#Article (Archive)

OPINION:The Gambia political democratic rule ended in 1994

Oct 28, 2019, 12:56 PM

Since he was ushered onto The Gambia’s political scene in the tense and waning days of the interregnum between the colonial administration and self-rule the notion that Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, the founding father of the Gambia, was a leader with exceptional qualities has been universally present in the conscious or subconscious minds of all senior adult Gambians who witnessed his extraordinary rise to power and the deliberate and measured manner in which he exercised that power for decades. It would not be unrealistic to assume that even younger Gambians born just before and immediately after Sir Dawda’s democratic rule ended in 1994 must have learned from their parents or grandparents that he was a good, able and amiable leader. On the 27th of August 2019, Sir Dawda passed away at the age of 95. At the state- sponsored funeral service in the National Assembly in Banjul on the 29th of August several prominent Gambians including President Adama Barrow, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mrs. Mariam Jack Denton, the Chief Justice, Mr. Hassan B. Jallow, Mr. Omar Jallow (OJ), former Agriculture Minister under Sir Dawda and Mr. Sidia Jatta, National Assembly Member gave moving tributes extolling the virtues of Sir Dawda’s leadership and his remarkable accomplishments as the first President of The Gambia. Similar glowing eulogies were given through various media outlets by other Gambians at home and abroad while prayers were offered in various religious gatherings. At private homes, work places and places of social rendezvous throughout the country Sir Dawda’s life and legacy drew lavish praise from Gambians from all walks of life for many weeks following his passing.

I was abroad when Sir Dawda died in August. On my return I listened to the tapes of the various tributes paid to the late President at the state funeral service as noted above. In this brief Note some of the salient points made by the individual speakers at the state funeral relating to Sir Dawda’s unique character and style of leadership will be highlighted and discussed in the broad context of some Islamic virtues and the cardinal virtues associated with great leaders since ancient times, and on the basis of my own experience as a senior officer, speech-writer and Technical Adviser on the Senegambia Confederation under the direction of the Secretary General in the Office of the President during the second half of the 1980s.

According to the Virtuous Leadership Institute, leadership involves inter alia the practice of human virtues (https://www.virtuousleadership.org/history). As virtue essentially constitutes moral habits of behavior, people of high moral standing, like Sir Dawda, tend to act in accordance with values and principles, rather than by whims and caprices. They tend to be honest and just, respectful, thoughtful and courageous. These virtues are all related to the four cardinal virtues of ancient philosophy, namely prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance or moderation as well as the Islamic virtues of humility, patience, forgiveness, courtesy and discipline.  Leadership in general is a complex subject and it has been conceived and analyzed in various ways by various researchers. For example, according to the Machiavellian “school”,  a leader (the Prince) who wants to maintain his power ought to know that he is not always obliged to do good. He should be both ‘a fox and a lion’ - a power seeker with a spirit that changes along with the wind of fortune (cited in J.T. Wren et al eds., Traditional Classics on Leadership, Northampton, MA, 2004). Others see leadership as a function of the acceptance of followers- the leader-led relationship concept.  In recent times, some social scientists have turned their attention to issues relating to identifying the sources of leadership: To what extent does the social and political system elevate certain individuals to prominence? Are leaders representative of the larger society, in other words, from what segments of society do leaders come from? What are the avenues or channels of their ascent to power? It is not the intention here to examine these questions and other theories of leadership such as the transactional and transformational leadership theories. For the purpose of this Note, we focus on the notion that leaders emerge as a result of the tensions or demands of a particular time ( Lester G. Seligman,  “The Study of Political Leadership”, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Dec., 1950), pp. 904-915) ; in other words, a great leader is often the product of great historical moments and one who has a clear understanding of the significance and demands of those moments. Jawara emerged to preeminence in1959 at a critical time in Gambian history. It was a time of great anticipation for self- rule and independence in the Gambia and throughout the European colonies in Africa and a time of intense rivalry within the small elite of Gambian politicians for recognition and leadership. The country was effectively dichotomized between the colony, a comparatively small colonial settlement around the capital Bathurst and the rest of the country, the protectorate which was largely neglected during much of the colonial period. This clear division created by the colonial administration and deliberately maintained because of administrative convenience but largely because of the longstanding reticence of the British to invest in the colony and its related hinterlands. The result of this colonial disposition was major structural imbalances and economic, political and social inequities that the post colonial independent government had to address as a priority.  When Jawara accepted the invitation by prominent Gambians of protectorate origin to head their newly formed political party, the Protectorate People’s Party, he had a clear perception of the pressing needs and challenges of the time. At the time of this invitation Jawara was a senior civil servant and head of a department but never an emergent career politician. He was thus inducted to head the new party, but he willingly accepted the challenge, because he realized that he was at the beck and call of a historic moment and of the Gambian people. As noted in the Talmud, “It can be proved by the Law, The prophets and The Writings that a man is led along the road he wishes to follow” (cited in Alfred D. Steinberg, “On Immortality”, Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences V 71 N 3 September 1981 (pp147-151).  Jawara thus arrived at the helm of the new party fully formed and ready to carry the heavy burden of the hopes and aspirations of an incipient nation whose immediate prospects for self-rule were perceived in some quarters (particularly among the departing colonial administrators and their superiors in the Colonial Office) with apprehension, and whose long term survivability as an independent sovereign state was associated with trials, tribulations and improbability. Jawara’s first order of business was to convince his enlisters to remove any semblance of territoriality in the new party’s nominal identity. With its acronym intact, the Protectorate People’s Party became the People’s Progressive Party implying a more broad-based and inclusive organization not only in name but also in composition and practice, as it became apparent subsequently.

