Commentary | Leadership deficiency in the face of calamity
Opinion | Basidia M. Drammeh
Leadership deficiency in the face of calamity
The masses look up to their leaders, for solutions, in the face of calamities and crises. The Gambia, unfortunately, seems to be lacking such leadership as Covid-19 turned the country on its head, as the confirmed cases hit the 1,000 threshold since the first case was reported in March.
The social media platforms have been replete with pleas with the President to come out and address the nation in light of the current surge in Covid-19 cases. President Adama Barrow has been in self-isolation for over two weeks after his Vice President contracted the virus, along with a number of Cabinet ministers. However, the President tested negative and was given a clean bill of health. His Vice President equally tested negative in the second round of testing. Yet, neither the Gambian leader nor his Vice President is nowhere to be seen.
A statement as important as the Declaration of State of Emergency was contained in a press release issued by the Government’s spokesperson to the dismay of the general public. The move clearly entails a growing disconnect between the ordinary public and the President, in the face of the gravest situation confronting the nation. The apparent power vacuum has been further compounded by reports that the Speaker of the National Assembly has been on sick leave for over three weeks.
The diehard supporters of the President defended his failure to address the nation, suggesting that he has been in self-isolation, hence couldn’t be adequately briefed about the latest developments. In contrast, the Canadian Prime Minister addressed the nation on a daily basis even though he was in self-isolation after his wife tested positive for Covid-19. Not only did Prime Minister Justin Trudeau constantly reassure the nation but also rolled out massive aid packages to bail out the citizens and businesses that have been adversely impacted by the pandemic. After all, President Barrow could use teleconferencing tools to engage with his Cabinet ministers and top aides to keep posted, being the overall Chief Executive of the country.
Gambia’s response to Covid-19 has been largely characterized by inconsistent and incoherent policies. After repeated renewals of the State of Public Emergency, the President recently scrapped SoPE and replaced it with a set of regulations that empower the Health Minister to take all measures necessary to curb the pandemic. But as Covid-19 cases surged with Cabinet ministers falling victim, the Government hastily announced a new State of Public Emergency including the imposition of a curfew. The move prompted some critics to suggest that the latest strongest measures came as the pandemic hit close to home.
While a section of the citizens lambasts the Parliament for the debacle, due to their failure and reluctance to cooperate with the executive on political grounds, the lawmakers who opposed the extension of State of Emergency raised questions about the seriousness of the Executive in tackling the pandemic, referring to political engagements of the President's newly established National People’s Party (NPP) amid the pandemic. They also raised concerns over possible abuse of the extraordinary powers vested in the President. Critics also claim that the Covid-19 response has been marred by corruption and that the funds allocated to the fight against the virus have been largely mismanaged.
It goes without appealing to the general public to heed the Covid-19 related guidelines and desist from denying the existence of the virus. Covid-19 is real!
In any case, Gambia is in deep crisis and the Gambian leader must engage all the stakeholders, including leaders of political parties, religious and community leaders on the way out of the current quagmire or else we are doomed! The Gambia For All Party issued a strongly worded statement today telling the Gambian leader he cannot take a back seat and expected a miracle to happen.