The Existential Threat of Political Lobbyists in President Barrow’s Cabinet Appointments.
Fatoumatta: One of President Adama Barrow’s admirers and critics once laments that “our President is slow at everything, and he celebrates it.” He further said, “If you are slow, you cannot win any race,” he opined. So one of the first lessons a pupil learns in school is how to be fast in what he does. “As you learn a trade, you learn smartness with it,” was how my teacher put it. Did President Adama Barrow not sound like a hostage crying out for the freedom to announce his new Cabinet pick? Who locked up our President at the State House? Is he a hostage to situations, to some shadowy people, to specific fears or expectations? We need to know! American author and speaker George Kohlrieser, psychologist, hostage negotiator, and Hostage at the Table author, asks, “Are you being held hostage without knowing it?” If a leader does not know he is a hostage to power and powerful interests, trying to free him may be complicated. The one who is asleep is the one that needs to be jolted back to life.
However, did our President know he is “locked up” and far removed from us, and he may be happy or unhappy? President Adama Barrow is the President of the Republic of the Gambia and the number one citizen in the Gambia, and constitutionally the most powerful man in The Gambia. So, how do we help President Adama Barrow and help ourselves? Niccolo Machiavelli’s bell tolls again, and President Adama Barrow must take heed if he intends by any dint of imagination to leave behind an enduring legacy in the governance of the Gambia. The Constitution is there as a guide, the complexity of the country is there as a compass and wisdom, and divine grace is hovering around to be tapped.
However, whereas the Constitution envisages equity and inclusivity, the complexity of the country and the corresponding sensibilities of its people require a delicate balancing of interests in ways that no one will be left out of the scheme of things.
Fatoumatta: No President cannot do the job alone. The impact of Good Governance is through effective leadership and teamwork. The 1997 Constitution gives President Barrow the latitude to choose his Cabinet team or just a bunch of figureheads. Although the Gambian Constitution practically makes the Gambian President an Imperial Presidency with executive powers to hire and fire, exercising near-divine powers that in many ways compromise democracy. This is one of the reasons why a return to the system of Westminster-type Parliamentary rule may well, in the long run, be the best option for the Gambia.
Fatoumatta: Whatever form or content the new Cabinet and Ministers working with President Adama Barrow are soon to announce takes, there is no debating that Gambians have turned this crowning entry into the governance franchise into a significant event. Apart from the election presidential and parliamentary results, few other entries in the government process areas awaited with the kind of anticipation Gambians have attached to the individuals who will eventually make the new Cabinet Appointment. Unfortunately, the Cabinet pick has now become the tale of 18 men and women where some embark on a journey of wealth, authority, and influence. Sadly, it is a shortcut to power and a way out of poverty for a few. At the same time, many politicians and elites lean on them for assistance and connection, creating a sense of infinite possibilities. For that and several other reasons, you have a few Gambians who are so desperate and ready to do anything to make the shortcut of The Cabinet appointments. The reports of endless closed-door meetings, particularly by leaders and political Godfathers of the ruling National People’s Party (NPP) and Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) led coalition, and allies as to who will make these electrifying Cabinet appointments and President Barrow’s somewhat silence on the issue is alleged to have engendered desperation and the infamous do-or-die mentality.
Fatoumatta: If the reports around Number One Marina Parade are accurate and frantic lobbying is already taking place by some Gambians scraping the bottom of the desperation barrel for ministerial slots, one would hope that the allegations that massive brown envelopes are false purportedly changing hands are untrue. However, on the other hand, if the reports are those giving money to individuals around the seat of power for a chance to feature on the new Cabinet Ministers pans out to be fact, then “the Gambia… We have a problem!” If so, the Ministerial Cabinet pick is not even out. However, the hydra-headed monster called corruption has already begun to rear its tentacles. President Barrow needs to make inquiries about this and ensure that this does not spill into his team. Suppose money changes hands by peradventure, and some ministers emerge through this dodgy means. What is expected in performance and deliverables? What will stop them from recuperating their supposed investment with lots of interest when they get into the seat of power, usually to the detriment of the Gambia?
Reports also have it that the battle to feature on the Cabinet appointments, especially by some caretaker ministers who are itching to return, seems to have made the run-up to the premiere of the new Cabinet picks cutthroat. Others looking to be in the new Cabinet are those expected to be within the ruling NPP/APRC party-led coalition. They feel that they need to be compensated for their roles in the 2021 historic Presidential and parliamentary elections.
Fatoumatta: The naked truth of our nation is that much energy seems to be expended on wanting to be in governance but, sadly, for the wrong reasons. Many people want to be in governance for the perks and access to the proverbial national cake. They see governance as a means to an end, an avenue to gain access to the treasury, and a means to amass unlimited power rather than a privilege to serve the generality of Gambians. For a long time now in the Gambia, we have been suffering from the norm of placing round pegs in square holes and vice versa when it comes to political appointments; all in a bid to satisfy and placate ethnoreligious sentiments, political affiliation, the cabals and godfathers lurking at the corridors of power. As a result, we have been left with the culture of mediocrity that we have witnessed since the advent of this our fourth. There is much expectation on President Adama Barrow, particularly on doing the needful. It is said, “To whom much is given, much is expected… With great power also comes great responsibility.” Most Gambians who came out en-masse earlier to vote for the President expect and deserve capable lieutenants with the same vision and mission as the President at the helm of affairs.
