(JollofNews) – Mr National President of the UDP, members of central committee, members of national executive, representatives of area committees, representatives of sister political parties, ladies and gentlemen, it is with great honour and pleasure that I address you all on the opening day of our party congress.
A lot has happened to our party and to the country since our last congress in Soma and I would like to express my gratitude to all of you here present, and all others who have not been able to come yet wish they could be with us, for your devotion and dedication to the party. This year is election year and this gives our congress added importance. We look forward therefore to discuss not only the abysmal state of our country but we will together review the activities of the party and trace the way forward to the forthcoming elections and beyond. The congress will decide the team who would be entrusted with the running of the party at all levels for the next two years.
It is in the nature of our very existence as humans that from time to time, friends, colleagues and relatives leave us permanently in accordance with Allah’s will. This party has had its share of these tragic departures and with all representatives of our membership present here in Basse, we will remember them and pray for them as we have always done since they left us. We remember some who were officials at the last congress – Alhaji Karamo Fatty, chairman North Bank Region Area Committee, Mustapha Joof, chairman Banjul Area Committee, Sana Bojang, chairman West Coast Region Area Committee, Baba Touray, secretary Elders Committee, Momodou Lamin Shyngle Nyassi, National Organising Secretary and the veritable face of our struggle, Boro Suso, senior Executive Member, Alhaji Suntou Darboe, chairman Upper Niumi Constituency, Babanding KK Daffeh, former National Assembly Member of Kiang Central, Modou Jallow, secretary Banjul Committee. They join scores of our devoted and dedicated members and officials who have passed away since the inception of our party. Let us pray for all of them.
The demise of some of our indefatigable officials has been trying and unfortunate but we will not be daunted in our resolve to continue the struggle to which these people and many more in the party have devoted their entire lives. We will therefore rededicate ourselves to continue executing our mission to liberate the Gambia.
The situation of our country is deplorable. This is due to the misguided policies of the Jammeh administration that continues to wreak havoc on the population. Prices of commodities, particularly our daily necessities, have gone up and this has not been accompanied by a commensurate rise in salaries and other income. As a result, the level of poverty has risen to the chagrin desolation of the average Gambian. The 2016 budget has seen unjustified increase in government expenditure, particularly in defence and office of the President whilst the social services such as health, education and agriculture benefitted from meagre increases.
The inability of the Jammeh administration to make satisfactory arrangements for the equitable and timely purchase of the groundnut produce, the lack of other production avenues for farmers, the non-existence of employment opportunities for youths, the gradual collapse of our private sector, the non-existence of viable small and medium scale enterprises, have all impoverished the country and make life extremely difficult for the average person.
Admittedly, we have learnt to live with the vicissitudes of politics but when outlandish developments are experienced within the body politic of the nation, there is absolute cause for alarm. The cankerworms that are crawling from within the body politic of this nation risk embroiling us all in a quagmire of constitutional and political crisis of proportions hitherto unknown. The incessant conflicts with Senegal, leading to the devastating border closure is not only disturbing but disastrous for our already tattered economy.
In December 2015 as the Christian community was preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ, the entire country, indeed the whole world was hit by President Jammeh’s declaration of the country as an Islamic State.
The Gambia has always been a unique society whose citizens do not only believe in the values of peace, tolerance, justice and good neighbourliness but practice what they believe in without any hindrance. We have always been an example of inter religious harmony worthy of emulation. It is therefore a matter of regret that the President of the Gambia who took the oath to protect and defend the constitution of the Gambia and other laws will declare Gambia as an Islamic state. The secular status of the Gambia is not only spelt out in our constitution but ensconced deeply in our way of life long before we became a nation.
The president’s anti-religious pluralism declaration was made in the guise to fight imperialism but this is no justification for disturbing the peace and harmony built up in our country for centuries. This is a sinister attempt to distract the Gambian people from the real problems that they face daily. Problems such as the skyrocketing prices, collapsing economy, inadequate health service, poor education standard, mass exodus of youths to Europe by the back way, threats to the independence of the judiciary and dismissal of public servants on executive directives.
Mr President, comrades 2016 is a defining year for the Gambia. It marks over two decades of misrule. It is also the year in which the fourth cycle of elections in the Second Republic will be held. Our party, more than any other opposition party, has had more trials and tribulations. We have suffered arbitrary arrests, detentions, imprisonment, disappearance and death. The party has however always been resilient and has always emerged from these trials and tribulations fortified and more determined.
