If you are confused by the question I am asking in the title of this article then I am not surprised at all. This is because you may have missed it or did not get to the conclusion of Mr. Barrow’s Christmas and New Year address where he mentioned, in its conclusion, that he “already Commissioned the establishment of a Think Tank, namely, Agency For Sustainable Socio-Economic Development (ASSED), comprising of 7 experts in the areas of Politics, Civil, Economic, Social, Culture and the Environment to coordinate the mobilization of experts who would prepare the developmental blueprint of my government”.
Immediately after reading the speech, a couple of issues stood out and I thought of reacting to it immediately. But we have been told to “give him time”. So I thought I would wait and see if more details about the ASSED Think Tank will be revealed in the following days or he will make an announcement of his cabinet or other things that I think the coalition should be communicating to the Gambian people but have not been doing, for whatever reason.
To refresh your minds, even though I know you have not forgotten, the 2016 elections were held on December 1st and Mr. Barrow was declared the winner on December 2nd . Since then there have been calls from different people for the coalition to name a government. Or at least, announce the picks for some key cabinet positions. To my disappointment and that of many other people, there has been no announcement of cabinet picks and, honestly, the coalition has not been forthcoming in what they plan to do come January 19th when they take over. Yes, they will take over, with the help of Allah! Let every APRC supporter who is living in denial get this very clear: The presidency of Yahya Jammeh is over and regardless of what his Reality TV foreign judges say, he is not going to be president of The Gambia ever again, inshaa Allah. It’s over, folks! So I am not going to waste time talking about Mr. Jammeh, although I know he loves the attention, but I am looking forward and would like to talk to Mr. Barrow and the coalition.
Going back to the Christmas and New Year address, I would like to highlight parts of the speech that stood out to me and comment on why that was the case. In the third paragraph, Mr. Barrow said that “Three weeks ago, the Nation went to the polls in peace and tranquility. The Election Results were declared in peace and tranquility and I was declared a winner in peace and tranquility”. And in the fifth paragraph he said that he is “now the President Elect. I should assume office when the term of office of the incumbent expires on 19th January 2017”.
I think Mr. Barrow should and could have been more assertive and we need him to be more assertive. I expected Mr. Barrow to say that “ I am the winner” and I “will assume office”. Just remember to say or whisper, inshaa Allah (English: If God wills, Wolof: su sobeh Yallah, Mandinka: Ni Allah sonta, Fula: si Allah jabbi). This is because Allah commanded us in Chapter 18 of the Qur’an (Surah Kahf) verses 23 and 24 to never say that “ I shall do such and such thing tomorrow”, “Except( with the saying), “If Allah will! Remember Jammeh said there will never be a Mandinka government again without saying “if God wills”. Well, guess what? A coalition whose flagbearer is “Mandinka, Fula and Sarahule” just whooped him in the polls and left him grasping at straws. Tada! And woe betide him if he does not step down.
Back to comments on the speech. I am sure someone reading my comments may dismiss what I am saying as being too picky. No, I am not being picky. In the face of tyranny and uncertainty we need Mr. Barrow to be assertive and occupy all the space and not leave any room for Jammeh to maneuver. Mr. Barrow was not a winner, he was the winner and Jammeh was the loser. It is very important for Mr. Barrow or his speech writers to be assertive in his future statements.
It is probably not his nature to be combative. I saw Mr. Sankareh of The Gambia Echo describe him as “a taciturn persona who continuous (sic) to receive colourful delegations like a Fulani bridegroom in wedding regalia”. What a nice description from a former editorial board member of Sunu-Kibaro, the student newspaper of the prestigious St. Augustine’s High School, in The Gambia, where “ at books or play we win our way”. However, at this point in our history we want a tough guy to take on Jammeh not a taciturn (“reserved or uncommunicative in speech; saying little”) guy. I am sure he can improve on his persona so that after the inauguration Mr. Sankareh can maybe describe him as “ the then-taciturn guy who developed a spine of steel at Half Die in Banjul while attending Muslim High School”.
Another thing that stood out to me was, after five short paragraphs, Mr. Barrow said that “ I would like to conclude ……”. Really? I was hoping that he will use this opportunity to make some key policy announcements, say something about the formation of his cabinet and give us an idea of the plans his government has in store for us in 2017. I mean, something to chew on.
This is important for a couple of reasons including, but not limited to, connecting with the people, being transparent with the people and, more importantly, reminding Jammeh that his time is up and that a new government is getting ready to take over. For the most part that did not happen. To be fair, though, he did announce the formation of the ASSED Think Tank but only after saying that “I would like to conclude”. Who knows, some people may have switched to something else after hearing that and missed the part where he talked about ASSED.
According to Mr. Barrow “ASSED will be headed by a prominent member of my team and will be charged with the responsibility of inviting Gambian experts and concerned friends of the Gambia to send their C.Vs so as to establish an Expert Bank. ASSED will then put together experts in relevant sectors to develop sectoral blueprints of our three year development Agenda, 2017 -2020”.
Who is on the ASSED Think Tank, Mr. Barrow, if I may ask?
He went on to say that “The experts would be required to present a development blueprint, namely, Programme For Poverty Eradication, Sustainable Socio-Economic Development and Development Cooperation to the shadow Cabinet on 14th January 2017 so that the Government will hit the ground running after my inauguration on 19th January 2017”.