Upon assuming the leadership of the PPP, Jawara showed a single minded focus on mobilizing the population for the attainment of independence without delay. This was made explicit in the party’s Independence Manifesto calling for internal self-government in 1961 and full independence in 1962. Meanwhile, Jawara‘s key rival P.S. Njie, Chief Minister and leader of the United Party was busy with his “Gambia is in no hurry” (for  independence) slogan stressing their belief in “evolution and not revolution” as his patty’s rallying  cry during the campaign for the 1962 elections. At a campaign rally in Bathurst he had some strong words for the opposition PPP: “The more I look at the People’s Progressive Party the more I discover what is foul and filthy in this organization. Their intention is to leave the West and join Ghana and Russia,” (Raya Dunayeskaya, “In The Gambia during elections”, Africa Today v9 n6 1962, p.14).  Although the PPP failed to meet its targets for internal self-government and independence, according to their manifesto, the party continued to forge ahead, generating significant momentum which resulted in their victory in the 1962 elections thus becoming the majority party in the House of Representatives. Full internal self-government was attained in 1963 and independence followed two years later with Jawara as Prime Minister.

As mentioned earlier, some remarks were made in the various tributes delivered at the state funeral service which revealed a number of essential attributes of the late president’s personality and leadership style. What follows is a brief discussion of selected remarks by the various speakers as they relate to the purpose of this Note.

President Barrow

In his tribute President Barrow described Sir Dawda as a distinguished statesman, a compassionate leader and a unifying force. A statesman is a political figure who is widely recognized and respected for his wise and skilled management of public and international affairs. To be a distinguished statement is to be conspicuously eminent in managing both domestic and international affairs, with patience, compassion, respect, magnanimity and fortitude as Sir Dawda had done throughout his political career. A compassionate leader is a sympathetic and empathetic leader, like Sir Dawda. These and allied virtues also made him a unifying force, as the president stated. The efforts he made to refocus the PPP as an all- encompassing umbrella political organization rather than a parochial or provincial organization was the first major indication that he was endowed with a significant repertoire of leadership skills. As a force for unity and integrated nation-building, Jawara’s unflinching determination to maintaining an open political space for wider and greater participation in the democratic process- pluralism, through which citizens could perceive a stake in national affairs was one key way of ensuring unity among Gambians and promoting social and economic development. During the celebrations marking the 11th anniversary of The Gambia’s independence and following the attainment of Republican status, a journalist representing the Senegalese magazine, “Griot du Cayor” (No.16,1976) noted that through Jawara’s “open-mindedness and “selflessness” he had maintained a multi-party system in the Gambia and wanted to know if that could lead to difficulties in the government’s ability to maintain stability and promote “socio-political evolution of the masses”. The president’s response was simple but emphatic: “On the contrary, liberty can’t exist in a country where the sense of liberty and the feeling of liberty are absent. Liberty of meeting the freedom of the press and freedom of speech…All these can exist but in a pluralism of political parties. In a state where there is but one single party these liberties are restricted…the existence of several parties makes it possible for the creation of a national unity…”(p.7).

