President Barrow speaking at the National Assembly during his state of the nation address

I briefly listened to President Adama Barrow’s ‘State of the Nation Address’ speech while travelling; I have not read the prepared speech since but will be sharing my reactions and perspectives of President Barrow’s speech in subsequent posts.

Enough of the warnings, act, let’s see corrupt officials being excused from duty, subsequent prosecution leading to; return of stolen funds, asset recovery and freezing account (we even have the necessary laws in place), only then will we take your legacy seriously. Otherwise, it was as good as you just saying.

All the great plans that President Adama Barrow has for the Gambia, will be undermined if the spirit of goodwill by the Gambians are broken. Unless someone is arrested and charged within the next two days, all that the President has said in his State of the Nation speech will lose its value.

The President means well, but he is being set up for failure by some greedy people who think they own and can control the Gambia. I, however, wonder why he did not mention why certain civil servants and public officers are being exculpated from actionable recommendations and findings of the commission culpable of corruption.

What about other elected leaders such as National Assembly members, and public servants who we all know receive bribes and participate in corruption?

President Barrow’s speech was unifying and showed the importance of us as a people pulling together. But even as we unite, people are tired of being broke. The Gambian people need money in their pockets. The gap between the rich and the poor has to be narrowed, but this cannot happen when the corrupt use their high position, tribes, religions and attacks on investigative organs to stall the war on corruption.

If 60% of what the President has spoken of in terms of good governance, manufacturing and social-economic interventions is carried out, the Gambia will rise up to even higher levels than the projected 6.1% economic growth.

All in all, it was an encouraging speech and it has shown the resolve of President Barrow has for transforming the Gambia.

The President needs to set a good foundation so that a visionary leader can take over in 2021 because the Gambia needs a President they can trust.

President Barrow’s Promises

I keenly listened for clear articulation of these promises to no avail. I waited for President Barrow to verbalize in his prepared ‘State of the Nation Speech’ the promise to put food and clean water on every Gambian table. I am not sure what nation Adama Barrow lives in but the one most of us live in is not the one described in the seven thousand five hundred and fifty-three words; words that made up a false sense of security and accomplishment and directly contradicted by a majority.

When the Social Research & Corporate Reputation (IPSOS) asked Gambians what their main concerns were back in July 2018, a plurality listed hunger, corruption and the high cost of living as “the most serious problems facing them” including one in five (17%) who “barely have enough to eat”.

While opinion polls have taken a bashing over the last year due to the onslaught of “fake news” and “alternative facts”, any leader would be remiss were they to summarily dismiss or minimize findings that a section of the population “barely had enough to eat”. President Adama Barrow, Gambians are hungry. They are also thirsty.

In the winding one-hour monologue, there was no mention or use of the word “food”. There were three (3) mentions of the word “water” but not within the context of the president’s delivering on the promise to “put clean water on every Gambian table”.

In what is a metaphor for President Barrow’s first term in office, one of the mentions of “water” was within the context of borrowing money from the twin-brothers, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as well as China to fund a water project.

Corruption, something President Barrow has accurately described as an “existential threat to the peace and security of the Gambia” was mentioned ten times – in a speech five hundred words shy of eight thousand words! And true to his now-patented tendency to obfuscate and misdirect on the subject, he offered, as an update, the mea culpa that he knew eliminating corruption would be a journey on a rocky path; that the “seeming lack of progress” is not accurate.

Let me cut to the chase on the subject. There is NO “progress” in the “efforts” against corruption. He promised an Anti-Corruption Act enacted in December. Were that true, the many high-profile scandals during his first term would have been addressed swiftly and sans prevarication.

President Adama Barrow’s own wife, his close aides and cabinet ministers would have been hurled before the courts and either prosecuted on corruption charges or exonerated. To date, a coterie of low-level scapegoats has manipulated a corrupt criminal justice system to escape prosecution.

It is quite possible that one can go to Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital in Banjul and verify the state of the Accident and Emergency Care Centre and some of the promises the conditions at the hospital entails.

What is unmistakable and has repeatedly played out over the last three years are images of Gambians, all of them rich and well-connected, being ambulanced to Senegal, India, United States and United Kingdom, in search of better medical treatment.

What President Barrow promised was quality affordable healthcare for every Gambian – key words “every Gambian”.

How President Barrow can reconcile the foregoing dichotomous realities from his first term in office escapes me. It is the same alternate reality that explains why it took him almost four hundred words to explain his campaign’s succinct nine-worded campaign bullet point “Ensure that every Gambian gets quality and affordable healthcare.”

The president’s State of the Nation Address spiel on healthcare is illustration of the crisis management adage (that) “if you are explaining, you’ve already lost the narrative”.

President Barrow almost sprained his arm congratulating his administration for “delivering honest exams.” That any society; any administration would tout the delivery of “honest exams” in a singular academic year as an accomplishment is just sad and an apt illustration of the Adama Barrow’s government has fallen to.

Unfortunately, the corollary of the corrupt educational system is plain for all to see. Incompetent and/or unqualified personnel, fake degrees and certificates, rampant physical, sexual and psychological abuse of students – happening inside some of the country’s top institutions including high schools.

Again, how the president can reconcile the foregoing set of facts with his campaign promise of assuring that “every child in the Gambia gets quality education” escapes me. It simply does not add up.

The same disconnect exists for the remaining two of the promises President Barrow and his 2016 Coalition made to the Gambian voters.

The 2019 State of the Nation was a slick blend of wiz-bang prose that did not and does not align with the reality facing many Gambians. People are dying of hunger and thirst in “the nation” where most Gambians live.
Schools are failing, corruption is rampant and the teachers are underpaid and disrespected.

