On December 2nd 2016, out-going president Jammeh called president-elect Barrow to concede defeat. During that telephone conversation, Mr. Jammeh promised to work with Mr. Barrow and his team to ensure a smooth transfer of power in January 2017. In the day(s) following that conversation, while talking to the media, Barrow mentioned having a parallel team already set up to work with the out-going administration on the transition process. I understand from media reports that the out-going administration ceased communicating with the in-coming team. Now we know that the Jammeh administration was “conducting a thorough investigation” and was setting up the stage for the December 9th announcement to “annul’ the results. Were Gambians told who was on that parallel team? If it was announced or published anywhere I must have missed it. But I think I am confident it was not announced. Maybe the coalition does not think that it was important to publish the names of the team members. I wish we were told, though, so that we will not have to speculate. Even more importantly, since Barrow was declared winner of the election, there has been no announcement of a government or a single cabinet pick.
Gambians have been complaining about the slow progress in that aspect of the transition. As I said at the end of my last column, “procrastination is the thief of time” (Edward Young, English poet and dramatist, 1683–1765). This is a very old adage but it very relevant to what is going on in The Gambia right now. I know some people will be complaining that people are not giving Barrow time but I would say that Gambia is at a cross road right now and we cannot afford to wait. We have a murderous dictator who wants to hang on to power after being defeated in a free and fair election. We want him to realize that the defeat is real and that it is over. Yes, ECOWAS is doing their part to make sure that Jammeh will not be president of The Gambia after January 18th 2017 but we also want Barrow to show that he is going to be the president of The Gambia on January 19th 2017. One very important way to demonstrate that is to set up a government as soon as possible. If all the cabinet picks have not been agreed upon, please announce those that have been agreed on. We need that information so that we can have something to analyze and discuss. Otherwise, we are going to speculate and the newspapers are going to publish lists or partial lists of cabinet picks obtained from “ sources close to the coalition”.
One such list, at the end of this column, came out this week and went viral. It generated a lot of excitement and some debate among Gambians at home and abroad. For a couple of hours, instead of talking about Jammeh’s December 9th decision which we know is not going anywhere, people started talking about the new appointments. I can bet it jolted Jammeh who, for the first time in many years, saw that he was not the one forming a government. That is a very nice thing to have. Unfortunately, after a short while, the coalition shot it down as unofficial. One benefit of at least announcing the picks as they are decided upon is that it will serve as a constant reminder to Jammeh that the time and attention he stole on December 9th is being gradually taken back and that by January 18th it would have been fully recovered and he will be out.
The incoming administration’s slow pace may be an artifact of the composition of the coalition: different ideologies and a lot of gray-haired men surrounding Barrow, all of whom he seems to want in his cabinet, if the list we saw this week is anything to go by. Where are the young folks? They contributed immensely to the coalition’s victory. In a country where the average age is 20 and more than 40% of the population is under 18, I think some of the photo-ops should include some younger people to at least give them a sense of belonging in the creation of the post-Jammeh era they helped usher in. While we wait for the coalition to debate cabinet picks and make announcements in due course, we will have to keep moving and a good point to start is from the list we saw this week.
I know the coalition said the list is not official but I will not be surprised if it was a result of some initial ideas and discussions among coalition members. The names and assignments to the various ministries, old or newly created, are hard to generate by some idle person who has no connection to the coalition’s thinking. As a result, I am going to assume the “unofficial” list, which gave us a window into the thinking of the coalition, has some truth to it and base the following comments and suggestions on it. Even if the eventual “official” list of picks ends up being different from the one we have seen or it turns out to be a permutation of it, I believe the comments and suggestions will still be relevant. Below, I will make some comments on each of the “picks’. Before I begin, I will like to make a disclaimer that I do not personally know any of the people on the list. My only knowledge of them is by virtue of their position(s) in our society.
The “pick” I like the most on that list is Halifa Sallah as vice president. He has the discipline, the intellect and a knowledge of the Gambian system that many people cannot claim. He will be a great asset to Mr. Barrow, who we should respectfully admit was not even a ranking member of the UDP and needs an experienced person next to him. Because of the unfortunate imprisonment of Ousainou Darboe and his starting lineup, Barrow came next in line. No disrespect, Mr. President-elect, but having Halifa next door cannot be overstated.
