Introduction: This a follow up on Njundu Drammeh’s conversation with President Adama Barrow and I refer all to read it. I have picked up one piece of that conversation to also elaborate for the attention of Team Barrow and the entire Gambian people.
Since Ghana became the first independent African country south of the Sahara in 1957, the bane of African governance and development continues to be the inability to create a robust modern democratic dispensation. Consequently coups, corruption, poverty and civil war became a major feature of independent Africa until today.
Contrary to previously held notions that only dictatorship could produce development, it is now clear that ultimately it is in fact good governance that ensures sustainable development and durable freedom in society. For example, we have seen how the Soviet Union collapsed after building one of the most advanced societies in the world where homelessness and illiteracy were almost eradicated. Yet after 70 years it imploded. Yet in another scenario, the United States continues to flourish after 240 years despite its many social and economic inequalities. The only explanation for these two scenarios is the lack and the presence respectively of a modern democratic statecraft.
For that matter, the issues Njundu raised are of significant importance for the Gambia and Africa. This is why I have identified four issues for further elaboration because I feel what Gambia needs is a modern democratic statecraft. I hold the view that the creation of such machinery should be the defining criteria for Adam Barrow and the transition. A modern democratic state is built on four foundations: Institutions, Transparency, Accountability and Empowerment of the people.
Development thinkers and human rights defenders have now concluded that the difference between societies in terms of ensuring durable human development and the protection of human rights lies in functional institutions. In essence, thinkers have found out that since the industrial revolution to date, the major inevitable reason why nations fail or progress lies in the creation of inclusive institutions. Hence the best foundation that Team Barrow can put in place is to ensure that the Gambia has institutions that are inclusive, transparent and accountable.
There are uncountable lessons for us to learn in terms of institutions. Because when you critically analyze dictatorship, it shows that in fact it is a situation where an elected president deliberately personalizes or disregards institutions just to ensure that his whims ad caprices are done. This was what Yaya Jammeh did as we saw how he would hire and fire as he liked. Secondly institutions operate on the basis of processes, which are spelt out in the rule of law in the constitution. Hence we had seen during the APRC Tyranny how these rules of law and processes were diverted, ignored and broken. It is when institutions and their processes based on the rule of law are broken and subverted without redress that impunity prevails.
Hence the lessons Barrow has to learn and the legacy he has to build is to ensure that public institutions are protected from direct political interference. He has to ensure that these processes and the rule of law are respected. This means therefore public officials who work in these public institutions are protected from undue control. He must ensure that professionalism and knowledge guide the operations of these officers and institutions, which must not be politicized. If Barrow can ensure that then he would have given birth to a new Gambia.
In order to ensure that institutions are functional and inclusive means therefore they must be transparent. This means public officials who work in the institutions must know the laws, rules, and terms of reference of their institutions. They must know the powers, aims and objectives of these institutions as well as their values, mission and vision. This also means the general public must know the functions and the powers of public officials and institutions so that the people would know how to engage them. In that case when there is abuse of power or corruption the public would know and be ready to expose them.
Therefore public institutions must be ready to share information with the general public about what they do in order to enable the public to also play their role in ensuring performance. If people do not know the role and powers of a public institution and officers, then it means the public would not be able to know if that institution is indeed performing their obligations or not. Without such information it also means the public would not know what to expect from that institution.
To do this efficiently, Barrow must ensure that all public institutions have channels through which they will share information about their functions, laws and powers as well as their work. Communication is the heart of transparency and therefore necessary avenues must be created for that purpose. Thus public institutions must have communications officers as well as social media platforms, newsletters and create feedback mechanisms as well as conduct periodic press briefings. This way the public would know what these institutions and officials are doing or not. These pubic institutions would also get necessary feedback from the public about them.
