Gambia MapA Draft Outline For Political Strategy For A Proposed National Front


Basic Assumptions.

a) That The Gambia Equally Belongs To All Who Were Born In The Country Or whose parents, or one of the parents, were born in the country and are concerned about the country’s good.

b) That multi-party democracy, rule of law, accountability and transparency are the most suitable system of Governance the majority of Gambians want and ought to strive for.

c) That majority vote prevails over all the decision making processes of the front.

d) That all artificial divides, based on ethnic, religious, regional or racial particularisms, are not worthy of any consideration in the Front’s affairs.

e) Local residence inside the country does not carry heavier weight of voice in the same vein, greater financial contribution towards the front’s political work does not necessarily accord greater say in the decision making process.

f) That it is the right and obligation of each and every Gambian, individual or group, to strive to change the autocratic dispensation that today prevails in the country by all means necessary, excluding violence. That when all the chance of peaceful change are fully exhausted as declared by a congress of delegates of the United Front, then it shall be dissolved or other means of struggle reconsidered.

1 Objectives > To bring about peaceful political change in order to restore multiparty democracy in the country.

2. Method> Through the strengthening of united Front of all the political parties, human rights, civil society, community-based and non-governmental, professional associations and faith and gender-based groups, youth organizations, and concerned individual citizens etc, active inside The Gambia.

> Through the building of a caucus of all the elected and unelected independent candidates in the two previous legislative and local government elections (2006- 2008 and 2011-2012)

> Through the forge of a Diaspora Front of all Gambian émigré, political, self-help and mutual-help, and religious, social and football associations

These three above-designated political spheres shall constitute the three corner-stones of the United National Front, (in local parlance they can be called Sinkiri Saboo or Nyeti Chiinli). The United National Front is just a generic working-name in this document. An eventual founding congress will decide on a proper name for the envisaged front.

How to bring about a successful coordination of the activities of the three spheres (aims, types, nature, sequencing of activities clandestine, or otherwise), structural relations and division of responsibilities between the three will become Strategic Organizational Questions. Promoting the growth, expansion and advancement of the particular spheres shall constitute the Tactical Organizational Questions.

A. Sphere One: The Established Home-based Political Parties

Strength : The strength of the political opposition parties has been the steadfastness of the leaders in the face of a lawless and therefore unpredictable foe and the growing discernible failures of the regime and with it, the proportionate fall in its popularity. The higher moral ground they stand.

Weakness: The parties have very many and varied weaknesses. Generally they lack political direction and lack a road map that sheds light on the way forward, the pitfalls lying on the way and how to surmount the threats they pose, onwards to victory. Many of the parties are without any organizational structures, no to speak of any system of inner party democracy and some are little better than one-man set-ups. They are unable to battle the regime in platforms other than governance and human rights issues. Alternative Policies on growth and development in agriculture, job creation, education, health, tourism, macro-economic and foreign policies, etc, if formulated, have not been sufficiently articulated and made known to the general public. Many opposition politicians therefore expect voters to vote for them because of who they are and not what they want to do. Some consciously or not, do not even feel the need to spell out alternative policies to politic around, suffice to lay back and wait for voters to get disenchanted with the regime and, by default, resort to them. This leaves the parties incapable of or unable to take initiatives in the country’s political affairs. The initiative has long been with the regime and the home-based political parties have merely been reacting to the regime’s policies, steps and measures.

Another elemental weakness of the political opposition is the scarcity of resources. Donors are few, financial support scanty and ability for sound and imaginative fund-raising activities nearly absent. Above all, the biggest weakness of them all is that as the saying goes, people get the leaders they deserve, if this is true it must be as true with opposition leaders as with the governing party.

Unfortunately, Gambians have been laid back as far as national affairs are concerned. There is more enthusiasm for English football, for instance, than Gambian politics here. Mass ignorance, the apathy that the religious theory of predestination often generates, the ineptitude of many political leaders across the board, all these, plus of course other factors, have added up to make the average citizen politics-shy. One of the main but overlooked systemic deficiencies of the First Republic was the failure of citizens to rise up to the (the natural social charter between governors and the governed) participatory role cut out for them in multiparty democracies. Multi-party democracy is like a two team game where both must participate for there to be any game; the system tends to lose its vibrancy and impact when one team fails to turn up. This apathy naturally limits the capacity of followers to sufficiently inspire the cadre of opposition political leaders for some of the sacrifices required. Followers must be supportive enough to leaders to warrant them demand sacrifices from leaders.

