Leading by example: Gambia’s humble, soft-spoken president

Leading by example: Gambia’s humble, soft-spoken president

Adama Barrow is the very opposite of Yahya Jammeh and so far, his government is too. He is a great listener, soft-spoken, humble and very careful with his words.

When our Associate Editor, Mustapha Darboe asked Barrow about the cost of running the country from a hotel, Barrow timidly turned, bowed his head and admitted the hotel was paid for by taxpayers but could not verify the exact amount being spent.

Barrow came to power in a rather turbulent way. Jammeh had refused to the State House [the seat of the presidency] and he was forced to avert a civil war and run state affairs from a hotel room.

He quickly came under criticism when the media revealed it cost taxpayers nearly D2 million ($50,000) to have President Barrow’s office at the five-star Kairaba Hotel.

He swiftly hurriedly renovation efforts at the State House and the former residence of the vice president. Barrow’s office is the former vice president’s residence in Fajara, a suburb six miles outside Banjul, the political capital.

“The most important element is for the leadership to be exemplary, and as such we must demonstrate by our personal action a commitment to the highest standard of integrity and personal positive reform for the public to follow,” said Barrow.

“The Gambia’s aspiration for inclusiveness that leaves no one behind and builds peaceful and strong communities across the country is vital to the success of our democracy.”

One would have thought Barrow will frown upon criticism of his government, most of which were truly unfair realizing he did not have a proper handing over.

Instead, the no-drama leader welcomed criticism from citizens, who already kept a close eye on his administration.

It followed his refusal to sign an amendment to the law that would have seen his veep pick, Fatoumata Tambajang sworn-in as vice president.

Pro-democracy campaigners took to social media probing the amendment of a discriminatory law that restricts senior citizens from becoming president and vice president as unconstitutional. Activists say it did not follow due process.

With the need for attitudinal change in the country, Barrow chose to listen. Knowing the activists were right, he declined to sign the amendment to the law.

He gracefully embraced dissent not just from the public but even within his cabinet, vowing to defend those that have differing views.

Barrow was an unlikely contender for the presidency. When he was first approached to lead the UDP, he declined twice. After accepting, his first surprise win was at an opposition convention.

His victory in the general elections was as shocking as Donald Trump’s. Although he is a successful self-made millionaire, who got his wealth from real estate, he is nothing like the proud and boastful man, 4,000 miles away in Washington.

17 years ago, Barrow was in the UK studying to become a realtor. Paying through school, he worked double shifts, at least 14 hours to help pay for school and take care of his family in the Gambia.

He came from a poor family in the eastern Gambian region of Jimara. His rise to riches and the presidency did not make him forget his humble upbringing.

Although burly, he is quiet, modest, understated and leading by example. He did not forget that some of those scrutinizing his administration today are those who helped his campaign on social media.

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