By: Maa Touray
On February 8, Alargi Conteh, a financier of the United Democratic Party (UDP), publicly joined the National People’s Party (NPP) at a ceremony held at Jambur, Kombo South. This may be seen as victory for NPP and President Adama Barrow having the last laugh. But in essence, it was loss for democracy; and humiliation for Kombo and its indigenes. In democracy, support is supposed to be earned through persuasion and not coercion.
Jambur, has apparently, become the political power house of NPP in Kombo. It was there that the first election victory celebration for the party in the country took place on December 11, 2021. Jambur gained this status as result of it being the native home of Kebba Madi Bojang, the influential National Youth President of NPP; in addition to that of Ebrima Sillah, the current Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure; Dembo By-force Bojang, the National President of NPP and the Special Advisor on Religious and Traditional Affairs to President Barrow; and Momodou Bojang, the current Councillor of Sanyang Ward, and the Deputy Social and Fund Raising Chairman of NPP. All these people were once influential members of UDP too: Ebrima in the diaspora, Dembo By-force at the national level, and Kebba Madi and Momodou at the constituency and ward levels. In fact, Momodou was elected as councilor under a UDP ticket.
Alhagi Conteh is the Managing Director of Dabanani Electrical Company, the biggest private held electrical company in the country. He was one time managing director of the National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC). He is a native of Kunjur (Gunjur) in Kombo. Hence, the name of his electrical company “Dabanani”, named after the traditional name of Kunjur: Kunjur Dabanani. He has immediate and extended families in every part of Kombo as in Faraba Banta, Brikama, Jambur, Kunjur, Sukuta, Burufut (Brufut) and Bakau. And above all, he is the Chairman of Kombo Yiriwa Kafo (KYK), the umbrella association for the natives (though not limited to them) of Kombo — Kombo East, Central, South, North; and Bakau (Kanifing Municipality, formerly Kombo St. Mary).
KYK is a non-political, non-profit, membership-based association with the aims of initiating and complimenting development efforts in Kombo, environmental protection and preservation, as well as protection of the culture and heritage of Kombo amongst others.
Mr Conteh’s woes started when, according to him, President Barrow asked him to support his bid for reelection in the past 2021 presidential election; and, he refused. He said, he told President Barrow that UDP was the party he would be supporting. With that, President Barrow then promised to destroy him financially, as relates to his businesses. How human beings can forget so soon. Mr Conteh was a key financier of the Coalition 2016, and a major financial backer of UDP since then. He, therefore, contributed immensely to Barrow’s election in 2016. And, as a citizen of The Gambia, he has all rights to support any political party of his choice and to partake in politics. There is no law in The Gambia which states that every business man must support the party in power. And for President Barrow to promise to destroy him financially for refusing to support him, showed his lack of understanding or appreciation, or simply, ignoring what democracy should be all about. Little over five years ago, Adama Barrow, as a UDP member, would have berated Former president Yahya Jammeh for the very the same behaviour. Surely, “one cannot truly know an individual until they assume position of power or become wealthy”.
Democracy is not just about people voting in an election to choose a president. There are so many aspects to it. There should be guaranteed rights to freedom of association and the right to belong to any political party of one’s choice. So, it was both morally and politically wrong, and undemocratic for a business man to be forced to support the ruling party or risk his business being destroyed. How would Adama Barrow have felt if he had been dealt with the same way by President Yahya Jammeh as relates to his Majum Estates. Just like Mr Conteh, Adama Barrow had campaigned against President Yahya Jammeh, used his resources to unseat him, and at one time even contested against APRC for the national assembly (NA) seat in the Jimara constituency. Majum Estates wouldn’t have moved office from a corner-shop house on a dusty back street of Serrekunda to an opulent building on the Brikama Highway had President Yahya Jammeh treated Adama Barrow even 0.05% of the way President Adama Barrow had treated Mr Conteh. It is not obligatory on any individual citizen, be it successful business owner or not, to support the president politically. However, it is incumbent upon the president to provide a conducive and enabling environment for every citizen to strive and prosper whether they support the president’s party or not.
Opposition is a sine qua non in democracy. One cannot claim to be democratic if you don’t want to have an opposition, especially a strong one that can go toe-to-toe with you in every aspect. A strong opposition is essential for any functioning democracy. And for those who might be celebrating Mr Conteh’s joining of NPP as victory for President Barrow; it might well be, but without doubt, it is a loss for democracy. A business man must not have to support the ruling party, or stay out of politics, for his business to strive and prosper in a democracy. Until we change that type of mentality in Africa, we will continue to wallow in underdevelopment, and would always have to be doing catch up with the developed world.
Furthermore, the parading of Mr Conteh in the historical Kombo settlement of Jambur of all places was nothing but humiliation for Kombo. There are so many layers to these humiliations, with the saddest part being the event being orchestrated by indigenes of Kombo themselves. This public humiliation didn’t have to happen in the first place. There had been people who ‘offended’ or ‘wronged’ President Barrow much worse than Mr Conteh, but none of them were paraded in public as way to ‘reconcile’ with him. All we heard about some of those people was that they were appointed as ambassadors, ministers, etc. And most of them, unlike Mr Conteh, contributed nothing at all in helping Barrow become president in the first place. Even with the vicious Yahya Jammeh, we’ve seen when he fell out with certain people, how a group of elders, or influential individuals, would mediate between him and those ones in not so public meetings. And he would end up ‘forgiving’ some of them.
Without doubt, if Mr Conteh was from another region or group, his ‘reconciliation’ with President Barrow wouldn’t be as humiliating. Where is “the council of elders” of Kombo? What is its worth? If it is really for the welfare and dignity of Kombo, how could it allow such a thing to befall one of its most illustrious and industrious sons?
And, for all the influential Kombo natives, especially those in NPP, if the best you could do to ‘reconcile’ the chairman of KYK—your premier citizen, so to speak—was parade him the way you did; then what’s the worth of your influence? How truly influential you people really are for your people? The rest of the country may not know, but for sure, you should be aware of what Mr Conteh means to the ordinary natives of Kombo.
Although, a number of you graced the event in Jambur purely for photo op—for the show of it; surely, most of you were there not as celebration of Mr Conteh joining NPP; but rather, as solidarity in commiserating with him in humiliation. Most of his immediate family would rather not have such an event held for him, in him joining NPP.
Kombo! Kombo! Kombo!