By: Prof. Abdoulaye Saine
Though I do not care much for his politics, like him or loath him, I take my hat off for Fabakary Tombong Jatta. As the new Speaker of the National Assembly, he presided over the somber swearing-in of the new, recently nominated, and continuing members of the National Assembly.
By aligning his splinter/break-away faction of the APRC, Jatta, a political animal, and strategist helped orchestrate Barrow’s NPP, to a clear victory in the presidential election, and now the National Assembly election with a slight edge made stronger by five additional nominated members. Jatta, in my book, is the undisputed King-maker, and political operative who had for most of Yayah Jammeh’s tenure, and now Barrow’s helped direct, among others, both the content and direction of Gambian politics.
When one expected Jatta to be discarded and disgraced in the aftermath of APRC’s pre-election internal crisis, he took the calculated risk of building an alliance between his APRC faction with Barrow’s NPP, for which he is now handsomely rewarded. With Sida, Halifa, Ya Kumba Jaiteh, and Ousman Sillah gone, the National Assembly will likely become Jatta’s new platform to drive through, with few obstacles, Barrow’s political agenda- using his folksy carrot and stick approach to hatching out political deals in the Peoples’ Assembly. Talking about the Peoples’ Assembly; except for a few, most members are political novices who have not distinguished themselves in the professions or academically- some could barely read the oath. But here lies their individual and collective charm(s).
This is because the presidential and assembly elections may have very well occasioned a sea change, a new chapter in Gambia’s modern politics where the high-brow elite and highly educated politicians and their supporters have been smartly outmaneuvered, “bested” by a less lettered/credentialed, non-elite political class including the likes of Barrow and his advisors. Call it a “class coup.” This is truly remarkable, as this underrated bunch of (respectfully) “half-baked” politicians, despite their party affiliation together now hold the key(s) to Gambia’s future in the next five years, and perhaps, beyond.
Think back for a moment to the Parliament, and Parliamentarians of the immediate post-independence era, and you get my point. Perhaps, the electorate voted the way they did, in both elections, like it or not, partly because they lost all hope in the elite and elitist politicians and voted for the current assembly members without the blink of an eye. Could it be that the current crop of assembly members have their ears closer to the ground and speak the language of the masses?
Is it also because the electorate would rather vote in a president and assembly members who will likely meet some of their expectations rather than the old and relatively more lettered political elite? We must never underestimate the Gambian electorate, as they are more astute and sure of what they want than we ordinarily give them credit for. Similarly, we must not underestimate this “new class” of relatively young, novice politicians, as we did the A(F)PRC and Jammeh, specifically.
We do so at our peril. You may like, or loath them but they hold the keys to our futures and our nation’s. I knew Fabakary Tombong Jatta at Armitage High. He was an unassuming, soft-spoken lad with a slight stutter- perhaps the most unlikely candidate for the post of Speaker in hindsight. But was I/were we wrong in underestimating Tombong then, as he has risen high to assume one of three key political positions- Speaker of the “Peoples'” Assembly. Congratulations to Speaker Jatta and new NAMs. For the older and elite/elitist politicians and supporters, you have work to do.