The Gambia’s “politics of promise and fail” culture


There is a cancer that is embedded in the bowels of Gambia’s body-politik, whose roots lie in Gambian/Senegambian society. I call it, the “promise and fail to deliver,” syndrome. It is a short-term cultural and political instrument, or set of tricks, if you wish, used by  perpetrators for personal gain at the calculated expense of trusting citizens.This cancer has infected family relations, friendships, contracts between commercial parties, and most certainly political entities. And, the “social-contract” between the governed and their governors. In sum, it involves winning the confidence of unsuspecting individuals, making strong and convincing promises only to renege on them in order to “win,” at any cost.

How many stories have you heard in which “trusted” individuals swindled relatives, diasporans of money intended to construct a house, or buy a piece of valuable property? How many stories of dishonesty have you witnessed over the years in which so-called friends, who, after winning your trust betray it? Better yet, recall the carpenter, brick-layer, tailor, painter, etc., who promised you the moon but does a half-ass job?  It is pretty much the same in politics.

Politicians during each election-cycle promise the electorate all kinds of goodies, but once in office generally fail to deliver. Do you remember the 2016 seven-party party Coalition and the fallout thereafter. I am sure you remember the glowing promises Barrow made to the population, political allies, and diaspora? Political platitudes that’s what they were.

In politics, and especially in Gambian politics, this is more the rule than the exception. President Barrow assumed power admid high expectations that were inspired by promises of reform of the civil service, security sector, women, and youth empowerment, a better standard of living for all, and justice for victims of Jammeh’s autocratic rule. Remember the Draft Constitution Bill? It too, was a colossal failure. These promises, including the three-year transition term-limit, never mind diaspora voting were never meant to be fulfilled. Barrow had studied, mastered, and executed Jammeh’s political tricks.
These promises have been jettisoned by the “politics of hunger”: power-grab, self-perpetuation and self-aggrandizement. One of Barrow’s biggest failures being his unfulfilled promises to the Gambia’s “Eight Region.” Will this change under Darboe? Wait and see.
Regrettably, it is all an act; a case of smoke and mirrors. Barrow never intended to deliver on any of his promises despite the numerous billboards that tout his political promises to any who cared to look at them. How can one, otherwise, explain Barrow’s failure to enforce the Janneh Commission recommendations? Why do Gambians feel more insecure today than they ever have under his watch? What happended to Security Sector Reform (SSR)? You get my point.
A combination of raw, unbridled ambition, ineptitude, ignorance, arrogance and lofty “promises and fail,” rhetoric combined to derail the so-called “Transition Program.” Rather than transitioning, Gambia is in the throes of a precarious “de-transitioning,” a slow foray into political instability, political and ethnic violence.
This is not a coincidence! There is a connecting tissue to these failed promises in government, families, friendships,workers, even in many romantic relationships. I propose this is a moral shortcoming, or flaw deeply rooted in Sene-gambian culture, and captured so vividly in our languages. We all know about “marche Mou’sante (markets in which seller and buyer try to outwit one another for personal gain).
“Mou’sseh” (to outwit in Wolof), “morneh” (Mandinka) permeate most social relations in the political, social, economic and other transactional spaces- with a sinister twist. It is the order of the day where most try to make a quick gain at the other’s expense, given the opportunity.This appears to be the norm today.
Ours, with few exceptions, is a performance, or “promise and fail” culture, where appearance rather than substance is valued and rewarded, dressed in a “holier than thou” garb. We compete for Gambia’s limited resources and overseas handouts to “outwit,” outsmart (Mousseh/Monneh) one another at our peril.The State is a slain cow for the taking. We revere thieves and scorn the honest and hard-working. Materialism is the new God.
Political wives, senior female political figures live “high on the hog” and conceal thousands of dollars in shady foreign accounts while lying on per diem claims. It is all part of “politics of promise and fall,” culture built around short-term gain. Accountability is to self and constructed fiefdoms not the common good.
We suffer from a psychosis/split personality that drives our performance-based, “promise and fail” culture. We Senegambians, (including myself), suffer from a split personality that manifests in conducting business in mostly foreign tongues, and foreign scripts, worship foreign Gods, and practice foreign religions, patronize foreign businesses and their foreign owners, love and treat foreigners better than ourselves, love most things foreign, and discard our own. Call it self-hate.
Jammeh pounced on elements of this pre-existing psychosis to consolidate twenty-two years of personalist-rule. Decades, even centuries-long Islamization/ Christianization, Colonialism, Imperialism (Arab, European and American), economic and cultural globalization have compounded this national psychosis. This may account for, in part, our current culture of indifference to the common good, and nation.
Barrow and those before him along with the political and bureaucratic classes, as well as the larger population operate within this space, perhaps to our collective detriment. It will take (national) soul-searching through open dialogue and collective action to salvage our nation.
Abdoulaye Saine
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