African Values., authoritarianism, Democracy, despotism, Dictatorship, Gambia, Gambian Coalition, Yahya Jammeh

System Change Vs. Regime Change

Sometimes one cannot help but wonder if there is a deliberate and calculated attempt designed to undermine The Gambia’s new found and much deserved freedom, or simply an orchestrated plot to disfavor some and any role they may play in the future. Clearly ignorance can be discounted as a premise for some of the narratives being peddled, judging by the caliber of some of the proponents of such narratives. What am I talking about?

From the claims that allowing the dominance of a single party in the executive as well as the legislative arms of government will serve towards the re-introduction of ‘dictatorship’ or the perpetuation of one man rule; to the claims that what we have in place now is a regime change and not a system change, we see a constant attempt to label what we have as ill-suited.

First of all, as evidenced by the democracies we aspire to be, no executive desires an obstructionist legislative arm and so they campaign to control both branches of the government in order to smoothly put their party policies to work. Now the question is; are those policies within the constitutional framework (legal), are they ethical, will they serve the interest of the nation? That determination is usually made at the Independent Electoral Commission where the parties are required to file a manifesto outlining their policies and programs for advancing the nation as a condition for registration as a political party. Therefore, any party that contests elections has by default met the required criteria. Control of both arms of government therefore does not necessarily qualify as a prelude to the introduction of a ‘dictatorship.’ Concerted and coordinated efforts need to be made to actually concentrate more power in the executive than where sovereignty truly resides; in the citizenry, and the good news is that such attempts can be protested against by citizens in a democracy and through independent courts which are currently being set up, so the ‘dictatorship’ narrative is a flawed one devoid of substance.

‘Dictatorship’ is being highlighted because it is a misused term; even in Yahya Jammeh, what we had was more akin to authoritarianism than full blown dictatorship; even if for the simple fact that in some situations he is limited by the constitution as to what he can do (crown himself king, declare a one party state, etc.). What we had was total submission to his authority by all our representatives and civil servants who dare not say or support any position opposite his. That is authoritarianism. The other reason for highlighting the term is that in the next narrative, the term ‘regime’ is being misused as well. Words matter and that is why it is earlier stated that one wonders whether we are being made fearful by design; duped if you like.

A government can be called a regime certainly, but the term is reserved for a disapproving government, one imposed from above; an authoritarian one. In our part of the world, it has become synonymous with militarily imposed authorities headed by ‘strongmen’. Our new dispensation most certainly does not qualify as such; it is a manifestation of the people’s mandate and we have witnessed thus far that they recognize that mandate and respect it. So that too is a flawed narrative, we have a government, as in a democratic one and not a regime as in an imposed one.

A system by nature is intricate, it’s complex and once in place takes a while to redesign, and that is where we are as a country. One of the aspects of the civil service is continuity, which by default means they have adopted strategies for operational efficiency across the various departments; together they constitute the ‘system’ of running the government. On the other hand, since we do not have an authoritarian regime but a democratic government not just in name means there is a complete system change. The judiciary is not taking directives from the executive, the legislature just opened it sessions but we can be hopeful it will be an independent body abiding by the constitution in procedure and oversight functions. The most symbolic of the power of the former regime is the security service and we know they have switched gears in their operations and dealings with the civilian population. For goodness sake we even work five days a week now and in the process eliminating so much waste and back log. What more system change are we advocating for?

Even in business, the introduction of new technology or operating systems require training and adjustment; a process of familiarization and gradual phasing out of the old. Change does not happen overnight and certainly it cannot be expected of a body as complex as the government of a state. Maybe there is need to shrink the size of government, get rid of redundant departments and personnel, break up the merger of some ministries or departments and converge others etc.

The fact is, there needs to be review and assessment of the system to determine where adjustments are needed; a hasty decision in that regard will yield consequences some of which can be long term. You cannot shock a system into change; you gradually phase out dysfunctional ones and institute lasting, more viable and productive ones.

With all that in mind, why are we constantly talking of the need for system change in such vague terms and drawing similitudes between systems that have nothing in common especially by people who are expected to know better; the so called ‘educated elite’?

Like in every narrative, some stand to gain and others stand to lose. If such narrative is upheld, the losers clearly in this case is the people being targeted for failing to institute a system change; the government of the day and by extension the majority of Gambians. Such a narrative is demoralizing and undermines our steady march towards building strong institutions that will serve everyone’s interest and not just a few. It is deceitful at worst and at best shows a lack of patience and gratitude for the monumental achievement we made together as a nation.

The worst is behind us and the rest will take collective concerted effort to achieve, enough of the bickering and untenable stance that pervades our discourse and time to be the change we desire.


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