he will honor the agreement when the time comes. If he now says that the reason why he won’t live up to that commitment is the shortness of time to accomplish the development agenda he has outlined in his National Development Plan [NDP], wasn’t this considered when, in the first instance, he agreed to the three year timetable when he offered himself as “coalition flagbearer”, and, in the second instance, when the NDP was being formulated?

If Barrow is the gentleman he says he is, the democrat that he claims to be, a man of his word, and for him to earn the respect of every Gambian, at home and abroad, and retain the goodwill and continued support of democratic governments around the world, he should HONOUR his word and step down, come December 2019, so as to keep our nation united and continue enjoying the peace that has prevailed ever since.

For me, the long and short of all this uproar about him serving his constitutionally-stipulated time in office or honoring an “unsigned agreement” is immaterial, and, therefore, we should not waste precious time fighting over or discussing the issue any further. In 2021, when the next round of Presidential elections is due, which is just around the corner – unless, if as incumbent, President Barrow moves the goalposts to favor his candidacy to give them time to manipulate the process, as we have seen a number of African leader do, – we, the electorate, will have an opportunity to show where we stand, regarding how well he has served in the transitional leadership position we had put him in, and if we want him to retain the mantle of President of our dear Republic, or otherwise, by voting him into office for another 5 years or giving him the boot.

Burang Goree-Ndiaye teaches Geography at the University of The Gambia. He initiated and hosted the popular weekly talk-show, STRAIGHT TALK, on West Coast Radio.

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