Will Gambia's opposition leaders muster the courage to unite

Will Gambia’s opposition leaders muster the courage to unite – the best weapon to unseat a brutal dictator?

By Janko Camara

This is a rejoinder to the above captioned article. It reflects similar views I had expressed almost a year ago in a different forum on Kairo News.
The Need for a United Front: – This is long overdue. In my humble opinion, it is the most obvious and effective way of redeeming our country from the clutches of A(F)PRC. The mere fact that the country’s current electoral system is designed to recognize only the “first past the post”, provides enough justification for the Opposition parties in the country to come together as a united front to contest the 2016 polls. That is to say, they can turn the deficiency of the electoral system to their advantage by rallying around the bigger party and contest the polls to dislodge the incumbent. The basis for such a coalition could be a strong Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) subscribed to and signed by all the parties defining the character and responsibility of the government that wins on the back of such a coalition. The ensuing government could draw its Cabinet from all the members of the Coalition using the agreed MoU that shall define the primary tasks of the government as a guide. That task may include:

Reviewing the country’s battered Constitution whilst ENTRENCHING certain fundamental clauses, especially those relating to a Presidential Term Limit; the protection of our basic rights as a people; the independence of the Judiciary and the Separation of the three organs of government etc. These entrenched clauses must only be amended through a Referendum in which at least two-Thirds of the voters agree.

Overhauling the entire political and electoral process; initiate democratic reforms; restore our basic rights as a people;
Establishing a credible and dependable judicial system which draws its powers not from an individual but from the Constitution;
Limiting the term of Presidency to two terms of either four or five years.

Taking a deeper look at the above, it may be appealing to the majority of our people and any Coalition Government that succeeds in effecting the above reforms shall have already succeeded in setting The Gambia on a democratic footing. However, what appears to be generating the debate is the “How” of getting there. Whilst some may argue that “a coalition of the opposition political parties with an independent presidential candidate” is the best option because, it will put an end to “the culture of self-perpetuating rule”, in my opinion, this argument is redundant and more of theory not supported by historical facts since 2001. I also think the proponents of this theory seem to have a challenge connecting it to The Gambian reality. First, we cannot have a self-perpetuating rule in a setting where the Term of Presidency is clearly defined, limited and entrenched in the Constitution. Secondly, the selection/election of an “independent presidential candidate” to head a coalition of the Opposition has historically proven to be a daunting task for our Opposition since 2001. So why resort to a system that has been tested but failed? Is it that we are not learning any lessons or we just enjoy beating the dead horse? If there is any importance to History, it is the fact that it provides a reference, which the Wise can use as a guide to the future.

Given the foregone, I would like to agree with Mr. Conteh’s matter-of-fact proposal to have a party-led coalition of the Opposition. And if History and past performances are anything to go by, the United Democratic Party (UDP), which, apart from the ruling A(F)PRC, has a far general acceptance from the electorate (based on their performance in previous polls), stands a better chance to lead any coalition against the incumbent. The reality on the ground is this: any alliance and/or coalition against the ruling A(F)PRC, without the UDP support is likely to fail. It is not magic but simple logic. We have to acknowledge that there comes a time in our lives when a decision has to be made to stop the denial and accept reality. “Horse-trading” is a normal thing in politics. The UDP may not be as intellectual as other parties, they may not have the best political programmes like others would want the rest to believe, but they have the masses which is a key strength. The undeniable fact is that in Banjul the Rule of Thumb is “First Past the Post” which cannot be achieved without numbers. So UDP is a force to reckon with in any coalition, a fact not to be discounted. Given the above therefore, there is need to be more pragmatic and realistic by joining the biggest Opposition party on terms and conditions as discussed above to dislodge the incumbent. Let us remember that any political strategy that does not have the final voter as the centre of focus is bound to fail.
The UDP/PPP Current Drama:- For me, the current intrigues relating to the UDP/PPP imbroglio is only relevant in so far as it impacts on the ability of the Opposition to come together under one umbrella. Therefore, I am touching on the subject based on my belief that maintaining harmony between the two could help in facilitating the Opposition unity we all yearn for. The truth is that our Opposition party leaders should stop playing to the gallery. Readers would recall that these two parties have seemingly sailed together harmoniously up to September last year when the publicly known spokesman/leader of the PPP took a swipe at the UDP leader in an interview with a certain local paper. My candid opinion at the time was (and remains): if truly the PPP spokesman/leader was genuinely interested in offering advice to the UDP leader, there were better avenues of doing this without going public in a newspaper interview. By that singular act, the PPP Spokesman/leader appeared to have broken the hitherto existing goodwill and understanding between the two parties. The timing of that interview was even more worrisome for me – at a time when there were calls from all quarters for Opposition unity, only a political novice could have embarked on such a costly “project”. It is like projecting oneself as the “Good Cop” and your supposedly political ally as the “Bad Cop”. That was how the whole thing appeared to some of us. To move forward, the PPP spokesman/leader should acknowledge that it was an error and then attempt to restore understanding between the two parties in the interest of the country. The UDP leader should also have the magnanimity of heart to accept an apology and see it as one of those human errors which we all make as Homo sapiens.

Lastly, we hope the Opposition will be able to put the interest of the country first before individual and party interests and rise up to the challenge by coming together and adopting the most pragmatic and practical approach to take back what rightfully belongs to the people. Can they rise above the challenge?

Conclusions
The only strategy that can lead to Jammeh’s removal in a democratic process is through a united front of the Opposition and any such unity without the UDP is bound to fail. As for now, this is the fact. Therefore, if we are serious about taking out Jammeh, we must do away with untested high-sounding theories, be realistic for once, and rally behind the party with a dependable political base to remove Jammeh.
Jammeh may be naïve when it comes to other things, but he has never been naïve on matters relating to his political survival. The PPP and their spokesman/leader will always be allowed to rave and rant about Jammeh’s misrule and Gambia’s sorry state. They will be allowed to even talk to the outside press freely. That cannot and should not be interpreted as Jammeh fearing the PPP. No, on the contrary, he is happy to have the PPP embark on such a crusade because it helps to legitimize his regime and project him as a democrat who allows dissension. Most importantly, however, Jammeh knows the PPP has no political base that could constitute a threat to his political survival. Compare the PPP radio interviews with a mere relay of a meeting by the UDP, and then draw conclusions. Jammeh knows the biggest threat to his political survival is no other Opposition party other than the UDP. That is why he will never allow them to get that the degree of freedom other parties are accorded. This should be enough to galvanise the other Opposition parties into rallying behind the UDP and rid The Gambia of Jammeh and his APRC party.

Ends

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Disclaimer: Views expressed in this section are the author's own and do not represent the editorial policy of Kairo News. Kairo News will trash any comment that inflames tribal, racial or religious hatred.

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