Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: Democracy has always been an imperfect way to govern. However, today, in the Gambia, we are pushing politics to breaking point. It is like expecting a sturdy wooden bridge built for donkey carts to carry endless streams of heavy-duty trucks. Therefore, we need many good ideas to substantially reform our democracy beyond kleptocracy to save our emergent democracy and restore, strengthen, and promote our democracy, rethinking the political representative as a powerful stranger. If we do not, the system itself is in danger of collapse, and something very dark may take its place.
To buttress democracy, first, consider some of the forces breaking it:
First, incompetent political party leaders and uninformed voters do not have coherent preferences. Second, most voters pay little attention to politics; when they vote, if they vote at all, they do so irrationally and for contradictory reasons. Third, even some voters prone to politics make political decisions based on identity politics, particularly on social identities and partisan loyalties, not an honest examination of reality.
Fatoumatta: The Gambia’s politics fails us; we can re-engineer the system of politics to create a new political culture. However, the new Gambia’s politics should not be as usual, and it should not be business as usual. Instead, we need to search within ourselves and demand excellence at private and government levels. The Gambia has three political leader -types. We have hawks. We have eagles. There are starlings, birds of wealth, freedom, and strength. However, what choice do we always make? What choices are we making already? “character is beauty.” However, character is a minor attribute we cherish in our leadership. It is the reason for our ugliness.
What will change our narrative starting from the aftermath of the 2021 Presidential Election is a leader like President Barrow, who is leading the Gambia out of the mess overcoming the legacy of twenty-two years of the horrors of dictatorship cannot be lacking in these critical areas: Character, Capacity, Spirituality, being humble, and being a leader with a broad-minded, knowledgeable and matured wisdom leadership that will tear down the frames of iniquity and rebuilds the flawed walls of the Gambia.
Moreover, only these essential requirements and values can drive and deliver this nation to greatness. We have all walked gingerly into the uncharted dawn of the 2021 presidential elections, hoping to make some sense of its covetous threats. Jonathan Swift, the 18th-century satirist, and author wrote of ‘The Day of Judgment when “the graves give up their dead” and “thunder roars and lightning flies” and “the world’s mad business now is o’er.” The 2021 Presidential election take the Gambia significantly one giant step towards that Day, the end of “pranks” and “designs.” The 2021 Presidential election before the last was one of dread and death, incompetence and poverty and the ideological imperative, and poverty leadership and strived for structural ideology in change. Then came the 2021 Presidential Election, and we defied leadership deficiency fears. Still, the reveries of terror and identity politics were unremitting.
Fatoumatta: The Gambia was helpless last few decades, but it has always been. What we make of January 19, 2022, and beyond will determine what next turns out to be the future of Gambian party politics in a polarized era of deep divisions and persists with ethno chauvinistic and identity politics. I am referring to the partisan politics in the Gambia, its ambiguous promise, and today’s uncertainties.
When the leader carries a shield wherever he goes, it is obvious there is no peace in his domain. The king has failed in his primary duty of leading his followers. The night has been very long for us as a country. The Gambia will not stop being the grave of its peoples’ peace and joy – or a child of tears. Bad things will not change unless the head is good. Instead, we get shamed and insulted, and we shrug off everything as if nothing happened.
The strain of humans in the Gambia is different from what you see anywhere else. Every year, we plant something seed and pray for the fruits to be other. When a year grows terrible, we quickly pray it to end. We take a crossover into a new year, thinking that the end of December is the end of the cross we carry. Then we sink in agony as the wheel of pangs rolls on, and the cycle of disappointment continues its orbital journey towards another December. We forget that the primary reason for our failure is leadership. If you see happy people, look for their king. The Congolese people say a good leader is a forest of fruits; everyone takes something good home. Unfortunately, our lot has been ghastly.
Fatoumatta: Leadership matters if a people would be saved. An older man was once asked to explain why a people needed a good king. He pointed at an army of black ants in disarray. These creatures would march through the jungle in disciplined battalions in their best element. However, the ones before the older man were not. The older man said they were not seen in orderly columns because no leader was leading. “Without a leader, even black ants are confused,” he said, quoting a Ugandan proverb. A hunting party that would go home with good games will not appoint a tired, lousy leader. Unfortunately, the Gambia has not got that wisdom.
