Gambians Should not Expect Barrow’s Government to Perform Miracle

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Source: Alhagie Manka

2016 indeed took many political commentators by surprise. From the triumph of Trump in America, to Brexit in U.K., to the “impossible” electoral defeat of tyrants like our own Yaya Jammeh. Apparently, the man with the longest title in the Sub-region’s promise of ruling the country for a billion years was cut short by 22 years. What an irony – he must have misinterpreted ‘his revelations from god’. We should never underrate the dictum that the ballot is stronger than the bullet. After countless abortive coup d’états, it only took a frustrated citizenry one day to oust their longtime oppressor. I have for the past years maintained that it is only the Gambian people that can emancipate themselves from Jammeh’s rule of fear and intimidation. And indeed when we spoke on December 1st, the world listened and came to our aid. Free at last we are, and proud we should be for exercising restraint and maturity during the most trying times in our nation’s social and political history. A lesson for many African countries to learn from.

We finally have our country back. We now can be proud of having a country where the constitution and the rule of law will prevail and not the whims and caprices of one individual. Where voters will be respected, national institutions strengthened and empowered; decentralization carried out not just in theory but in practice. A country where transparency, accountability and all the associated freedoms, rights and privileges that come with democracy are respected and guaranteed. Similarly, we also look forward to an independent judiciary, and to having a government where the separation of powers and checks and balances take center stage. If anything, Jammeh’s regime should teach us that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. 

Amidst the euphoria, however, it will be fundamental for us to keep in mind that all the change we yearned for might not come sooner than desired. It might take a while and perhaps some painstaking reforms for us to get to the promised land. The task ahead is humongous, and especially given the poor socio-politico-economic status of the country, we should not expect the new government to perform miracles.  What is expected of the new government is to fulfill their promise of reform of the entire governance machinery. Certainly, this must include a new constitution, restructure the economy, revisit the education system, revamp public institutions, reorienting and educating the security services among others. The new government will also have to level the political playing field, wherein every qualified and interested Gambian will be able to fully and equally partake in contesting for public office. Most importantly, however, for our new found democracy to flourish, the strengthening and reform of political institutions must be given due regard and priority. The biggest hindrance to democratic advancement in many African countries since independence has been the existence of weak political institutions coupled with the rule of preponderant leaders. Reforming and strengthening such institutions will constrain and limit the power of any future president to easily manipulate these institutions like Jammeh did for the past two decades. 

We all have a role to play in building the new Gambia. We voted for change, not a continuation of the status quo, we voted for a new dispensation not for apartheid, and so we must condemn the few advocating for politics of exclusion and divide. My brother and good friend Sait Matty Jaw already wrote a good piece on the guardian.com about the ‘enabler debate’, trending on Gambian social media, and he has adequately expressed my view, thus I will not want to continue beating a dead horse. If we think Jammeh was the only problem our beautiful country had, then we must be committing a serious mistake. I was never a fan of Jammeh, but there is one thing that he has repeatedly preached, that resonates well with me: the need for an attitudinal change. Civil and public servants must change their approach towards work, we must start seeing and treating our national and public institutions as our own, we must refuse to be corrupted; stand against nepotism; put country before self and be ready to sacrifice for our country without expecting much in return. We must, in essence, be the change we seek because at the end of the day the government is just a mere reflection of society.

By Guest Blogger:

Ismaila Jagne (MA Public Administration)

The ‘Illegality’ of Mrs Tambajang’s appointment as VP?

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On 1st December 2016, Gambians went to the polls to change the government of Yahya Jammeh and usher in a new and democratic Gambia. Jammeh was defeated and forced into exile after a rocky tussle; and alas, a new Gambia was ushered in. Now that Jammeh is gone, the new government led by Adama Barrow has started appointing its cabinet.

The first appointment, although highly welcomed by many Gambians, has contravened section 70(2) of the 1997 Gambian constitution which states that “a person shall be qualified to be appointed as Vice President if he or she has the qualifications required for the election of the president under section 62”

Section 62 (1)(b) of the aforesaid constitution clearly states inter alia that a person shall be qualified for election of president if  “he or she attained the minimum age of thirty years but not more than sixty-five years;”

Mrs Tambajang, as of the appointment, is above 65 years old. She is categorically unqualified based on the cited sections of the Gambian constitution.

The big question is what was the coalition thinking? Were they depending on the declared state of emergency as a legal basis to appoint her? If that is the case, I am sure that they are aware that the imposition of this state of emergency in Jammeh’s final days was termed as illegal and irrelevant by their own, as it was considered a ploy to extend his term. Where we go from here, is up to our legal luminaries to shed light on. What’s clear is that we need an explanation.

This new development has undoubtedly started a debate among Gambians. Some argue that the constitution was amended by Jammeh and as such they see no reason why this should be a problem. However, others argue that the current government must adhere to the whims of the Gambian constitution, until it is reformed or amended to suit the current reality. I am with the latter group.

I am not saying that Tambajang is not qualified or cannot do the work. We know very well what she is capable of doing. She was very instrumental, as a neutral person, in bringing the various parties together and even chairing the coalition convention etc.

Fifteen years ago, long before most of us joined the struggle to liberate our country,  she had already decided that The Gambia will not progress under Jammeh. She took part in the demonstration that led to the arrest of UDP party leader Ousainou Darboe. Whereever the movement for democracy called, she was present. Equally, she has laudable experience in the public sector, having served under Jammeh as Minister of Health briefly. She also has experience working for the UN. Indeed she deserves to be VP as much as any other Gambian with the required qualifications and competencies.

However, we have a constitutional crisis that prevents her from being made the VP. We cannot allow the rules to be bent or even ignored. Until we fix this missing link, we call on Barrow and his government to respect the constitution as it is.

Let it be clear from now on. We did not remove Jammeh for Barrow to continue to govern without due process. We voted for change and we voted for rule of law. The Gambia must move forward from here and we will not at any point allow the constitution to be ignored for whatever purpose. We are watching you and every move you take will be scrutinized.

Gambia Forward

The Gambia: What Next?

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Source: Reuters

 

Two days ago, I read an article from the Guardian Newspaper describing the electoral outcomes in Gambia and what lesson the continent, especially countries under dictatorship can learn from the Gambian experience. It was a well-written article with very important points. However, I could not stop staring at a line from the article that put into perspective “The Gambia is one of Africa’s smallest and least important countries”. I didn’t know if I should have been offended or that I should just accept the fact that we are indeed too tiny to matter in international or regional politics. I then tweeted the same line and the link to the article with a short response: “not to me as a Gambian”.  

My response was more about boosting my ego than denying the fact that indeed Gambia is small and not really important. It is also evident that we are poor when it comes to resources and have been under a dictatorship for more than two decades. I refused to be offended and took that line for what it was — a challenge. It is not about been important in the eyes of the others but in our own ways as Gambians. And how we do this is very important. In fact, it is what counts for me.

We have decided. We have made history by democratically voting out a dictator who had sworn to rule for one billion years “if God willed it”. One, who has tortured, killed, maimed and overseen a very corrupt regime. A man who employed divide and rule tactics to grip onto power; gone against all that it takes being a Gambian — our socio-cultural diversity. 

