The Barrow Presidency and the Learning Curve – An Opinion Piece
Nearly 30 months after taking office, President Barrow has yet to fully make his stamp on the Government of The Gambia and he is still being distracted by the satellites around him, whereas he is supposed to be the centre around which others orbit. The over indulgent and expensive Janneh Commission of Inquiry and its failure to respect the Constitution in its conduct must be a rude shock as the Commission was wrong to dispose of assets it froze before the end of the legal and judicial process, including allowing persons with adverse mention to exercise their right of recourse. Lesson: Just because some one says so does not make it true.
The good thing is that intrinsically, President Barrow is neither egocentric nor egoistical and he seems to be learning some of those traits, that may be necessary for leadership.
Leadership can be both a calling and a discipline, and can be both in one’s nature or nurtured. President Barrow talks about his firsts in threes ie
1st – he beat a field of three to be UDP Flagbearer
2nd – He beat the coalition leadership contest which had him, Hamat Bah, Halifa Sallah and Dr Bojang, ie he beat 3 others to be Independent Candidate leader of the Coalition
3rd- He beat another field of 3 of Incumbent President Jammeh, GDC’s Mamma Kandeh and himself to emerge President elect and thence President of The Gambia,
These 3 firsts in 3 months are indeed to reinforce principally in himself, a sense of destiny and belief in his mission and office. Belief and conviction help in leadership.
The second positive aspect of President Barrow is that he is self effacing and also highly conscious of his lack of Government and Public Service experience and therein his disposition to learn.
President Barrow believed in delegation and team work and thought that he could entrust the jobs and assignments to his Ministers and Aides. Within 24 months, he has been severely disabused and rudely awakened from this notion and learned that the Presidency cannot be subordinated or subbed to another person. He was compelled to fire folks he had hitherto the highest respect and regards for, because every one has their own biases if not agenda and over empowered, naturally they ran things their own way and ended up either usurping Presidential prerogatives or just crossing invisible redlines and removed, and this happened to Mai Ahmed Fatty Dindin Mansa, then VP Fatoumatta Tambajang and then VP Ousainou Darbo.
Currently the notion of a purge of the UDP in Cabinet and the Executive Branch cannot be disguised but it is mainly because of tactical errors by both UDP and President Barrow. UDP filled the vacuum in government which was there and exacerbated by Barrow’s laissez faire and laidback attitude. Thus having filled the vacuum in government, loyalty naturally went to the UDP Powers that were and soon the conflict of loyalties arose and President Barrow was again compelled to reassert his prerogative. It was totally foreseeable and both were victims of not only circumstances but lack of foresight.
Now it has been made clear and very expensively that the Presidency is in Barrow’s hands, except for a few who continue to challenge and expose the Presidency, many have accepted Barrow’s Presidency and evolved a working relationship that is premised on full respect for the Office and giving genuine advice not seeking advantage. Lesson: Trust but verify!
The challenge still remains that the few resisters or dis-respecters must be removed and a new team working around and in support of the Executive put in place.
But getting Cabinet right is half of the job, or less. The other half or greater challenge is getting the Public and Civil Service to work as it should, for the Executive, within the Constitutional Mandate.
After 30 months, President Barrow has yet to change and make the administration fully his and it is now or never.
To stamp his authority, he must first be clear what he wants himself as his legacy, in his last interview, having first made it clear that the 3 years Agenda was only a recipe for chaos and a constitutional crisis, he also signalled that staying longer than one term may not be his plan and thus, he may actually just want to complete some of the changes he started including the Truth and Reconciliation, the Constitutional Review and Civil Service and Security Sector Reforms. Yet none of these so far, reflect any personal or particular driving focus of his, but rather externally driven and lip service rendering projects.
As a person, President Barrow has highly redeeming features including genuine down to earth humility even as he has hammered some heavy blows at perceived opponents, it does not come with heavy bad intent and malice, but more as humor.
Barrow’s Eid Address also provides some hope as he forgave and asked for forgiveness.
President Barrow’s mission may be to provide the salve and balm that will finally cool the anger and heal the divided nation.
Many may have noticed the much reduced inter-party tensions but his laissez faire attitude must not also be abused to the extent of endangering national security and the safety of citizens.
President Barrow must take personal charge and responsibility for the safety and security of the citizens and their environment. He must task and demand solutions and also monitor to ensure that he gets genuine feedback and reports and just like he learned he could not subcontract out the Presidency without the risk of losing it, the role of Government cannot also be subbed out to his Youth Movement or foreign agencies that currently are implementing projects and programmes, outside of the Government, and that undermines the State the same way, his Presidency was undermined by Presidential Pretenders.
At the end of the day, only one person is elected as President and empowered by the Nation and ultimately he is the one we all hold responsible.
Written By Pa Musa Jallow