(JollofNews) – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, Charles Dickens would not have put it better. The Gambia, like Dickens portrayal of France in A Tale of Two Cities, is a country embroil in crisis. Totalitarian dictatorship. Endemic poverty. Stagnant economy. Brain drain.
Political repression. Social malaise. Religious intolerance. Corruption and embezzlement. In short, the country is heading for the brink. There is a simmering political awakening among the populace and a groundswell of anti-government sentiments. Jammeh’s irascible political grandstanding and brutal crackdown of perceived opponents, particularly the heavy-handed treatment of members of the opposition United Democratic Party have largely contributed in swaying public opinion against him.
For the first time in 22 years of Jammeh’s reign, Gambians have a glimmer of hope that the end is imminent. 2016 might just be a defining moment in our country’s political history. On December 1, Gambians will be going to the polls to cast their votes. This will not be like any other election. It’ll be a watershed moment. An opportunity for voters to end the dreadful Jammeh dictatorship or to protract it with a new lease of life.
Whatever the result, Gambians will have the chance to give their verdict on the existing state of affairs. The opposition parties have somewhat undergone a rebirth. The UDP has elected a new leader, Adama Barrow, with the blessing of its jailed erstwhile leader. The fledgling populist GDC, led by the upstart Mama Kandeh, are making inroads into APRC strongholds. PDOIS, NRP, NCP, PPP are all mooting an opposition alliance for the forthcoming elections. The silver lining in this political storm is Dr Isatou Touray (no relation), a gender activist and grassroots mobiliser, who is running as an independent candidate. Her candidacy is a breath of fresh air in a stale and stuffy male dominated political arena (pun intended).
Dr Touray’s political participation is a welcome development given the petty bickering and acrimony among the opposition parties. She could be the one to bridge the opposition divide and lead a grand coalition to take the fight to Jammeh. But she had to win the trust and support of all the opposition leaders. The significance of her candidacy, being the first female presidential candidate in The Gambia, pales in comparison with the huge task ahead of defeating a dictator in the polls. It would have been a momentous milestone to celebrate if we had a normal and functioning political dispensation. But sadly we don’t. We are living in desperate times. And desperate times require desperate measures.
For now, she needs to roll her sleeves and crack on with the unenviable task of ending a dictatorship. There will be a time in the near future to celebrate her trailblazing candidacy. The odds of unseating Jammeh are stack against the opposition parties. They are poorly funded and peopled, lack the resources and the wherewithal of state largesse; and have little or no access to state media. For those reasons no individual or single party would be able to defeat Jammeh on their own through the ballot box. As the incumbent, Jammeh has the means to exploit the power of the state to skew the electoral contest in his favour.
Therefore, the only feasible way to defeat him is a grand coalition of the opposition parties supported by a grassroots movement. Anything short of a progressive alliance will be a vainglorious exercise in electoral futility. No independent candidate in Africa has ever won a presidential election against an incumbent. None. Zilch. A prominent commentariat the other day pointed out Toumani Touré of Mali as an exception. I respectfully beg to differ with him. Toumani was not an independent candidate in the strict sense of the word. He was a former army general and head of state who peacefully handed over power to an elected civilian president.
His reputation as “the soldier of democracy” and his proven track record in government as “a man of the people” had him in good stead when he sought the presidency again. He won without the need of a political party and had a broad coalition support. Besides in African electioneering, it’s always personality over policy. There’s a strong and compelling case for Dr Isatou Touray to lead a progressive alliance of all opposition parties. She is competent, independent and non-partisan. She also has the gravitas, the grit and the grassroots support to give Jammeh a run for his money.
Dr Touray needs to embark on a charm offensive and makes the case for a progressive alliance with the opposition parties. Albeit, she had made her intention clear of only serving a one five year term presidency if supported by a coalition. The PDOIS proposal of a primary to elect a coalition leader might be democratic but it will be too difficult and cumbersome to organise. And besides they don’t have the luxury of time. The tried and tested means of forming a coalition is for them to meet face-to-face and workout a roadmap. The kingmaker in any attempt to coalesce the parties will be the United Democratic Party. Apart from being the largest opposition party, they have suffered the brunt of Jammeh’s brutal crackdown and repression.
The party has the moral high ground and surely the political momentum is with them. I hope in the national interest, they will play their cards right and do the right thing. Despite their competing visions for The Gambia, the opposition parties all share a common antipathy of Jammeh’s dictatorship. You would expect them to unite easily due to their shared goal. Instead they are bickering and squabbling over inconsequential differences. A phenomenon, Sigmund Freud, described as the narcissism of small differences. It’s about time the opposition leaders demonstrate maturity and pragmatism and rise above insular personal ambition and party interest. They should stop dithering on the formation of a coalition and get on with it.
The Gambia is greater than any one individual, party or group and should be the priority when working towards the common good. Gambians deserve better. I am under no illusion that we are in a dictatorship that’s hell-bent on remaining in power at all cost. It’s going to be a long and difficult campaign.
But as Otto Von Bismarck once put it, politics is the art of the possible. I am cautiously optimistic that the Gambian people, with whom sovereign power resides, will do the honorable thing in the forthcoming elections to dispense with the Jammeh dictatorship. There’s a clear choice in December. In the words of Charles Dickens either we turn the elections into a “spring of hope” or a “winter of despair”.