The ongoing internal investigation into transferred of 33 million Dalasis into First Lady Fatoumata Bah-Barrow’s foundation (FaBB) account is a manufactured crisis by people who are advising the First Lady. The First Lady of The Gambia and her team should have known at the beginning that having a foundation is a bad political strategy which will give taint and corrupt legacy to President Adama Barrow, despite whatever good purpose the foundation may have at this time in our national development efforts.
The Gambia has gone through 22 years of military dictatorship during which there were many phony foundations set up for economic mismanagement and exploitation of Gambian people. The Jammeh Foundation for Peace was one prominent example which was used as an economic exploitation mechanism by former President Yaya Jammeh, his family and cronies. Millions of dollars intended for the Jammeh Foundatio to improve healthcare delivery system in the country were diverted into personal accounts of Dictator Jammeh and his wife. The Current commission of inquiry probing into the financial activities of former President Jammeh and his cronies has clearly shown that Jammeh foundation was not speared from rampant corruption and exploitation. If this is the evident we are to go by, why would the First Lady Fatoumata Bah-Barrow and people who advise her even set up a foundation on her name if they truly want to have a good legacy for President Barrow?
The FABB Foundation has been registered as a non-profit organization in The Gambia purposely to engage in philanthropic and humanitarian efforts to complement national development. While philanthropic effort is a good idea but the board members of foundation must remember that the First Lady is not an ordinary citizen because her husband is the President of The Gambia. Any activity that the First Lady embarks on during her husband’s presidency will be scrutinized for corruption and mismanagement of our meager resources. Being a First Lady is a privilege due to the trust and confidence bestowed on the President of The Gambia by voters.
In many advanced democracies, foundations associated with wealthy private citizens, local communities, former Presidents or First Ladies are set up as charitable organizations that are either privately owned and funded or public funded through government and community efforts. When foundations are established by a First Lady or former President, it is usually founded during post presidency. Example in the United States, the Clinton Foundation was founded when President Bill Clinton left office to avoid political corruption and influence. Clinton foundation was specially well recognized since its inception due to its advocacy and philanthropic efforts “to create economic opportunity, improve public health, and inspire civic engagement” in improving lives in the United States and around the world.
The fundamental question every single citizen is asking is: where is the fund of FABB coming from? Is it private or public funded? If the FABB is private funded, who is providing the funding and for what purpose? What relationship did this private donor(s) have with President Barrow? These are all legitimate questions which have both legal and political implications.
Politically, we have seen opponents of President Barrow using the transfer of the supposed 33 million Dalasis into FABB account as a political tool to suggest corruption and financial mismanagement by the office of First Lady. The office of First Lady has created this unnecessary and ill-advised charity organization which has affected the reputation and character of both the First Lady and her husband in the court of public opinion while the investigation is ongoing. In the near future, there could be a commission of inquiry to look into financial activities of both President Barrow and the First Lady when Mr Barrow leaves office just like the current administration is probing into financial activities of Dictator Jammeh and his cronies. The First Lady and her team should have learned from this recent commission and avoid repetition of the same old financial scheme of hoodwinking Gambian people. President Barrow should work hard to leave decent, corruption-free and dignified legacy that will serve as an example for future leaders and democratization of the country.
The office of First Lady should disband FABB as soon as possible and advocate for a specific policy goal which will serve the common interest of Gambian people. In many civilized democracies, First Ladies usually choose a particular platform which has direct impact on the lives of ordinary citizens. This was what Michelle Obama did when she focused specifically on combating childhood obesity in the United States during her husband’s presidency. Michelle launched series of programs such as “Let’s Move” initiative designed to encourage physical activities, she cultivated vegetables garden at White house, promoted public education on healthy eating and advocated for accessibility of heathy foods in local communities. All these programs were designed to improve healthy food consumption in order to reduce childhood obesity in the United States. Similarly, former First Lady Hilary Clinton took healthcare as her signature platform during President Bill Clinton’s presidency. Mrs Clinton campaigned for universal healthcare system and advocated through congress for affordable healthcare delivery for all Americans. Today, Americans are grateful to both Mrs Obama and Clinton’s efforts to improve the lives of ordinary citizens, resulting to the translation of their high public approval rating and popularity.
The First Lady of The Gambia needs to pick up a particular platform and advocate through the National Assembly to advance policies or laws that would improve lives of ordinary citizens. This will bring transparency and accountability in whatever activities she is embarking on. It will also serve as a good legacy for her office as well as an exemplary for future First Ladies. This is what our country needs. At the end, Our reputation and character are the only legacy that matter to people when we leave highest office or this world.