He, out of greed for power, declared Gambia an Islamic state pushing out Christian brothers as minorities in their homeland. All the evil things he did in the name of Gambians are for his own interests and not that of the ordinary Gambian. 

On December 1st, we finally put an end to this brutality. But most importantly this very man conceded and respected the wishes of the people. I won’t be bothered to discuss why he conceded. I might do that in a subsequent blog.

For me, ending dictatorship and getting freedom is one thing. The other is what one does with that freedom. 

I have read and even shared Umaru Fofana’s assessment of how Gambians made history. Fofana’s Facebook post was so heartwarming, it would make one think we have reached that period where we need to relax. I say to you and to every Gambian, that we are at a point where our country needs us more than ever before. We are at a point where anything we do can break us, or derail this historical moment and plunge us into an abyss we never intended to be. We are on a transition and transitions are the most critical phase for peace, stability, socio-economic and political progress. If anything, by this election, we have shown the world how peaceful and stable Gambia is. Our stability and peaceful ways is not because we are scared of the armed military or the police that have been used to brutalize peaceful protesters, but because peace is our norm. We have proved this to the colonialist when they came and divided us. We said: “yes, you can divide us between rural and urban, educated and not educated but you cannot divide us on the line of ethnicity or religion.” 

If our ancestors could not accept that we will never allow anyone to put a knife between us. 

Where do we go now from here? This should be the question that every Gambian should be asking.

I have already seen many people on social media suggesting to the transitional government what should be done. Some of us want vengeance, others justice and others advise that we heal the wounds of the nation by having a truth and reconciliation commission. I am part of those that prefer a truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) immediately power is transferred.

Jammeh’s divisionary attempts have a dire impact in our country. Today, our country is way more divided than ever before. People are angry and want vengeance. Some want justice.

Myself, I want some sort of justice for the fact that my right was violated. Thousands of Gambians want the same thins. But what this provides us, if at all we pursue it, at this critical juncture, would be to not only derail our progress as a nation, but possibly put it at risk. I am not in for risking anything. For 51 years we have been struggling to survive economically and politically. Now that we have the chance we should be very careful not to abuse or make the wrong impression. We must be united indeed in word and action; we must give utmost support to the current transition government. This coming three years will be the hardest period that our country will ever go through. It is the most decisive period. I know some people are too close to US politics and other politics that they will start counting the first hundred days etc. Our case is different and as such must be treated that way. We have a state that was virtually collapsing. It means right now this new transitional government will be starting afresh. They will not only inherit a divided nation but a poor and highly indebted nation with very limited resources. We must be patient and supportive. 

The challenges that the transitional government will face is written all over the walls. But the biggest challenge that all other challenges are connected to is how to unite a divided population. The new government need to realise that they are a government for every Gambian whether they voted for them or not. I will suggest at this point like many have said before me the need to institute a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This will help address the anger, the quest for vengeance or even the witch-hunting. We must heal the wounds. We must have conversations. Some victims want justice and some people want to know what happened to their family members that have been abducted. I know this is one primary task you promised to engage in during the campaign. It was made clear by the President-elect Barrow that this coalition transition government is not out to witch-hunt anyone. It was also very clear in the manifesto that TRC is a priority for the government to address the anger and heal the wounds that the APRC regime inflicted on many Gambians. This should be the bottom line. It should be the foundation of New Gambia. Without such, it will be practically impossible for the government to do anything moving on.

For Gambians we are blessed. No matter how tiny and less important in international politics we are, we have shown the world that our nation is important to us. We have stamped our mark in African politics like we did years after independence. Gambia is back. Yes, we are back. And what we make of this should matter to each one of us. We yearned for freedom for two decades and now we have it. Let us be careful before our people start asking “when is freedom going to end”. This was a common thing to ask few years after independence. Let us not abuse the freedom we have. Let us respect and put the human rights of the individuals first. We have a nation to build and the work must start now. It must start from us individually. It must start with attitudinal change.

I will end by saying: “Never again shall we live under dictatorship.” The dice has been rolled and it is up to us to count our steps to a brighter and beautiful Gambia.

The Gambia: Elections Outcome and International Investment

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Gambians will be going to an electoral cycle starting from December 2016 to April 2018 to elect a President, their Members of Parliaments, local and municipal elections. The first stage of this cycle took place on December 1st 2016, and Gambians voted for a political transition that ends 22 years of reign of President Jammeh who conceded defeat to Mr Barrow the leader of a coalition of eight opposition parties.

The pre-electoral climate were marked by political tensions and demonstrations from the oppositions demanding for electoral and political reforms, which resulted in the arrest of protestors who have been sentenced to prison. A situation that confirm the negative developments under President Jammeh regime in relation to human rights violations in a country whose economy relies primarily on tourism, agriculture, and is vulnerable to external disruptions, as during the Ebola crisis that struck West Africa.

The December 2016 presidential elections has put The Gambia into the limelight. The incumbent president who was known for his autocratic regime, and the arrival of a new government can give the country another opportunity for more investors to come in. However, the new elected president is unknown to the Gambians, Mr. Barrow “stands as a transitional president” who is going to form a Coalition Government of National Unity to last for three years. A government that will have to put in place every formality before separation of the different parties in 2019.

It’s clear that the only strong program the coalition has, is to end President Jammeh’s long reign, a “need for change in order to promote and consolidate Democracy, Rule of Law, Good Governance and respect for the Human Rights of Gambians”. They have also promised to end unemployment and create more jobs without going into details.

Thus, investors interested in the outcome of the election and its impact for international investments, will always have to keep these things in perspective that the Gambia is among the poorest countries of the world, and with an undiversified economy highly opened one as measured by (re)-export and import ratio. So, the economic challenges facing the new president are related to the country homogeneous economy, limited access to resources, fast population growth and lack of skills necessary to build effective institutions, lack of private sector job creation to name a few.

However, the President elect and his coming coalition government has promised amongst other things to enhance Industrial Growth, to improve infrastructure, to make utilities such as electricity and water supply accessible and affordable, that Technology energy generation and mining will become major industrial activities in The Gambia.

Other priorities incorporate the revival of the economy and the end of human rights abuses. There will be more freedom for the press, and the civil society will have the capacity to hold the Government accountable to the Public. The President elected also promised to continue the work where President Jammeh has stopped it. Consequently, the new government will consolidate and build on the gains that have international implications, whilst undoing some of the controversial moves, for example; to take the country back to the Commonwealth and the International Criminal Court (ICC)”.

So, without denying the political rhetoric, the election outcomes may present investment opportunities. However, those opportunities may develop slowly, and investors will have to pay attention to the transition period and the outcomes of the cycle of elections to come.

By Guest Blogger

Dr. Bassène MA 2 candidates lecturer at UCAD, in History of International and Strategic Relations (HIRIS) – Former cordinator, MA programmes in History and Political Sciences at UTG

Why Gambian youth should vote for change?

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Source: kairabanews.com

 

I know many young people are indecisive or decided not to vote in this upcoming election. Some will tell you that all the candidates are the same. “They will lie to you, you vote for them and that is it. They will make promises and never fulfil those promises”. Some will argue that is even better to sit at home and not vote at all. My response to that has always been that you will maintain a system or help a system that you totally disagree with. I am not sure if this is working anymore. I think I need a new response.

