Sunday, October 15, 2017

Gambians demand an open, transparent and accountable government

Sidi Sanneh 
To emerge successfully from over two decades of dictatorship was never expected to be an easy task.  We will measure success by the degree to which Gambians are free from fear of being persecuted for exercising one's inherent right to free speech and all other inherent rights to associate, to assemble and to a free press.

Although Gambians began enjoying these freedoms immediately after January 17th this year when the former dictator was forced into exile, it is too early to have it become embedded in the national psyche as earned freedoms.  We are presently on that long journey, estimated to be successfully concluded in a generation or two.

Skeptics are quick to dispute the estimated time frame required to reverse the effects of what Jammeh's Information Minister characterized as the "social re-engineering" experiment that affected all aspects of Gambian life.

Primary and secondary education have suffered under Jammeh, if test results of the West African Exams Council are good measure of the state of our education system.

Our economy, burdened by constant interference by Jammeh to favor himself and his business partners have resulted in a skewed foreign exchange regime and a distortion of the market that will last years before it corrects itself, assuming, of course, that interference will cease under the current government.   Corruption became rife and institutionalized under 22-year of dictatorship by a regime that seized power unconstitutionally on the pretext of  ending "rampant corruption" under the legal government of Sir Dawda Jawara.

The social and cultural environment under Jammeh placed high premium on militarism, the promotion of tribal identity and the  projection of physical power to emulate the power of the security apparatus that acted as deterrent to likely opposition to his power.  The influence it has on society may be difficult to measure but anecdotal evidence in the form of increasing aggressive behavior, drug misuse and abuse by the youth population can be cited. 

High youth unemployment sustained over decades because of inappropriate economic policies have resulted in mass exodus of young people to Europe via the most dangerous of route across the Sahara Desert, through Libya, across the Mediterranean and into Europe.  Unfortunately not all make it safely.  Gambian migrants using this route end up dying in disproportionate numbers compared to other nationalities.

Yaya Jammeh is the most consequential and transformative leader the Gambia has ever had.  Unfortunately, the impact of his dictatorship had, and continues to have, a detrimental effect on society.  And because of the extent of the damage done to the economy, the social and cultural fiber as well as the confidence of Gambians have been negatively affected, it will take a generation or more to reverse a trend that is currently impeding economic and social progress.   

To reverse the effects of one of Africa's most repressive regimes, democracy must be nurtured and propagated, both in theory as well as in practice, by the Barrow administration as a necessary first step in order to guarantee an open and transparent government.  For the government to be accountable, it must not only commit itself to the virtues of an open and transparent government but it must be putting those virtues into practice.

The recent scandal involving 57 vehicles that the government claimed to have been a "donation" to the Gambian president by a "Barrow supporter" who, according to his press secretary, wishes to remain "anonymous" brings to the fore a national conversation that we must have as a country in transition.

The government of Barrow is faced with two stark choices (i) either maintain the current corrupt and discredited institutions that were created in the image of the dictator to enhance his wealth-seeking shenanigans and manned by his most dedicated enablers, strategically posted to facilitate the easy looting of the meager resources of one of the poorest countries on earth or (ii) elect to open a fresh page that will start the process of dismantling an administrative structure purposefully designed to perpetuate the dictatorship that lasted for over two decades.  The choice is for President Barrow and, him alone, to make as Chief Executive Officer of the Republic of The Gambia.  The ball is clearly in his court.