Alagi Yorro Jallow.
“In Japan, a corrupt person kills himself. In China, they will kill him. In Europe they will jail him. In Africa, he will present himself for election.”
– Prof. PLO Lumumba
The Gambia, which was long thought of as the beacon of hope for Africa, has unfortunately stuttered miserably in tackling the crisis of democracy, promoting the rule of law and fighting corruption and economic crimes, and promoting good governance. As a result, hope increasingly looks like a distant illusion for the so-called “Smiling Coast of West Africa.”
The Gambia claims to be the headquarter of the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights, custodian of the ( Banjul Charter) and the domicile of the African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, a gift to Africa and a pride to the Gambia. These pillars of the international human rights instruments are intended to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in the African continent. Nevertheless, the Gambian predecessors and successor authorities turn a blind eye to fighting corruption—furthermore, the uncomfortable truths and double standards of bribery and racketeering enforcement. Simultaneously, the police and the criminal justice system fill the Gambia’s prisons to bursting. Even worse, most inmates are poor and marginalized Gambians held possession of ounces of marijuana, petty theft, and non-violent charges, prosecuted and jailed, while the rich and powerful commit crimes without fear of prosecution.
Gambia’s criminal justice system has its origins in the colonial administration, like most of Gambia’s public institutions. The colonial state and its institutions sought to pillage, oppress, humiliate, mistreat, debase and dehumanize the native Africans. As a result, the Gambia once-promising nation has been subdued and scorched by a succession of bad leaders and their aspiring successors. It has witnessed the rise of tribal lords, religious fundamentalists, corrupt and immoral persons elevated to positions of power and authority to chat the destiny of their people, and unfortunately celebrated by the people. The tragic consequence is a nation heading to the brink of disaster.
There is an old saying in my Fulani tribe: “If you fill your mouth with broken bottles, you will spit blood.” Unfortunately, the Gambia has been spitting blood since it allowed men with a violent heritage to fill its leadership positions.
To rub salt into the wound, many of the aspiring presidential candidates for the December 4 election for the different elective positions to replace the current crop of extraordinarily selfish and destructive leaders or names being bandied about in the media as Adama Barrow’s possible replacement is not only unsuitable for public office. They embody the worst vices that any decent society with the desire to make progress should ordinarily strive to exorcise from its governance system to secure the future of the next generation. Nevertheless, many people celebrate and revere them for their incompetence and criminal pillaging of the state’s resources. People who should ordinarily be serving long prison terms or would have paid the ultimate price for corruption in saner societies are the ones jumping around, aspiring to be President, governors, lawmakers, and local government chairmen. How can our country make progress with these sorts of people as leaders?
The most inequitable behavior any leader can exhibit in a country that faces the kind of challenges the Gambia has is the behavior of being corrupt or supporting officials who engage in embezzlement, nepotism, bribery, extortion, influence peddling, and fraud. However, unfortunately, president Adama Barrow’s administration, or at least some administration members, have not only asserted exactly that behavior in theory but seems, exercised it in practice.
Frankly, our politicians’ understanding of democracy is threatening the security of lives and properties and the corporate existence of the Gambia. Our so-called democracy has witnessed the rise of godfathers, whose sense of public office and purpose of governance is sharing public money and appropriating public property for personal use, creating gangs of armed thugs and unorganized party militia to meddling elections processes to perpetuate themselves or proxies in power. In addition, national interests are being undermined by tribal and religious affinity.
Honestly, there is so much wrong with how President Adama Barrow has navigated his war against corruption. By responding to queries either with an apology and a promise to set up a committee, or with bare silence as if to say to the public that it is none of your business; by not giving a damn about cabinet ministers and senior government officials declaring their assets, and liabilities by appearing to protect bad behavior, it is a small wonder that there is so much fraud in government and a total disregard for the law.
If the primary theory embraced by the Barrow administration to show his commitment to the war on corruption and his encouragement of transparency in the nation’s government has been his purported exposure of mega corruption in Gambia’s downstream sector as a result of the subsidy report and the set up of the umpteenth committee this year, they could have fooled us.
No matter how much the administration remixes the few anticorruption accolades achieved, despite the spin put on the glaring cases of grand larceny and brazen venality by the representatives of this government, the deliberate inactions of the President to some of the more instances of palpable government transgressions, alas implicates him.
However, beyond Adama Barrow’s inactions lies a labyrinth of misactions and utterances also. As the number one citizen of the Gambia and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, when President Barrow personally knows some of the people involved in corruption but would not reveal their identity and would prefer to remain silent over it, it is a shock to the system for, even the most gullible within us. When the President goes out of his way to willy-nilly grant exculpation to former cronies and business associates to former president Yahya Jammeh, who had been found culpable on the recommendation of the Janneh Commission of corruption serving in his government, one can only wonder whether our leader has genuinely grasped the 101 on the basic tenants of fighting a war on corruption. When select members of his cabinet and other officials that are meant to be representative of the government continue to blatantly undermine any progress that his government may have made in the face of his deafening silence, then it is time for the likes of myself to get the pen and paper out and remind the President that he must wake up, speak up, govern and take action in the interest of the nation, even if that action is not what he would personally choose to take.
By the time President Adama Barrow assumes office for the second time in office, one can bet that the dust from scandals of mega corruption and racketeering would have settled with the Anti-Corruption Law. Nevertheless, whether Barrow likes it or not, he will have to take a position. Regardless of whatever he chooses to do, the President must be reminded that his deliberate inaction to the corruption of the urchins within his administration has got to stop. He can remain silent and watch while some of his top senior officials spend government funds in so cavalier a manner. The government officials should be made to account for their indiscretion at every cost.
No matter what this President Adama Barrow administration will be remembered for, one doubts that President Barrow would want historians to label his leadership as one with a blatant disregard for the purported war against corruption and utter disrespect for the people of the Gambia. There has to be an end to the Gambia relying on questionable integrity to run her affairs. The President’s silence to the corruption speaks volumes. One hopes that President Adama Barrow can find his voice to expunge some of the cretins from his cabinet. However, unfortunately, when President Barrow remains silent about their breakdown, crime, sin iniquity, and corruption, he effectively creates the corruption of that silence.