Barrow versus Darboe: Conciliation or confrontation?


By Dr Ebrima Ceesay, UK Is President Barrow now ready to end his political “marriage of convenience” to his vice president, Ousainu Darboe? Is the political “marriage of convenience” between this odd couple ending in acrimonious divorce? Is it time, anyway, for President Barrow to let go of this troubled relationship, especially now that Darboe’s gloves are definitely off? Up until the recently concluded UDP congress, Vice President Darboe tried his best to be diplomatic and was always very vague about his feelings towards Barrow’s desire to carry on as president beyond the end of his (Barrow’s) current term. The two UDP heavyweights never fought one another openly and directly. Instead, they were engaged in proxy wars, so to speak, fighting each other through their involvement in what can only be referred to as a “surrogate war” – in that the two men let their legions of supporters wash their dirty linen in public. But it seems to me that the gloves are now off in this leadership power struggle that pits president Barrow against his vice president, Ousainu Darboe, who, since the carefully scripted and beautifully stage-managed UDP congress, has become less guarded in his comments, especially on Barrow’s youth movement and also on UDP MPs reportedly taking money and gifts from Barrow. Now that the UDP congress has ended, and Darboe has received his consecration as UDP leader and secretary general at the carefully scripted and highly choreographed UDP conclave, the UDP appears, in earnest, to be moving into uncharted waters. And by the way, established practice and traditions of the UDP dictate that whoever is selected party leader and secretary general will automatically become the party’s presidential candidate as well. Therefore, barring any unforeseen circumstances such as poor health, Darboe will definitely be the party’s presidential candidate in the next elections. Going forward, both Darboe and Barrow would have to demonstrate great leadership skills to (be able to) navigate through these treacherous and very murky waters. The repercussions of Darboe’s enthronement and the implications of his recent remarks at the UDP congress are still being felt and assessed at State House in Banjul; and the political fallout from Darboe’s selection as party leader is likely to cost the UDP dearly at least politically – in the long term. In essence, we are now faced with a very fluid political situation in post-Jammeh Gambia – and in such a precarious and shaky country as ours, given that our long-term security challenges have remained unresolved, it would be difficult, perhaps even impossible, to try and predict next week, let alone the future. Does Barrow in particular, have the ability to navigate a very fluid and uncertain Post-Jammeh Gambian outlook or landscape? Time will tell! Yet, what is now needed is a more nuanced look at the troubled relationship between the two men than the carefully stage-managed one – presented to Gambians by both men – in an attempt to paper over the cracks. One captivating and interesting dimension of The Gambia’s current political developments is the evolving and advancing power struggle and rivalry between Barrow and Darboe, now reaching maturity. The post-UDP congress has in fact seen the escalation and deepening of the contradictions between these two leaders and their supporters. In fact, upon arrival in Banjul, after his recent visit to Egypt, President Barrow attempted to defuse the leadership tension/crisis between him and Darboe by saying that his relationship with his vice president was “normal”. But behind the scenes, the feud/antagonism between the two UDP heavyweights is as fierce and severe as ever, and I have been told that the day of reckoning to determine whether or not the two men will finally divorce is drawing closer. Gambian politics is clearly heading for some interesting times, one would have thought. And as was to be expected, the significance of the current UDP leadership crisis is being minimised or downplayed and framed by UDP spin doctors, for lack of a better word, as “just a small disagreement” between Darboe and Barrow, who are merely jockeying for UDP leadership position, in the name of democracy. Yet, it does not take a rocket scientist to know that the effects of this controversy on the future of the party are much wider and will be far-reaching. In short, the power scuffle between Barrow and Darboe is real and turning bitter by the day. And needless to say, the United Democratic Party has found itself in its current situation because this is what happens when two people – who do not want to work together as superior and subordinate – simultaneously want the same thing that can only be given to one of them at a time. For several months now, Barrow and Darboe have been embroiled in a bitter power brawl, but the two men did their best to keep the feuding under wraps. However, Darboe has now decided to veer off script. The hitherto concealed power tussle between these two UDP’s strongmen is now in the open, as the rivalry for each other intensifies. Meanwhile, as the power struggle between the two leaders deepens, the UDP seems to be faced with a delicate crisis which has now noticeably, pitted President Barrow against his longtime political ally and mentor, Ousainu Darboe. The question now arises: is this the beginning of the fragmentation of UDP, possibly leading to the creation of a splinter party by Barrow? At least, anecdotal evidence does suggest