Who is a leader? In order to answer this question, one needs to ask another: where does a leader come from; or, more accurately, from amongst whom does a leader emerge? Once you determine the origins of a leader, you know who s/he is. The leader is not from without; rather, s/he is from within.
It is for this reason the Holy Prophet of Islam said “Seyyidul Qaumi Khaadimu Hum” (The leader of a people is their servant; or, a leader of a people is their child). The leader is a reflection of his/her people. The character traits of a leader a symptom of ethos of his/her people.
In the Wolof Language, we have the saying “Kewel du top doomja bottu” (A deer will not jump and the fawn crawls through a hole). This means that whatever the ‘parent’ does will be replicated by the young. The young learns its habit from its parent. No other way.
Since independence, we as a nation have decried the lack of good leaders or leadership. We complain that our leaders are not worthy; they are not sincere enough, they lack the integrity needed to steer the affairs of our nation properly and we lambaste them constantly.
But most often than not, we hardly stop to think of our own contributions to their lack of integrity and sincerity. We expect them to be able to resist that which we are unable to resist ourselves: the temptation of power and wealth.
We expect them to create an utopian state within a short period forgetting that we ourselves will put stumbling blocks at every turn of their way. We expect them to solve our financial troubles and solve all our problems.
We shower praises on them and cheer them when they do something wrong and sing their praises. We hang their portraits in our offices and our houses. We turn on whoever says a word against them even if such a person simply speaks truth to them. We say they are right even if we know they aren’t.
As human nature is what it is, they too are not immune from these praises and songs of glory and always being right. In the long run, they come to believe in their own infallibility.
So, they begin to equate their wishes with what is good or right, legal or moral. Then they fall back on the same thing they know, pleasing us at whatever cost. It no longer matters the manner in which they do it, the only thing of consequence is that they do it (please us).
Then you look at our own manner of behavior, we want quick fixes for everything. We don’t hesitate to benefit from bribery or impropriety when we need something. When, for instance, we need certain documents, we first ask whether there is someone we know (a relative, a friend, a relative of a friend or a friend of a relative) then we channel our needs through them. When the system fails, we blame the leader and never take responsibility.
In the area of competence, we insist on having a leader who is very competent. But these leaders have to come from among us. So, if the competence level among us is low, naturally, we will elect a leader whose competence is low. That is how we have Members of Parliament who ask: who are we to question the president? They are from among us and the incompetence is almost pervasive among us. Thus, you reap what you sow.
How do we even begin to solve this problem? The answer is in education. It is education that determines the type of doctor, teacher, politician, public administrator, minister, judge and all other functionaries that we have. We must fix the education problem.
It is the first step to righting the wrongs and sailing this boat. If we are to reach the shore aright – even if not the utopia we cherish, we have to prepare a new man, a new woman. In short, we have to create a new Gambian. It is only then that we can fix this broken nation and be true when we say: New Gambia.
Musa Bah is a teacher at Nusrat Senior Secondary School. He is also a
writer, novelist, poet and social commentator. He is currently the
vice president of the Writers’ Association of The Gambia.