The journalist further asked Jawara to respond to accusations that there were only Wollofs in his government. “The accusation is groundless,” he answered;“…there are Fulas, Sarakoles and mandingos…the wollofs are a minority in my government…” (pp. 9-10). In fact, generally, Sir Dawda tried to ensure that the composition of his cabinet always reflected, as much as possible, the ethnic contours of the country. It was largely because of his open-mindedness, recurrent electoral successes and constant calls for national unity that led to a spate of defections from the leading opposition parties, and all new comers to his party were received with open arms and in many cases given prominent appointments in government. By the sheer force of his personality and his vision for the country and his commitment to a united and prosperous nation, he was able to hold together the social edifice of the nation seen around the world as a stable and peaceful country. By the 1972 elections the country came under a single dominant party not by coercion or policy but by default, arising largely from the steady decline in the popularity of other political parties including the UP. By and large, the country became unified under Sir Dawda’s leadership in spite of the formation of a new political party in 1975 under the leadership Sheriff Mustapha Dibba, a former PPP bigwig.

Speaker of the National Assembly

The Speaker of the National Assembly made two critical remarks that drew attention to Sir Dawda’s unique leadership style and his achievements during his tenure. She stated that the late president led with decency, dignity and sound judgment and that he “developed the country from scratch”.

Sir Dawda’s reputation for common sense, decency and grit was always apparent in his staunch adherence to recognized standards of righteous, honest and proper behavior. His calm and dignified style of leadership enabled him to confront complex and heavy-duty issues with circumspection, perspicacity and prudence, and to make decisions based on reason and studious assessment of the facts before him, uninfluenced by emotion or personal prejudice. His virtuous leadership style was clearly ennobled by his pleasant and sublime personality, typified by an unmistakable trained intellect and sobriety of thought, speech, and action. In all his written speeches, for example, he made sure that they contained no strong language of any kind (the virtue of good speech, Al-Quraan 22:24). I recall a case of one draft speech prepared for him for delivery as Secretary General of the PPP at one of the party’s congresses in the 198os. In that draft, he deleted all references to “Comrades!” as a salutation to party members. The word comrade could simply mean, friend, companion or an associate in a political party; but because it historically referred to a member of the Communist Party or someone with strongly leftist views, he would not use it.  Sir Dawda was essentially a third way politician with no pronounced inclination toward either left or right. He was a straight, judicious and humble centrist but constantly and fiercely focused on the task of advancing the interest of the Gambia and supporting all efforts aimed at safeguarding human rights everywhere.

Upon the attainment of political independence the new government of Prime Minister Jawara was faced with enormous tasks of nationhood. First and foremost was the widespread apprehension about the Gambia’s viability as a nation-state; such apprehension was fed largely by perceptions of the country’s small and peculiar size and location and the fact that it was and still remains ill-endowed with natural resources, safe for its resilient and resourceful people. In addition, the country inherited numerous and monumental challenges including vastly underdeveloped infrastructure, poor, inadequate and fragmented social services as well as weak economic and administrative institutions. As the Colonial Annual Reports for the years 1952-1955 showed, developments in all sectors including agriculture, forestry, fisheries and the social sectors were essentially rudimentary. To address these pressing inadequacies and problems, the new government quickly embarked on fostering and strengthening a common sense of citizenship and national identity among Gambians, imbued with self-confidence and a desire for self -reliance following the negative effects of colonial domination such as economic and social distortions and retardation.

Within the first year of independence the country gained membership of the UN, OAU and the Commonwealth, and introduced ‘right hand drive’ throughout the country.  By the end of the first ten years of independence, major improvements in social services in the provinces, particularly medical services to control the scourge of malaria, leprosy, sleeping sickness and other diseases as well as the expansion of educational provisions in many areas of the country were registered. Other landmark developments during this period included the commencement of critical infrastructural programs and projects including road construction and Banjul port reconstruction; establishment of the central bank as a symbol of national sovereignty, the Ministry of Economic Planning to guide medium and long term development initiatives; and the start of tourism promotion as part of the government’s economic diversification strategy. On foreign affairs, the government adopted a pragmatic and gradual approach to opening diplomatic missions abroad. Immediately after independence, the first two missions were opened in London and in Dakar, with the High Commissioners accredited to both their host countries as well as to neighboring countries in each of their respective regions. Over time more diplomatic ties were established in tandem with the country’s economic growth (The Gambia Information and Broadcasting Services, “The Gambia-Ten Years of Nationhood”, 1975). The drive for growth and development continued through the mid 1980s when the economy suffered major setbacks arising mainly from steep global recession following the second oil shock of 1979, persistent droughts, declining world market prices for the country’s domestic exports and increased public expenditures. Working in close partnership with the World Bank, the IMF and other donors the crisis was brought under control through comprehensive and rigorous adjustments and reforms backed by a strong political will on the part of the government. The reforms enabled the government to reconfigure its development strategy and focus more on improving productivity and stimulating growth on a sustainable basis.

