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Why Are Our Politicians, Lawyers, Public Intellectuals, and Official Speeches Boring?

Fatoumatta: Good speeches can be a hallmark of good leadership and an advantage for an excellent advocacy lawyer. A good speech can inspire, motivate, and persuade people to take action. From the times of Caliph Umar Ibn Khattab (r) to the days of Sultan Mehmed, to the eerie days of Napoleon Bonaparte, Simon Bolivar, and the 20th Century days of Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, to the independence days of Amilcar Cabral, Franz Fannon, Kwame Nkrumah, Gamel Abdel Nasser, to the recent days of Nelson Mandela, JF Kennedy, and Barack Obama. Nations have been built on the foundations of eloquence and the cheering spirit of great speeches. For instance, Sir Winston Churchill used nothing else but searing rhetoric and great eloquence to rally a shaken nation. However, the era of a leader as a great speechmaker, an encourager who would rally his troops to do exploits, is over or in temporary hibernation.

Fatoumatta: I want to see an exemplary leader in our times who will stir our hearts towards a goal and awaken the spirit of a nation. If I were Adama Barrow, I would have recited a poem in English or vernacular on national television on Primetime or in parliament and then handed the statistics-laden speech to the speaker and journalists. We need that reawakening!

I fervently believe the Gambia has only one orator worth listening to. Moreover, that is former Magistrate, now Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of the Gambia Lamin J Darboe. In short, Barrister Lamin Darboe’s gift of practical verbal and written communication skills, talents, eloquence, and literary power makes him a master class in public speaking and one of the current nation’s great orators, a skillful and clever attorney. However, a good lawyer and a leader must communicate persuasively and clearly with the audience, clients, colleagues, and judges. They must also be able to convey complex legal concepts and ideas to others in both written and oral forms. However, excellent verbal and written communication skills for lawyers are essential in ensuring clarity in case preparation, and well-honed advocacy skills are vital attributes of all successful litigators—succinctness in written and verbal expression.

Furthermore, Courts often require that the parties file written submissions before the oral hearing. Their importance cannot be underestimated. They must disclose the lines of argument. Here, advocates who constantly strive to be better in trial advocacy, courtroom litigation, and appellate advocacy must be eloquent in speech and writing. In addition, practical communication skills are crucial for any field’s leaders. Leaders must communicate their vision and goals to their team members and stakeholders clearly and concisely. They must also be able to listen actively and empathetically to their team members and provide constructive feedback. To remind you, effective communication is a two-way street. It involves conveying your message, listening actively to others, and responding appropriately. You can become a more effective lawyer and leader by honing your communication skills.

Fatoumatta: President Adama Barrow is charming and off the cuff; he is interesting to listen to. He is brilliant and eloquent and has Barrow’s oratorical skills in the vernacular when speaking in the Gambia’s main national languages. He has always been terrific and efficient as a storyteller. However, when reading a speech, a grave quality is depressing. President Barrow is in his second term and may extend to a third term to serve this country and will be defined by his legacy. He will be judged by his character and what he set out to do. He is a man of outstanding character and integrity. He has been accused of so many things by some disenchanted people for not doing enough to fight corruption.

Although Adama Barrow is not an exceptional public speaker in the English language but with national languages, he is a fantastic speaker who inspires without sophistry; what he lacks in his inability to inspire in the use of English spoken and written words but that he compensates by being truthful, blunt, and honest on issues. We have not had a leader who has inspired the nation with speeches—the only one who came close to it was Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, the best and fairest. President Yahya Jammeh can be a good orator and eloquent in English and vernacular. Still, he is arrogant, pompous, and lies so much wrong with a straight face that it can be unsettling. It dilutes his eloquence and expressive skills.

Fatoumatta: Our entertainment from the government side need not be the Seedy Njie shenanigans. Remember when Kekoto Manneh, Honorable E.K Sarr, Musa Sey, Late Bakary Bojang MP for Bakau, Saul Njie, Bora Mboge, Alhagie Saidykhan, and Charles Jow could trade intellectual banter for fun? Remember Jabez Ayodele Langley? It is annoying that there is nothing memorable we will remember in the National Assembly. So everyone, in public spaces, try and be fun and funny.

Fatoumatta: I love good, well-written, off-the-cough speeches and the fascinating idea that language shapes reality – perception and personality.

It got me thinking about how language influences politics and how easy it is to manipulate a person using political language. There is a reason that speech writers are used. They craft a speech carefully, carefully weighing each word for the right tone. Emotive language pulls in heartstrings and makes you believe what they are saying (even when it is not valid!) because you WANT to believe it. It is how newspapers sensationalize stories to grab our attention with shocking headlines. Particularly tabloids. This was one of my most memorable English Language lessons at school. It is why some politicians use “inflammatory” language like “invasion”: they are trying to manipulate us into having an emotional response to their words so that logic and critical thinking take a back seat.

Fatoumatta: The way American political speechwriters hanker for the media spotlight as if to share credit for the hype-generating speeches they authored for their employers amuses my Gambian mind. They even appear unsatisfied with their status as employees. However, the Gambian speechwriters’ crafts are regarded by the politicians as some sort of “ghostwritten” works to be treated with utmost secrecy, sometimes even emphasizing the need for privacy.

Almost all the remarkable political speeches that rocked America these past months were followed up with hagiographic profiles of the writers in the big media. Moreover, all were praised as geniuses of the literary realm, as wordsmiths with functioning brains. Even Melania Trump’s ghost plagiarist did not fizzle out without a praise of her antecedents. And courage.

Speechwriters are not that “fortunate” or defined in the Gambia. Political speechwriting has been relegated to a trivial art by some of our political office holders, with the office existing as just a statistic of their “jobs for the boys.” Many of our Speechwriters do not even hold meaningful conversations with their principals, let alone psychoanalyze them to understand their mannerisms and worldviews. I know a politician who does not even know his official speechwriter’s surname.

Negligence of this art was witnessed a few weeks ago at a public event that seemed like an occasion to have us tortured by a cocktail of uncredited statements, pedestrian analogies, cliches, and grammatical palavers. The speaker was a former leader of this country. I expressed my disappointment privately with his aide, someone I respect as a thoughtful and intelligent older man. Creative people rarely get into government. It is always the stiff, rigid, and officious people who get into government. Granted, government matters are serious, but surely, we can laugh and should be entertained. Presidential speeches need not be about policy all the damn time. Because policy talk sucks, neither should it be campaign shit all the time. It honestly sucks. Because let us face it, for all the policy talk and speeches full of figures, there is nothing to show for it. For speeches.

Fatoumatta: I have a suggestion for speech writers. Could you make a third of the speeches serious? The following third is less severe, and the last part lets points the speaker talk from off-hand. The British who gave us these silly traditions no longer cling to them like death. The BBC has a liberal side where jokes and swearing are allowed when the last good thing that happened in our national broadcaster. It is a disaster. Does the GRTS still exist? Do people still get paid? Does the station make the government money? We are Africans, and God gave us the power of speech and humor, and we witness this every day on our social media.

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