Then there is what looks like an endemic or chronic disease in the Gambian body-politic, the inability of Gambian political leaders, across the board, to unite their parties around issues, or for adding together their voters around single candidates in order to maximize electoral chances. This is perhaps because they are not running their politics over concrete issues that can be united around or that they can disagree on. Since the days of the Democratic Congress Alliance of the 1950s, Gambian political alliances have only been matters of political expediency, the chemistry of the personalities involved or of opportunistic electoral tactics. As this document is being developed the local, political terrain has become more complicated with divisions appearing triangular rather than bi-polar.

There is perhaps little that repels the average voter further from the Gambian political scene and its opposition actors than the manifest inability of Gambian political leaders to forge alliances. How to bring about more unity among the opposition political parties is an extremely difficult task and is perhaps impossible before the 2016 election season takes off. This proposal, or any other adopted, must seriously consider going it without all the registered opposition parties on board. However, efforts at generating greater political understanding, building greater unity and forging alliances among the opposition parties must never be abandoned however difficult they appear to be.

As this document is being developed the results of the Kiang West constituency by-elections were announced with only about 33% of voters turning out and the APRC sweeping the polls, beating the NRP candidate threefold in a constituency that had steadfastly UDP since the birth of the Second Republic. Many say the NRP suspects that the UDP has not urged voters there to vote for its candidate and that this might have been its reason for not taking part in the rallies. We were not surprise when the NRP also withdraws from the Raleigh Understanding.

Whatever, the Kiang West scenario is a macrocosm of the greater national political scene. A substantial section of voters boycotted the polls in compliance with the UDP stance, perhaps a smaller portion went to the polls to punish the NRP for not joining the Group of Six in their boycott even if the NRP got a paltry 500-plus votes as backlash to the President’s recent anti-Mandinka outbursts. But this is clearly to the perpetual wish of the regime. The divisions within the opposition now appear tri-partite, with the UDP, PPP & GMC, on one part, PDOIS on the other and NRP on the third, with each having an axe to grind with the other. The opposition parties appear to have fallen because they are divided and divided because they have fallen.

Opportunities: Most of the opportunities that have come on the way of the political opposition have not come out of the result of its planned and pre-targeted activities, events or happen stances initiated by them; they stem out of the self-damaging policies, steps and measures of the regime. Opposition politicians have not only failed independently to create and make use of opportunities for their parties they have also not been able to add impact on the many opportunities that frequently erupt out of the regime’s political idiocy.

Over the last two years the regime has been able to alienate fresh sections of the population, including members of the Muslim clergy with the arrests of Imam Ismaila Manjang of Gunjur, Ba Kawsu Fofana and Imam Baba Leigh. Even before this many Muslims have been alarmed by the regime’s persistent intrusion into Muslim affairs. All these have opened up greater opportunities for courting new alliances into the opposition without tainting the secular character of the struggle. This, the political opposition, if they consider as an opportunity, they are yet to grab it. Almost on a weekly, if not daily basis, the regime, either by mistake but mostly from political ineptitude, create opportunities but most are left to slide away. It has alienated business people with the onslaughts of economic strangulation it has waged against them. The civil service is highly embittered by the rampant politicization, open discrimination, promotional favoritisms and lack of consideration for due processes. Bakers, butchers, fish mongers, importers, sand miners, financial service deliverers, etc, have all become disenchanted with the dictatorship providing fertile ground for courting, attracting and recruiting. Families and clans drop to this category on a weekly basis with the regime’s trade-mark practice of arrests, detention, torture and disappearances. These days the regime has very few genuine supporters, those who do are ones who feel they must appear to be supporting if they are to avoid the regime’s repressive arm. These are all opportunities to make gains on.

Threats: The opposition parties are today faced with many threats. Among them are the possibility for them to be met with increasing repression, possibly being banned, leaders jailed or assassinated or pushed to the wayside by another military coup. The difficulties of forging some kind of unity among them risk being seen by the broad masses of voters as self-seeking politicians that ought to be ‘punished’ by voters.