Some observers have noted that while the great paladins or vanguards of the independence movement in Africa were effective in the decolonization process, they, however, fell awfully short in the process of nation-building (Ladipo Adamolekun, “Political Leadership in Sub-Saharan Africa: From Giants to Dwarfs”, International Political Science Review, April 1988, pp. 95-106).  After independence a good number of African leaders were more engaged in national populism and the pursuit of ideological purity. Perhaps the stark record of leadership failures in the region confirms that. Sir Dawda, the figure head in the negotiations and driving force for The Gambia’s independence, was a clear and convincing exception. After the attainment of political independence in 1965, Sir Dawda immersed himself in the task of nation-building, economic planning and development management in general. From the early stages in the late 1960s through the turbulent period of economic reforms and stabilization in the mid1980s he constantly exhibited extensive and deep understanding of the complexities of the development process and kept abreast of program and project activities in all sectors. All those who worked with him within and outside cabinet must have realized how engaged he was and the prodigious and eidetic memory he possessed in readily recalling details of development plans and project implementation trends.  He was a genuine “hands on” leader as he devoted his energies to the task of developing the country “from scratch”.

The Chief Justice

Having served Sir Dawda’s government as Justice Minister for a decade, current Chief Justice, Mr. Hassan Jallow, provided deep insights into the late president’s infrangible commitment to justice, the rule of law and human rights in his tribute statement. In that statement the Chief Justice highlighted some key attributes or virtues of Sir Dawda’s personality and style of governance: That he was a true humanist and a strong and scrupulous adherent to political pluralism, democracy and the rule of law; that he did not embrace these qualities for political expediency but that these qualities, and more were integral to his fine character.

To describe Sir Dawda as a humanist is wholly befitting. Humanists are motivated by compassion; they recognize the worth of every individual and each is treated with dignity and respect; they are strong advocates of democracy, multi-party politics, the rule of law and a rational approach to decision making. The Chief Justice pointed out that on every step of the way to independence, Sir Dawda proved his skeptics wrong, not least the departing colonial administrators who doubted the ability of the Gambia to manage its own affairs upon gaining independence. Among the leading colonial skeptic was Governor Sir Edward Henry Windley (1958-2962), who appointed P.S. Njie as Chief Minister. In an address to the House of Representatives at a session held on the 19th of April 1961, he said the Gambia’s economic and political future must be considered “against the background of what may be described as the accident of history which created the Gambia too small and too ill-endowed with natural resources to develop economically in isolation”(The Gambia Echo,1 May 1961).  (In fact, it had been said that this Governor took it upon himself to explore the possibility of a union with Senegal). During the Independence Conference in 1964, the Colonial Secretary himself expressed “disappointment” about the financial position of the country, implying the need for the Gambia to forge ties with its neighbors. These and other remarks by the colonial administration led the Rev. J.C. Fye to oberve that “The aim of the British is to edge us toward Senegal, they do not want to see us independent.” Jawara’s reactions to such remarks reflected solid reasoning which effectively silenced many of the doubting Thomases. He argued that “before you establish ties with independent countries your own country should first be independent” to give you the authority and legitimacy to enter into international agreements.  Furthermore, in direct response to the comment that given its small size and its lack of ‘rich resource’ The Gambia ‘dare not claim its freedom’, he said:  “This argument is not valid as all peoples, rich or poor, are equally entitled to freedom”( Dunayeskaya 1962,p.14). In accordance with his firm and consistent position, the Prime Minister made direct contacts with Senegal immediately after independence, to build upon earlier informal consultations following the attainment of internal self-government.