Since we are a grassroots party, present even in the smallest hamlet of this country, we have constantly engaged in and embarked upon permanent dialogue with the people. The Women’s Wing and the youth Wing have been exceptionally active over the years and they deserve our gratitude and encouragement. The Youth Wing, under the dynamic leadership of Lamin Darboe, has organised dozens of very successful sensitisation tours throughout the length and breadth of the country. With him as leader of the Youth Wing he has shown the whole world that despite his visual impairment, one can with determination and sense of purpose, achieve wonders. We thank Lamin and team for a wonderful job. They have been the vanguard of the party’s political education and sensitisation.
It is during these trips that new members are recruited and hundreds of these are former members of the ruling party. We welcome them all to the party of peace, justice and progress. We have no doubt that they have seen the difference between the two parties like night and day.The Youth Wing also satisfactorily spearheaded our participation in the recent voter registration exercise.
In April 2015 an event took place in Fass Ngagga Choye that brought an end to the unfair treatment our party receive from the Police in our requests for permits to use a public address system at rallies and other public meetings. A countrywide caravan led by members of the National Executive, including myself, was stopped at Fass Ngagga Choye village in Lower Niumi ostensibly because no permit was granted. The most remarkable standoff in the history the Second Republic took place. At the end of 4 days, the Police issued the permit and the tour continued. The Fass Njagga Choye standoff proved that with the determination and steadfastness, we can and will surmount all hurdles and obstacles put in our way to obstruct our efforts to meet and talk to the people of this nation. The standoff exposed the true nature of the United Democratic Party. The members of the UDP are not timid; they respect law and authority but fear no one whatever that person’s position is in the country.
At the international level, the party has had its presence registered at various meetings in Africa, Europe and South America.These meetings were held under the auspices of the Socialist International, along with its affiliated Youth wing – the International Union of Socialist Youths.
In March 2015, I led a delegation to attend the very successful meeting of SI Africa Committee in Mali. The meeting was hosted by the Malian party member of SI – the ADEMA, and it brought together various socialist and social democratic parties in Africa. The UDP delegation, apart from participating fully in the deliberations, was able to consolidate relations with sister SI members and exchanged experiences particularly those parties that are, like the UDP, in opposition in their respective countries.
Earlier this year, I made a private visit to the UK and this provided me the opportunity to meet with officials of our counterpart party. I had discussions with the secretary general of the Socialist International, whose headquarters is in London. Several public meetings were organised by the UK Chapter of the UDP and I spoke to a large group of Gambians and non-Gambians in Birmingham. Some of the attendees travelled from London, Coventry, Manchester and Nottingham. The meeting was very successful and I believe that the participants were better informed of the situation in our country and the state of politics in readiness for the impending elections.
With the widespread use of the internet and the media, particularly electronic – online newspapers and radios, have become easy to access and what is happening in the Gambia now becomes international information in minutes. Gambians have not lagged behind in following what is happening in their country and more and more of them are able to be making informed opinions and take decisions regarding their party and their country.
Our relations with our sister opposition parties have been neither up nor down. We have always nurtured friendly and respectful relations with each other but we have never been able to move to the desired plane of coming together to confront a common adversary. The failure of the parties for not coming together is not due to the lack of efforts to do so.
Mr President, with the support and encouragement of the National Executive, I suggested to my colleagues the leaders of the other opposition parties the holding of joint rallies which I named GUC i.e. Gambians United for Change together with PPP and GMC. The GUC successfully organized rallies at the buffer zone and in Brikama.
Our party is the only party which since its inception has always participated in all the elections in alliance with other parties. Our record therefore is glaring for all to see. In the past every effort undertaken by the party to form a united front based on the true and tried principles of coalition building has fallen short on account of recalcitrant and intrigue from fringe politicians with few supporters but great capacity to feed cynicism and drive up apathy as less discerning citizens who just want to see a unified opposition lump all the parties together and blame them for what they perceive as politicians deliberately letting the country down.