The heart of development and human rights protection is accountability. Without accountability we would not be able to know if public institutions are performing or not. Accountability tells us whether we are making progress or we are failing. Accountability tells us if there was violation of human rights and redress or not. To enhance accountability, transparency is fundamental. Furthermore, accountability requires the creation of clear methods, tools and processes to ensure performance and justice delivery. Thus Team Barrow must ensure that a clear system of accountability is in place. Without a robust system of accountability, Barrow could find himself between DK Jawara or Yaya Jammeh or worse.
Section 17 of our Constitution already establishes the foundations for accountability. It has identified the foremost accountability institutions as the Office of the President to be followed by the National Assembly and then the Courts. The constitution states quite clearly that it is these institutions and the agencies below them that have the primary obligation to protect the rights and fulfill the needs of the citizen. These rights and needs have been spelt out in Chapter 4 of our constitution.
The task facing Barrow therefore is to ensure that the necessary mechanisms are put in place to make sure public institutions especially under the Executive perform those obligations. For example, PURA is an accountability institution just as the police or Women’s Bureau as well as the Food Quality and Safety Board among many others including the ministries. As Njundu noted, these state agencies must each develop their strategic plans, which are monitored to ensure that they implement them. This requires the Barrow Administration to develop the necessary reporting processes where these public institutions and officials report and obtain feedback.
The National Assembly must also strengthen its committees especially the PAC and PEC to ensure that public institutions report on time thoroughly. They must not only look at compliance in terms of how they abide by procurement guidelines or implement activities according to an action plan, rather more importantly they must also focus on results and the change that should have been created. We do not need only be told that there was no unapproved spending and that all activities were implemented on time. Rather we need to hear whether those resources and activities have in fact brought about an improvement in the lives of citizens.
4. Empowerment of the People
The biggest resource therefore that Team Barrow has is the Almighty People. That is, do we have an informed citizenry that know their rights and also understand the obligation of the state and its processes? In order words if our citizens lack the necessary civic education or political awareness, then we would only have a dormant population. Such a population only worships the government and leaders thereby giving rise to dictatorship, corruption and abuse.
What Barrow needs therefore is a population that is politically informed and active. He needs a citizenry that understand that public institutions and public servants are there to serve the people. Such a population will hold the state to account and demand transparency and openness. It is such a population that will not tolerate abuse of power but will compel the state to perform to the best of its ability.
For that matter therefore, Team Barrow must create the necessary avenues and tools to ensure that our general public is informed of the functions and powers of the State. The National Council for Civic Education must be empowered to intensify civic education. The public media must be an avenue for that purpose while private media must also be engaged to allocate a percentage of their airtime to public service dedicated to civic awareness. Above all, Barrow must reject sycophancy from any quarter but demand that the rule of law and accountability prevail at all times.
All human beings have a tendency to be liberating or oppressive. Those with power have a greater tendency to be corrupt, oppressive and exploitative. History has shown until today that what therefore restrains individuals especially public officers is the rule of law and functional institutions. The example of that is currently unfolding before us in the United States. It is clear that Pres. Donald Trump has severe tyrannical tendencies. But we have seen how the institutions of America under the control of empowered public officials and an informed citizenry are restraining him.
The lessons therefore are that had Trump been the President of the Gambia, it is clear that he would have become a classic dictator. Similarly if Yaya Jammeh was the President of the US, it is clear that he would have been a classic democrat. What is responsible for that is the presence of institutions that function according to the rule of law in the US while the Gambia lacks such institutions. The task therefore is for Barrow to create those institutions in order to create a modern democratic state.
Team Barrow must realize that they face history at this time. Since independence in 1970, the Gambia never had a regime that has deliberately created the necessary institutions and processes to ensure that there is an informed and an empowered citizenry. We have not created the conducive environment in which institutions will be inclusive, transparent and accountable. Consequently, our entire state machinery and its officers have only produced more poverty than created prosperity and liberty. The question Barrow faces now is can he ensure the creation and functioning of inclusive institutions for the first time in our history? Time will tell.
God Bless The Gambia