Another “pick” I like is that of Dr. Momodou Sallah ( I think there is no relationship to Halifa Sallah). He is young, born in the 70s and will definitely provide a welcomed contrast to the gray-haired men but above all he is highly competent. As a Reader (US equivalent of Full Professor) at De Montfort University in the United Kingdom (UK), he has proven to be highly successful in his field. As a minority (Black and foreign) in the UK, to be awarded hundreds of thousands of pounds in grants to conduct his research and to win academic and teaching awards, is impressive. To give you an idea how hard it is to get a grant, for those readers in the US, only 0.3% of principal investigators awarded grants by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) are Black. I will not be surprised if it is something similar in the UK where the Dr. Sallah works.
My only suggestion regarding this “pick” is, given that a lot of his work is in issues dealing with the youth, for him to be assigned the youth ministry. With the current state of desperation of our youth, which is leading them to use the “back way” to Europe and in many cases resulting in several deaths in the Mediterranean, we need somebody with the proven expertise to deal with youth issues. His track record in winning grants can be very helpful in getting funding from donors to finance youth development and empowerment programs. At a time when we are drowning in debt, it will be very important to get grants instead of loans to finance programs in the country. I know he can also make an impact at the education ministry. So, if we want him to lead that ministry then we should bring back the youth portfolio under the education ministry. That is what we had until the latter end of the first republic. The sport portfolio of the current youth and sport ministry can be rolled under the health ministry or some other ministry. That will eliminate one ministry. We should be eliminating ministries anyway, not creating new ones just because we want to reward every party head in the coalition with a cabinet position.
On the issue of creating new ministries, I would like to say that I do not like the idea of bogging down Dr. Isatou Touray with setting up a ministry (Community Development, Gender and Children) from scratch. I think she is “fired up and ready to go”. Give her an established and traditional ministry and let her produce right away. And remember she has to run for first female president in three years and should not be bogged by starting something from scratch. However, if this is what she wants then that is fine. I am afraid, though, that creating a gender ministry, which I assume will be dealing with a lot of the issues she has been working on at GAMCOTRAP, will somehow overlap with the work of the youth ministry or department. Hopefully Dr. Sallah, will be in charge so they can work in a synergistic way to get things done for the Gambian youth and children. I think they have some good chemistry. I liked their interactions during the launching ceremony of Dr. Baba Galeh Jallow’s book ,The Graveyard Cannot Pray, held at Alliance Française in Gambia in 2014.
In the remainder of this column, I will be making comments on the president-elect and each of the “picks” on the list.
H.E Adama Barrow – President and Commander-in-Chief
- Congratulations! This is the biggest job you will ever have. We are all rooting for you to have a successful three years. Stay true to yourself and keep your word. You will be moving into very nice and comfy government quarters called the State House. Consider it temporary housing and don’t do like the other guy born in the same year as you. As you can see, he is refusing to leave. Be patient, he will be flushed out so you can take up residence in January 2017. Don’t move in right away, though. Let some experts do a thorough inspection first. We will be following with keen interest. Good Luck!
Hon. Halifa Sallah – Vice President and Spokesperson for the Coalition
- He brings discipline, hard word, dedication to the job and he will make sure everything is done “according to the constitution”.
Hon. Fatoumatta Tambajang – Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service
- Aunty Fatou should do a great job as SG. Just be patient, Aunty, and don’t reveal the punishments too early. People may decide not to quit their posts.
Hon. Seedia Jatta – Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Disciplined and confident guy who will be able to have serious conversations with other top diplomats around the world.
Hon. Mai Fatty – Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs
- Should be fine here or another ministry.
Hon. Omar Jallow – Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives
- This could bring closure for OJ. It is an opportunity to get in and implement a few policies (no more subsistence farming) and then join us in retirement or go play with the grand kids.
Hon. Alhagie S. Darboe – Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture
- Don’t know him, no comment.
Hon. Ramzia Diab – Minister of Industry and Trade
- With the right staff, she should be fine.
Hon. Bakary B. Darboe- Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs
- Is he still the hottest Gambian economist? I don’t think so. I think we can use many others at home or abroad who may be more up-to-date on the latest developments in finance, econometrics, macro, micro and development economics, among others. He can be consulted for advice though.
Hon. Ebrima I. Chongan – Minister of Defense
- Tough guy who can bring some sanity to the army. Just watch your back. There may still be some Jammeh loyalist in the army. Don’t overreach in your policies. You remember the de-Baathification of the Iraqi army? Food for thought.