On the other hand, UDP as the largest opposition party has been looked upon by its membership and a preponderance of the population both within and outside of the country to bring together the other parties opposed to the regime to present a united front. We will continue to spare no effort to explore all possibilities of working together to achieve our sacred objective. However, faced with a tyranny that is determined to use every means to thwart the capacity of the Gambian people to freely elect their leaders, the UDP will not be delayed by dysfunctional and unreliable allies in the opposition. Our country increasingly facing an existential threat, the UDP will therefore have no recourse but to chart a clear and achievable course that directly mobilizes all Gambians who wish to act affirmatively to end dictatorship.
Everybody knows that our party has the capacity to assert a muscular and defiant political strategy that can galvanise the whole nation which by all measure, want regime change. We will succeed if we make our intentions clear to the Gambian people, inspire them on the need for shared sacrifice to save the land of our ancestors from the clutches of this vile regime that has brought so much pain and misery to far too many households.
Therefore our party because of its numerical strength, tested and proven over four generations of elections, its commitment to the principles and values of democracy and considering the very precarious state in which our country finds itself, has taken it upon itself to lead the struggle to rid this country of tyrannical rule. If we don’t, we will face the greater danger of conceding our country to merciless tyrant who has shed the blood and tears of our people for more than two decades and who is hell-bent on perpetuating himself in power.
Mr President, in the 2012, the UDP with five political parties did not participate in the National Assembly elections held that year. UDP’s non-participation in the 2012 elections was due to the refusal of the Independent Electoral Commission to reschedule the elections and allow time for all stakeholders to discuss the concerns raised by the opposition parties.
The IEC’s refusal to reschedule the elections was based on the reason that the demands jointly made by the opposition parties was not made timely. Drawing experience from the IEC’s reaction to the joint opposition demands, the UDP invited all opposition parties to a meeting to examine the Elections Act and the provisions of the constitution that affect the conduct of elections and come out with a set of proposals and demands for consideration and implementation by the relevant authorities. My colleagues, leaders of the other opposition parties responded positively to the invitation and accorded me the honour of coordinating the activities of what has now come to be known as the G6 as far as electoral reforms matters are concerned. They demonstrated their absolute commitment to the creation of a level playing field, transparent, free, fair and credible elections. Let me acknowledge the leadership qualities shown throughout our discussions.
Finally let me say this.Today the vast majority of the Gambian people have now mustered courage and are speaking out openly against a government that has institutionalised corruption; betrayed the confidence of its people; continues to use deception to divide people through narrow fault lines of tribe and religion; and continually ignoring the plight of our farmers and youths. For the past year, the UDP has reorganised and started fruitful engagement with the Gambian people. As a result, we have now succeeded in overcoming the “fear syndrome” that has encompassed the life of ordinary Gambians for a long time.
The President and his party are indeed highly shaken by a rejuvenated UDP. The Gambian opposition are not demanding anything other than a free, fair and credible electoral process. With the obnoxious amendments recently passed by the APRC dominated National Assembly, President Jammeh has already, as he had done in the past, stacked the cards in his favour. We shall nonetheless continue our struggle to defeat him in the next polls. Gambians are now determined to put an end to a system that allows its leaders to perpetuate their autocratic rule through fraudulent and sham elections. We are therefore putting on notice the international community and indeed member countries of ECOWAS and AU that we will not accept any fraudulent results in the elections
Comrades, I wish to express my gratitude for the constant support that you have given me and the Party in the past years, particularly in face of some of the most trying times ever experienced under the Jammeh administration. Admittedly, we have learnt to live with the vicissitudes of politics. But these must not and will not derail us in our determination to keep this country clear off the cankerworms of rash, unguarded utterances and decisions that are crawling from within the body politic of this nation risk embroiling us all in quagmire of constitutional, and political and international crisis of proportions hitherto unknown in this country since Independence in 1965. We have to be prepared to put a stop to this by making sure that the Jammeh and the APRC are not given another term in office.
I would like to thank our hosts the Upper River Region Committee for preparing and organising this important encounter. URR has always been in the forefront of our party’s activities and what I am able to see already shows that they are living to that reputation.
Mr. Chairman, fellow delegates, let me thank all of you present today for making the trip to Basse in the service of your party and your country. We all look forward to a very successful congress.
Long live the UDP. Long live the Gambia.
Lawyer Ousainou Darboe is the secretary general and leader of the Gambia’s opposition United Democratic Party (UDP). He delivered this statement at his party’s congress in Basse, Upper River Region (URR).