“The Trouble with the Gambia” Part II
Alagi Yorro Jallow
I empathize with Prof. Chinua Achebe’s sentiments – specific to Nigeria not only in Nigeria but in Gambia as well. I particularly see, in Chapter 10 of “The Trouble with Nigeria” it is arguably reminiscent of the behavior of proud poverty stricken adolescents of some Gambians whose “patriotism”, at best, speaks to a lack of objectivity in their perspective on the fifty-four-year-old nation on leadership, good governance and patriotism.
At worst, the “The Gambia: Love It or Leave It” ethos that Chinua alludes to in his book is an entitlement- and hubris-imbued ignorance that reminds me of what I have seen and heard from some in the in Gambia. Having said that, let me also concede that I have been (and continue to be) relentless in my excoriation of the Gambia and its character as a society. Germane to this post and to paraphrase Achebe, The Trouble with the Gambia is her leaders and leadership style – god-chosen or otherwise is largely due to executive and managerial myopia. To paraphrase Chinua Achebe, the trouble with the Gambia is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.
Gambians excel in all fields of endeavor… except perhaps in leadership. Why is this so? Why do we have so much bad governance? Why do we always seem to field our second eleven in leadership positions?
Godfatherism is the corruption of sponsoring candidates into public office for private benefit. Offices from the Presidency right down to the humble messenger in the Local Government office can be sponsored by godfathers. Once in office, the ‘public servant’ is effectively a private servant, serving his interests and those of his sponsors.
How does it work? A godfather uses his influence and money to place his proxies in public offices they are often unqualified for. Candidates for such offices are often neither the best available nor the most popular, indeed they are sometimes simply the worst candidates for the jobs.
Qualifications to be a Godfather’s Proxy.
Timidity. A good proxy has to be pliable. Courageous people with a history of independence will usually stand up to the excessive demands of their sponsors. Godfathers need loyal lapdogs who will protect their interests, whatever the cost to the treasury.
Corrupt. A proxy has to be corrupt and unprincipled enough to steal public funds to recoup the expenses the godfather has invested in him – with substantial ‘dividends. Corruption is therefore the central qualification for a surrogate.
Nepotistic. A good proxy has to be ready to make public appointments on parochial considerations. Godfathers who have captured public offices usually exercise the powers of appointment on behalf of their proxies. They name ministers and diplomats who have loyalty not to the nominal office holders, but to the godfathers. In this way the real controllers of state powers and funds are the unelected godfathers behind the scene.
Compromised. In order to trust their proxies fully, godfathers usually have to have some leverage over them. This could be a history of illicit transactions or simply information that leaves the proxies open to blackmail, and therefore under the godfathers’ total control.
Implications of Godfatherism for in the Gambia.
The best man never gets the Job. From local, through central government, from the legislature, through the executive, to the judiciary, people who compete for a job merely with excellent CVs will always lose out to those who arrive with a note – and sometimes bags of currency – from well-placed godfathers. Society is the net loser when national decisions are made by the less capable for the selfish interests of a few.
Even Good People are compromised. Sometimes, excellent candidates are forced to seek the help of godfathers in order to achieve public office. Unfortunately, once in office, their relationships with their godfathers effectively cripple their ability to perform well, or to operate ethically.
Permanent Vacancy in Public Office. With ‘private servants’ in office, we have no true public servants: our public servants are so occupied in serving private interests that there is a palpable vacancy in governance. Even basic planning, organization, or anything unconnected with awarding contracts, is ignored. For instance, even when there are staff and materials available, something as simple as filling a pothole will not be done, until the entire expressway fails –.
What is required is a system that addresses the core plank of corruption, not a new agency or more draconian penalties.
Godfathers usually get their paybacks through kickbacks and over-invoiced payments made through companies. The proposed Anti-Corruption Bill should be passed into law to shut down major conduit into the public treasury by making liquidation the only penalty for serious corporate corruption.
Whistleblowers whose information leads to a conviction are rewarded with a percentage of the recovered assets. This guarantees that ‘secret’ deals don’t stay secret forever.
Furthermore, the godfather’s connections can no longer secure against prosecution because any of the Gambia’s attorneys general can bring action to liquidate erring companies.
Impact of Godfatherism.
People will give politicians only what they can afford to donate, without hope of recouping their ‘investments’ or ‘dividends’. This cleans up political corruption and releases Public Office holders to act according to conscience rather than at the command of sponsors. Less influence by unelected people on public projects and appointments to executive positions and state agencies.
Without godfathers’ funds to subvert the electoral system, meritorious and popular candidates will begin to emerge in elective offices. The Gambia’s most qualified will finally turn up on the field of leadership.