See, there are more young people in UK and the US today. Most refused to vote or felt exactly the same way most of you are feeling right now. What did they get in return? Brexit and Donald Trump right in their faces. So, who should be blamed?, The people that voted or those that had the power to change things and refused to take action? We cannot afford to miss this opportunity for The Gambia our homeland. Not voting or voting otherwise, you are risking another five years of Jammeh and of economic and political regression. We cannot afford that.

I want to tell you exactly why you should vote. You might not see it now. But deep down inside you, you know exactly it is what you want to hear. You know it is the fact and nothing but the fact. Many of us, will want to vote for a candidate because he or she is good looking, throws the biggest campaign with hired musician and drummers to sing songs about them, to glorify their names and personality, to mystify them as saviors and people that know more than the hundreds that dance in their names. Sadly, this is what comes to be of our politics. You see it all the time everywhere. For me these are all distractions.

If any party or politician promises you jobs, security, free health care and free tertiary education or even economic super power they are lying to you. They are distracting you from the real reason why you should vote. They see you as cheap, hungry and desperate. The real and only reason why you should vote in this election is to uphold the rule of law and the only body or organization campaigning on that platform is the COALITION. That is where we are right now and it is the most fundamental issue that we should look into. Job, security, free this or free that are all tied to your right as a citizen and how the state creates that environment for you to pursue those rights. We are denied this basic right by the current regime and I don’t see such with GDC leadership.

What is the rule of law? Simply put, “no one is above the law” or “the law rules” and not individuals. In our case right now, it is an individual that rules even though the law exists. Our laws meant to promote our rights as citizens are meaningless as the current regime rule base on the emotions of the president. The absence of rule of law threatens everything and everyone. Our jobs, our personal freedom, our right to complain and to get justice, our survival in terms of service provision and jobs are all threatened by the absence of the rule of law. People are arrested and detained beyond the 72 hours stipulated by the law. People are fired from their jobs and denied retirement benefits no matter how long they have served the government. People are abducted; some killed others you never heard of again. Think about this, your work for the government all your life and one year before your retirement you got fired for no reason, you directly lose all your retirement earnings and what do you do from then, start fresh?

This election we must vote not because a particular party or group organizes the best campaign with drums and dance, but we must vote to have a system in place. A system built on rule of law. Where everyone is treated equally before the law, where our jobs and livelihood are protected, where our freedoms to complain and to seek remedy without been sanction is respected. A system that put aside ethno-linguistic and religious differences aside and threat everyone the same. No one is a minority in The Gambia. We are all equal. We indeed need a system or a group that portray that image. And for me this is the reason why the coalition came into existence. This should be our reason to vote.

Both the GDC and APRC are birds of the same feather. You may talk of Kandeh attracting crowds and all that, but it is done on a divisive line. GDC is not a peaceful party. A peaceful party is one that does not discriminate or attack other opposition parties. Our concern in this election is Jammeh and his APRC party. We must focus on that. Both APRC and GDC are making promises of jobs, and making Gambia economic super power or free education etc. They are not talking about the rule of law and democratic governance. Why? It would not serve their economic and political interest.

For Kandeh, everything is about him. My party this and my party that. He funds the party definitely he owns the party. It is the same with Jammeh and APRC. So, who will stand up to them within the party and say we should not do this or say that? If you do so, you risk been kicked out of the party or even arrested in the case of Jammeh. We have seen this time and time again. Kandeh is a great example.

On the other hand, Adama Barrow cannot just wake up and decide for the coalition. His participation in the election is sanctioned by all the parties that signed the MOU. In fact, the agreement within the MOU is that he leads for three years, create the needed environment for all political parties, and restore the rule of law and democratic governance for all. For me this is exactly what the country needs right now. We have come a long way and each year we risk under Jammeh or possibly clueless GDC, we might be risking our lives and properties for no good reason.

Young people of Gambia, the next five years and beyond should be your concern. Forget about the t-shirts, the drums and music, the crowds and think about your future. Think about your sustainable jobs, think about the good quality education, but most importantly, think about a free country. A country were you are treated equally not because of your religion, ethnicity, but because you are a Gambian.

Let us go out and Vote and not only vote but vote for change.

 

Mama Kandeh can Upset the Presidential Election

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On 1st December Gambians will head to the polls to elect a president. Most if not everyone agrees that this election will either shape or break Gambia. It is no longer doing business as usual. Gambians both at home and abroad have grown bolder and stronger over the course of Jammeh and APRC‘s 22 years rule. If the APRC was successful in any way, it was putting fear into Gambians for so long that Gambians are now resilient to fear. The evidence is in the number of people that have piled the roads since April 2016 to demand the state to arrest them or even use violence against them. It is also the number of people that rally and openly defect to the opposition political parties. Indeed the Gambia is changing and changing fast.

So, this election we have three presidential candidates: the incumbent dictator president Jammeh, Adama Barrow for the opposition coalition and Mama Kandeh of the GDC or aka the “new boy”. I have nothing to say about Jammeh. Everything I say will be repetition and I have neither the time nor the patience to indulge in such. I am happy that after 20 years, the traditional political parties are finally involved in politics and not radical activism. Politics is about compromise. It requires vision and foresight. To give away some and receive some at another time. Our parties have never been able to do this whilst knowing that the electoral system is not in their favor. So, we are grateful that they are finally able to put aside their so called differences and have decided to come together for Gambia and her people. The third candidate Mama Kandeh has received wide criticism mostly from diaspora Gambians. He has been seen as a spoiler. In fact, he seems to be the Donald Trump of Gambian politics at this stage. Only that he is way more sensible and better looking. He also has a great posture and proper message that he is able to sell to the real people that matter for his campaign – the voters. We’ve seen the crowd he is pulling and yet we are in denial, we continue to reject him, calling him names and accusing him of been funded by Jammeh. For me all these things are not new in Gambian politics. It has been the epicenter of our politics. I am not sure if it will ever change. However, I think when we engage in such deliberations we always miss the bigger picture.

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Let me be clear. This is not an endorsement of Kandeh or his GDC party. I am all for coalition. I have voted coalition in 2011 and will vote it again and again. However, we must understand what is happening and accept the fact that GDC can upset the elections.

Mama Kandeh is real. We must wake up to that fact. He is here to stay and he has his own strategy and his ways of politicking should not be brushed aside. It is real and it is making head ways for him and the thousands of Gambians that rally around him. Kandeh understand the psyche of the ordinary Gambian and that’s the reason he continue to emphasize his peaceful message. He has painted his party as the non-violent peace loving party that only engages in politics. This is the message that every ordinary Gambian wants to hear even if they living in abject poverty. Is it true that his party is the only peaceful one? No. But is it selling? Yes.

See, there is a huge disparity between the Gambians at home and those abroad. For most of us outside, we either do not see the real picture or we have decided to ignore it. Most of the time we engage people that we share the same ideas with to feed us information from the ground and we sometimes take this to be the gospel truth.  I am in denial at times even though I talk to people in every corner of Gambia to measure up what is happening. That is not sufficient, but has always given a different picture. How do we relate these two pictures in order to get one real picture that tells us what the reality is? I have no idea how to do that.

