How and why the opposition in Gambia lost! Part 2

Mr. Alieu Famara Sagnia, TAT Consulting Editor

By Alf Soninke

Part 2

We have made the point in Part 1 that Barrow was able to win re-election largely because he used the politics of inducement, knowing the susceptibility to be induced of a generally indigent electorate.

Another factor we mentioned is the absence of a level playing field in the country’s political arena – actually, since the first Republic – due largely to the lack of political will to institutionalize clean and honest politics in the body politic by the ruling elite.

Indeed, it was in the spirit of the struggle for meaningful electoral reform – a crucial pillar of system change – by members of the political class in the opposition, that Solo Sandeng was martyred and the top UDP leadership marching against state terrorism was imprisoned in 2016.

Thus the onus is and continues to lie on the ruling elite to be committed to fair play in politics!

But what has happened in this country – and, of course, elsewhere in Africa especially, is that once in government, the ruling party twitches the system to create an enabling environment for continually winning all elections.

In such circumstances, it’s untenable to talk of free and fair elections, nor a truly functioning democracy.

Indeed, in all three past governments (of course, including Barrow’s first govt) the desire to go on and on after tasting the sweets of office trumped the constitutional requirement to play politics fair and square (idiom) meaning “honestly and according to the rules”.

And, as we’ve experienced in Gambia, such a situation creates room for the soldiers to step in in the guise of saving the people and the country.

Definitely, this was what happened in the first Republic, was evident in the second Republic and the skewed system is now working in favor of the incumbent, Adama Barrow, who just won re-election!

Barrow speaking at the hustings had said his goal is to win the presidential election, and then his NPP party wins the parliamentary and local government elections.

If the unlevel playing field persists, then be rest assured that Barrow can go on and on.

For, even though Barrow has said that he wants the adoption of the draft constitution 2020 to be part of his legacy, he also said very clearly that this adoption will come some time during his new five-year term.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed, but from the way he spoke about it, during his first post election news conference held at State House in Banjul, it is noteworthy that he did not say it’s a priority for him.

Which it should be, because without the new constitution in place, Barrow will continue to rule with the Yahya Jammeh-era constitution; when ideally the new constitution should have been in place to usher in the new govt – as the third Republic; and, definitely, the beginnings of the new democratic dispensation which we yearn for in this country.

Yes, we needed the new constitution in place, in tandem with reforms in a whole lot of areas, including civil service reforms. This would ensure we shield civil servants from the politics of their political bosses.

The security sector reform will keep the police and intelligence services out of politics, and electoral reform would keep chiefs and alkalos, for instance, out of partisan politics. ETC!

Then we would have something akin to system change, again, in the body politic.

System change means to create a level playing field, and give everybody a decent chance to have a shot at the presidency.

It is to ensure good management of public resources – whose spin off will be decent wages for workers and incomes for farmers, decent employment for youths and women, investment in education, health, affordable housing, and building infrastructure such as roads, bridges, enhanced electricity and water supply countrywide, modern telecommunications systems, and so on.

Realistically, it is about nothing more profound than that; for, indeed, this is all there is to talk of system change – in its superficial sense – in the Gambian context!

System change means ridding the system of opportunities for corruption in all areas, including the political, economic and social spheres.

System change means better management of govt finances, so that we would not need to receive budget support say from the EU or loans and grants from the IMF and World Bank.

It means directing our public funds to address priority needs of the population in health, education and food security.

It entails investing our public funds in the productive sectors of agriculture and fisheries.

That is, exploiting our natural resources to generate revenue to invest in addressing the needs of the population.

Unlike promoting the private sector as the so-called engine of growth, we have the state playing the leading role and investing public funds in productive ventures.

This would foster concrete, tangible, and visible, as well as meaningful socio-economic development.

Of course, in the context of and consistent with the existing dominant global neo-liberal system – which cannot be ignored, and to attempt to do so would be suicidal – it would include the state creating a conducive enabling environment for private investment, local and foreign, including public-private partnerships for a win-win outcome for all actors.

Such an outcome would include better wages for workers and incomes for farmers, so that they enjoy a better standard of living.

The reality is that the political and economic system in this country is embedded and entrenched in the Western-dominated global system – and extricating this country from that is nearly impossible.

Also, system change means eliminating flamboyance and waste from the public service by, for example, not purchasing four-wheel vehicles costing millions, in what is one of the poorest countries in the world, and which is obviously scandalous.

For example, during the recent campaign for the presidential election, Mamma Kandeh spoke of Barrow always going to lay foundation stones with 200 vehicles in tow, and said this was “a waste”.

That is what system change – in the superficial sense or meaning – entails!

Now, as happened in Rwanda, after the genocide, any reforms for system change should consider criminalizing tribalism when manifested through word or action, and hate speech directed at any ethno-linguistic group.

Of course, the issue of safeguarding freedom of expression and of free speech, and so on, would arise; but as they say, freedom of speech does not include the right to shout fire in a crowded hall.

Obviously, calling for system change cannot and does now mean “changing the system” – as we used to say in the 50s through the 1980s.

These were the days when Gambians, including the youths were affected by the Cold War-era global competition for the hearts and minds of the world’s populations everywhere.

Indeed, during the period of the Cold War, small Gambia was not spared – remember Kukoi’s 1981 appeal broadcast on Radio Gambia to the Soviet Union to come to his aid!

Calls to “change the system” was rife among so-called “revolutionaries” in Banjul and the Kombos, with intense debates among the students and young men of our generation.

We recall that there was a schism among the “revolutionaries” with the very “radical”, so to speak, not hesitating to change the system through subversion, while others choose to join the mainstream politics.

The latter banked on using political education and organization of the masses to achieve change through the ballot box.

And whilst the former at one stage relocated overseas, to Sweden and UK, for instance, the latter stayed and joined the mainstream politics in Banjul.

However, the persistence of the non-level playing field see the PPP sail through every election; and, it took the 22 July 1994 coup of Yahya Jammeh to halt the PPP’s already decades-long rule.

And, then the traumatic reign of the AFPRC junta and APRC would prevail for another two decades plus.

Then Gambians – aided by the hand of Providence through a coincidence of favorable circumstances and a combination of propitious factors – were able to end Jammeh’s reign of terror through the ballot box.

Mark you though, because of the rigged system, which put the opposition at a perennial disadvantage in the political arena, it had taken 51 years to change their government through elections!

Thus we make the argument that those who choose to participate in the process were for ages aware of the skewed system, yet they joined it.

They were banking on Gambians growing up – hopefully, after years of hard work to raise their “consciousness”.

Yet, almost three decades later, there is nothing to show for their belief in participating in the mainstream political processes.

And, with Barrow talking of having the new constitution in place “before the end” of his new five-year mandate, how soon Barrow takes the draft to a referendum will show the true intentions of his new government.

What is obvious, from his statement, is that political calculations will be the deciding factor – since considering how the draft fared to date, one expected him to declare that a referendum is a priority – but what we’ve got from him is political speak – not a clear statement of intent.

As for the TRRC report, there is a timeline by which to share it with the public, and for a white paper spelling out what the government intends to do about the findings and recommendations.

However, based on what we have witnessed over the past five years of the transition, there is not much hope.

In other words, it is not likely that the new Barrow government, which is expected to be sworn in on January 19, will do what is absolutely necessary – as outlined above – for genuine system change in this our beloved country.


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