The December 2016 election of reform-minded coalition cocktail that ended twenty-two years “the long dark nights of dictatorship” was a refreshingly smooth blend of opposition parties’ flavor combined in UNITY brought a fresh opportunity, the prospects for a democratic transition, for the Gambia to move toward a more responsive and accountable state of governance.
However, this democratic outcome is far from certain, threw the country into political uncertainty. “Everything is tied up, and well tied up”. The coalition faces deep-seated legacy of politically driven ethnic divisions; and a centralized patron-clientelist system with weak, unaccountable, and unresponsive government institutions. Changing this system was not easy, especially for a tenuous political coalition, inexperienced in governing and confronted by an entrenched political class and a frustrated population with unrealistic lofty expectations.
It was not soon to tell how this transition will end during the assessment and whether reforms will stall. The Gambia’s past demonstrates that these windows do not remain open for long as engrained practices take over and the government assumes the attributes of the past. Political missions have moved swiftly to support the reform efforts diplomatically and through discrete mission funds.
It makes interesting & challenging transition. The tactical alliance government of President Adama Barrow does remind the world that a lot has changed even if we don’t always recognize or immediately feel the impact of the change from dictatorship to fledgling democracy, evolving in, inspiring ways, there is no underestimating the potential dangers ahead. Gambians and Gambians in Diaspora are naturally delighted with some positive indicators, flashes of entrepreneurial success demonstrate what can be accomplished by business start-ups. The tourism sector might be poised for a comeback as memories of dictatorship fade, assuming there isn’t any additional major repression
The defacto governing tactical alliance government continues its slow and non-linear process of transforming a significant future of Gambian political culture in Gambia’s overall experiment with a new democracy.
Yet it is only right to note improvements when they do occur.
Devolution has impacted every corner of the republic of the Gambia. The Judiciary has become more robust; government offices make service more prompt and accessible; and cash transfer programs have reduced hardship among the most vulnerable.
But are Gambians any safer, freer or better off because of the December 1, 2016 Presidential Elections that elected President Adama Barrow?
Has civic space widened or narrowed in the 12 months or in recent past? Have Gambians embraced diversity or remain locked in ethnic or tribal cocoons?
Finally, is the tactical alliance government committed to the rule of law, accountability, inclusivity and respect for the rights and freedoms of its citizens?
As of now the Executive is not authoritarian, but able to exert undue influence on the Legislature, Judiciary, Civil service and bureaucracy.
Ethnic or tribal politic and big business tycoons home and in the Diaspora, play an outsize role in public life. Worse still we are told that business tycoons influence patronage, politics and tenders.
The tactical alliance government paints a gloomy picture of a country where corruption & tribalism become the greatest threat to devolution and where the opposition and civil society just confirmed how ethnicity, nepotism & patronage determines every appointment at the county level.
Corruption are an everyday feature and the private media and civil society organizations are all starved of cash in a deliberate move intended to emasculate their powers and influence as oversight bodies.
Beyond the mirage then of a digital coalition, we are burdened with one that reluctantly grants freedoms to its citizens and only then when the courts order it.
The Gambia needs and deserves the greatest possible international and regional support because everyone who cares about the future of the Gambia has a large stake in all the components of the Gambia experience- building democracy, and economic recovery on which all that depends. There is also a growing intolerance, arrogance and lack of civility in public life.
Of course, that, too, may be influenced by the lack of decorum found in party supporters, party surrogates, sycophants, demagogues & online radios, whose vile public utterances dominate the airwaves. But while civil society may lament the reduction of their civic space, they should know that no government will concede space, power or resources unless forced to do so.
Freedom may be a right, but it is not a gift. Freedom comes at a price and demands as much sacrifice from the recipient as from the grantee.
We all claim to want freedom but still prefer the slavery of greed, corruption, ethnicity and handouts.
John Paul II said that freedom is not doing what we want but in having the right to do what we ought.
The search for freedom then is not just a political or legal affair, it is a mission for life as liberty is the soul of man.
Voltaire said man is free the moment he wishes to be, and freedom is being bold, courageous, genuine and faithful to one’s conscience.
When I was younger, I believed that life was about being holy. Later, I thought it was about charity but now I am convinced that we were born to be free and to liberate others, a worthy mission, indeed, for all of us.
The author is founder and former managing editor of The Independent, the Gambia’s only private newspaper before it was banned by the government in 2005. He was a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, a 2007 Nieman fellow and is the author of Delayed Democracy: How Press Freedom Collapsed in Gambia published in 2013.