Njundu Drammeh

Human memory is very short. Otherwise, how can we so quickly forget the very reasons why a greater number of our people braced the hot sun, against an unknown future, to vote out Yaya Jammeh?

It is just about a year ago when we shook off that albatross around our neck, that which suffocated us and drew out the life from us. It was just a year ago when we wriggled ourselves out of tyranny, impunity, unconstitutionalism, transactional leadership, presidential hectoring and bullying, fear, reprisals, disappearances, mismanagement, lack of transparency and accountability, disregard for due process and diligence, and all the acts of omission and commission that are concomitant to dictatorship.

Just a year ago. But public or collective memory is short. It is just the last sweet song which stays in its memory. Until another sweet song comes..

We seem to be forgetting too soon, like a people suffering from amnesia. One year of existence as a new free nation and we seem to have reached our dotage. May be it is part of our psyche. History is repeating itself. Jammeh’s was a farce, a very costly though. Barrow’s might be a “tragedy”, considering the personal sacrifices that went into its birth, the pangs and throes so endured to see it come to life.

No doubt there is the air of freedom which we are gulping in large quantity, with the absence of torture, midnight knocks, disappearances, great things to be very proud of as a people. However, present happenings are worrying and troubling. We seem to be sliding back to some of the Jammeh architecture we abhor and fought against. History is not helping us; we are not learning fast and seriously.

A month or so ago, we learned of the formation of the Barrow Youth Movement or whatever name it goes. We had the Yaya Jammeh Green Youth Movement. Both set up to bolster support for their respective leaders. Which politician can ignore the youth? The Green Youth Movement became law unto itself.

Last week we knew of the establishment of the Adama Barrow Foundation for Inclusive Development. We had the Jammeh Foundation for Peace. We had the Zainab Jammeh Save the Children foundation. Nothing unconstitutional about these foundations. But everything ethically wrong about them.

Caesar must be beyond suspicion, even an iota of it. Everything associated with a sitting President carries presidential influence and power. So while the Barrow Foundation is not a structure or organ of the State, it is likely people will deal with it as if it is “presidential”- to donate and expect presidential favours.

A corporate entity receives and is expected to give, especially one perceived as “closed” to the heart of a sitting President. The President may try to “dissociate” himself from the Foundation, but it carries his name. And Adama Barrow is the Executive of The Gambia, the most influential and power persona in the country. Adama Barrow the man and Adama Barrow the President are indistinguishable. Adama Barrow is no longer a private citizen; he is the President of The Gambia, the embodiment of State power and influence.

What if a foundation is established in the name of every leader of the Coalition and every Cabinet Minister? Nothing unconstitutional about them. But……

Come to think of it…. Jammeh Foundation for Peace (JFP) was also established on similar “good reasons”, outside the Government and by men and women actuated by similar “noble” motives. With the passing of time, JFP nearly supplanted the State in the provision of services- scholarships, medical supplies, overseas treatment, etc.

Jammeh the President became its main patron, and pari passu the State. Its hospital became better than the State’s own hospitals. We will see with the passing of time too….. History is supposed to teach us better, learning lessons from it.

The argument that sitting presidents of other countries have foundations in their names is, I think, neither here nor there. Comparisons are odious. In the domain of realpolitik, it is hazardous to generalize from one country’s experience and apply the lessons to another.

No social or political fact is conclusive if divorced from its environment- our realities and conditions are different. It is therefore wrong to generalise.

The Clinton Foundation is currently being accused of mismanagement. The Mandela Foundation was dogged by corruption and some family feud. The overarching extent of the JFP is enough for us to be cagey, to sound the alarm bell.

They say “people deserve the kind of leader they have”, that a leader is often in the likeliness of the led. I don’t know how completely true these statements are? Did we deserve a Yaya Jammeh? That is for another day. What I do know is that we create our own monsters, the Frankenstein types. Yaya was our own making.

We fawned on him; curried his favours; gave him titles and accolades; created edifices in his name; worshipped at his altar; sang his praises; laid down our liberties at his feet; justified his acts of omission and commission, even the very nefarious and blood cuddling ones; dropped his name to win respect; called him Mansa; silenced all criticisms of him, even innocuous one; acted ignobly for his pleasure; refused to stand up when he violated and transgressed. And gradually he metamorphosed into what we wanted him to become: a tin god with a stranglehold over our private and public lives. I am seeing a near repetition. It is writ large.

Thus it is true that people can make lions out of lambs and lambs out of lions. It has always been our case. I pray President refuses to be a lion or a lamb. I pray he is able to see the snares and the honey cups and know how to avoid both. The players and courtiers in realpolitik never serve free lunch. Behind the service often lies a scheme. It is “each for himself or herself and God for us all”….

And it is also true that snake bites do not kill. Snakes bite. What kills is the venom, as it gradually spreads through the body, through the veins. Then the heart stops eventually. It is a gradual process. Mind the venom.