The crowd that greeted Barrow on arrival at the Banjul airport was indicative that his popularity which saw him trounce Jammeh at the polls last December 1, was still intact.
The circumstances of Barrow’s assumption of office have imposed additional burden on him as he confronts the task of rebuilding The Gambia.
Jammeh’s dispensation had no room for opposition. Anybody who raised a voice against his government was either arrested and jailed, or was eliminated by his agents.
Even in the December election in which he lost, Jammeh seized and detained Chairman of the opposition coalition party and other opposition politicians and only released them from detention after he lost the election.
Jameh’s era was hostile to the press, human rights and pro- democracy groups.
Against this background therefore, it behooves the new president to restore the dignity of the Gambians by organizing transparent elections in the future, guaranteeing freedom of speech and association, promoting respect for human rights and the rule of law all of which suffered greatly under the exiled former president.
Closely associated with the issue of good governance is the worsening poverty and gross infrastructural deficit in the country. The Gambia with a population of about 1.9 million people, has its economy anchored on the diverse eco systems which provides tourism opportunities and a source of income for the government.
The Gambia depends largely on trade, specifically tourism since very little manufacturing takes place in the country.
Agriculture which ranks as the second most viable sector has unfortunately not provided for the food needs of Gambians.
Consequently, the country has faced severe food shortages in the last few years and had to rely on fellow West African countries for food supplies with the national economy depending on foreign loans and development grants to survive.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) of 2007/2008 listed The Gambia as 155 out of 177 countries in the poverty index. The country’s IT infrastructure is perhaps one of the worst in West Africa with only 14 per cent of the population having access to Internet as at 2013.
In the face of this grueling poverty, corruption took centre stage with Jammeh, its greatest beneficiary living in opulence. The former president was believed to have owned nearly half of the successful businesses in The Gambia including choice landed property.
The allegation that the former president left with about $11 million into exile, though yet to be proven speaks of the level of corruption that had bedeviled the Gambian political and economic system in the 22 years that Jammeh held sway.
As Barrow settles down to the task of governance, he should be inspired by two concerns. First, the need to give his nationals cause to smile once again by ensuring that there is a clean break with the 22 years of misrule that characterized Jammeh’s era. He will have to move quickly to enthrone policies that open up the political space, encourage basic freedoms and protect the fundamental human rights of the Gambians.
The second is the need to reciprocate the efforts and contributions of the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) who stood firmly to ensure power transition peacefully to him by providing the kind of leadership that makes the leaders justify their involvement in the The Gambian political impasse.
President Barrow equally has a duty to rebrand the Gambia before the international community having suffered severe image loss due to Jammeh’s intransigence to hand over power after his electoral defeat.
The task ahead may appear herculean but it’s dependent on the calibre of persons who the president would assemble in his cabinet to assist him in the great task of rebuilding The Gambia.
History beckons on President Barrow to change the story of The Gambia for the better.
What he makes of this rare opportunity to change the story of The Gambia therefore will be left for posterity to judge.
Leadership, jornal da Nigéria