Our Obsession with Awards and Recognition
By Publius Maximus
Countries and institutions recognize members of society or organizations that are an inspiration and a positive contribution to a society’s ideals. This is generally in the form of annual awards bestowed upon such individuals. While these awards generally go to deserving members of society, they can be sometimes controversial. For instance, Britain’s monarchs have a long standing history of awarding citizens of her former colonies with knighthoods and post-nominal letters as a way of recognizing their allegiance and contributions to perpetuating the empire and projecting continued dominance over such countries. Robert Mugabe comes to mind, who was awarded a knighthood by the Queen in 1994 (when he was still a darling), only to be revoked in 2008 on account of being a dictator. The United States also has its own controversial awards including that of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom during President Donald Trump’s recent State of the Union address. Closer to home, our president Adama Barrow was awarded the insignia of Grand Master of the Order of The Republic of The Gambia by a constitutionally sanctioned Chancery comprised of members of his Cabinet and chaired by none other than his number 2- the Vice President. If this does not qualify as a quintessential example of constitutionally facilitated sublime ass kissing, I am not sure what does. This obsession with titles and awards is deeply entrenched in our society and can be attributed in part to our thorough British colonization.
On the other hand, one must commend the The Fatu Network Heroes Awards committee for an outstanding job in shortlisting a list of very inspirational Gambians. Nominations were open to members of the public and nominees were reviewed and selected on a very clear set of criteria. Importantly, the committee recognized the conflict of interest in awarding the corporate sponsor of the award in the entity of the TAF Africa Foundation, and refused to list the entity for consideration. This transparent process is commendable and should serve as an example for others considering such an endeavor.
One caveat in the next phase of the nomination process however, is the need to not allow online polling to weigh heavily in the final selection of the winner in each category. This is important because social media while very helpful in reaching a large audience is not representative of a majority of Gambians. Note that some of the nominees are very “low key” and serve disenfranchised members of Gambian society, and therefore may not have on an online persona or following. Ignoring this important fact will bias the final selection in favor of some who deliberately curate social media content and have a large online following at the expense of truly deserving nominees. One begins to see some concerning behavior among some of the nominees. In recent TV show, one of the nominees for Philanthropist of The Year Award gave D100, 000 to a cause just around the time that nominations were being considered. Not that the deed was not appreciated, but was the public spectacle necessary, or was this yet again, another not-so-subtle attempt to influence voters in order to get an award?
Another concern about the upcoming award is the controversial decision to invite Fatima Maada Bio the Sierra Leonean first lady as the special guest of Honor and recipient of a “Special Award”. Forget about the not-so-subtle snobbery of the Gambian first ladies, (of which there are two to choose from). It is not clear why none of them where invited; perhaps their English is not good enough; but anyway, the Committee appears to justify its decision based on Madam Bio’s “pan- Africanist ideals and belief in women empowerment”. In what can best be described as an act of profound ignorance, the controversial first lady made remarks on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in a televised interview found here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o98ylWETCno). In the interview the first lady stated that she did not think FGM was harmful, and that as a circumcised woman, she would not speak out against the practice. She then stated that she did not believe in the campaign to end FGM and needed to see evidence of the harm it caused. With this, one begins to wonder how the Committee reconciles the juxtaposition of a well-organized award ceremony, with a guest of honor whose pronouncements are in direct contradiction to the ideals and efforts of some of the nominees and potential winners. For instance, will Madi Jobarteh (a well-known FGM activist) accept an award in a ceremony presided over by such a controversial “Special Guest”? Or perhaps there is still an unresolved conflict of interest in the form of a close relationship between the owner of The Fatu Network and the Sierra Leonean First Lady. The Committee must not allow this relationship to jeopardize an otherwise well executed selection process.
In the end, one hopes that as a country we adopt a meritocratic culture that eschews excellence and recognizes the unsung heroes amongst us, many of whom do not have a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account and 5000 followers.
“To refuse awards is another way of accepting them with more noise than is normal”. – Mark Twain