that the evolving power struggle at the top will inevitably split the party sooner or later. What is however clear beyond dispute at this stage, is that just on the basis or grounds of political expediency, instead of principles, both men would be willing and prepared to do anything in convenience, just to lead the country – even if their actions are deemed detrimental to the national interest. Therefore, a pragmatic compromise on their diametrically opposite positions is highly unlikely. With regard to Barrow, it is too late for him turn back or renege on his desire to contest the next elections, as the die has already been cast. Barrow’s decision to contest the next presidential election appears to be irrevocably, according to my sources. In fact, the tactics and methods which President Barrow appears to have been employing for the past several months would suggest there would be no turning back on this point. I have been told by two reliable sources that Barrow was livid and seething when he heard what Darboe said at the UDP congress and as such he no longer wants to work with someone (Darboe) who is always “undermining” him. Barrow reportedly feels it is now time to part company with Darboe, as he thinks that the relationship has deteriorated further to the extent that it is now beyond repair. President Barrow, I have been further informed, has concluded, following the conclusion of the UDP congress, that his relationship with Darboe has passed its prime and that it is better to end the troubled relationship now before it ends itself. Barrow is of the view that the foundational aspects of the relationship have been damaged greatly, and that there is no longer any mutual trust, respect and understanding between them. Consequently, in terms of a useful way forward, and this is from the point of view of Team Barrow, there are two broad schools of thought – CONCILIATION or CONFRONTATION. During recent head-scratching meetings with some of his inner core of dedicated and trusted advisers, as I was told, the hardliners or confrontationists such as Alkali Conteh wanted President Barrow to sack Darboe as the relationship has broken down considerably, but the other school of thought composed of the so-called pacifists and peacemakers such as Musa Drammeh and Dembo ‘By Force’ Bojang initiated a last-ditch attempt to save the relationship. The so-called peacemakers whose arguments have so far carried the day, have insisted that the relationship, despite the intractable problems surrounding it, is still worth keeping for the sake of the continuity and stability of the government. Therefore, Bojang and Drammeh have been making conciliatory gestures towards Darboe on behalf of Barrow. The win-win approach, according to Dembo Bojang and Musa Drammeh, is to be conciliatory but the hardliners have advised Barrow that he risks being seen as a weak leader by Darboe and his camp if he remains indecisive. Dembo Bojang and Musa Drammeh want Barrow to use accommodation/rapprochement as a primary conflict management strategy and have advised Barrow to still retain Darboe as vice president and let the matter or crisis run its course – and perhaps die a natural death. Consequently, although the situation is fluid, yet for now Barrow has reluctantly agreed to let the crisis run its course, and perhaps end naturally rather than sacking Darboe at this stage which will bring unnecessary distraction for him and his government. In short, Barrow has, for now, accepted that the relationship would have to run its course – by coming to a natural end without the need to dismiss Darboe. But this is only a short-term strategy. The time is ticking away though, leaving little time for conciliatory talks between the two men; and needless to say, Barrow has, in private, been incensed by Darboe’s recent remarks at the UDP congress. Darboe, meanwhile, has felt emboldened but he could be miscalculating again if he thinks that just because he has got the support of mainstream UDP, he would be untouchable. By Darboe’s actions, President Barrow has already made up his mind that Darboe is undermining him and his government. Darboe now has to walk a fine line to avoid giving Barrow the rope to hang him. The relationship between the two men, I am told, is toxic and has totally broken down, regardless of the photo-shoots and public handshakes. In my view, Darboe played his card well until now but he appears to be giving Barrow the rope to hang him. Going forward, Darboe really needs to re-think his strategy, because Barrow is not to be underestimated. Why? Because there are strong social, political, regional and business forces behind him (Barrow) who have a strong vested interest in maintaining the status quo. These forces have one thing in common: to prevent Darboe from becoming the next President of the Gambia. In fact, it would be interesting to take a careful look at – or undertake a study of – the hidden social and regional dimensions of Gambia’s evolving power struggle at the top by exploring in greater detail the sociology and political economy of this intra-UDP power struggle. For instance, the other day, Freedom Newspaper published a press release issued by Alhagie Sowe, GDC National Assembly Member for Jimara Constituency, in the Upper River Region (URR), in which he claimed that Ecomig forces believed to be Senegalese soldiers and also some Gambian army personnel attached to President Adama Barrow’s mother, Aja Juma Jallow, were already engaged in election campaigning in URR, on behalf of Barrow.]]>