I will just say again that Kandeh’s crowd is real and it will undoubtedly upset both the APRC and the coalition. However, the APRC will suffer more as most of their sympathizers have crossed the carpet to join the GDC. Many accuse the GDC of APRC style politics, but they are totally different.

GDC’s approach is personal, home-to-home and grassroots. They seem to be culturally sensitive. For instance taking kola nuts to mosques, meeting elders to pray for them, Kandeh joining prayers with elders…etc. Honestly, GDC knows the terrain and at this point, it is working for them.

On the side of the coalition, they can lose votes to the GDC if they spread vulgar messages. Just on nomination day, I was talking to some people and they told me that the coalition militants were using foul messages. I remember during the convention all the opposition leaders emphasize how important language is, if one wants to win the support of others. Many or majority of Gambians will vote for a candidate they consider respectful and sensitive and not one that perceive otherwise. Adama Barrow should be the inspiration for the coalition militants. The minute we go out using unwarranted language, we are distancing him from the electorates and rendering the coalition vulnerable. A lot of work needs to be done on that side. I sometimes argue that the reason why UDP could not win many sympathizers before was the language that comes from some of the militants. I have seen the same trajectory since the 1996 elections. If we are to succeed in this process, language should be nice and welcoming. I know for a fact that we are angry and we want to see change, but the change we are seeking can only come about if we are able to mobilize others to join us. Let us use our heads and not hearts. If we fail to do so, let us be rest assured Kandeh is standing by.

 

UTG, Young Magistrates and The State: Who is doing wrong?

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Section of UTG graduates at 9th Graduation Ceremony. Source: http://statehouse.gov.gm/

Few days ago, I woke up to the news that Omar Jabang, a First Class Magistrate at the Banjul Magistrate Court, was arrested and held at the Banjul Police Station. I could not believe it at first. Nonetheless, I had to confirm with sources close to him. That did not work out.

A day later, Foroyaa carried out the story and reported that the brilliant young magistrate who topped his graduating class in 2014 was indeed arrested and fired from the Judiciary. Was I surprised? Not really. Only that it came sooner than I expected.

Jabang is not the first young Gambian Magistrate to be fired by the judiciary. Of recent, Samsudeen Conteh who presided over my case against the state was also reportedly fired the day after he acquitted and discharged me of all trumped up charges. Before Samsudeen, it was Jacklin Nixon Hakim. I was in the same class with Jacklin at Gambia Methodist Academy. I was in the same batch with her and Samusudeen at the UTG in different programs. The sad thing is that these three are not the only locally trained magistrates that have been fired from their jobs or forced to resign. A handful of other young Magistrates some of whom have left the Gambia have been victims too. But what is the real issue here? Why is it that only young magistrates believed to be very level headed are the ones attracting the wrath of the State? Is it due to their training from the University or that they are failing the expectation of the state, which is to always rule in favor of them in high profile criminal cases?

I personally knew Omar Jabang as a student at University of The Gambia. We never had any one-to-one discussion, neither were we close. However, as an active member of the University community, I got to hear stories about individuals and what they were doing within the University community. I know for certain that Jabang was an active participant in student politics and that he was very brilliant and level-headed. Unfortunately, we did not connect at some point, but I have heard and seen some of his work.

For Samsudeen, we came to the University at the same time. If I had continued with my Law program, we would have been in the same class and would have gotten to know each other better perhaps. I had most of my high school friends in his class. We have also played football together on opposing teams. Yes, my department Social Sciences wins every time we played the “lawyers”.

Like Omar Jabang, Samsudeen was also an A student.  Indeed very brilliant. I remember at one point we had a very heated debate on the Law Faculty Facebook page. I was always on that page engaging the law students. The reason being, the students from other departments had this sort of stereotype against them. We felt that they thought highly of themselves and behaved as if they knew everything about the law, but couldn’t debate outside the law. So, my job was to challenge them normatively. Many times you ask some of them simple questions and all they could do was to quote a section of The Gambian constitution as if that was the only thing they were good at. I got irritated most of the time. Of course there were extremely brilliant individuals that did not need the constitution to make a normative argument. These were the people I connected with mostly. My very Boss Satang Nabaneh and Musu Bakoto Sawo were part of that group. Baboucarr Drammeh and Patrick Gomez as well as many other young intellectuals were too. Interestingly, when I was arraigned before the Magistrate court, I was prosecuted by Drammeh and Samsudeen was the Magistrate. It was an all UTG affair.

At first, I disliked Samsudeen. I thought he had some personal vendetta against me especially when he denied me and my colleagues bail on our first day of appearing before him. Although I was popular at UTG, I knew some people that didn’t like me. They thought I was very close to the Vice Chancellor Prof. Kah and that I was his “personal spy”, especially when I decided to resign as Secretary General of the Student Union to pick up a job with UTG in pursuit of my intellectual dream. In student politics people make up stuff. It was all part of the game. I knew I was adored by many, but few that I didn’t share the same political beliefs with didn’t like me. So, they decided to take the personal route.

Even today, some of them think I am a “hypocrite” because I am expressing my disagreement with the government. I have all the right to hate the government for what they have subjected me to. But no, I do not hate them. I just disagree with some of their policies and programs. The reason why I also express myself is because Norway provided me with that space – this is what lacking in Gambia: space to engage openly and constructively. The absence of such a space never limited me in anyway. You may ask my colleagues and students. My opponents could not understand and they will never understand, because they only see me as Sait Matty and do not know me on a personal level. They have never been in any of my classes and they just don’t have any idea whatsoever of who I am. These people should expect no explanation from me.

I thought Samsudeen was one of them. But I also remember that Samsudeen was not very active in student politics so he might have no idea what was going on. I thought to myself that it might have been our heated debate. However, our second appearance in court a week before our scheduled appearance made it clear. He slapped me with a bail bond of Five million Dalasis over a misdemeanor case. I was told that usually an ID card would suffice. Not in my case. I was even asked to tender my passport. I missed so many important meetings including the 8th Pan African Congress in Ghana. I was so angry, yet I laughed in spite of myself when Mrs. Ida Drammeh asked whether we have murdered someone or something else. It was that moment that I realized the case was beyond him and that there was someone above him forcing him to make those decisions. My case was political like many other cases. Still now, I do not really understand why I was arraigned. But one thing that I learned at St Therese’s was that the “TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE”. The biblical inscription on those yellow books kept me going. Of course with the trust and support from family and friends and some people that did not even know me, I eventually got acquitted and discharged by Samsudeen.

All the time while in court, I noticed a different Samusdeen. I saw a merciful magistrate. One that shows pity and was very lenient with the accused brought before him. I witnessed three judgments, which made me really proud of him. He freed an individual that was arrested in April 2014 and was supposed to serve a one year jail term. He drew back the sentence and ordered the young man to be released at the end of April, which was just a week away. Another case was of one of my cellmates. A very funny Fula man from Senegal who was arrested for marijuana trafficking. Most of my cellmates, mostly young people, were arrested on marijuana-related charges. I heard stories of young people that were sentenced to prison for five years because of less than a kilogram of marijuana. This guy was caught with a whole bag and Samsudeen fined him instead of sentencing him. Another young man, who showed regret of what he did by sobbing in court was freed and warned never to do whatever he did again. I felt so happy and admired Samsudeen for taking those decisions. I spent two weeks at mile two. I know what is in there.

