By Matida Jallow
The 21st of October 2021 will doubtlessly be remembered vividly in the contemporary political history of The Gambia. The turnout of UDP supporters to welcome their party leader from his nation-wide tour in a grand fashion, which lasted for almost 17 hours (12 pm to 4 am), has set a new record, and left many observers in the state of head-scratching.
From Kalagi to Fajara Pipeline one could not avoid the unrivalled display of the yellow colour and the chanting of the famous Alaye fo n’saajeh song on the main trans-Gambia Highway, and in the streets and compounds of villages and towns situated along the highway. Similar yellowish demonstration was featured on the social media, notably on Facebook and WhatsApp, where the party enjoys unmatched support.
The legitimate question that forces itself to the surface in the wake of yesterday’s welcoming is what are the explanatory factors of the unprecedented popularity of UDP and massive turnout in the welcoming of UDP leader. Undoubtedly, the party is living its golden moment in terms of the uninterrupted growth of its popularity across the country. However recent developments in the political arena of the country have contributed widely to the increased visibility of UDP in the Gambian political landscape, which was translated into larger lineup of the party supporters to receive their party leader. These recent developments, include, but not limited to:
1. The transformation and re-structuring of UDP and the adjustment of its vision and strategies to the reality of the age: These developments ensured the placement of academically qualified youths and well experienced individuals in the key positions of party’s national and regional executive bodies. The increased visibility of youths (men and women) in the management of the affairs of the party serves as an inspiration for many youths, who, until recently, shied away from associating with a party unjustly labelled as party of illiterates.
The knowledge stock and experiences of the new batch of UDP, who were mainly drawn for international organisations, are being wisely exploited by the party to develop policies and programmes as well as media strategies that are increasingly enticing larger number of university age-going and graduates as well as intellectuals to declare their support to the party. This is further emboldened by the increased awareness of many Gambians about the knowledge and moral competency of UDP leadership, thanks to the party’s smart exploitation of social media.
2. The Five Point Agenda of the party is certainly reshaping the image of the party in the eyes and minds of many doubters, who normally associate the popularity of the party with its grassroots strategies, hence the sentimental politics without any discussion of substantial issues and ideas. This claim is being invalidated by the launch of the five points agenda the explanation of which has dominated the just-concluded tour of the party. The centrality of this agenda in UDP’s bid for presidency is overtly stealing the hearts and minds of many urban residents, more specifically those who profile themselves as educated elites.
3. The Barrow factor is strongly present in the enhancement of UDP’s unprecedented popularity among all segments of the Gambian population. Barrow’s moral and professional incompetencies have contributed to the high living standards, the inflation, high rate of crimes, the erosion of Gambian sovereignty, poor health services and higher rate of youth unemployment in the country. These factors and Barrow’s continued immature politicking, especially his unwise alliance with APRC, as well as his embarrassing and unpresidential attitudes and behaviours are pushing many Gambians to consider supporting a winnable party that can put an end to Barrow’s presidency. The search for a winnable party places UDP as the most preferred party for many of the patriotic citizens who are increasingly frustrated with the state of the economy in the country. Similar factors are strengthening the popularity of UDP at the grassroots level, especially among rural farmers and urban market vendors as well as civil servants and security personnel whose continued and daily struggles to provide food for their families are motivating them to support UDP, either publicly or privately, as in the case of the civil servants and the security personnel.
4. The polarisation of Gambians and the presence of tribal politics in the country fall to the advantage of UDP. The continued and unjustified labelling of UDP as a Mandinka party, and the description of its popularity as a manifestation of baadinya faasa, are only pushing Mandinkas, the largest tribe in The Gambia, to embrace UDP despite of themselves. The perceived and sometimes apparent attempts in certain quarters and by some ill-minded groups to advance Mandinkaphobia among other tribes is equally fueling the mass embrace of UDP in Mandinka communities.
5. The Gambian diaspora is disenfranchised by the Barrow government to vote in the coming elections. Despite this the diaspora continues to play key and an indispensable role in Gambian politics. Given their influences in their families many Gambians abroad are shaping the political preferences of their family members. Their daily experiences as breadwinners of their respective families made them the prime victims of the worsening economic situation in the country; hence they are advocating for change. The exposure of many members of diaspora to various UDP media platforms and individual WhatsApp groups is shaping their positive positions to the party, and this is being translated into the popularity of UDP among families of Gambian diaspora.
These and other comparative advantages inherent to UDP, for example, the struggle of its members to end the dictatorship, the connection of the party to the grassroots, the presence of responsible old men and women in the party, are responsible for the recent surge in the popularity of the party, which ultimately shaped the turnout in Thursday’s welcoming of the party leader.
While the crowd of Thursday would certainly push rival parties to reconsider their strategies, what is also certain though is that the impressive UDP turnout will definitely attract many undecided and fence-sitting voters to join the party, and it will equally entice many electorate who are genuinely looking for change to ditch their various parties for UDP. However, the most certain consequence of this massive demonstration of UDP popularity is that it would increase frustration within NPP, and it will further increase their doubts about the chances of their party winning the next election. The presence of these psychological feelings within NPP might encourage its supporters to become politically inactive to avoid imminent humiliation at the hands of UDP. Contrastingly, the largest turnout in the welcoming of UDP leader would boost the morality of the party and re-energise its leadership to embark on campaign trail with optimism of inevitable victory.