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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Barrow and the Gambian Diaspora: an impending political binarism

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In an article titled ‘Jammeh and the Gambian Diaspora: New Political Binarism’, published in October 2013, I cautioned H.E. Yahya Jammeh that the Gambian Diaspora has become a redemptive political force and a revolutionary vanguard, armed with the resources (the ability to mobilise and lobby) that can bring down any government to its knee. Jammeh, the comatose, who is now sipping malamba in Equatorial Guinea with his friend, the undead zombie, Teodoro Obiang, who is succumbing to the ravages of aging, must have thought that this warning was coming from a solipsistic ranter who spends his entire time shouting over an empty Internet in faraway Sweden.

To believe that Diaspora activism died the moment Jammeh left the country, is a demonstration of intellectual chauvinism. Diaspora activism did not die with Jammeh; it has been in a state of catatonia, because it has been waiting to see how well the new pragmatic operators in the transitional government will fare in moving the country forward. As it appears, the Barrow administration is moving at a snail’s pace; and the Diaspora, with a cry of reason, believes that its expectations have been thrown far aback. This binary outcome is a harbinger of an emerging political binarism between the new government and the Diaspora; and consequently, some people in the Diaspora, devoid of hope, run back to the keyboard to criticise the phoenix that rises from the ashes – Mr. Barrow.

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Criticisms of the new administration are endemic even in the streets of Salikenni, thanks to, among other forces, the Gambian Diaspora, a powerful political force which stood against the clutches of a dictator – Yahya Jammeh. The Diaspora is the only influential political force without a party leader, but nevertheless characterised by resources, expertise, and a glorious charivari. The Raleigh meeting, the New York protests, the Stockholm conference, etc, all served as constructive and consensual political gatherings that harnessed the collective efforts of the Diaspora in getting rid of the generalissimo who had held the country hostage for twenty-two years.

It is past the time the Barrow administration talked to the Diaspora. Who to talk to, when there is no leader?  The government can designate someone who can stand against party politics or use its embassies to mobilise the Diaspora in a form of a conference in their respective countries of residence, if not in The Gambia. This way, the government will be offering the metaphor of a new vintage: that it is cognisant of the potentiality of the Diaspora to provide the necessary ambrosia to help the country develop democratically, politically, and intellectually.

On a more representative approach, the government can designate the Diaspora as a quasi-constituency with an MP who can represent the ideological enthusiasms of the Diaspora at the National Assembly. I understand the argument that the country is marred by political nomadism and the politics of quid-pro-quo (Latin: something for something) where party loyalty runs the gamut, and that the idea of a Diaspora constituency carries some degree of realism; however, a Diaspora constituency will be a depoliticized enterprise, seeking to harness the efforts of the Diaspora in moving the country forward, no matter which party rules. When this happens, Barrow will enter the political lexicon as the man who modernizes and internationalises Gambian politics – a task Jammeh would never do.

After all, President Barrow and Mr. Jammeh are not Tweedledum and Tweedledee, though both are political tabula rasa (no offence intended). However, unlike Jammeh, Barrow has not yet (mind the italics – emphasis) plunged into the fetid swamp of a bourgeois lifestyle; nevertheless, his silence and political demeanor are raising some eyebrows amongst the Diaspora and Press fraternity. The Diaspora and the Press in the country can deal with his careful choosing of words, if that is the reason he is not facing the Press (forget the grammar – grammar is a decaying art).

I am sure President Barrow is aware that the Press in the country had suffered in the hands of Jammeh, from censorship to its reluctance to reproduce the ideological narratives of the Jammeh’s regime. Do not let this continue, because both the press and the Diaspora are hegemonic cultural forces that serve as vehicles for establishing a participatory political culture.

Furthermore, Barrow has to prioritize establishing legitimacy by fighting corruption. A government that shows willingness to establish legitimacy should not donate vehicles without accounting for where the donation comes from, and will not award public contracts without putting everything to the public – how much of this is true, depends on how good the public is informed about it. The fact that the Diaspora has been given a hefty shove by the new pragmatists in the new government, by not having the president speak to the nation or the Diaspora through the Gambian press, has led the Diaspora to feed on a diet of speculations, lies, and educated guesses, some of which are manufactured by gigantic propaganda media – Facebook and WhatsApp – that are aimed at debasing politics, threatening individual freedom and liberty, and creating false illusions that will numb the political instincts of both the Diaspora and Gambians at home.

Against all odds, including the considerable internal scramble for power which greeted the government in its first hundred days in office, there is optimism that Barrow will do well if his administration comes clean in its dealings; tames the internal political jockeying; and establishes communication channels with the Diaspora and the press at home. If these approaches failed, the Diaspora would emerge as a binary political force, juxtaposed with the Barrow administration, reduced to spectators with the political maturity of lumpenproletariat, filled with fury and jeremiads of lamentations over the new administration; then:
Welcome to Gambianimal Farm

Amat Jeng is a naturalized Swedish citizen who studies International Relations and Linguistics at the Dalarna University, Sweden and now studies at Oxford as an Erasmus fellow.
Email: [email protected]

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