President Barrow is not the problem; he is a Symptom of the Disease
To diagnose an ailment is not to have a cure, but a misdiagnosis ensures that a remedy will be elusive. Over the last week, Gambians have witnessed spontaneous demonstrations by angry youths over the death of Ousman Darboe, a Sierra Leonean vendor, due to alleged police brutality. The testimony of the Jungulers, a gang that goes by the innocuous name the “Patrol Team” before the TRRC, on the other hand, has confirmed the gory details of what we have already known of the systematic torture and murder of Gambian citizens and foreign nationals.
These two events have directed attention to Jammeh as the real culprit for sanctioning these murders, and to Barrow for his failure to reform the security services and provide opportunities for disgruntled youths. We should not be so hasty. The cadre of Gambia’s legal, administrative and security personnel and the institutions they led who enabled Jammeh are still in place and are ready handmaidens for Barrow. Thus, we must not succumb to the idea that our predicament emanates from a single cause. Jammeh like Barrow was a symptom of the malaise that afflicts Gambian society. Why did we end up with Barrow as the best candidate among those competing to be the Coalition flagbearer at that crucial juncture in the nation’s history in 2016? In what moral universe would he be selected except in one rife with bad faith? A political culture in which calculated decisions are made to choose a neophyte who could be pliable and manipulated to do one’s bidding. So, we are now surprised that he turned out to be a disappointment?
Barrow’s inexperience and lack of policy heft, however, had not foreordained the mess that his presidency has become. History is not a series of inevitabilities. He could have been a statesman, rising to the occasion and unifying the country in the arduous march of reform and renewal. But, operating on a soiled political canvas drenched in a lamentable habit of elevating partisan loyalty and personal gain above national interests, that possibility was a long shot.
Taking his cue from the elders, he, too, not to be outdone, felt the need to promote his personal agenda to the detriment of Gambians, assisted by Jammeh enablers with no personal reputation left to lose. His inability to transcend the stunted vision of our politics is matched in equal measure by the failure of the political elites to define a coherent alternative future. The failure applies as well to our business elites tethered to the use of state power to further their interests. Elites are elites for a reason: they are supposed to know better, to be, among other things the guardians of the bounds of propriety, of permissible conduct in the public square, and as the moderators of an enlightened public discourse.
Our legislators have also shirked their responsibilities as guardians of the peoples’ aspirations. In a representative democracy, the people don’t decide; they decide who will decide for them. Almost three years now, we have seen no significant sign that our elected representatives have the political will to carry out this task. Is there any good reason why we still have the Newspaper and Public Order Acts? With little oversight and few stopgaps to restrain a presidential power grab in all directions, the nation, under Barrow and this National Assembly, must now stagger along.
Cherno M. Njie is a real estate developer based in Austin, Texas. He is the author of the forthcoming book Sweat is Invisible in the Rain – A memoir of an African Childhood, An American Life, and My Quest to Topple a Dictator. In 2014 he was involved in the failed attempt to overthrow President Yahya Jammeh. He’s co-owner of The Chronicle.