It is important to recall that the colonial administrators’ skepticism about the Gambia’s future had deep historical roots. Ever since the British discovered that the settlement had little to offer by way of wealth for the Imperial government, they began to show little interest in the general security and welfare of the colony. In fact back in 1870 a member of the House of Lords described the Gambia as “an absolute burden without any redeeming characteristics” (quoted in H.A. Gailey, A History of the Gambia, London, 1964, p. 86). This in essence was the driving force behind the unsuccessful attempt to surrender the territory to France in exchange for a more profitable settlement elsewhere. Jawara, however, was able to overcome this lingering grim pessimism about the Gambia’s fortunes and turn it into a palpable and reassuring optimism in the run up to self-rule and independence.

President Jawara rarely quoted any notable authority on any subject. During his inaugural address on 11 may 1987 at the McCarthy Square in Banjul following his victory at the polls in 1987, however, he quoted the following words of a prominent American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr,(with the 1981 abortive coup in mind): “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination for injustice makes democracy necessary.” In addition, he reaffirmed his government’s continued commitment to the democratic process. “We in the Gambia decided long time ago on the necessity for a democratic way of life and today, I wish, on behalf of the Gambian people, to re-affirm our commitment to the democratic process and the rule of law, and the pursuit of nation- building within that framework.” The Gambia’s adoption of the parliamentary system of government under Sir Dawda’s leadership was clearly not accidental. His first major public indication of his commitment to democracy was given during the independence conference held in July 1964 at Marlboro House in London. In his response to the opening remarks of the British Colonial Secretary, Duncan Sandys , who spoke intently on the difficulties and challenges of nationhood particularly for a small poor country like the Gambia, the future Gambian Prime Minister and President  made explicit his intentions  for his country. He stressed that his delegation were fully aware that independence came with challenges, “challenges of hard work, sensible planning, patience and tolerance”, but that he and the Gambian people remained confident in facing those challenges. On the matter of democracy, Jawara added, “The Gambia’s reputation as a peaceful, friendly and law-abiding country is well known…We will continue to practice the democratic principles which you have bequeathed to us and make the Gambia a shining example of democracy and stability” (The Gambia News Bulletin, 23 July 1964).

In a similar vein, in his reply to the remarks of the Duke of Kent (representing the Queen) on the occasion of the first Opening of Parliament in 1965 in Bathurst, Jawara declared, again making reference to tolerance: “We are determined that the parliamentary democracy that has been bequeathed to us by our British friends shall be maintained by tolerance, goodwill and the common goal of the common good” (Sessional Paper No. 2 1965).

Sir Dawda’s commitment and approach to enforcing the rule of law was consistently straight-laced.  Perhaps one of the best examples of his demonstration of this commitment was when rumors were circulating on the West African coast in the mid 1980s that some unscrupulous individuals on foreign vessels were attempting to negotiate with some governments in the sub-region to dump hazardous material in the area reportedly for cash.  When Sir Dawda learned about this while he was abroad, he immediately instructed his Attorney  General and Minister of Justice to immediately introduce a bill in parliament making dumping of any harmful material within the Gambia illegal and punishable by fine and imprisonment.  In order to make his views clearly known on this issue he later put up a minute on file condemning any attempts to dump any hazardous material within the territorial and maritime boundaries of the Gambia, and that any such attempts should be rejected “out of hand” as deplorable “in the extreme”. The result of his intervention was the enactment of the Environmental Protection (Prevention of Dumping) Act of 1988.

Former Minister OJ Jallow

In his passionate and glowing tribute to his late mentor, former minister Omar Jallow (OJ) and one of the prominent political disciples of Sir Dawda offered some important highlights of the late president’s achievements and a profile of his personality and leadership style, with special emphasis on his humility and high level tolerance. To demonstrate Sir Dawda’s yen for unity OJ cited his rejection of tribalism or any other form of sectionalism; he recalled a number of occasions when the late president in pursuit of a united front for national development invited leaders of opposition parties to meet with him to confer and deliberate and take joint on issues of national importance in a non-political and salubrious atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration. All this was happening in the Gambia at a time when the trend in many African countries was to suppress and frustrate opposition parties.

