Unusual bedfellows cosy up ahead of December polls
President Barrow’s NPP announces a coalition with the APRC barely four months to the December 4th presidential elections making strange bedfellows for a government that came into administration with promises of transformative change and transitional justice. What is clearly a numbers game and deal to best political opponents in the first post Jammeh era elections cycle comes in a controversial package that could largely sway the outcome of the presidential elections as the APRC makes a comeback that brings new dynamics to the race for the State House, but how will this turnaround make or break President Barrow’s bid for re-election.
Whilst many contemplate the moral backdrop of the deal, the mainstay of the raging debate is really over the future of the country’s transitional justice process, which enters its pinnacle phase needing even more commitment to see through with the TRRC rounding up its report of probes it has embarked on in the last three years to unearth the previous regime’s abuses, and violations perpetuated under the very guise of the former President and his cronies. Political Parties are all about winning elections and this drive has resulted in the unholiest of alliances across political environments yet a population that fought hard to achieve change and send a dictator packing never truly envisaged the return of its chief nemesis as this deal ensured.
While the legitimacy of the APRC cannot be questioned, their commitment to any sort of process that involves bringing Jammeh and his cronies to justice is everyone’s take to digest. The party has since the beginning of the Gambia’s transitional justice processes shown unapologetic disregards for any move to seek justice for victims of Jammeh’s brutal regime with the APRC using the former president’s influence to expand its base and harangue the new democracy.
The absence of the cultist figure they found in Jammeh has significantly defaced the party’s influence leading to a dearth of leadership that constantly threatened to dissipate the APRC’s fabric to the very core and that was just what victims needed to drown out the remnants and memories of repressive rule and cruelty the country endured for two difficult decades of human rights abuses and extra judicial killings.
Rights advocates and victims have been reacting to the shocked alliance, which ultimately pushes the transitional process to the foreground as Gambians prepare for presidential polls in December. Former human Rights watch prosecutor and member of the International Commission of Jurists Reed brody is all about the uncertainty and disappointment victims of the former regime will live with as new political alliances move to trump and delay their course to seek justice.
‘One can understand the disarray of my friends who were tortured or raped or who lost loved ones under Yaya Jammeh, and who are now wondering if they will ever see justice for those crimes’. Yet like the long road to Mandela’s freedom, Mr Brody is still optimistic that ‘the last word has not been spoken’. ‘The TRRC will report soon, and I know that a large majority of Gambians were moved by the revelations made there and want to see the TRRC’s recommendations carried out and those responsible brought to justice’ Brody told The Alkamba Times.
Political analyst Sidi Sanneh describes it as a singular mark of recognition that immediately elevates the former President.
‘The decision of the sitting Gambian president to consummate a political alliance with the APRC, the political party founded and moulded in the image of the former dictator has elevated the exiled and disgraced former president to an undeserving degree of political relevance and respectability’.
The political analyst sees the timing as particularly challenging for transitional processes like the truth commission, which is due to present its final report to the President for his ‘final decision on the fate of the Report’s conclusions and recommendations’.
On the other side of the coin, Gambian politics has steadily embraced a broader playing field under the current dispensation, which allows unprecedented liberties in the political spectrum.
Almost 20 contenders have announced their will to contest the decisive December 4th elections and this turnover could spring the country to a more inclusive democracy breeding a fairly distributed political environment.
Boston Massachusetts political Professor Abdoulie Saine sees this as a massive opportunity to expand participation particularly for young aspirants and new parties.
‘Current political developments in The Gambia bode well for our young democracy’, the Political Science Professor observes but quickly notes the downside in its knack for unanticipated alliances. ‘It has generated strange-bedfellows and new actors, with unexpected and at times surprising twists and turns’. And that’s precisely what the electorates can neither predict or influence’.
As politicians move to cement and expand their base in the race for the country’s top job, the very ideals of transformative change and transitional justice could be sidelined for more immediate aspirations that can efface some of the gains made to induct the new democracy. For Professor Saine there are no real shortcuts to realizing the country’s collective ambitions in this political contest for numbers but more inclusion spells a healthy democracy.
Consequently, the population has to wait for the politics to unravel in order to move forward with its aspirations for change.
‘Progress will likely be slow, acrimonious, and at times unsavory. Yet, in the end, it makes for a better polity especially when predicated on dialogue, tolerance for difference and compromise for the good of our country. Without these, violence like cancer, would consume the fabric of society’.
Victims however want assurances that the NPP – APRC alliance will not in any way stall or hijack the transitional process which brings up the question; how do you marry two parties with different ideologies and still achieve progress in the very issue that separates them?
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