Fatoumatta: The importance of Cabinet ministers in an administration cannot be overemphasized, and their effectiveness is crucial to an administration’s success. Hence, the interest of Gambia should be paramount when selecting these men and women. The President needs to ensure that capable hands are brought on board in making the “next level” a reality.
This time around, one would hope and expect the President not to limit his choice of lieutenants to a minor pool in and around the Statehouse. There are a whole lot of Gambians within and outside the country, not involved in politics who are experts in their fields, making huge strides, countrymen and women on the precipice of greatness all over the globe that would be more than willing to serve their fatherland if asked to do so. In medicine, law, engineering, and aeronautics, one can name it, Gambians worldwide are excelling and can bring their expertise and experience home if given a seat at the table towards making the Gambia better. This is President Barrow’s second and probably third term in office, and he needs to put his best foot forward. His ministers should be much better in terms of quality and expertise this time around than some of his ministers in the last five years. Gambians are in dire need of effective representation and governance.
Fatoumatta: As the President makes his selection, one would naively hope for a Utopia where he would break from the norm and select competent hands, even if they are from opposition parties. The Ministers should be tested, trusted, and accomplished technocrats rather than politicians who may turn out to be entitled, egocentric, or even mediocre. Also, selecting competent and talented men and women would be ideal if the President gave his Cabinet a Gambian identity, all Gambians of diverse walks of life represented. Suppose we were not so shamelessly hung up on the innate tribalism and regionalism we all silently seem to have. It should not matter whether those selected are from the same region or tribe, creed, gender, or status should not come into it. It should only matter that they are Gambians who have the capacity and expertise to move this nation forward. Suppose more than one person in a region is at the top of their game. In that case, the President should be allowed to absorb them into government rather than restrict them.
Fatoumatta: Regrettably, President Barrow should not be limited by his party, allies, and coalition partners, but Gambia’s character is the causative factor. The truth is that this requirement shortchanges Gambians, as two or more capable individuals might hail from the same region, religion, and ethnic group. It deprives Gambians of their expertise and service. What President Barrow’s new administration needs are credible, competent, loyal, and patriotic Gambians who have a roadmap on how to tackle poverty, insecurity, youth unemployment, improve infrastructure, meet the demands of workers with regards to advancing job creation, transform healthcare delivery, revolutionize the education sector, reduce the number of children not in school, decrease the carnage on our roads, combat partisanship, ameliorate tribal and political divide and be a unifying factor for all of the Gambia.
Furthermore, the culture of appointing Cabinet ministers without attaching portfolios could be seen as an ambush to the public. In the United States, where we copy our democracy from, and in other countries, ministerial nominees and appointees are announced together with their portfolios. This gives the public and media ample opportunity to discuss the suitability or otherwise of the candidate for the job based on antecedents and track records.
Fatoumatta: All those fervently lobbying for a position in this government need to take a Chill-Pill and calm down. Leadership is divine and comes ‘only’ from The Almighty. So instead of putting all that energy into lobbying, they should concentrate on praying to the Almighty to ordain on them the position they seek ‘ONLY if it is in their best interest for the unknown future and the best interest of the Gambia.’For those who will eventually be appointed and make it into President Barrow’s second-term government, “give your gratitude to The Almighty who fated you to have the position. As you take the mantle of leadership, pray for The Almighty to guide you in offering exemplary, accountable, and selfless leadership service that will better many Gambians while also helping to entrench good governance. …That will become your burden!”
Fatoumatta: The wait for Cabinet appointment has made Gambians apprehensive; it has been ages since the Inauguration for many reasons, but the fact that the last cabinet reshuffle took in 2019 comes out does not help. The Cabinet will soon be announced. Over 2 million Gambians are anxious to see which direction President Adama Barrow will take. While I am not as worried as many to see who makes the Cabinet, I understand the trepidation. However, I am also kind of afraid and nervous because I do not think there is any possible selection that President Barrow will make that will be truly satisfying to a majority of the Gambian public. Such a selection will always be divisive and hard to do satisfactorily, period!Nevertheless, one of the things that will unite our country may be in our universal agreement that the 2022 Cabinet is a genius or whether it blew. As we await the expected blockbuster Cabinet appointments, one sincerely hopes the mass’s welfare would and should be prioritized. Corruption, undue sentiments, and ethnoreligious consideration are eschewed. We expect this, and we pray it is what we get.
Fatoumatta: “Que sera, sera, whatever will be.” Therefore, as he makes the Cabinet appointment, may President Adama Barrow be guided by The Almighty on what is ultimately in the best interest of the Gambia, not by the lobbyists.