Another point that OJ raised says a lot about the late president’s true values, namely that Sir Dawda never used his office or massive influence to benefit any member of his family. The civil service is one area unscrupulous leaders use to help members of their families, friends and political supporters. Sir Dawda had never interfered in the running of the civil service and never used it for the benefit of his family, because he genuinely honored and respected the institutional norms of the civil service- its tradition, merit-based, professional and politically neutral status. Furthermore he never placed any member of his family on the path of lucrative ventures in the Gambia’s thriving private sector. Sir Dawda never used his position to create wealth for himself in any form. Some would argue that he indeed denied his own family and indeed himself from the many privileges and appurtenances associated with the highest office in the land. He was content with his earned income as head of state. His primary concern was to serve his people with humility and grace. As OJ put it, “Sir Dawda was a great man who had nothing to think about except the welfare of the Gambian people”.

National Assembly Member Sidia Jatta

In his remarks, the National Assembly Member Mr. Jatta stated that Sir Dawda never got angry with anybody or over anything; he ardently spoke about how calm and collected the late president behaved even under attack or provocation, describing him as a model of a leader who belongs to the dedicated ranks of the immortals. Many of those who knew the late president would confirm that they never saw him display anger or even raise his voice, always genial with a first rate sangfroid or imperturbability in full display- even in the most trying circumstances. For example, there had been several instances (one of which I witnessed in the old Cabinet Office in State House during a press briefing sometime in 1987) in which contumacious individuals posing as professional journalists coarsely and obstinately confronted  him with questions ostensibly intended to unfairly denigrate government policy. True to character, Sir Dawda always handled all such situations without any rancor whatsoever (but while some of his high ranking staffers simmered with rage), but simply with a laconic, relevant and polite reply, leaving the offending pugnacious ‘journalists’ effectively disarmed. Such demonstration of uncommon restraint by a powerful executive was typical of his behavior in office, which exemplified the Islamic virtues of humility and tolerance-  Al-Quraan (25:63), the true believer and servant of Al.lah “are those who walk upon the earth easily (gently and without arrogance) and when the ignorant address them (harshly) they say (words of) ‘peace’” Related to his humility is his virtue of forgiveness. I accompanied the late president at an ECOWAS annual summit meeting in one of the member states in the mid 1980s, and an incident occurred there  that revealed Sir Dawda’s immeasurable capacity for forgiveness. A young man who was allegedly involved in the 1981 coup attempt in the Gambia and who escaped and settled in that member state wanted to meet Sir Dawda at his hotel residence. Some of the security and protocol personnel wanted to keep the young man away; but when he got wind of the man’s request he asked that he be allowed in. When they met, the young man expressed regret for his involvement in the attempted coup and sought forgiveness. Sir Dawda with a gentle smile and with angelic beams of compassion radiating from his face replied along these paraphrased lines: “well you know what you did was unlawful. All you needed to do was to freely participate in the political process by forming a political party and competing for office, but not through arms or violence”. He took some money from his pocket and gave it to the man who left looking immensely relieved – another clear reminder of the man’s high-mindedness and a key religious precept: “Practice forgiveness, (and) command decency...”(Al-Quraan 7: 199); “…Forgive, and you will be forgiven Luke 6:37...

Sir Dawda was more than any ordinary model. He was a peerless example of what is fundamentally good for the public realm. His life story offers countless lessons on and examples of good conduct by a public official for all, especially young or aspiring leaders to learn from. By any standard, he represented the best possible exemplification of honest, selfless leadership anywhere in the world but particularly in poor developing countries where otherwise self- serving leaders plunder scarce resources and stifle the entire polity through mismanagement and the incessant proclivity to control power.

