Njundu Drammeh

Dear Mr. President,

Happy Independence Day to you and all of us. At the stroke of the midnight on 18th February 1965, we hoisted the Red, White, Blue, White, Green striped national flag and became an Independent nation. Am sure that was a great day, nothing as sweet as freedom, the state of being free as a dignified, wholesome nation state. (Was it 18th February 1965 or 24th April 1970 is discussion for another day.)

Mr. President, 53 years ago we also made a tryst with destiny; 53 years on we are renewing our pledge. We have come a long way, this nation that was once mocked at as “improbable” and a merger with Senegal suggested. We have proved the pessimists and the prophets of doom wrong. We have survived, even if hard, long, difficult and sometimes “magically”. We have endured brutality of a kind, betrayal of the highest mandate of our people. A survivor nation, we always emerge from the ashes like the proverbial Phoenix. Our inner character is greater than our physical or geographical size.

Mr. President, if The Gambia was a civil servant, we would say it will retire from pensionable service in 12 years time. The time has come to redeem our pledge. 53 years is a long time in the life of nation where life expectancy, according the 2016 HDR, is 60 years. Bravo. But as they say, it is not how long one has lived which should matter very much but rather the quality of one’s life, how qualitative, touching, productive and impactful one’s journey on earth has been. We need to seriously reflect on our developmental pathway, the path to the future we have selected for ourselves and posterity. A people without a vision perish, says the Bible.

Mr. President, our development history to 2018 has been largely chequered and honestly not much to write home about. According to the UNDP 2016 Human Development Report, The Gambia ranked 173 out of 185 countries on the Human Development Index. We have been “living”; we need to reach the stage of “being”. You have inherited a broken country, one abused, violated, corrupted, wounded, tortured, exploited, divested of values and principles, but crying out loud for Peace, Progress and Prosperity for everyone, for accountability and transparency, for respect for human rights, for lives of dignity, for a just, equal and equitable society where each achieves personal growth and happiness not due to the language, political affiliation, religion or sex they belong to but as a result of their aptitude, abilities, competence and the content of their character.

Mr. President, your position as President is not enviable, the legacy inherited is moth eaten, scandalous and disgraceful. July 22nd 1994 truncated, or rather terribly disrupted, our development journey. The 22 years of Jammeh rule pulverized all what we stood for, dreamt about and hoped for. Thus, you carry with you the hopes, dreams, aspirations, frustrations and fears of 1.8 million people. How you manage the competing priorities, political interests groups, election promises, hard realities of the time and the global environment and remain on course to the envisaged destination rest on your leadership, foresight and vision, faith, self belief, the people to have in your inner circle and the values and principles you hold dear. Leadership is a process, and since champion’s don’t become champions in the ring but are merely recognised there, we are hopeful you will become one of the greatest leaders of our time.

Mr. President, you stand the opportunity of leaving an indeble footprint on the sands of The Gambia, footprints that perhaps another President after you seeing, shall know his or her job is already cut out and shall aim for the stars and nothing but the best of the best. As they would say, history is staring you in the face, to be or not to be. Your time in the presidency, how it is spent, what you achieve, the outcomes and the processes, only you can determine. But these history will judge you on, for good or bad.

Mr. President, nothing is more cancerous and debilitating than corruption. It derails development, destroys all the gains of a country and ushers in poverty and death. Corruption is the enemy of progress and peace. You need to place the fight against corruption very high on your agenda. Expedite the establishment of the anti-corruption Commission and there are men and women who don’t have their price to help in the fight. Encourage government institutions to have whistle blowing policies. Corruption cannot fester in an environment where probity, accountability, communication and transparency are entrenched. The corollary to corruption such as bribery and nepotism must be ruthlessly fought too.

President Barrow inspecting a guard of honour on 18th February 2018

Mr. President, while peace and security are sine qua non for development, the foundation on which they stand is human rights. There cannot be any development, peace or security without respect and fulfillment of human rights. Every violation of a right is a threat to national security; every right respected or fulfilled advances development and peace. Respect for human rights should be non-negotiable. The constitutional reform process should be on high gear at this time and I hope you would ask that this ball starts rolling now. As the numero uno duty bearer and defender, we would petition your good office when we are dissatisfied with administrative decisions.

Mr. President, I know you are a politician and political considerations would have to influence your decisions or the actions you take. There is nothing wrong in that, especially that you were elected on a Coalition Manifesto. However, since Statesmen are supposed to think and plan for posterity, I think more focus, energy and resources should be invested in the implementation of the National Development Plan 2018-2021. All the projects and projects of the Government should take their cue from this national blueprint. It should be the gyide and basis of works and interventions all government departments do. The framework of consequent national budgets should be informed by this NDP. When these are done, and the NDP implemented and monitored, our short to medium term development aspirations may be reached.

Mr. President, there is near unanimity that you are a keen listener, humble and one with a heart of gold. Great qualities we all should possess. To be able to fly as a leader though, you ought to surround yourself with men and women who not only share your values, vision, qualities and principles but also have unimpeachable character, mettle and grit. We are judged or known by the friends we keep. You would need to be soft and hard, firm and tender, antithesis clearly marked but necessary in leadership.

Mr. President, the journey would be tough, steering the Ship of State through calm and tumultuous weather, satisfying the diverse aspirations of our diverse people, rising above partisan politics. Rancorous noises and difficult demands will be made, acerbic remarks uttered, insincere praises shouted, genuine statements written or said. They come with the territory, accompaniments to public trust and office. It would require navigational skills, statesmanship, grit, faith and attention to facts. May you succeed.

There is a tide in the affairs of men and women….The fault

The Mo Ibrahim prize awaits you too.

Happy Independence Day to you and all.