But perhaps the biggest threat they currently face is the political deadlock brought about by the election boycotts they launched in 2012 and the regime’s lack of response to their demands. This deadlock, which has been about nineteen months now, can drag on to the point where they will be considered irrelevant by the broad masses of electorate. The regime has realized that the opposition parties, or Group Of Six, have unwittingly plunged themselves into a formidable trap that is very desirable for it but very difficult for the G6 to wriggle out of. The mistake was to opt for a venture without any exit strategy. In the current circumstances the regime reigns over a de facto one-party situation made more palatable by the participation of one of the parties, which this way, engages in some sort of shadow boxing with the regime to help it keep up the appearance of multi-party elections in a functional democracy. The regime therefore wants to make the current status quo protracted if not permanent. During the last local government elections the IEC set up an electoral calendar that allocated nomination days for the APRC, NRP ,PDOIS and Independent candidates without mentioning the UDP. This shows somehow, what the regime thinks of the current situation. The Group of Six appear to be in a blind alley, not knowing what to do with one member even stating that they are waiting for a mediation by an outsider to come help bring about dialogue and return to normalcy.

The biggest threats to opposition unity at the moment are the reluctance of PDOIS to be associated with the Raleigh initiative and a likely NRP pull out, particularly after it refused to be part of the December 14th & 15th rallies of the UDP, PPP and GMC. In fact as this manuscript is being developed the NRP appears to have some misgivings since with the Raleigh spirit as its name was absent among the named organizers of the December 14th & 15th political rallies in Serekunda and Brikama by the UDP, PPP and GMC political parties.

A Way Forward: As politics is also an art of the possible, there ought to be no waiting for anybody, much less a foreign dignitary from a far-away land. Instead of waiting one could have made the issues surrounding the boycott burning, current and properly laid out to the masses of electoral voters across the country if only to measure the barometer of interest and opinion on the issues. Waiting is a word unknown in the vocabulary of politics, especially when it concerns taking or not taking part in elections.

a) The Group of Six must consider if indeed it is not time for a tactical retreat from the boycott action, prepare for the next season of elections in terms of the configuration of the alliance, a minimum transition programme, agreed processes and choice of flag-bearer, funding, etc.

b) The way out of the current malaise that the political opposition is in must be one that enhances the strength of the parties and organizations, that helps reduce the weaknesses and helps in facilitating the maximum use of opportunities to be able to meet any threats. The parties must strive to recruit more members and establish clear demarcation between party supporters who provide votes in elections and increase numbers in gatherings. Party militants, on the other hand, are those who volunteer to do party work, who contribute ideas and information into the party and who contribute financially or materially for the sustenance of the party organization. The parties must work to have the farthest political spread while tactically accommodating each other in order to have maximum weight against the ruling party. The parties without structures must endeavour to work on establishing them now, before the end of 2014.

c)- One of the main deficiencies of the current (perhaps as well as the previous) Gambian body-politic has been its shortage of political issues. The politics of both the ruling party, as well as those opposed to it, rarely deal with policy issues other than the ones on governance and human rights. The average voter has come to associate the regime with one with a practical development agenda that has so far offered more schools, clinics, new or reconstructed roads, water and electricity, university, television net , etc, etc. Those yet without these services, knowing what has obtained with neighbours, have reasonable hopes that the same will be delivered to them if only they can show their support for the regime and the Leader personally. The opposition parties ought not to give up on the criticism of the regime’s poor human rights records and bad governance, but they should be able to accommodate a wider range of other issues in their narrative and propaganda efforts.

d)-Also, the opposition parties must always be seen giving their conditional support to some of the achievements of the regime while being critical to the other obvious shortcomings, failures and poor leadership. They should not only criticize negatively but must also come out with proposals for rectification and remedy-suggestions. Ability to concede an opponent always bolsters the credibility of one’s argument.