Like Samsudeen, Omar Jabang is been known for upholding the law and also showing mercy to those brought before him. I have seen some of his rulings as reported on the local papers. I am always happy when a judge uses other methods instead of prison for a crime that is not capital. So many youth are rotting in jail for lesser crimes and the bigger criminals are walking on the streets. This breaks my heart. People like Jabang must be encourage and not arrested.

So, all I am trying to say is this:

The University of The Gambia with all its shortcomings has produced brilliant students that are engaged in every sector in our country -private and public. Students are challenged to put Gambia before anything else, those that see the need to work for the motherland despite all the challenges. Yes, the university has also produced some that do not have any idea why they went to UTG in the first place. Some of them see only themselves and their personal growth. My dean Prof. Gomez will call them “students at the University and not Students of the University”.

The caliber of these young magistrates, determined to uphold justice; doing the right thing; aware of their tense environment, shows to a large extent, that the University has done its part. To a greater extent it shows that these magistrates are not part of the latter group I mentioned above but the former. They have decided to put their lives on the line to serve justice, the ordinary Gambian and humanity. Who could have thought that I would be acquitted and discharged by a magistrate that gave me a Five Million Dalasis bail bond? Or who would have thought that Yusupha Saidy, Sainey Marennah and Musa Sherriff were going to be acquitted and discharged from the trumped up charges levied against them by the state? Whoever thought that the state will lose any high profile case in the court? The fact of the matter is, these young Gambian magistrates know the law and they are bound to uphold the law without fear or favour; affection or ill. They are hellbent on upholding the constitution of the supreme law of the land. With all the efforts and fairness they put before their work, they are threatened, fired, arrested and detained. Violating the same constitution that these young intellectuals are trained to defend. The only one doing the Gambia wrong is the State. It is Jammeh’s APRC government.

If the real reason why Jammeh’s government established the University was to train homegrown problem solvers for the advancement of the country, then the daily attack on these lawyers and many other young intellectuals most cease. Academic freedom within the university is highly undermined. Since my arrest, lecturers are afraid to conduct any kind of research even though they are paid to teach and research. We all know that for any country to prosper, building and maintaining a strong knowledge economy is vital. The sad part of our story is that instead of the state supporting the work of the university with more funds and a conducive environment, they are busy arresting staff and products of the same institution they hope will change things. It is sad. It is sickening.

The future of Gambia is clear. It is the UTG. Not all but most people that are in position and will take position in the future will be UTG trained. What is our responsibility then? What is it that we owe to the Gambia? These are questions we must continue to ask ourselves daily. While asking the questions, we must also remember our environment. We as graduates are everywhere. In the military, police, state house, banks, as civil servants, teachers, international organization, farms, hospitals etc. We are everywhere and everything that this country needs. We must realize our numbers and continue to do well. Things are hard right now, environment is decaying, but we are the hope of our people. We must continue to change ourselves and only through that can we effectively change our society. Let us not be part of the competition and the personal infightings within government. Let us consciously and subconsciously always defend what is right in public when we can, but most importantly in private. We have read many books, heard many stories, seen a lot of injustices and dreamt of better things. Let us remember that greatness can only be achieved through collective actions when we all play our individual parts.

I remember in 2009, when we started the Nationwide Study Tours led by my mentor and friend Dr. Saja Taal. His idea for the next generation of Gambians was for us to know our country and put it before anything else. How do we know our country, the poverty, the diversity and all the challenges if we constantly explain it from the perspective of the people in the urban areas? How can we also fight poverty and bridge the inequality that exists between the urban and the rural? The experience was indeed life changing. We decided to form UTG Students Service Learning with the motto “Basse before Babylon”. After that first year we continued to take students up country, organize summer camps and work for and with the community. Dr. Taal always said to us “I can take you to the door but I can’t force you to knock.” myself and most of the other students close to him adopted this philosophy. We started doing things for ourselves seeing Gambia as our door to knock at. As students of UTG let us remember Dr. Taal and his teachings and continue to serve our nation with pride. Let us see the suffering of one of ours as our own pain. Wherever one is, let Gambia always come first.

Like many others I know Omar Jabang was arrested for upholding Justice. He is detained against his own consent. I cannot come down to free him, but I can say that the State is threatening the future of our country. We must continue to condemn these abhorrent behaviors individually and collectively. As a Gambian I demand from my government the unconditional release of Omar Jabang and all other prisoners of conscience  including Lawyer Darboe and all his party members.

Aluta Continua

P.S.  Before publication we received news that Jabang was unconditionally released and reinstated. We hope this will be the end of arbitrary arrest and detention.

 

New Gambia: Our “Vision of Tomorrow”?

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I bet most of you think that this is a Manifesto. Well, it is not. But when critically discussed, we might be able to come up with one that highlights the agenda for a “New Gambia.” For now, let me share some lessons learned from the Students at Risk Conference in Oslo.

Last weekend, I attended one of the most refreshing workshops on Non-violent action thanks to the Norwegian Centre for the Internationalization of Education (SIU) and Students and Academics International Help Fund (SAIH). I must admit that the time was too short, but the lessons learned within the six or so hours of interaction can change a society for good. While seated and as the workshop lead from the Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) took us through the principles of non-violent actions, all I could think of was our very own struggle in The Gambia: the things we did right and those we either did not know or took for granted. I took away so many valuable lessons that the New Gambia movement can learn from. The purpose of this blog is to share some those ideas and hope that with clear reflection we will be able to continue our journey to not only liberate Gambia from autocratic rule, but to also inspire every Gambian to help Gambia adopt democratic principles for our own advancement. The interesting part about all I am about to raise is for us to discuss and debate amongst ourselves. As such one could either agree or disagree. But we must also pay attention to the very principles of the game.

In my study of People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) I used Gene Sharp’s theory of power to help me understand the approaches and strategies of PDOIS. In case you do not know who Gene Sharp is, he is the world’s leading writer on non-violent actions (Google him). Sharp uses power to distinguish between rulers and subjects and on the withdrawal of consent as the key to effecting political change. That is, the power base of the ruler is constructed on the approval of subjects. The minute the subjects withdraw this consent, the ruler loses their support as well as the legitimacy to rule.  My interest at that time was to see how PDOIS, a political party and a non-violent group was mobilizing the masses to withdraw the support base of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara. We all know that it did not work due to many factors both structural and otherwise. Today, we have many groups (civil society, political parties, and movements) and individuals in The Gambia and in the diaspora working to effect political change in the country with the slogan “Jammeh Must Go.” However, the question with all that is going on, the misinformation, the blame game etc., I would like to ask whether we are trying to withdraw the support base of Jammeh or alienating the masses and forcing them to reject our movement?

