Once upon a time, the PPP and APRC dominated the political landscape of the Gambia; like that towering, intimidating colossus, a bogeyman with a frightening larger than life stature. Between them, they shared 51 years of our life, 29 and 22 years respectively. What has happened to the mighty? Where has their influence, power, support base and manifested love of the people disappeared to?
The PPP is now a dull flicker, preserved in our collective political memory by the presence of the Elder Statesman Jawara and few sporadic, solitary voices of discontent from distant corners.
The APRC is in the throes of death and the kicks and hiccups are certainly those of a dying giant. The once all powerful, all mighty, dominant and domineering political party, seemingly well loved by most Gambians in its heyday, is a sorry shadow of its former self. From the sublime to the ridiculous. The once might rooster is become a featherduster, a once “cosmetic decked lady” who was ravenously enjoyed by unconscionable men is now being abandoned and accused of “immorality”.
The NCP and GPP, one time “formidable” opposition parties with a semblance of support or strongholds in rural Gambia are dead but in name. The PPP, a footnote now. Why? Was it that their growth and influence were truncated or abruptly disrupted by the July 1994 military take over? But the APRC itself is also, unfortunately, on the rocks, and is being faced by a similar fate, consigned to oblivion and obscurity.
Our independence and post-independence political parties, up to 1994, are either dead or in comatose. A contrast to the exuberance still being exhibited by, say, the ANC or Congress Party in India or those political parties which led their countries to independence and still surviving and relevant. What went wrong with the PPP, NCP, GPP and the APRC?
The “Founder-leader” syndrome, that belief that the person who founded the party must be its party leader has been the bane. The parties became “owned” and impenetrable to others. Everything revolved around the founder, the be all and end all. Naturally with the passing on of the founder, the parties collapsed like a house of cards. Why change a winning horse, one may ask? Fighting tradition and the status quo. The old order should be intermittently yielding to place to the new, “lest one good culture should corrupt” the party.
The failure to reproduce leaders, giant killers like the founder. A key law of leadership and a must-do for a leader is “reproduction and empowerment”. A leader must create leaders and leaders and leaders, party members who are groomed and mentored to take over from him or her, people who can run the party when the leader is absent or long after he or she is gone. Such a strategy makes succession and transition smooth and change easier to midwife. These parties, unfortunately, produced followers and followers and followers.
The absence of Internal governance mechanisms and tools. A political party that is run on the whims and caprices of the leader or where the leader disregards its own existing governance mechanisms, tools, procedures and processes, is sure to malfunction when that is out of the scene. Existence of and adherence to internal governance framework enhances accountability, trust, ownership and sustainability.
Disconnection with the base. The strength of a political party is at the base, at the village, ward and constituency levels. When political party cells or units at these levels are disorganised or disconnected or disjointed from the top or feel they are mere cogs in the turning wheel, that party would most likely lose its support base when an upheaval strikes it, when a more pragmatic party canvass its support base.
Political leadership isn’t just positional, titular, expertise or academics. Leadership is the ability to influence others political parties are formed mainly to have power, to be the government. If, after more than two decades of existence, the leader cannot influence voters and the political party cannot wrest power or become the government, then it must either change its leader or change its strategy. One of these is not getting the right buy-in. Supporters can get weary with time and jump ship when the opportunity arises.
I know one or two political parties that have begun some reform, to remain relevant, enlarge their support base and strengthen their internal accountability mechanism. It is the way forward.
A political party that revolves around one individual, the founder, can be sure to go into suspended animation when the leader leaves the stage or passes on. Read my lips.