They ought to be seen applauding strides in infrastructure development while questioning their priority-value, wastefulness, implementation delays, accountability and transparency, possible discrimination in the choice of targeted beneficiaries.

e)- All that the opposition parties talk about is the regime’s violations of its own laws, constitution and the rights of it citizens. But the majority of voters are those so oppressed and marginalized that human rights and good governance do not figure out too prominently in neither the hierarchy of their priorities nor their view of political leadership or what modern governments are expected to deliver..”But If those violations are short-cuts to prosperity for all, why not?” some of them would wonder, others would say, “This our president is the best for corrupt government officials, he does not take them to the law, he deals with them summarily. “ Some might not even border to wonder over it.

f)- The opposition parties cannot of course stop nagging about human rights, but should try aiding rights groups to take more of the responsibilities so as to be able to sufficiently de-emphasize their rhetoric on rights violations and accommodate more bread-and-butter issues. Another option is to give the rights violations a cause and effect narrative linking violations of the rights with other mundane issues by for instance saying that the regimes violations, (are not because of its natural violent and brutal nature) are in order be left in peace to carry out its kleptocratic goal of robbing the state, making it incapable of delivering what it should to the masses of citizens. Such logical linkage will provide a scenario more plausible and more likely to make marginalized masses look beyond the horizons of farm and hovel, to cast a glance at developments in Banjul and Kombo Tubabu Banko, and eventually Human Rights and Governance.

h)-None of the parties have succeeded in having its name tagged with issues in the mind of voters . They are all tagged with the names of their respective leaders. But the issues are there out in the minds, lives and livelihoods of citizens and voters. It is the task of political leaders to identify the issues, formulate policy directions out of them and to present them in a way that the imagination of targeted voter groups can be captured.

i)-The political parties must also revisit the methods through which their messages are transmitted. Rallies are good for demonstration of numbers, for visibility, whipping up of enthusiasm, which is good for boosting the morale of members, supporters and sympathizers , but they are not always the best medium for the systematic laying out of a political narrative. The parties should consider the increasing use of indoor lectures and door-to-door canvassing. The use of hired halls or yards in homes of members or supporters do not only require less to do with police permit , less need for public-address-systems and hence less resources, they can also provide a more interactive discourse, more contemplative atmosphere and more convincing results for driving home messages.

NB: As this document is being developed many young UDP supporters who had convened at the Tanji Community Center for a social gathering were dispersed and rounded up by the police for alleged illegal gathering. They were released when UDP leader Lawyer intervened. A leader of the party’s was arrested and detained. The recommendation is to defy police intervention and pursue this method of gathering, spreading it across the country.

j)-Another thing the parties should try is the use of new technologies and media forms, like social media, mobile technology and so on. Group broadcasts or sending of sms to many recipients with short and concise political messages, slogans or catchwords particularly on politically sensitive dates like the anniversaries of the murder of known victims; on price hikes, corruption scandals, etc.

K(-Yet another thing the parties at home should consider is the use of the local radio media inside the country. Under current conditions we cannot reasonably expect access to the radio media but because of that we are compelled to look for other ways of making the voice of the Opposition heard over the waves. Almost all stations have the so-called Call-In programmes to which listeners can either call to make musical requests or to express opinions on usually thoroughly de-politicized topics. Musical requests normally involve mentioning names of loved ones, relatives or friends for whom musical requests are made by phone calls. Militants provided with unregistered Simm cards can make calls to stations requesting that a musical piece be played for a given person, or person s whose names are politically charged; for instance “This is a request for Hamat Bah, the memory of Deda Hydara, Koro Ceesay, Kanyiba Kanyi or Ebrima Chief Manneh, Jisaka Kujabi, etc, or All UDP(or other Parties) members, Halifa Sallah, Sam Sarr or Seedia Jatta etc, etc.” Or “I think the authorities should help us ring the prices of goods down;” or “The authorities should look at the medical shortage at the Basse Clinic;” or “We invite the APRC on Foreign Policy debate on Senegalogambian relations or the secessionist conflict in Casamance” or “we call for an inquest on the death of Ms, Mrs, or Mr. So and So “Where is Rambo? The Lebanese sentenced to to death together with Lang Tombo Tamba & Co Are we all equal before the law?, “ or “Can someone tell me who is Muhamad Bassi?”

l) Holding of Public discussions on complicated or controversial national issues at Arene Baboon Fatty, Father Farrell Hall or Nusrat Assembly Hall.” ( NB:Such like the last programme have better chance of being allowed if organized by the United Front than, for instance the UDP.)

m)-The parties ought to also be making a greater use of the opinion columns of the local newspapers to comment on current issues with pro/opposition stands using either anonymous or real names . The parties can assign groups of semi-clandestine commentators from among their ranks.