I must admit that I am a very active participant in the New Gambia movement. I also strongly believe that Jammeh Must Go. He has done his part over the past 22 years. We appreciate all the projects he has to his name including my favorite: The University of The Gambia. Nonetheless, this does not guarantee him the right to continuously flaunt the laws of our land, abuse the rights of dissenting citizens and even those that support him. His actions and ways are not the ways of our country and people. He has divided us against each other, instilled fear in the minds of every Gambian, and forced many to leave the country in exile; there’s also less employment opportunities for our youth and above all, his attempt to turn the Gambia into an Islamic State. This, for me, is the last straw.

That being said, I think we need to revisit our approach so as to have an effective campaign that not only removes Jammeh but also changes the entire Gambian society. I have had this debate many times before.  Jammeh is just part of our problem. One may argue that he is the greater part or the lesser part of it. I think he may sound and look rash, but he has great influence on us as a people. For a very long time, he directed the game and all we did as a people was to react. For change to come we must turn the tables around, we must control the narrative and attack with evidence so as to weaken his support base. We must also know this support base. It is not only the security forces. It is his personal economy and the many people promoting his agenda. Again, we must be able distinguish between civil servants and what we call the “Jammeh enablers.” For most of us, we consider anyone working for government as an enabler. I don’t think that should be the case. This whole struggle is about who controls information. What Jammeh wants to do like many other lunatics before him is to control the flow of information; under-serve the masses and keep them ignorant and disenfranchised. We have been helping him to some extent by sending out scary images­–some of them seemingly propaganda material– that do not reflect what was on the ground around April 14th and 16th.

We have also weakened his power, yet we do not realize this. Solo’s march for electoral reform shocked the entire Gambian community. In one of my previous writings, I did warn that Gambians are no longer governed by fear. I gave an example of the standoff at Fass Njaga Choi as well as NRP’s defeat of the APRC government in the Saloum by election. What is happening now is just part of the entire game. Everything happening slowly but surely.

So, what do we do now to maintain this momentum? Firstly, as active participants in the New Gambia movement, we must realize that each individual or group have their personal and group agenda tied to the removal of Jammeh. My own agenda is to change Gambian society (democratize) and I believe my greatest obstacle like many of us is Jammeh. However, I believe we will not be able to achieve this if we continue to tell the people — that we expect to act through mass protest or election — what we want and reject especially where we do not understand their own personal agendas. I have quite often seen many people in the diaspora or even at home and on the same team calling each other hypocrites. The reason I believe is, we do not understand our personal interest in this whole movement. I strongly believe and it is evident that people only engage in most cases when issues affect them personally. It is true that unemployment is high; the human rights abuses are rife, but why are some people indifferent and why do others act? For the activists, we can argue it is their work and that even where they are not paid to push an agenda, the abuse of human rights makes it personal for them. But for the ordinary person to act, either a family member or close relative or friend must be affected. I must also say that in my own experience, I saw many people that I did not know on a personal level show concern about my safety. This, however, could be a limitation to what I am trying to put across.

Secondly, the general picture in The Gambia is a weak opposition and a strong incumbent party. For the longest, the contention has been between the weak opposition parties interested in political power and the ruling party that will do anything to stay in power. Now enters a third group mostly young people with no interest in political power. Dealing with such group especially when they are extremely organized is a huge challenge for any autocratic government. However, the danger with this group, especially when they realize their worth, is that they can threaten the survival of the state and society. Hence, they need to be controlled and by control, I mean there needs to be a form of leadership within them — people leading the actions. Power within such group must be horizontal and not hierarchical. The current challenge with our movement is that power is diffused randomly. No one knows who does what and when. It must be harnessed. When Ibrahim Ceesay, based on his activism, stood up, putting his life and that of his family on the line, we could detect a huge interest in the youth. With our situation, what the young people need is a face that will lead them. I have had this discussion with friends and the consensus was that if people are really concerned they will not wait for a face to lead, however, based on our context and history, our movement needs a face to champion the course.

In my last article, I argued that even if the opposition in The Gambia formed a coalition, they will be defeated by the ruling party. Yes, that was before all these events happened. It might be too early to conclude the outcome of the election later this year, but now more than ever, the movement must put pressure on the political parties to unite. I am sure the fate of UDP has also shown the party the need to stand up together to achieve their dream for political power. Even if we lose the election to Jammeh this year, I can guarantee that this will be his last term in office. I know some of you do not want to hear that, but it just might happen.

The third point or lesson that I have learned from the workshop and want to conclude with is the organizational bit. I briefly mentioned the leadership issue, I think the reason why the New Gambia movement — despite having people on the ground ready to get to the street and face the paramilitary — did not materialize, was due to lack of proper planning and organization. Everything was spontaneous. I learned that the worst enemy for a non-violent action is spontaneity. Our approach this time like always was reactionary. I think this should serve as a lesson for all of us involved. We must organize and strategize, understand deeply the need of our people on the ground and attract them to take action. We must not in any way also underestimate our opponent — Jammeh.  His tactic is to not inform the people, whilst ours is to use information to bring him down. Hence, the information must be credible and should be channeled in a way that will make people act. I also do understand that there is a whole team on Jammeh’s side posting information to distract us from achieving our agenda. Their aim is to discredit our movement and render it untrustworthy. We must be careful before sharing anything. We must make sure the sources are credible. I can understand that at some point, the idea is to get people to act, but for a country with a history like ours, people do not react to things they have no idea about. We should take note of that.

Finally, what is our vision of tomorrow? What is it that we want to achieve from this engagement? What capacities do we have individually that can help us get to where we want to be? How do we harness all our efforts and channel it towards a strong movement that is responsive to the need of every Gambian; one that is respected and trusted by the international community? These among others are questions we need answers to. Our quest should not be to make Gambia ungovernable. We need the institutions no matter how ineffective they are in governing.

We must continue to engage in non-violent actions, not actions that may cause injury or lead to death. This was a valuable lesson that I learned. In non-violent or peaceful struggle, we need our numbers and every life counts. We will not move ahead if we lose our ranks. We must understand that we are dealing with a government that is willing and ready to shoot people to death. Hence, let us not give them that opportunity to kill and maim. It is true that non-violent actions are not usually violent free; however, we must always try as much as possible to avoid actions that might lead to death. As yet, I do not have answers to questions regarding the best actions that suit our context, but I hope in due course we will come up with various campaigns that will slowly weaken the power base of Jammeh and shift it to the people.

Aluta Continua

 

 

If Gambians are tired of Jammeh, They are equally tired of the Opposition

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Now that the socialist democratic opposition, People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) and the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Re-Orientation and Construction (APRC) have both selected their candidates for the upcoming presidential election, the call for opposition unity has been intensified mostly by the Gambian diaspora. While we wait for other parties (UDP, PPP, GMC and NRP) to organize their congress and present their leaders to the electorates, I have a few observations to share on the continuous call for a coalition opposition force. I am convinced even with a united opposition, the chance of uprooting Jammeh is minimal. The issue is not whether they are united or not, the issue is their approach to everything.

