revelations at the Janneh Commission about the millions of dollars squandered
by former president aided by his gang of thieves - yes, that’s what I call all
who helped him in one way or another, as ministers, businessmen, bank managers,
other government officials, even the messengers - have been shocking to so many
What’s more shocking to me has been that Gambians are surprised by the revelations. The man stood on national television in 1995, handing out a million dalasis each to an entire football team plus officials. No, I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with rewarding footballers who made the country proud. What should have been a rude awakening was that this man was giving out the Million dalasis IN CASH!!! Not checks, not money orders… raw physical CASH, handed out in plastic bags! In addition to the lavish lifestyle by Jammeh and his family, the “rumors” about how he was looting Social Security, GAMTEL and GPA, and his statements that even his great grandchildren will never be poor, the optics of that alone should have been a signal to Gambians that something was seriously wrong! Maybe the people did not receive enough information about enough of the government’s corrupt practices.
Fighting corruption is a compound and complex task. At the core should be ethics teaching and civic education with a view to building or transforming the characters of men. Our homes, schools, religious institutions and other social settings will all need to chip in with focus and consistency. Our legislative and judicial branches need to build and support strong institutions to deal with this disease. Meanwhile, on a short term basis, one group that can make an immediate impact is the Fourth Estate - The Media.
In his book “On Heroes, Hero Worship and the Heroic in History”, Thomas Carlyle wrote,
“Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”
The importance of a free, independent, engaged and responsible media in building and running of a democracy cannot be over-emphasized. It is no coincidence that dictators and authoritarians buy, threaten, arrest, torture, exile and murder journalists just to limit press freedom. Over the tribulations through the 22-year dictatorship, our journalists saw it all. Some were martyred, many fled, some stayed to continue the fight and some buckled by changing careers and some changed by dancing to the dictator’s tunes.
It’s the dawn of a new era, but corruption did not begin with Jammeh and it will not end with him. Corruption is not endemic to Gambia but it’s systemic and it’s ingrained. It’s a problem in all nations across the world and at all levels of development. Arguably, it happens to be more widespread and overt in developing nations. It would be the height of naivety to believe that corruption ended the moment Jammeh left. Yes, Jammeh was a greedy and “inyaan”. (Sorry, I can’t find an English word strong enough to convey the full meaning. Selfish and narcissistic come close but don’t quite do it justice. It means someone who is pained by the mere thought of seeing anyone but himself achieve anything positive). If there ever was some good to “inyaan” it would be that he was like one chief thief who controlled all the smaller thieves. With him gone, now all the “little thieves” are on the loose and ready to loot. They’re more widespread and ever more elusive, making the task of fighting corruption that much more difficult.
In this recent story, The Point Newspaper reports that The Gambia’s Youth and Sports minister, Henry Gomez, recently spent D800,000 to purchase 10 air tickets for basketball players to travel from The Gambia to Togo. D80,000 ($2000) per air ticket to Togo? Were they travelling on private jets with Tom Price, Trump’s former Health and Human Services Secretary who was forced to resign for excessive travel costs??? (Even if Henry Gomez really paid that amount for the air tickets, he needs to be fired. The Barrow Government better investigate this matter. Anyway, I digress. Let’s shelve Henry for now.) For now, I would like to focus on the media. I find it very encouraging, and extremely gratifying, that The Point Newspaper, whose founder and Managing Director, Deyda Hydara, executed by the former dictator’s agents, has continued on the work that he lived and died for.
To quote Carlyle again, in “The French Revolution: A History”, he wrote,
“A Fourth Estate, of Able Editors, springs up, increases and multiplies; IRREPRESSIBLE, INCALCULABLE.”
All credit to Pap Saine and the rest of The Point’s management and staff for staying the course in that impossible environment after Deyda’s murder. To not only survive that era, but to also set the pace with this relevant piece in NewGambia, shows that IRREPRESSIBLE attitude Carlyle says the media requires in a democracy. I don’t know of a better way to honor a martyr than to continue to uphold the principles and ideals he lived his life upholding.
We need intelligent journalists who can put stories together in an informative and comprehensible manner. We need journalists who will not sit at desks waiting for stories. We need journalists who will lace their boots and do some thorough investigative work to get relevant stories to the people. We need journalists who will not be afraid to challenge the status quo and who will speak truth to power. We need journalists who will not take sides or get personal when doing their job. We need journalists who will be objective and follow a story regardless of who it may not please.
With The Point setting the pace with “irrepressible”, our country needs the “incalculable” to come true. Our government, media houses and aspiring journalists must invest time and resources in educating and training journalists in multiples, with the kind of passion, commitment, professionalism and sincerity that makes governments respect and fear the press.
We need another Baboucarr Gaye (Citizen FM Radio and Newspaper) and another George Christensen (Radio 1). We need the next Kenneth Y Best and Ndey Tapha Sosseh (Daily Observer Newspaper) and another Baba Galleh Jallow (Independent Newspaper). We need another Deyda Hydara (The Point Newspaper).
We need them all - Irrepressible and Incalculable!