Conduct Unbecoming Of A President

Gambian President Adama Barrow, in Chatham House, London, UK, April 18, 2018. Source: Wikimedia Commons. License Creative Commons

The Banjul Muslim Elders have, since the colonial times, paid a courtesy call on the head of Government or State at the end of each Islamic Holy month of Ramadan. The meeting is usually a genial affair, with pleasantries exchanged, and the Muslim Elders laying their complaints before their host, who as all politicians do, promise to alleviate the problems highlighted.

An important feature of this annual meeting during the regime of former President Yahya Jammeh, whose dictatorial rule lasted for about 22 years was that he would make a hefty financial donation to the Banjul Muslim Elders, and proceed to lambast and insult them, while they sit mutely with no one daring to cough. Thank God, President Jammeh was voted out of office in December 2016, and after a protracted transition period, he was forced out of the country by a threat of military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), regional bloc.

Former President Jammeh was defeated at the polls by a political neophyte, and un-known quantity, Adama Barrow, who was sworn into office in early 2017. President Barrow was received with a lot of goodwill, and welcomed by Gambians, neighboring countries, and international development partners of The Gambia. Above all, people hoped that he would ensure that Gambians would never again endure the atrocities and persecution they suffered under former President Jammeh.

Although President Barrow reneged on his promise to leave office after a 3-year transition period, and continued to complete his 5-year term, Gambian voters cast that aside and gave him, by providing him a landslide victory in the 2021 Presidential elections, a mandate for his second 5-year term in office.

In April 2022, Madi Jobarteh, a human rights activist in The Gambia published an article saying that Musa Drammeh, the then Minister of Lands, Regional Government and Religious Affairs, should be “removed from public office and prosecuted” for allocating plots of prime land to government Ministers and individuals. About 9 days later, Mr. Jobarteh reported that he had received a letter from Mr. Drammeh’s lawyers, accusing him of defaming their client. The lawyers also asked Mr. Jobarteh to publicly apologize to their client and declare his accusations false or face the risk of being taken to court.

Three days later, on May 2, 2022, President Barrow had a meeting with the Banjul Muslim Elders, and leaders of Islamic groups in The Gambia at State House, his official residence in Banjul. In his remarks at the meeting, President Barrow attacked Madi Jobarteh, accusing him of being one of those people bent on criticizing his government and bringing strife to the country. He went on to say journalists are giving Mr. Jobarteh an audience, and that anyone helping him [Jobarteh] is not helping the country.

President Barrow said that his government should do something about Mr. Jobarteh, and that they will look at his case again. He said that the country cannot go on watching people who want to set it on fire without doing anything about it, and received a rapturous applause from his audience. The government, President Barrow said, will not tolerate this anymore.

The following day, Mr. Jobarteh put out “public notice” to the effect that his life was under threat because he considered President Barrow’s statement the day before a “death threat.” If President Barrow was playing a game of exaggeration, Madi Jobarteh had won hands down because everybody went up in arms in his defense. Thus, support him poured in from Amnesty International, Gambian Civil Society Organizations, journalists, and the Gambian public. Clearly, President Barrow had lost this round, of his fight with Mr. Jobarteh.

As it happens, President Barrow is one of many world leaders (including religious leaders and business executives) notorious for their short temper. Among these are Alexander the Great, Saint Columba of Scotland (born 1,500 years ago), and Margaret Thatcher. The United States of America has also had its fair share of short-tempered Presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, who in 1964 told the Greek ambassador to the US: “F**k your parliament and your constitution …” Recently, President Joe Biden, who also has a short temper, apologized to a CNN reporter for being rude to her, and in January 2021 called a Fox News reporter a “stupid son of a b***h.”

Although President Barrow follows a long line of short-tempered leaders, his recent rant against Madi Jobarteh was not necessary. It is thus evident that he should learn to control his temper, and only open his mouth to make improve things. In addition, he should talk things over with people who do not have any conflicts of interest and can provide him advise about the best response to issues he needs to address.

I think my own experience can help President Barrow manage his temper. One hot afternoon many years ago in Sapu Agricultural Research Station, The Gambia, I presented my research proposal to my colleagues and they tore it apart like vultures. As I sat there helplessly, I had a spiritual experience. Out of nowhere, a voice said to me: “Calm down! Listen to each comment and decide whether it was meant to be constructive and aimed at helping you improve your proposal, or was made in bad faith to destroy you.” I took that to heart, taking onboard the constructive comments, and discarding the malicious ones. The meeting, which started off badly for me, ended well because I learned a lot from my colleagues. Furthermore, the strategy that has served me all my life since that fateful day in Sapu.

I’ve also benefited from dealing with anger by keeping in the cooler, so to speak. Recently, I posted a message on a Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) WhatsApp Group (WAG) I am on, and the Principal of the school blew a fuse! He really got upset and started complaining about comments people (including me) were saying about him, and that he wanted them to stop. However, none of what he was complaining about had anything to do with my post on our WAG. Instead of responding immediately, I went to his office the following day, and had a chat with him.

I informed him that I was surprised and disappointed by his outburst over my message. I told him that I didn’t see why anything I said in my message should have provoked his response. He said that my message came after several messages (which he felt attacked him) were posted on our WAG over the few days prior to my sending my message. As such, he was upset when he responded to those messages and mine. All the same, we had a good conversation over the matter, and he apologized to me for any offense he caused me. And I gladly and wholeheartedly accepted his apology. This story would not have ended the way it did if I also blew my top and went after him for unfairly attacking me.

But President Barrow does not have to follow my example, especially when there are other inspirations with more gravitas than I ever could have. Both the Christian and Islamic faiths frown on people who, like President Barrow in his outburst against Madi Jobarteh, show their short-temper and anger. The Scriptures, for example, tell us (Ecclesiastes 10:4) that “If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place, for calmness will lay great offenses to rest.” In the same vein, the Bible says (Provers 19:11) that “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense”, while Titus (1:7) says that “an overseer [e.g. President Barrow] as God’s steward … must not be arrogant or quick-tempered …

Islam also frowns on short-temperedness, and the Holy Quran as well as the Hadiths (reports of what Prophet Muhammad [Peace and Blessings be Upon Him, PBUH] did and said) provide guidelines on how to handle anger and our tempers. Thus, the Quran (3:134) says that “those who restrain anger, and those who forgive people” are loved by Allah because they are “the doers of good.” In the same vein, Prophet Muhammad, PBUH has been quoted in the Hadiths as saying that the strongest person is one who has the greatest control over his anger, and that the most hated person is one who is the most quarrelsome. Furthermore, Ali ibn Abi Talib, a friend, cousin, and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, said that “a moment of patience in a moment of anger prevents a thousand moments of regret.

As a Muslim, President Barrow should learn from these and many other teachings about anger management. As a leader whose every word people cling to, he should learn to speech with empathy and stop threatening people, as advised by two Hadiths, one saying that “Kind speech and feeding (the hungry) guarantee you Paradise” and the other that “a good word is also a charitable deed.” Allah aside, these words make a lot of political sense, and President Barrow better heed them.

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