Mr. Ebrima Sonko, Executive Secretary, Commission on Political Debates

The commission on Political debates, an independent body for political dialogue has announced plans to kickstart a series of political debates among contesting candidates in the run up to the December 4th Presidential elections in The Gambia.

The commission previously held debates among contending candidates in 2016 and 2017 elections with a view to provide citizens an opportunity to directly hear from candidates seeking public mandates.

Speaking in an interview with Alkamba Times, Mr. Ebrima Sonko, the Commissions executive Secretary said his organization will stage the debate starting with young politicians on Saturday.

“As an organization, our core areas of focus include but is not limited to debates, opinion polls, current affairs debates and capacity building training on advocacy and debate for public officials.”

He said: “Historically, political debates are uncommon in The Gambia. In fact, it was completely unthinkable for anyone to conceive the idea of hosting political debates in The Gambia during the 22 year rule of Jammeh”.

Amid the risk associated with it, founders of CPD dared and challenged the status quo by building a platform that ensures accountable leadership and substantive political discourse.

“When we started shortly before the 2016 elections, many people thought it would be a futile exercise. We resolved to staging the first ever presidential debates and most opposition parties attended although the incumbent did not attend for obvious reasons. We went on to organize the first ever parliamentary debates, mayoral debate and local government debates in partnership with our partners such as the National Youth Council and the US Embassy, Banjul.”

The CPD wanted to cure ills that mar a political space riddled with rallies of personal attacks, tribal rhetoric  and propaganda. Our ultimate goal is to institutionalize the culture of political debate in The Gambia such that all aspirants cannot claim any public office in The Gambia without debating, Sonko said.

“The CPD has a lineup of activities designed to spur meaningful political growth and peace for the 2021 presidential elections. We recently conducted a training for women political representatives from all parties with support from the US embassy, Banjul and the youth policy dialogue on leadership and political debate hosted by the UNDP office, Banjul and the final phase of this project is the youth policy debate taking place this coming Saturday, October 23rd.”

He announced that they are targeting 10 presidential candidates for the debate adding that the face off will provide a viable alternative for electorates to compare and contrast the agenda of candidates seeking their mandate on critical national issues such as the economy, health, Covid-19, education and employment among others.

“The debates will serve to promote responsible policy-based discussions, enhance popular political participation and public accountability.”

Asked how independent his organization is, Sonko said: “ As an institution, independence and non-political alignment is a core institutional value that guides our operation. We have operating standards that set out how we engage professionally and even personally as private citizens as our impartiality is critical to the success of our work.”

“The CPD indulges the media and the public to take ownership of this years presidential debate. We’re excited to have an unprecedented partnership with the national democratic institute—an internationally renown debate institute that will be providing technical and expert  support to the CPD to host the biggest president debate in the history of The Gambia. We hope that the public will follow the debates passionately and commit their candidates to public scrutiny of their plans and policies as they seek the popular mandate.” He told Alkamba Times.

The commission on Political Debates  is a non-profit, non-political and independent civil society organization established to promote and champion political debates in The Gambia.

It was founded by Mr. Bakary Fatty, a former Mandela Washington fellow from The Gambia who currently serves as the executive director of the commission in The Gambia.

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Mr. Sainey M.K. Marenah is a Prominent Gambian journalist, founding editor The Alkamba Times and formerly head of communications at the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and Communications and PR Consultant for The Gambia Pilot Program, under Gamworks. Mr. Marenah served as the Social media Strategist and Editor at Gambia Radio and Television Services. He is also the Banjul Correspondent for Voice of America Radio. Sainey is a human rights and developmental journalist who has carved a strong niche particularly in new media environments in the Gambian media industry. Mr. Marenah began his career as a junior reporter with the Point Newspaper in the Gambia in 2008 and rose through the ranks to become Chief correspondent before moving to The Standard Newspaper also in Banjul as Editorial Assistant and head of News. He is a household name in the Gambia’s media industry having covered some of the most important stories in the former and current government. These include the high profile treason cases including the Trial of Former military chiefs in Banjul in 2009 to 2012. Following his arrest and imprisonment by the former regime of President, Yahya Jammeh in 2014, Marenah moved to Dakar Senegal where he continues to practice Journalism freelancing for various local and international Media organization’s including the BBC, Al-Jazeera, VOA, and ZDF TV in Germany among others. He is the co-Founder of the Banjul Based Media Center for Research and Development; an institution specialized in research and development undertakings. As a journalist and Communication Expert, focused on supporting the Gambia's transitional process, Mr Marenah continues to play a pivotal role in shaping a viable media and communications platform that engages necessary tools and action to increase civic participation and awareness of the needs of transitional governance to strengthen the current move towards democratization. Mr. Marenah has traveled extensively as a professional journalist in both Europe, Africa and United States and attended several local and international media trainings.

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