This whole idea of opposition unity is not a new phenomenon. I remember coming across some documents during my research on PDOIS that pointed me to similar efforts during the period leading to the 1992 elections. The only difference this time is that the leading advocates of such are Gambians in the diaspora. The call for opposition unity is premised upon the notion that the only possible way of removing Jammeh electorally is a united opposition. Of course, the obsession to remove Jammeh is linked mostly to the numerous human rights violations as well as his poor socio-economic and political policies. Also, there are some disgruntled individuals who hate him for whatever reason. As much as this argument maybe true, I tend to believe otherwise. I strongly believe that even if united, the opposition has little chance of removing Jammeh. My argument is centered on the current nature of our electoral system including the previous electoral results.

Since the colonial period, The Gambia adopted the First Past the Post voting system. This system is based on the number of votes that a candidate received in an election. The one with the most votes is declared the winner. For example, in an election where there are three candidates and a total number of 100 voters, if one candidate received 34 votes, the two remaining candidates with 33 votes each, the one with 34 votes is declared winner. Nonetheless, if the votes of the others are combined, the winner is in the minority. This means that there are more people that did not vote for the winner than the ones that voted for him/her. Over the years, this system has received wide condemnation on the fact that it is not very representative and does not show the true choice of the people. Undoubtedly, such electoral system only favors the incumbent in a society where the political space is a closed one, like the case of The Gambia. The only possible and logical way to access political power is by forming a coalition. That is, before elections, the two candidates that received 33 votes unite and put forward one candidate to contest. The possibility in this case is that they will have 66 votes, thus representing the voices of the majority. However, within the current Gambian political dispensation, even if opposition political parties are united, the possibilities of them winning are very slim. Many analysts might fault the unlevelled playing field, the use of state resources by the ruling party as well as youth political apathy among many other factors. I think one area that is under looked in our analyses is APRC’s popularity and the number of people that prefer them over the rest. Although this is not the direction of this article, I think it is worthy to note that there are people that love and prefer the APRC over all other parties. Whether they are in the majority or not, we cannot tell. Nonetheless, attention must also be given to them. Whether their support is changing or not is also very debatable.

In The Gambia, there has been history of coalitions formed by political parties. For instance, around the time of independence, the Democratic Party of Reverend J.C Faye collaborated with I.M Garba Jahumpa’s Gambia Muslim Congress Party to form the Democratic Congress (DC). The same DC joined with the People Progressive Party (PPP) even though the PPP was the dominant party. Though many analysts call such a coalition “cooptation”, what this did at the time was to create two parties: PPP and United Party (UP); and made it very easy for the electorates to select. Financially, it cut the electioneering cost of the parties and gave them more opportunities to intensify their electoral campaigns. The demise of UP and the coming up of the National Convention Party (NCP) led by Sheriff Mustapha Dibba pushed forward the two party dominant politics in The Gambia up to 1986 when the PDOIS and Gambia People’s Party (GPP) emerged almost around the same time. The coming up of these two parties and later the coming up of Gambia People’s Democratic Party (GPDP) changed the total nature of the Gambian political landscape from one of two parties to multiparty competition. With the increase in political parties, those that were interested in political change called for a united opposition as a means to replace the PPP government. However, this did not materialize based on many issues, but primarily on ideological differences of the parties. At least, this was the argument of PDOIS.

Consequently, this might not be the case today. Yet, the idealistic PDOIS defer greatly to the form or approach to coalition building. While UDP claim that they are the majority party and all other parties should follow them, PDOIS believe in effective grassroots mobilization, which will ultimately lead to a primary, where a candidate of people’s choosing will be selected. This is a whole debate that requires another blog on why Gambian parties refuse to unite today. You may read Essa Njie’s perspective.

So far, I have shown the nature of the Gambian voting system. Let us put it into perspective all the previous elections and assume full coalition was formed by the political parties. I argue that even with such coalition the parties had no chance of winning the APRC. This article does not go into detail on the factors that made the APRC dominant. We all know or may argue the various reasons.

In the 1996 presidential election, the combined electoral votes in terms of percentage acquired by the United Democratic Party (UDP) (35.84%), National Reconciliation Party (NRP) (5.52%) and PDOIS (2.87%) was 44.23%, while the APRC won with 55.77%. These figures changed in the 2001 elections due primarily to the lifting of the ban on political parties, which facilitated the coming of NCP. The combined votes increased to 47.16%. This year was interesting because the first idea of coalition in the second republic was initiated between the UDP, PPP and GPP. The UDP led coalition received 32.59% of the votes; NRP received 7.8%, NCP 3.77% and PDOIS 3.02%. The increase in total opposition vote affected percentage vote received by the APRC from a total vote of 55.77% in 1996 to 52.84%.

Comparing the two elections, we have seen NRP and PDOIS improve in 2001. However, we have seen a decline in votes on the side of APRC and UDP. As mentioned earlier, the decline of votes from these two parties could be as a result of the arrival of NCP. It shows that NCP’s loyal supporters that were divided into supporting UDP or APRC went back to their party. Undoubtedly, the UDP coalition substantiates the argument that many have pushed before. That UDP is a mere replica of the banned parties of the First Republic.

The 2006 election was a very interesting one. 67.33% of the votes went in favor of the APRC. APRC’s high vote could have been as a result of NCP’s decision to throw its weight behind the party. The reason for this sharp increase was also primarily blamed on the oppositions’ failure to unite and present a single candidate. Nevertheless, the opposition was united into two different camps: the UDP led Alliance for Regime Change (ARC) and the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD). While the ARC coalition received 26.69% of the votes, the NADD camp received 5.98%. Now, when we sum the total opposition votes, we realize a sharp decrease from the previous election from 47.16% to 32.67%. Although we cannot assume what would have happened when a single candidate was forwarded from the opposition, nonetheless, many analysts blame the results on the opposition’s failure to unite.

The 2011 election followed a similar pattern as that of the previous election with two opposition camps. As usual, one led by UDP and the United Front (UF) putting forward an independent candidate. The combined votes of the two opposition camps was 28.47% where UDP-led received 17.36% and the UF received 11.11%, while the APRC received 71.54%. Again, the proponents of coalition blamed the outcome of the results on the opposition failure. At least I thought taking cue from the 2006 and 2011 elections, which exhibited strong form of coalition compared to the previous elections, one would assume that the opposition would have received more votes. Instead they received fewer votes. Possibly with a single coalition this time around, they might receive even fewer votes.

Here is the argument. On what basis do Gambian electorates vote? What factors influence the voting pattern or behavior of the citizens? Is it based on ethnicity, economic reasons, regionalism or the individual candidates? These might all serve as answer(s) to the question. However, to determine this, detailed studies must be conducted. We are assuming that a united opposition will succeed in removing Jammeh from office. This could be, but first we must understand the behavior of the electorates. We must move from the candidates and focus our attention on the ones that truly matter – the voters. See, this is the scenario. Do we just want the opposition to unite to satisfy or adhere to our call or do we strongly believe they have a chance to win the election, if united?

With the current electoral system, like many others, I would like to see a “united opposition”, one built on solid democratic principle, not because I believe they can win, but because it will show a different side to our political scenario. It will show the level of seriousness of the opposition. I am not as pessimistic as one may think; I would like to see a change of government. A change from one dominated to one that will open up the environment for wider public participation. I am all for our democratic growth. However, my desperation for change will not force me to accept anything undemocratic and with no hope of succeeding. Changing Jammeh today, in haste, does not guarantee anything different.