For the purpose of this Note another important remark Mr. Jatta made was that Sir Dawda should be memorialized as an immortal, pointing out that “immortals are those who “lived their lives in the service of others”. Indeed Sir Dawda lived his entire active life working tirelessly to uplift the status of an entire nation and through that he improved the lives of his people, It is the man’s great deeds and thoughts and moral standing that arouse calls for immortalization. Basically, Immortality is relative- how long leaders or society’s outstanding figures are remembered and how many or what percentage of the living at any given time remember them. Cultures and societies differ in the way they honor their greats. According to Alfred D. Steinberg (1981), in Greek, Egyptian and Chinese history great people, artist, scientists and political figures have been remembered for thousands of years. Since Sir Dawda died some two months ago there have been calls to commemorate his legacy by naming at least one national asset in his honor. The Banjul International airport has been mentioned as a good candidate, following the examples of many countries including some of our neighbors in the sub region. In Senegal, Yoff airport was renamed Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in1996 to honor the first president of Senegal and in 2017 the new Senegalese airport in Diass-Thies was inaugurated as the Blaise Diagne International Airport in recognition of Diagne’s  ground breaking election to the French Parliament in 1914 as the first African to serve in that role.  Nigeria’s, busiest airport Lagos International Airport was renamed after General Murtala Muhammed, a young military head of state whose rein was less than a year (July 20, 1975-february 13, 1976) and whose life was cut short by an assassin, but  who inspired a whole nation with his youthful dynamism and vision and vision for his country. Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport of the capital territory of Abuja, the second busiest airport, was named in honor of Nigeria’s first president. Of course honoring great national notables is not limited to international airports although they are useful conduits for name recognition and signification, especially for outsiders. Important business centers, universities, for example, have been named after historic figures. In Britain for instance, two royal navy warships and the main squares in Canary Wharf, the secondary business district of London  have been named after Winston Churchill a former British army officer and wartime prime minister. In the Gambia the choices are limited, but the University of the Gambia could be worthy of consideration at the appropriate time, and if the late president would ever be honored. It was under Jawara’s leadership that major strides were made in developing the country’s tertiary education sector, with the establishment of the Gambia college (from the amalgamation of Yumdum Teachers College with other separate sector training facilities) in 1978, and the creation of the Management Development Institute and the Gambia Technical Training Institute in the early 1980s. In the early 1990’s the government with support of the Commonwealth Foundation commissioned a major consultancy led by high level international educational specialists to look into the most viable options for the establishment of the first university of the Gambia. As part of that effort the former Vice President and Minister of Education Mr. B.B. Dabo led a delegation to a number of Commonwealth Caribbean countries to study the approaches they adopted in developing their higher education system, the University of the West Indies.

Whatever choice, if any, is eventually made to honor Sir Dawda’s achievements and contributions, we should always remember that memorialization or Immortalization requires putting into effect great, befitting and enduring decisions that would help to ensure that his legacy sinks down into the deeper reaches of our collective memory.  Walter Lippmann, a prominent American writer and political commentator, in a tribute to Franklin Roosevelt wrote: “The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on” (quoted in C. Gray and M. McPherson “The Leadership Factor in African Policy Reform and Growth”, Economic Development and Cultural Change, v 49 n 4, July 2001, p. 709). In the grand scheme of things, it is to be expected that Sir Dawda left behind a multitude of men and women equipped with the conviction and the will to carry on with his virtuous way of governance and the humanist manner of his inter-personal relations. Already a number of speakers at the state funeral service had called for action to recognize, preserve and build upon Sir Dawda’s legacy. For his part, President Barrow yearned and prayed for the required strength to “build on the foundation and legacy he left behind”, while OJ passionately and vehemently declared: “(Sir Dawda) you are going physically, but spiritually and mentally you’re with us forever. We will strive to emulate your standards and values” for the younger generations to see and follow. Similarly, the National Assembly Member, Mr. Jatta, called on all to learn from Sir Dawda’s virtues of tolerance, humility and humor “in building this country from where he left it,”

Closing Remarks

The legacy of a political leader is rarely planned; it evolves along his footpaths in the course of his career. The basic test of any political leader is the extent of his achievements. The legacy of Sir Dawda should be understood against the record of dismal failures of African leadership since independence. On Independence Day in 1965, he declared: “In time, Gambians will prove that a small country can stand on its own feet, and play its part in world affairs by providing an example of stability and progress and good sense.” Under Sir Dawda’s leadership Gambians have also proved that their country was equally, in Aristotelian terms, “a good state-a community of common interest dedicated to virtue and justice” {J.T. Wren eds., Traditional Classics on Leadership, 2004, p.xvi).

A single factor that unifies all the tributes selectively reviewed here, tributes by prominent Gambians but of different professional backgrounds, is the convergence of views that Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara was a man of fine mettle, fortitude and firm moral fiber. The late president never got snared by power or the trappings of electoral successes, and if there is any truth in the shibboleth that “politics is a dirty game”, no single streak of Sir Dawda’s vision or actions throughout his career was either dirty or game-like. Rather, and as observed by many, decency, humility and temperance were the hallmarks of his personality, and an enduring commitment to justice and the rule of law and service to country were the guiding principles of his approach to governance.

When all is said and done apropos the unwavering commitment to democratic principles and compassionate leadership, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara was the great man, l’homme fort, of The Gambia and the Africa region.

Dr. K.M.Bayo

October 25, 2019