How and why the opposition in Gambia lost!

Mr. Alieu Famara Sagnia, TAT Consulting Editor

By Alf Soninke

Part 1

When the incumbent, Adama Barrow, sought his alliance with the APRC of Yahya Jammeh, we called it a misstep and a vote loser.

It did not cross our mind then that Barrow is not only working with former associates and employees of ex president Yahya Jammeh, but would learned from them how to copy Jammeh’s politics of voter inducement.

Barrow’s predecessor, we know, used coercion, intimidation and fear, as well as inducement to win elections and prolong his stay in power. For obvious reasons, Barrow could only use the weapon of inducement.

Voter inducement is defined as “something that is given to somebody to persuade them to do something” – such as financial and other material inducements, usually given to the electorate well before Election Day.

However, under Barrow, it must have been carried to unprecedented levels, and this may explain why he spoke so confidently of a “landslide win unprecedented in the history of this country”, after casting his vote in Banjul in Saturday’s election.

Voter inducement is a way of rigging the vote, which does not necessarily happen on Election Day – at the voting centers and during vote counting – but usually happens well before.

Indeed, it is common knowledge that elections are rigged well before voting day; also, that rigging takes many forms and is done in many ways.

The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines the word “rig” (a verb as well as a noun) as follows: “to arrange or influence something in a dishonest way in order to get the result that you want”.

An example of usage is: “He said the election had been rigged”. The word “rigging” is defined as “the act of influencing something in a dishonest was in order to get the result that you want”. “Vote rigging” is an example o f usage.

Definitely, that voters countrywide were targeted for inducement may, among other factors, explain the huge votes Candidate Barrow received in constituencies across the length and breath of the country.

It should also account for the winning margins between Barrow and the others, and the 200, 000 plus votes between the declared winner and the first runner-up.

And, talking of winning margins, it is true that the huge gap between the President-elect and his challengers translates into a “landslide”; which is described as “an election in which one person or party gets very many more votes than the other people or parties.”

However, Barrow’s 53.2 percent is not what you would call a “landslide”; as it is just over half in terms of a percentage of the overall votes cast.

Moreover, Yahya Jammeh received around the same – just over 50 percent – when he was declared the winner in one particular presidential election.

From the election results, we now see that the perceptible unprecedented voter inducement translated into ‘unprecedented” crowds at Barrow’s campaign rallies, as well as the massive voting for the incumbent countrywide.

Overt and covert inducements, obviously, would have started long before, but were manifest in the use of the Covid 19 funds, from the national budget and external aid, to deliver Covid-related support to the around 800,000 beneficiaries.

There was also the assistance for nutritional support provided under a NaNA project, targeting hundreds of vulnerable households in the regions.

With eyes set on the looming presidential election, and in a country with rampant mass poverty; several months ago, the Covid 19-related aid and the financial support given to women and vulnerable rural families, were used to win the hearts and minds of a general public amenable to being successfully induced by partisan interests.

We have all seen how public funds from the national budget, including the supplementary appropriations, were being utilized to embark on projects such as the Hakalong road in Nuimi; and, then Barrow turns round to claim that it’s proof of his govt’s commitment to the voters’ welfare.

What about using the meet-the-people tours, mandated by the constitution and funded by the treasury, to campaign for his re-election?

Also, how about Barrow exploiting donor support, such as the Chinese grants for his “roads and bridges” projects in URR, which Barrow told Gambians were realized through his efforts as the president.

And, still talking about inducement, we saw a candidate – after casting his vote in Serekunda – emotionally lamenting to reporters that the future of Gambian youths would be compromised, should money politics take hold in the country.

There is also the case of a prominent imam and Muslim elder, who in a video said he endorsed Barrow because, among other things, Barrow gave money to the supreme Islamic council, which he said was an unprecedented gesture from a sitting president.

Clearly, the Barrow presidency seems to be associated with the “unprecedented” – drawing mammoth crowds during the election campaign, huge voter turnout at the polls, and unprecedented win at the level of various constituencies – which definitely are a result of unprecedented levels of inducing the population.

It is apparent that even under the coercive govt of the APRC, Yahya Jammeh was not known to receive the “unprecedented” votes Barrow got.

Certainly, Barrow would have got advise and to support from experienced handlers, local and abroad, on how to tread the path of inducement to win re-election.

He could not have done so, in 2016, under the watchful eyes of Yahya Jammeh and his fearsome secret police, the NIA.

Another contributing factor to Barrow’s win is by capitalizing on a needy and, therefore, acutely vulnerable population amenable to inducement.

This apparent vulnerability of the generality of Gambians, in a society where many come from poor homes and depend on govt jobs or patronage to survive, was exploited.

Gambian opposition parties have for long been calling for electoral reform; and, recently a section of the opposition has called for “system change” which has come to be echoed by many in civil society.

These calls were necessitated by a realization – since the first Republic – that a level playing is lacking in the country’s political arena – which partly explains the longevity in power of past Gambian governments.

Even though Saturday’s election was held under what was supposed to be “a new dispensation”; in reality, in that regard post Yahya Jammeh, not much has changed.

The 1997 constitution which Jammeh introduced, and which he amended (some say around 50 times) along with other laws of The Gambia, helped empower the Executive branch of government, and to erode the system of checks and balances in place – giving Jammeh enormous power to manipulate a highly malleable legislature and judiciary.

An opposition emboldened by unseating Jammeh through the ballot box expected the new govt to carry out reforms to build a new democratic dispensation.

This did not happen; as work to adopt a new 2020 Constitution stalled, as did reforms targeting the civil service, security sector and, among others, electoral reforms which were not thorough enough – as this presidential election has clearly underscored.

The system of government continued to be based on the Jammeh-era constitution; and the 2021 presidential election was held in this context of an all-powerful Executive.

Thus the lack of a level-playing field in the political arena persists, as did continuing calls for system change.

However, Barrow would capitalize on the advantages of incumbency to achieve his goals; again, as shown by the election results.

Seeking re-election – in an election which he said he would rather die than lose – Barrow, no doubt, applied all tools at his disposal to win the I-must-win-or-I-die contest.

Among Barrow’s enablers was the help from chiefs and alkalos, who are the heads of the districts and villages which constitute the 53 constituencies.

One enticement measure he announced during the election campaign was that come January 2022, alkalos will start receiving a monthly salary. Inducement?

Barrow also did a lot of other unprecedented things to achieve re-election.

Among them was the unprecedented holding of party political meetings by the sitting president at the State House, as well as the unprecedented convening there of segregated meetings with the representatives of the various Gambian ethno-linguistic groups.

Barrow used these unconventional and highly questionable approach which revealed partisanship at the seat of the presidency, whilst inevitably promoting the malevolent genie of tribalism, which Gambians have been fighting hard to control in their society.

Also, the Barrow camp benefitted from hate speech directed particularly at Mandinkas and Ousainou Darboe.

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Sainey M.K. Marenah
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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