Source: Alhagie Manka

2016 indeed took many political commentators by surprise. From the triumph of Trump in America, to Brexit in U.K., to the “impossible” electoral defeat of tyrants like our own Yaya Jammeh. Apparently, the man with the longest title in the Sub-region’s promise of ruling the country for a billion years was cut short by 22 years. What an irony – he must have misinterpreted ‘his revelations from god’. We should never underrate the dictum that the ballot is stronger than the bullet. After countless abortive coup d’états, it only took a frustrated citizenry one day to oust their longtime oppressor. I have for the past years maintained that it is only the Gambian people that can emancipate themselves from Jammeh’s rule of fear and intimidation. And indeed when we spoke on December 1st, the world listened and came to our aid. Free at last we are, and proud we should be for exercising restraint and maturity during the most trying times in our nation’s social and political history. A lesson for many African countries to learn from.

We finally have our country back. We now can be proud of having a country where the constitution and the rule of law will prevail and not the whims and caprices of one individual. Where voters will be respected, national institutions strengthened and empowered; decentralization carried out not just in theory but in practice. A country where transparency, accountability and all the associated freedoms, rights and privileges that come with democracy are respected and guaranteed. Similarly, we also look forward to an independent judiciary, and to having a government where the separation of powers and checks and balances take center stage. If anything, Jammeh’s regime should teach us that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

Amidst the euphoria, however, it will be fundamental for us to keep in mind that all the change we yearned for might not come sooner than desired. It might take a while and perhaps some painstaking reforms for us to get to the promised land. The task ahead is humongous, and especially given the poor socio-politico-economic status of the country, we should not expect the new government to perform miracles.  What is expected of the new government is to fulfill their promise of reform of the entire governance machinery. Certainly, this must include a new constitution, restructure the economy, revisit the education system, revamp public institutions, reorienting and educating the security services among others. The new government will also have to level the political playing field, wherein every qualified and interested Gambian will be able to fully and equally partake in contesting for public office. Most importantly, however, for our new found democracy to flourish, the strengthening and reform of political institutions must be given due regard and priority. The biggest hindrance to democratic advancement in many African countries since independence has been the existence of weak political institutions coupled with the rule of preponderant leaders. Reforming and strengthening such institutions will constrain and limit the power of any future president to easily manipulate these institutions like Jammeh did for the past two decades. 

We all have a role to play in building the new Gambia. We voted for change, not a continuation of the status quo, we voted for a new dispensation not for apartheid, and so we must condemn the few advocating for politics of exclusion and divide. My brother and good friend Sait Matty Jaw already wrote a good piece on the about the ‘enabler debate’, trending on Gambian social media, and he has adequately expressed my view, thus I will not want to continue beating a dead horse. If we think Jammeh was the only problem our beautiful country had, then we must be committing a serious mistake. I was never a fan of Jammeh, but there is one thing that he has repeatedly preached, that resonates well with me: the need for an attitudinal change. Civil and public servants must change their approach towards work, we must start seeing and treating our national and public institutions as our own, we must refuse to be corrupted; stand against nepotism; put country before self and be ready to sacrifice for our country without expecting much in return. We must, in essence, be the change we seek because at the end of the day the government is just a mere reflection of society.

By Guest Blogger:

Ismaila Jagne (MA Public Administration)