Hon. Momodou Lamin Sanneh – Minister of Home Affairs (Interior)
- Don’t know him, no comment.
Hon. Dr. Lamin Bolongding Bojang – Minister of Health and Social Welfare
- The old doc may still have something left in the tank, give him a chance. Don’t stay too long, set the agenda and agree on a retirement date with OJ.
Hon. Dr. Isatou Touray – Minister of Community Development, Gender and Children
- See comments above.
Hon. Dembo Bojang (By Force) – Minister of Lands, Housing and Local Government
- Just remind him that with Halifa in the mix, you cannot do anything By Force. Everything has to be done “according to the constitution”.
Hon. Hamat Bah – Minister of Tourism and National Heritage
- I know Hamat is very eloquent and was the Entertainment Manager at B.B Hotel but we fail to realize that Tourism is more of a marketing thing. You have to get people in the house before you can entertain them. Let’s see how many tourist flights his eloquence will bring.
Hon. Dr. Momodou Sallah – Minister of Education, Research, Science and Technology
- Great pick; see comments above.
Hon. Samba Jallow – Minister of Energy and Natural Resources
- Did well fighting the APRC almost by himself as Minority Leader in the National Assembly. Let’s see what he will do with the sand mining and the promised “oil”.
Hon. Henry Gomez – Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure
- Having lived in Germany, let’s see if he can bring some German engineering to our roads and infrastructural development.
Hon. Amie Bojang Sisohore – Minister of Information and Communication
- She is a great ally of Dr. Touray and is very familiar with the radio and television aspect of the ministry but is she up to speed in the latest in information technology? Remember GAMTEL was one of the best telecoms companies in Africa before Jammeh and we have to restore that. If she can find a Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder) type of person to help her, she will be fine. By the way, there are so many young Gambians at home and abroad who can help.
Hon. Kemeseng Jammeh – Minister of Livestock and Fisheries
- He has been in politics for a while and should know what needs to be done.
Hon. Amie Sillah – Minister of Labour and Employment
- Whether you like the PDOIS guys/gals or not, you cannot dispute their discipline. Like Halifa and Seedia, she will do everything “according to the constitution”. Make sure you extend the employment options for the youth beyond the fishing trawlers.
Hon. Lawyer Ousianou Darboe – Chief Justice
- Worst position to put Mr. Darboe. One of the biggest problems under Jammeh is lack of independence of the judiciary. We must go back to having three arms of government and Halifa will make sure that happens. Barrow was a protégé of Darboe. How in the world do you expect to separate them. Barrow will definitely consult Darboe and in fact he should. Therefore, Darboe should be in a position where Barrow can consult him without any problems. How about Justice Minister? I know that will mean something else for Mai Fatty. But, Mai is a young lad and should be able to adapt in another area.
Hon. Fatou Jaw Manneh – Secretary to Cabinet
- Sounds good. Safe trip back to Gambia.
As you can see, I was not overly critical of anyone even though I hope the coalition, whenever they finishing deliberating, will not present this list or even a variation of it to us. I think we need more young people and possibly fewer ministries. We do not need to have a position for every coalition member. Barrow should be able to pick some Gambian experts who are not affiliated with any party to serve. Most Gambians at home and abroad sacrificed to get rid of Jammeh so that we can all live in peace and prosperity without fear of arrest or being killed. I think no coalition member should take it personal if they are not able to get a ministerial position. They can serve in different capacities and still make a very big difference.
My last comment on this column will be on another thing that struck me when I saw the list. Every “pick” has “Honorable” in front their name. One of the meanings of the word according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is: entitled to honor —used as a title for the children of certain British noblemen and for various government officials. Do we want to have people who feel entitled to their positions?
At the moment we are dealing with a guy who feels entitled to the presidency and does not want to leave office thus putting our country on a potentially perilous path. Is the title necessary? Probably not. I know this is one of the last vestiges of colonialism but it is one that we can get rid of and still rejoin the Commonwealth. These “picks” should feel lucky that we risked our lives to vote out Jammeh and hire them. When we finally get Jammeh out, all of them should come and be ready to SERVE the Gambian people.
To the appointees listed above, around whom, this piece is written, or any other appointees, come January, by the will of God, just remember that we got Jammeh and handed the government to you. So please, don’t screw it! Good Luck!
Written By Elderly Gambian
Editors note: The views expressed in this write up does not represent the position of the Freedom Newspaper. Thanks for your attention.