A handful of well-connected oligarchs own virtually all the wealth in the country, patients who don’t have any money are left to fend for themselves and doctors are threatened with termination when they agitate for better wages and working conditions.

The Gambia is a nation shunned by her neighbours who see her leaders as selfish, unprincipled demagogues who act with impunity, not in the interest of their subjects, but to protect themselves from being held accountable.

I am not sure which nation President Barrow was referring to in his State of the Nation address but it certainly wasn’t mine nor of people I know.

The State of the Nation – President Barrow’s Parallel Multiverse.

In the aftermath of the “State of the Nations” address, repeat broadcast on national television and on social media. I listened keenly to President Adama Barrow’s searing speech, designed to assure a fearful nation that it would not be dragged back into kleptocracy, unspooled.

Here is an administration still learning the ropes of statecraft and putting its house in order only to be struck by a shocking impotent technocracy, politicians, and empowering the incompetent as well as managerial leadership due to executive myopia.

Three years is a long time to live on hope. On more than one occasion President Barrow has addressed the nation and promised to fix the fundamentals of the country once and for all.

However, nothing has come of it. President Barrow make promises that he cannot keep? As I have watched that scorched-earth speech delivered by President Barrow’s State of the Nation in the august assembly.

Adama Barrow is frustrated by the toxic politicking that we have been treated to in recent months. Those who think they can take recourse to the politics of brinkmanship as a way of boxing the president to sing a certain tune, they better think again because his skin is thicker than Yahya Jammeh.

With the clock ticking furiously on his final term, crafting a legacy that he’ll be remembered for is front and centre of his statecraft.

President Barrow’s half-measures are harming the country and his authority as the Commander-in-Chief of the Gambia besides tormenting Gambians. Among other challenges, it creates an impression of a reluctant leader, one who enjoys the trappings of office but is not ready to get the work done.

In successive governments, the Gambia has been plundered of uncountable billions of Dalasi and foreign exchange while public officers and civil servants are negotiating loans and grants to purchase new expensive SUVs for themselves, their wives and concubines.

What are the intentions of the Anti-corruption law? We want the people to understand that poverty is real. I was puzzled because that line, spouted with nauseating instinctiveness, was reflective of a pernicious rigidity; a self-defeating mentality that effectively obliterates the possibility of a recalibration of strategy, not to mention the folly of pacifying the Gambia (that restive country has been unstable for more than two decades for God’s sakes).

President Barrow should sack more than 75 percent of his team, all the way down the line. They have not served him well with their open and embarrassing display of lack of colour, grace and competence.

For a start, all the Ministers of State with portfolio should be fired and changed. They cannot plead that they are mere spare tires. It is their lack of initiative and ambition that has turned them into spare tires. Heads of agencies and parastatals should not be allowed to hang on to the myth that they are occupying contract or tenured positions.

The President is constitutionally empowered to fire any one when he is tired of their services. Many of them should be sent home and that includes the horde of special assistants and advisers doing nothing, occupying space and often causing problems.

President Barrow should ignore any and every list from his Barrow Youth Movement and Barrow Fans Club or Diaspora community echo chambers. All those political advisors and political hacks are busy with their own private agenda and not in the best interest of the country.

Digesting the State of the Nation address my immediate impulse was where is empathy and compassion lacking in today’s Gambia to solve a lot of our current societal problems?

All the pillars of our nationhood were tested, and most were found wanting. Some collapsed, some were seriously weakened, while others were desecrated beyond repair. We are talking about the presidency, economy, security and, most importantly, the people.

I was particularly sympathetic and perplexed when President Barrow talked of enacting another Anti- Corruption Law in December. There are laws in our statute books to fight public sector corruption, racketeering and thievery of government treasury.

I am not optimistic in the value of the President’s speech until the Gambia is purge the fear from the small group of oligarchs-curdling designs of mega sleaze and plundering the Gambia resources.

But when the same relentless oratorical line was repeated by the commander-in-chief after the State of the Nation speech. I wondered again where is the compassion and empathy that was shattered.

That shattering of empathy and sympathy soon gave way to raw anger of three years of unemployment, corruption, bureaucratic incompetence and economic paralysis are the bane of President Barrow’s regime.

The Gambia today is crying for action — practical measures to guarantee the citizens that the government has been seized of their concerns.

In the document, summarised as part of the National Development Plan, Adama Barrow’s vision for the Gambia promised to: Put food and clean water on every Gambian table, ensure that every child in the Gambia gets quality education, create wealth, ensure that every Gambian gets quality and affordable healthcare, empower Gambian women to take their rightful place in developing this country, keep the Gambia safe and secure both internally and externally, develop a cogent foreign relations and trade policy for the Gambia.

For all his chest-thumping about the resilience of the Gambian spirit, President Adama Barrow betrays his visceral ignorance of the Gambia conundrum and its socio-historic-political complexities.

For one, the idea that the Gambia’s only hope for stability is our continued engagement and tolerance of corruption and political incompetence is laughably fallacious.

President Yahya Jammeh tried and failed. If reports by Anti -Corruption organisations are anything to go by, then that corruption campaign has been nothing short of a disaster. It has led to massive economic calamities that ultimately feed politicians than address it.

President Barrow’s anti-corruption approach to good governance matters because it offers his administration an opportunity to project power, regardless of whether it makes us people of good citizens of high moral standards or not.

Nobody is suggesting for one moment that we should sit back as corruption destroys and denied Gambian citizens meaningful livings.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

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