The on-going tragicomedy show that is politics and politicians in the Gambia, at its highest levels of government and the lack of meaningful solutions-oriented discourse, has trained a harsh spotlight on the country’s intellectual space.

The trials and tribulations of the government along with the country also beg the question whether the country’s voters send their best and brightest to debate and resolve the myriad problems facing the country.

At a minimum, whether our political leaders such as populists politicians and demagogues of varying degree, surround themselves with smart and competent technocrats who know or have the paragon of intellectual gravitas and (can) stand up to them and advise them accordingly.

And if so, whether these “leaders” heed the counsel of those they pay handsomely as subject -matter experts (SMEs) on issues of the day.

Who is an intellectual?

INTELLECTUAL: A person who engages in critical thinking and reading, research, and human self-reflection about society; they may propose solutions for its problems and gain authority as a public figure. (Wikipedia – citing The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought 3rd Ed, A. Bullock & S. Trombley)

There is little doubt in my mind that the Gambia has intellectuals – sharp minds of global reputation who have (also) proven themselves on the global stage in various high profile and demanding positions. The country is also teeming with experts across all fields – technical and non-technical – at home and abroad.

It also bears repeating that Gambian in the Diaspora’s lineage and while the Gambian born and raised mostly in the Diaspora remains true to the Gambia and tenuously from afar, their Gambian roots; this despite some disses from the likes of Fatoumatta Sebouru and Mamudu as well as others who remain averse to Diaspora Gambians.

Additionally, the Gambia is recognised by top-tiered and iconic global companies as a treasure-trove of talent and knowledge. From Microsoft to Facebook and Google via IBM, the country has rightfully earned its “Silicon Savanna” self-description to wit: A 2018 piece by Bloomberg’s Justin Fox placed Gambian immigrants as the “fifth most industrious foreigners” behind Ghanaians and Bulgarians.

The same report placed Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria and Liberians in the Top 10 of most industrious foreigners. (“Want Educated Immigrants? Let in More Africans” – Bloomberg Politics & Policy, May 2018). And while the ranking is subjective, it also belies Donald Trump’s characterisation – that the continent is a “shithole”.

The salient point is that the Gambia and Gambians are competent and talented and can go head-to-head with the world’s best and brightest. It is this reality that then begs the question: What happens when these same Gambians return home?

How do people who previously graced the rarified airs of the World Bank, IMF, FAO, UN, UNDP, UNICEF, UNESCO and WHO or blue chip global companies, presumably complying with global standards of excellence, morph into corrupt tribal toadies willing to give short shrift to the same standards they complied with outside the country once back home – to the point of adversely affecting the national economy?

There are Gambian intellectuals who graced the corridors of the prestigious World Universities earned their master’s degrees and PhD’s – both in Literatures, Philosophy, Law, Economics and in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities.

Yet despite their intellectual gravitas, these men and women some of them currently embroiled in corruption and tribalism. It thus boggles the mind to see these “intellectuals” embroiled in outright tribalism, theft and thuggery (no pun intended)!

Worse is that what these supposedly bright and ethical minds are accused of is not the everyday run-of-the-mill-philosophical or differences-in-policy type machinations. How can a critical mass of Gambian taxpayers who make up the Silicon Savanna “elect” such men and women or countenance their behaviour?

Are Gambians that gullible and dumb that former cronies of former dictator Yahya Jammeh and to those who does not contribute to the struggle to restore democracy can convince Gambians that they are ethical and competent enough to governed us? I realise that there are on-going efforts to ridicule and stifle discourse/views that do not toe the ethnic religious, political or ideological line of these leaders in matters of public policy and governance.

I also realise that there is a deliberate strain of anti-intellectualism that’s taking hold of the country’s body politics – this exacerbated by the country’s multi-tiered educational system that is often times dependent on one’s last name, their (parents’) bank account and location of their school.

However, and as illustrated above, the Gambia has a tipping point of those who believe and expect a minimum level of ethical and competent behaviour from our leaders.

It is this reality that informs this piece and is beyond perplexing: Why can’t enough citizens of Africa’s “Smiling Coast” i.e. Gambians reject leaders who can barely lead competently and/or ethically with or without assistance?

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

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