Since President Adama Barrow came to power in January, the political neophyte has been faced with making critical decisions, some of which have been unpopular.
Being the Head of State means leadership and leadership mean making unpopular decisions even when citizens do not understand that it is in their best interest. You are only left with the confidence that they will come to realize and praise your choices long after you are gone.
President Barrow took a reconciliatory approach to the post-electoral skirmishes in Foni at a time that the population wanted a strong military response to silence supporters of former President Yahya Jammeh.
Many regarded him an unfirm leader instead of a wise man, who decided to trek the path of Jedidiah and avert descending the country into a conflict that may turn tribal. If I call him Solomon now, I will be roasted like his political godfather, Ousainou Darboe for calling him, Moses.
While I believe that Barrow has to assert his authority, I also knew that he could not make hasty decisions. He has to present tough decisions to the nation in as positive a light as possible.
Change cannot happen overnight, not especially with a system and a culture of nepotism that has been entrenched since the birth of our nation. Purging the government of those that have been hired without due process or proper qualification can take time.
Waking up the next day to fire everyone, even known Jammeh allies could mean handicapping the government with devastating effects on our country, security, and economy.
Barrow was a political newcomer and mean well for The Gambia but within the few months that he has been in office, it is safe to say that he was observant and learning. And learned he did.
Barrow has shown a degree of firmness following the unpopular Kanilai revolt, warning that he will not allow the country to descend into chaos. But what has been seen as the new leader finally flexing his muscle is the firing of his security minister, Mai Ahmad Fatty.
Fatty was considered by some government supporters as the most proactive minister in the unity government. He was firmer that Barrow when it comes to dealing with Jammeh’s supporters and portrayed a no-nonsense attitude towards those regarded troublemakers.
His firing is unpopular with those that say he is the best in the cabinet. Some have vowed not to support Mr. Barrow unless he reinstates Fatty. They demanded Barrow to justify Fatty’s ouster.
Leaders sometimes have to make tough choices that can result in loss and disappointment to their followers in politics. As Professor Terry Cobb of Pamplin College puts it: such decisions undermine the commitment and cooperation that leaders need from their followers to be effective.
Barrow is not the political novice he was neither is he an indecisive leader. He is a quiet and humble but very firm and principled. He shows a great deal of respect while making unpopular decisions and that should not be mistaken for weakness.
It is not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are. Barrow is guided by his personal core values rather than following a personal agenda.
When a leader acts and makes tough choices, he should remember what is beneficial to as many people as possible. We can all agree that even if you do not support Mr. Barrow, you are convinced he has good intentions for the better welfare of all Gambians.
“An unpopular decision does not make it a bad determination and a popular decision does not make it a good determination,” – Sam Phatey
Barrow knows that change is not optional, and while aspects of the implementation may be open to discussion, the focus is not on “if” but how we are going to move forward into the new reality.
Negative reactions, notwithstanding, can be mitigated by the explanations given for those decisions — explanations that scholars term “social accounts.”
However, the Barrow Administration’s communications strategy has been an abysmal failure. The government has been doing many great things, which have not been properly communicated with the populace.
It makes it look like they are only traveling and getting paid per diems when the whole time a great deal of work has been done. This is unfathomable considering the fact that they have a UN communications expert, who was a former communications director at the Commonwealth Secretariat.
It will be helpful if the State House plans their message, relay information promptly and frequently, deliver messages through audio-visual and allow question and answer sessions to follow immediately, take accountability for their decisions, respect those who resist by being open to dialogue.
This is far better than considering everything as confidential and burying itself in secrets, which only gives rise to more questions and conspiracies. But communicating effectively can make citizens understand that there will be times when authorities have no choice but to do something that is going to be deeply unpopular while taking ownership of what’s about to happen.
People respect leaders who make tough decisions, come to difficult realizations, and then move forward with confidence. That confidence is the very reason why Mr. Barrow refuses to personally sideline those seen by his supporters are political adversaries.
If there is anything to learn from Mr. Barrow: We must respect those who resist. Chances are that those who are slow to come on board probably have good information about what could go wrong.
Make it easy for naysayers to tell you what they think won’t work, and encourage them to become part of the solution. You may find that these will be the very people who’ll roll up their sleeves and help when things inevitably go awry.
Those around the president must learn that not every critic is just scrutinizing for the heck of it. Effective communication and being able to identify rational critics can increase perceptions of fairness and mitigate adverse reactions.
According to Dr. Rebecca Schalm, an organizational psychologist, striving to be liked can be an effective strategy if you expect your tenure to be short-lived or your team to be in transition. Problems start to emerge when such a leader sticks around. What becomes obvious to everyone is that a popular leader is an inconsistent leader.
Barrow is not an inconsistent leader. He wants to be effective and respected. If we want the Gambia to thrive, sometimes tough actions need to be taken. Leaders who are seen as striving to be liked, rather than respected, lose credibility, confidence, and support faster.
This is what has befallen Mai Ahmad Fatty and Barrow those not look like the man that will be a victim of showmanship. Barrow is setting the boundaries for what is needed, whether or not we agree with him or not as long as he believes it is in the best interest of the country.
Even his political godfather, Ousainou Darboe knows this. Barrow does elicit feedback and ideas. No one person has all the answers and therefore, it is incredibly important to gather multiple insights and perspectives to make good decisions.
It takes serious bravery to make an unpopular decision, especially if you know the decision is unpopular before you make it. There is a natural human instinct to want to go along with the crowd. But those that are willing to make unpopular decisions show incredible courage.