Today, January 8th is less than one week from the day that ASSED is supposed to present the “blueprint” to the “shadow cabinet”. Who is on the “shadow cabinet” and why can’t they tell the Gambian people? What is reason for keeping this a secret? There are a couple of possibilities: (1) They are afraid that Jammeh and his people will target the cabinet picks. If that is the case, then it is cowardly given that Gambians have been risking their lives coming out in public denouncing Jammeh and asking him to step down. Like US President Harry S. Truman used to say: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen (2) The coalition wants to keep the cabinet appointments under wraps to avoid scrutiny. If that is the case, then that will be very dishonest of the incoming government. Gambians don’t have the appetite for that anymore and that is why they voted out Jammeh and hired you. (3) They just have not formed a government. If that is the case, then we are in big trouble. If the coalition cannot form a government more than one month after winning the election, then we have a serious problem. Less than one week before the “shadow cabinet’ receives the “blueprint” , it is absolutely inexcusable to not have a government in place.
The statement continued that “During my campaign I did tell you, the people of the Gambia, that I have a strong team to rely on to meet your aspiration for inclusiveness in building a country which would ensure National Unity in Freedom, Peace and Prosperity for all”.
With all due respect, Mr. Barrow, who is on the team? We know the composition of the coalition. We know Mr. Halifa Sallah, We know Mr. Ousainou Darboe, we know Mr. Seedia Jatta and Mr. O.J Jallow and Mr. Hamat Bah and the other men on the team. We also know Dr. Isatou Touray, we know Mrs. Tambajang and the other capable women in the coalition. But, what roles are they going to play the government? They may be good at one thing but that does not mean they will be good in everything else. What assignments they get matter, in fact a lot. We need to know and we need to as soon as possible. We respected the call to “give him time” but now there is no time. Announce the government next week, Mr. Barrow, and generate some positive headlines to compete with the nonsense headlines coming from Jammeh’s kangaroo supreme court. I urge all Gambians, particularly the local and diaspora media, to put pressure on the coalition to announce their government. I am willing to go out on a limb and say with confidence that they have formed a government and that they are just sitting on it and waiting for God-knows-what/when to make an announcement. The media can help prod the coalition into making an announcement sooner rather than later.
Honestly, to my big surprise, the Gambian media, both local and in diaspora, have been very reluctant to criticize the coalition government. I will make an exception for Mr. M’bai of the Freedom newspaper who addressed this very issue on his radio this week. Maybe someone else did also but not to my knowledge. Every media house should do the same. You are not here to be friends with the coalition government. You are here to hold them accountable and thereby help them succeed. Criticizing them does not mean you do not support them. In fact, by giving them constructive criticisms, you are helping them avoid resting on their laurels and forcing them to get to work. After all, they are human beings and not perfect. If you the media, allow the coalition to keep things secret and keep everyone out of whatever they are doing at the luxurious Kairaba Hotel, then you should blame yourselves when they come to power and continue to be secretive. In the Wolof language, there is the saying that “ whatever shows up in a courtship, if not handled, will definitely show up in the marriage”. If they are secretive now, they are definitely going to be secretive as a government. Not a good trait of a good government.
To conclude this article, first, I would like to reiterate my call to the Gambian media, at home and abroad, to start taking the coalition to task and start demanding answers. The most urgent demand is for them to announce a government. It is also not too late for them to tell us who is on the ASSED Think Tank so that we can assess them. Mr. Barrow has tasked them with coming up with a development plan for the next three years but does he not think we need to know who those people are? No, Mr. Barrow, we need to know. We got tired of Jammeh treating us like that and that is why we hired you. In the new Gambia, things like that “ don’t fly no more”. By the way, this may sound silly but the optics is very important in modern politics. The “ASSED” acronym does not look great especially if they do not present a great “blueprint” next week. It sounds like some bad thing put in the past tense. Trust me, the soon-to-be opposition will use it to mock you. As the saying goes, “ politics ain’t bean-bag”; politics can be cruel. This “verb”, “ASSED”, should be used when talking about what the Gambian people did to the Jammeh government and not something that is supposed to lay the foundation for the new Gambia. See, this is why you need to be more transparent with the people and share your thinking so that we can help refine or fine-tune your ideas.
Secondly, I would like to appeal to ask Mr. Barrow to toughen up a bit. Physically, he looks great, maashaa Allah (“Karr”, “Karr”). But this is going to be tough job, Mr. Barrow. The good news is that, it is also a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to leave a great mark in the Gambia’s history. The Gambia has changed, people wanted change and they made it happen. I can guarantee you, they expect nothing short of a stellar performance from you. I think we have moved from the Gambia where a political appointment or office signals the opening of doors to riches and power. No, in the new Gambia, the people will make sure that the president and all other political appointees know that we hired them and will not allow them to act like they were sent to us by some divine decree to help us out. No, you should feel privileged to be working for the Gambian people.
Third, can the coalition please improve their efficiency in communicating with the Gambian people? The other day, I was searching the internet for the coalition website but there was none. Really? I just assumed that they have a very nice site where one can find everything you need to know about the coalition and their plans for governing, policy papers etc. Dr. Touray’s campaign had a very good website. Why can’t the coalition have one? Having a website is not a luxury but a necessity in today’s world. This is just FYI to the older politician.
Finally, Mr. Barrow, fasten your belt during the next couple of days. You might want to cut down on receiving “colourful delegations like a Fulani bridegroom in wedding regalia”. The ride may get bumpy at times, due to Hurricane Jammeh, but by the Grace of God, the Gambian people will prevail. Hurricane Jammeh will be reduced to a tropical storm, by the sheer will of the Gambian people to see him go, and then to a peaceful rain shower on inauguration day, January 19th 2017. Let’s make ours nicer than the one held in Ghana yesterday for the pride and joy of all Gambians. Long live the Islamic Republic of the Gambia!
Elderly Gambian, Pa Alagi