The Barrow government has registered some commendable achievements over the last 15 months.

Since Jammeh’s ousting, our import cover has increased considerably, economic growth figures have improved, fundamental freedoms are being largely respected and the country has been transformed from an inward looking one to an outward looking almost overnight. That said, the state that Jammeh and his cronies left the country in was so deplorable, that things could not have got any worse after he left.

Now that some semblance of order and sanity has been re-established, most Gambians are demanding much more from their president and government. Better health care and education, wide-ranging institutional reforms, concrete action against corruption, a stable electricity supply, better social services, more employment opportunities, better communication from the government, etc. The list is endless.

In order to meet these mammoth challenges, a clear strategy and competent leadership is required at all levels of government and public service institutions (not just the presidency). Most Gambians would easily agree with this in theory, but we have demonstrated countless times that we are not ready to put this into practice. Far from being a meritocracy, our society has proven itself to be instinctively insular, ageist, tribalist and nepotistic.

We are resistant to change and are mistrustful of people with fresh ideas, often to our detriment. This tendency has to be shaken off if we are to drag our country out of the middle ages. Whether it’s choosing our next president, mayor, secretary of state, school section leader or head hospital nurse, if we disregard or look down on the most capable individual just because they don’t conform to societal norms or are not of the right tribe, origin, age or gender, only to then favour a clearly incompetent individual, we are cutting our noses to spite our faces.

A radio commentator recently opined that the reason PDOIS never get many votes is because Halifa Sallah hardly attends “Gamo”, “Nguenteh”, “Sarahh” and other social gatherings. It is scary to admit it, but he hit the nail on the head there. Are we seriously saying that we would prefer a President who attends social gatherings every week than one who dedicates his presidency to working hard to improve our country? We need to grow up and get serious for once.

The state of our country today is a true reflection of us. Let’s not fool ourselves – it doesn’t matter how many BMW X5s we see speeding down the Senegambia highway. Our country is among the poorest, most corrupt and least well-run you can ever find anywhere on the face of Planet Earth. We are like children in a playground constantly looking up to the West and aid bodies to not only give us aid but to also tell us how to fix our country.

We perpetually wait for the next IMF, EU or Commonwealth report to tell us what’s gone wrong. At risk of stating the obvious, maybe it would be better to choose a leader intellectually curious enough to find out what our problems are, skilled enough to articulate those problems to the world, competent enough to put in place practical ways of solving them and transparent enough to give us regular feedback on progress. Just a thought.

While I don’t agree with ridiculing our President at every turn, it is very clear that he is out of his depth. When he agreed to be the Coalition candidate, his heart was in the right place and he probably took one look at Jammeh and thought, actually if Jammeh can be president then anyone can.

We are resistant to change and are mistrustful of people with fresh ideas, often to our detriment. This tendency has to be shaken off if we are to drag our country out of the middle ages. Whether it’s choosing our next president, mayor, secretary of state, school section leader or head hospital nurse, if we disregard or look down on the most capable individual just because they don’t conform to societal norms or are not of the right tribe, origin, age or gender, only to then favour a clearly incompetent individual, we are cutting our noses to spite our faces.

Jammeh was not a President, but a dictator. He relied on primeval cunning to govern, but Barrow has to govern through democratic means. This is a lot harder to do. Intellectual competence and doggedness are required to set the government agenda, build competent teams, win the big arguments and execute reforms. Running a country is like running a big global corporation and we all know that those aren’t run by individuals without the right education and professional experience.

Would Barrow be capable of running even a small global corporation? During the Jammeh years, we quickly forgot about some of the fundamental qualities a President should have. In choosing Barrow to be their candidate, the UDP and the Coalition ignored common sense to choose a candidate who they deemed to be the most malleable and of the right tribal-mix; not necessarily the one with the most competence.

The pervasive mediocrity in the Gambian leadership class is always best displayed when the circus goes on tour around the world, in front of the world’s press. First it was the Erdoğan-orchestrated pirouette at the Turkish red carpet reception and then more recently the embarrassing spectacle at Chatham House, London, where the President of an English-speaking republic didn’t know the difference between the words “success” and “succession”, proudly bellowed that Gambia is part of the British Empire (something which had Tony Blair rightly wincing) and lazily reinforced the unproven, rightwing diatribe that “Europe is over-loaded” with immigrants.

A more intellectually-sound president would have desisted from simply regurgitating this western media line and would have made up his own mind on such important issues, which may affect the lives of Gambian migrants in Europe. He never had the presence of mind to mention the fact that Gambian migrants have long contributed to the British economy, particularly in the hospitality, care, health and defence sectors. Bowling over at every given opportunity and being nice to everyone will never earn us global respect. We need to be respected and not necessarily liked if we want to get a better foothold in global trade.

The current Ghanaian president, Akufo-Addo, is by all accounts, a very prickly character indeed. He is supremely confident and doesn’t feel the need to kowtow to the West at every given opportunity. This confidence emanates from his education, professional competence and leadership skills. He is prickly, but Ghana is well-respected globally and Ghanaian export levels to the EU have never been higher. He is not there by accident. The Ghanaians would never elect a half-baked president. It’s not in their DNA.

These episodes abroad, while causing us some embarrassment aren’t as dangerous as corruption, which is one issue that this government has refused to tackle, for reasons best known to them. Corruption is deep-rooted and endemic in our society and is affecting our economy in more ways than anyone could ever know. Sir Phillip Bridges, an Englishman who served as Chief Justice of The Gambia from 1968 to 1983 once reminded ex-president Sir Dawda of Latimer’s warning before being burned at the stake: “Corruption bringeth rebellion”. The Jawara and Jammeh governments never listened. I only hope that Barrow does before it’s too late and we’re back at square one.

A more intellectually-sound president would have desisted from simply regurgitating this western media line and would have made up his own mind on such important issues, which may affect the lives of Gambian migrants in Europe. He never had the presence of mind to mention the fact that Gambian migrants have long contributed to the British economy, particularly in the hospitality, care, health and defence sectors. Bowling over at every given opportunity and being nice to everyone will never earn us global respect. We need to be respected and not necessarily liked if we want to get a better foothold in global trade.

That said, the problem is not just with Barrow and his government. We should all ask ourselves the question: since Independence, where has nepotism, tribalism and corruption got us? We need to be honest and accept that maybe the problem lies with us Gambians. Senegal, western countries and aid agencies will support us where required, but we have to set the agenda ourselves. Whichever way you look at it, salvation lies within.

G. Mendy

London, UK