Let us look at issues here. If a coalition was to be formed, what form or structure should it take? Would it be like the NADD or like what happened in the last election with the independent candidate? Or will the parties just throw their weight behind some party. This could be a problem because the debate between PDOIS and the UDP are both legitimate. UDP believe they have majority and that they should lead. PDOIS argue that the best approach is for parties to organize themselves and run a primary. If I were ever asked to choose, I would pick the PDOIS approach. It may seem longer and tiring, but is more democratic and people driven. Most Gambians do not belong to political parties. They are not registered members of any party. In fact, none of the political parties can show you a list of registered members. Hence, to claim that one party is bigger based on previous results does not guarantee a democratic future. In fact the statistics above shows a great decline of UDP popularity. Nonetheless, if the goal is to get rid of Jammeh, the UDP way could be the way.

It is true that the seemingly more united the opposition gets, the stronger Jammeh becomes. We have seen the decline in votes of the opposition. We can blame it on their failure to unite, but I also think it has everything to do with their nature and the way they organize themselves. We have for many years blamed the unleveled playing field. Playing fields have never been levelled in any African election. The party contesting must make it level. An idea for an opposition today is to attract the voters of the ruling party, reduce the support base of the party so as to win political power. Calling for opposition unity is one way and there is more to it than just coming together. I think a new face should do the work. All the political parties in Gambia are like the APRC.

I think we are so obsessed with Jammeh that we forget what future our country should take. I for one will not vote for a united opposition just because they are united, but for the policy and program they have to offer. This should be the issue. We must move from politics of Jammeh to politics of The Gambia and its future. One may argue that the two are linked. I refuse to accept that. I think we have created Jammeh and positioned him above everything else and that he will leave when Gambians are really ready for change. The fact of the matter is that we are not ready and I don’t think 2016 will be any different even with a united opposition. The bottom line is we are equally tired of the opposition.

 

 

 

 

The Gambia is at Crossroads…

2016 is election year in The Gambia. A very interesting year for those interested in analyzing Gambian politics and a decisive one for those attached to the political happenings in the tiny country. Those that want to see a change of government or continuation of the same. Personally, I am attached to both. This makes it hard to limit biases in my political analysis. However, I will try to be as neutral as possible in my analysis. I am not asking you to be. Challenge me; make me see what I am not seeing. After all, it is for God and nation.

I promise I am going to make this post very short and straight to the point. I just want us to discuss what 2016 means to us as Gambians and what we are doing about it. It is very obvious that as small as we seem to look, we are a much divided society when it comes to politics. Is it a bad thing? I don’t think so. Do most of us see it as a bad thing? Yes, we do. However, the sad part is that our division is mostly based on personalities we like or dislike, and not based on issues. I think personalities are important, but should they determine our future? I don’t think so. I don’t think our future as a nation is dependent on Yahya Jammeh, Ousainou Darboe, Halifa Sallah or Hamat Bah. It depends on us. We who call ourselves Gambians and proudly identify with our shortcomings and are willing to push for a brighter future.

Today, what currently dominates the political discussion in The Gambia is opposition unity. Most Gambians especially those in the diaspora are calling for such collaboration as the only means possible to remove Jammeh from office.  Or we may say one of many possible means. Mind you, those that are calling for such are the ones that still believe in the ballot box and not the barrel of the gun. I equally believe in the electoral process. I believe that all the changes and the reforms that have been strategically made are just stumbling blocks created by the ruling party to deter and discourage possible opponents from contesting. We all know that. However, experience in the social justice movement thought me that challenges are opportunities as well. It depends on how we wield them to our advantage. Mind you, I am not saying these structural changes are needed, but for change to happen they are necessary.

This may sound a little out of topic. However, I think it is relevant. I must say that I understand the way semi-autocratic regimes operate. I understand the fact that they control the police and the military. I also understand that they are richer and seemingly more organized based on all factors mentioned. Nonetheless, I believe, despite the poor financial status of opposition political parties they have similar power and control over the masses just like the ruling party. I am not saying the opposition should use the masses to clash with the security forces, but they should understand that they are not weak. They simply need to realize their comparative advantage and use it to check the powers of the incumbent. I think the best way to do this in our case is in the parliament.

The last time I was talking to a friend and mentor when the electoral reform bill was introduced in parliament. We know very well that the bill was going to get A+ pass within a second. We also noted that the only people that could have vehemently opposed the bill were the opposition political parties in parliament. That is if they were there or even not.  So, we know that they were not in parliament because they boycotted the last parliamentary elections based on several factors. Principle, they called it. However, what prevented them from mobilizing their members for a peaceful march to the National Assembly and push forward their demands or even stopping the bill from passing? Yes, I know what you think. Why didn’t I do it? It is easy for me to be in Norway some miles away from The Gambia and suggest this. That is true. I feel like I am somehow selfish. In fact I am very selfish.  However, this is not the point I am getting at. I personally, do not want to see any human talk less of someone from my community getting killed or anything. I strongly believe in non-violent means to change government. I equally believe that change takes time and that we need to invest all the time we need to create change. I was just trying to show another part of my troubled mind.

You might be asking what exactly I am trying to say in this post. I don’t even know. Just like The Gambia, I am in dilemma as well. I am at a crossroads. Confused, not knowing which way to go. If you think I am the only one thinking this way, ask the ordinary Gambian in the street. We want things to change, we want dignifying jobs, we want to feel a part of something, we want to see a democratic Gambia, we want security, and we want The Gambia to be what we have grown to love and care for, and a place we are proud to call home. You can add to the list. However, I don’t trust the politicians. I don’t trust that changing Jammeh will make things better. I also don’t trust that leaving Jammeh in office will solve issues he can’t solve and some which he created. In fact what guarantee do I have that if Jammeh loses, he will leave power? At the end I have to decide. We have to choose and like I mentioned whatever option we go with, we will live with the consequences.

A few days ago, I had a very interesting discussion with some senior Gambians. Yes, they are older than me. Way older. They are the same age with my dad but they treat me like their age mate. Since I moved to this part of the world for studies, I always look forward to meeting them. As a historian interested in post-independence Gambian history, they are the best people to engage and receive first-hand information. I am sure I will engage them in my upcoming blog series on “Everything that is wrong with Gambian Politics”. The idea is to critically look at our evolution as a country and society. Right now, I have chronicled my ideas into fifteen parts. Excuse my digression. Let us go back to the point.

One of the men raised a very important point, one worth sharing. His point was that online papers and radios have concentrated all their efforts in dehumanizing Jammeh. Now that everyone knows, we must focus on real issues confronting ordinary Gambians. His point resonated well with what I have been saying for a very long time. Jammeh is just one part of our problem. The problem of The Gambia is Gambians including Jammeh. As bloggers, journalists and writers in general interested in information sharing, we must start focusing on low salaries, increasing cost of living, growing poverty level in rural and urban areas, migration, job creation etc. These issues should decide what road we should take and who will drive the bus. For now, all we hear is Jammeh this and Jammeh that. Yes, we should blame him for some of the things and then we should look inward and see what we doing right or otherwise.

All that I have been trying to say is this. What road are we taking come 1st December, 2016?