n))-The opposition parties should start acting as governments-in-waiting and should be regularly reacting to what government does or fail to do. Doing thus may carry with it the risk of being seen as mere reactants to government, they should at times seize the initiative coming up with policy packages as proposals. They should be holding both regional and national conferences where inputs of members on party policies on the various salient issues. Coming up with alternative budgets, counter-posed to that of the regime, and cutting proposed figures for the presidency, defence, Interior, etc, and boosting spending on the social and productive sectors.

o)-The parties should also consider holding night-time rallies as used to happen in the Bathurst of the 1960s. Such meetings in the dark of the night can accord more anonymous attendance.

p)-The parties should also be using more roaming broadcasts in which a small group of militants could be making brief stops at market-places, bantabas and other public and crowded spots to deliver short and concise political messages (the official permit requirements for such activities ought to be investigated.) In such roaming propaganda stops listeners should be allowed to ask questions about the Front’s policies and programs. Listeners willing to ask must be informed that only questions are invited not comments since some can use it to make irresponsible or inflammatory statements that the Front would be legally responsible for.

q)-The parties should jointly establish a newspaper, website, library and research and documentation center. Joint ownership would mean cost sharing and concretization of the alliance. Alliances that own things together are likelier to stay together than if they do not.

r)-The parties should also be holding timely Quranic Recitals in select mosques and Church Prayers for fallen colleagues and compatriots. The programs may look religious but can rekindle feelings against bestiality of the murders while winning us more sympathy. Potential candidates include: Koro Ceesay, Deyda Hydara , Emrima Chief Manneh, Kanyiba Kanyi Daba Marenah & Co, Kanyiba Kanyi, etc.)

s)-When the president lashes out at an individual or group of individuals, Front politicians should not only issue counter-statements but physically visit the victims to demonstrate solidarity with them.

t)-The parties should look into the feasibility of establishing a clandestine counter-intelligence group for the collection and processing of sensitive information for dissemination into proper channels. For example information on known (For instance from locally published newspaper accounts of court proceedings) sent to Sphere Three, Or of suspected infiltrators passed to Sphere One. And all information that will help the work of the Front or foil the attempts of the regime to illegally repress the Front or other progressive forces.

u)-Note, we have noticed that, in a mass rally held near the Serekunda’s Brikama Car Park just before the 2013 month of Ramadan, the UDP made its intention to oppose the current age limit for presidential candidates. We strongly urge the major opposition party not to be too emphatic on this call as it can easily be seen as self-seeking while there is little chance of getting the regime to let up on it.

v)-By way of conclusion, front officials and members should never tell lies to the people, distort facts or engage in personal attacks against anybody while carrying out propaganda or any other front activity. They should also be receptive to criticisms and be willing to admit its failures and shortcomings. They should also desist from any statement or act that can be interpreted or misinterpreted as attack against any “tribe,” religious, regional or racial group.

w)- Also the Front is constituted on the tenet of non-violence. Non-violence however is not non-confrontational. For a dictatorship as virulent as the one we are facing which is forced reluctantly to concede to the global demand for good governance, opposition to them involves the constant confrontation so as to steadily and incrementally broaden the frontiers of the sham democracy that prevails. So, we are non-violent yes, but we must be prepared to be justly and rightly confrontational towards tyranny through mass defiance and boycott campaigns, through strikes by rates and tax payers, strike action by workers, etc, etc.

x)-Gender equality must the Front strive for. But unfortunately , in The Gambia gender equality has been reduced to the question of FGM. The position on female genital cutting should be made to wait till the ouster of the dictatorship and the launching of the Transition Programme and possibly a referendum. The practice is verily embedded in some cultures of the country’s population and the question whether to legislate a ban or not can generate discord within the Front itself and within sections of the Gambian masses. The protracted work of GAMCOTRAP must be applauded though they should be urged to broaden their demands and include issues like free girls’ education and free or regulated abortion. More girls and young women die each year in make-shift, backyard and underground abortions chambers than women killed by genital cutting. So while the United Front must as, a basic principle, support gender equality, it must be left to the constituent parties to work out their respective programmes for the post-APRC era. The Front should support the CEDAW convention that is against all discrimination against women.



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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