Opinion: The Gambia is poor because of corruption of our leaders
Updated: Oct 29, 2022
The Gambia is endowed with abundant natural resources that if properly managed can uplift the country out of abject poverty. Why then it is that this tiny country with all these natural resources remain offensively poor?
Well, the mainstay of this write up is to argue that corruption is the mother of all evils in the Gambia, seconded by leaders whose toxic unfitness for office are open secrets.
Corruption, defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, is a complex and nuanced subject. Nevertheless, we as a people should come to the awareness, sooner, that we have to confront the blight of corruption if there is any chance of sustainable development in the country.
We are confronted with a state capture - a form of grand corruption that is perpetrating the most egregious form of corruption in the Gambia.
These captors – the political elites and their cabal controls economic stranglehold, not just by changing the rules but by compounding their interest, that is, power and wealth.
It is unfortunate that the state captors and their political elites are always one step ahead of us as a people. They exploited our weaknesses by proliferating conspiracies and plots in order to keep us divided.
Our divisions on trivialities like tribalism, regional, religion and gender allows space for the state captors to magnify their web of corruption. The Gambia is a rainbow of tribes and intermarriage between them is second to none in the World.
Yet still, we are fighting on fictitious tribalism that is barely reflected in our social fabric. We may have bigots amongst us whose primary loyalty remains rooted in tribal identity but our tribalism is man made, created by our political elites and the coterie of their criminal gangsters.
They use patriarchy masking as religion and culture using religious and community leaders to salve our pains in order to divert our attention from their pilfering of the state coffers.
The state captors are aware that many of our people are yearning to have a bite of the national cake they are enjoying. The common aim is to gain political office and power and the patronage that goes with it. We are a country where corruption, bribery and graft are accepted and where stealing is a virtue so long as one is not found. That is why they throw crumbs on the feet of their critics and opposition rivals with the aim of trapping them in to joining the gravy train.
Hence, bribery and corruption become a way of life accepted as a means of earning a living. This comes with a heavy price because corruption kills, destroys investor confidence, strangling development, progress and prosperity.
It also facilitates the business of criminality that enriches actors through drugs, money laundering and financial terrorism.
Corruption, I maintain, is a threat to the Gambia because it disproportionately affects poor people; a category many Gambians falls into. And there is no political will from our leaders to change the systemic corruption in the country.
Therefore, the time is now, for the budding generation of Gambians to confront corruption if there will be any glimmer of hope for the future of the country. It is my contention that without progress on corruption, the Gambia will not develop and our sorry plight will not improve.
Hence, corruption is Gambia's vicious circle and has a corrosive effect on efforts to improve governance. Yet improved governance is essential to reduce the scope for corruption in the first place.
It permeates our political, social and legal institutions and trickles down to the bedrocks of our society - manifesting in fraud, bribery, extortion, cronyism and nepotism. And because of this, private interests significantly influences the formation of our state's policies and laws to their advantage.
It is therefore, without prevarication that the state capture corruption is fuelling injustice, inequality, deprivation and it is a major catalyst for youth’s irregular migration and the huge unemployment rates in the country.
However, cynicism over corruption is undermining the Gambia. This distrust feeds corruption and dissuade people from holding their leaders accountable. We are seeing people with supersonic speed lifted from being rags to riches, building mansions within a short space of five years of president Barrow’s leadership.
Alas, the promise of good government has given way to corruption and protecting corrupt officials loyal to the president from investigation. And, because of party political consideration, in order to ensconced himself to perpetual leadership, president Barrow is purging state institutions of perceived critics.
In this drive, the virus of tribalism is planted in the body politics of the Gambia. In contemporary Gambia, the interest of president Barrow, his ruling clique and the party becomes more important than the national interest .
They meddle with institutions of state or undermine certain of the institutions of democracy in order to protect the president and his close allies. The proliferation of unnecessary but deals infected with corruption as senior officials including the president, lining their pockets and his political party filling their coffers with what is clearly bribery and corruption money.
Public appointments are made not on ability, integrity or capacity to do the job - but fealty to Barrow and his political party –“the stench of corruption in the Gambia is overwhelming.
We have a leader in president Barrow and his coterie of corrupt officials, who are only focusing as much attention on their bank balances than the lives of poor Gambians. That is why, the Gambia, under Barrow has climbed new heights in breath-taking levels of corruption.
We are witnessing the total abrogation of transparency, accountability, and the rule of law.
Our public sector is bloated but the president refused to implement the Civil Service Reform because to him that is not a good political move. Our small businesses are squeezed in favour of Senegal’s because someone somewhere is only interested in his selfishness interest.
It is therefore, with immense sadness that some fig-leaves of sometimes well-intentioned academics with some intellectual heft are supporting the dishonesty and corruption of a Barrow government.
I decry the fact that the quest for money has displaced the quest for public honour. Because if the people who are supposed to know, think that Barrow’s character flaws and administrative incompetency is good for the Gambia, then we are in an awful, increasingly frightening mess.
The system as a whole must change. Only then will good people have the opportunity to serve their country fully and well.
Corruption cheats the Gambian people of their lives. And because of it we are poorer - aided by bad governance and poor leadership.
There is the old saying that all political careers end in failure but Barrow’s political career will end in ultimate humiliation if he continues to damage the country’s political, economic and social structures. Until then, it is a national duty to confront corruption.
Ebrima Scattred Janneh (EB)