There is an old story on wise people when they appoint leaders.
Tolerating mediocrity and laziness should be frowned upon and internalized through self-reflection. When Congolese politician and independence leader Patrice Lumumba rose to make a life-changing speech on Congo’s Independence Day, a speech that eventually even led to his violent death seven months later, he had nowhere else to search for courage and inspiration except to consult his conscience and immerse himself in the abyss of self.
Fatoumatta: A leader is not someone who forces others to make him look stronger; a leader is someone willing to give his strength to others that they may have the strength and power to stand on their own. I am reminded of the words of Nelson Mandela, who once said: “A leader…is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the nimblest go out ahead. At this point, the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” A good leader has enough wisdom to pick good men to do what he wants to be done and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it. In this regard, Leadership success at the highest level comes down to one question: ‘Can you make the choice that your happiness can come from someone else’s success?
If you want to drive a car, fly a plane, practice law, or perform surgery, you must take a test and get a license. However, no proof of proficiency is required to run a country. When we select leaders outside politics, we do not consider their ideologies until they have established their competencies. For example, if you have not performed as a manager, you rarely think of an executive role. Shouldn’t we hold political candidates to the same standard?
I am generally dismayed by politics in the Gambia. Still, it would be the competence and political party if someone forced you to start a political party. The core ideology would be anti-ideology. Before running for office, you must demonstrate your capacity to lead and serve. An election is a forecasting task: you are trying to predict how well a candidate will rise to the challenges of an office. Psychologists have long found that instead of having candidates do interviews and debates, we can learn more about their competencies by getting samples of their work.
Some of the critical skills in public service might include critical thinking, diplomacy, strategy, verbal fluency, and economic policy. It would not be hard to design war games, forecasting tournaments, and other simulations to test knowledge and skill in these areas. However, a few years ago, during election season, it dawned on us that we could try something simpler and more fun. What if we challenged the candidates to play board games?
Over the years, I have learned a lot about friends and family by watching how they play board games. I wonder if the same is true for political candidates?
Fatoumatta: I would have them play Clue to test their critical thinking and gauge their diplomacy, cognitive and communication abilities, negotiation, and leadership skills. We could try chess or play Draughts for strategy and Scrabble, “Choko” to get a sense of verbal fluency. I would pick Monopoly for economic policy… and anger management. If you throw the board, you are automatically disqualified.
If they do not have a working understanding of key events of the past and how their country works in the present, we cannot rely on them to guide us into the future. So I would go with Trivial Pursuit or even Jeopardy to get a sense of their knowledge of civics and history. We would not have to stop there. We might get a glimpse at cognitive deficits by asking them to play Memory. They are off the table if they cannot remember where the cards are.
Fatoumatta: Of course, dominating these games would not prove you are ready to lead. However, struggling at them might clarify that you are unfit to serve. The goal of a board game tournament would not be to greenlight the winners—it would be to surface red flags. I would be looking to screen candidates out, not invite them in. I know that positive feedback is always easy to take, but a true leader knows that the Day the men under you stop bringing you their problems is the Day you stop leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership. As leaders, we need to be tolerant of negative feedback. You, as the leader, need not relent in criticizing us when necessary. A man who wants to lead the Choir must learn to turn his back on the crowd. He must learn to trust that the public will always have his back covered.
Anyone can find it easy to take people where they want to go. However, a great leader takes people where they do not necessarily want to go but where they need to be. Average leaders raise the bar on themselves; good leaders raise the bar for others, but I have learned that great leaders inspire others to grow their bar. I, therefore, have a strong desire to lead people who are not demoralized by my mood but who have the audacity to look at aggregates and never wait for me to tell them what is wrong. Now that I think of it, the competence of a party might be the wrong name. However, if recent history is any guide, that bar might be unrealistically high. So instead, we could call ou Incompetence Party leaders and political parties without ideologies.
Fatoumatta: The crowning virtue of leadership is genuine humility. He who is down to earth fears no fall. There is no place below the ground to fall to. Thus, humility is a great asset. There is nothing about a man whose breath is through the nostrils to be proud about. When you put everything you do in God’s hands, you will surely see God’s hand in everything you do.