Betrayal – an ever present and real phenomenon in Gambia’s political power dynamics

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By Zakaria Kemo Konteh

At the TRRC, we are being told by many eye-witnesses that former president Yahya Jammeh was only invited to participate in the July 1994 coup after the plan had already been hatched and foundation established. Even during the course of the coup operations, Jammeh did not make any extraordinary performance than other conspirators. If anything, according some people who took in it, Edward Singhatey and Sana Sabally were prominent in the operation. Yet out of sheer luck, Yahya Jammeh was given the chance to lead the country by his peers in uniform even when they had doubts about his efficiency as a “soldier”.

After the successful overthrow of the constitutional order, the beginning was good as the council members trusted and relied on each other heavily. Decisions were reached through consultation and almost unanimous. They had each other’s back. The same energy, spirit and unity had even propelled them to make pre-emptive strikes against those perceived to be plotting a counter-coup, murdering them in the process on the night of 11 November, 1994.

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But as Jammeh’s understanding of the power structure broadened and making new friends and allies, he began seeing his fellow council members as mere dispensable assistants who served at his pleasure. Betrayal game was put in motion.
Sana Sabally and Sadibou Haidara, viewed as obstacles to a larger, concealed political agenda, were quickly neutralised. As it later became clear to them that Jammeh was on a mission, Edward Singhatey and Yankuba Touray had to submit themselves to the new reality and kept proving their loyalty to Jammeh in order to survive the vicious purging cycle. The man they trusted and even eliminated, Ousman Koro Ceesay, just to win his heart, was becoming shockingly power obsessed. The rest is history.

Twenty-four years later and precisely a little after two years since Jammeh was defeated and unceremoniously exiled, we are witnessing a resurgence of the same modus operandi, except that it hasn’t turned lethal. Not yet, that is.
President Barrow, like Jammeh, was not prepared and not initially equipped enough to lead the country at the beginning of his presidency but soon became amazed by the sudden power thrust. He quickly fell in love with the sweetness of power and all the attendant perks. From managing a barely known rent collection business to occupying the most powerful office of the country in a span of three months, one can only guess that awesome feeling. Presidency was something he had neither sought nor imagined before 2016. To him, he was destined to become president and it’s something he will not relinquish just to satisfy some people or so-called agreements.

Mai Ahmad Fatty was among the first casualties of Barrow’s political betrayal.
As the Minister for the Interior and a respectable coalition stakeholder at the time, Fatty was assertive, charismatic and fiercely independent. He was arguably rising star among politicians and dominated the national headlines. However, Fatty’s popularity became a thorn in the President’s flesh. After all, Fatty was not the president; Barrow was. If anyone had to be popular and talked about it must be Barrow, so he thought. As Barrow struggled with confidence and leadership, Fatty was stealing the spotlight from him..A hasty decision was made to fire Fatty, apparently to “humble” him and to send a clear message that President Barrow – not Mai Fatty – was in charge. Fatty didn’t do anything wrong against the country or the president.

Because Fatty is not a millionaire, the long unemployment hiatus affected him financially. His popularity also suffered a setback even though people like myself continued to admire him and even wrote about him and how he was unfairly treated and betrayed by President Barrow.

Our once charismatic, confident, ambitious and assertive Fatty is now back in government but with a different persona and a different agenda – highly subdued and surprisingly submissive to the president and his political agenda. The president’s strategy to “tame” him seemed to have worked. Fatty is now toeing the president’s line and singing his praises using the NDP as a cover. I am happy for his return to the government even if it means being under the president’s shadows.

Yes, OJ and Tambajang were also relieved of their cabinet positions but President Barrow never considered them to be political heavyweights. After suspecting that they were not going to taint their integrity to support his political games, he decided to part ways with them. Just like Fatty, they too did not lose their jobs because of any wrongdoing.
Darboe and other UDP principals had maintained unalloyed support for President Barrow because they saw him as one of their own and would go to any length to defend him. After all, Darboe was Barrow’s father and fathers protect their children.

Darboe quickly took a position on the three years question, siding with the constitution and threatened to go to court if anyone tried to force President Barrow to step down. Although President Barrow’s power calculations would still proceed independent of Darboe’s statement, it had created renewed bonds and strengthened close ties between the political father and son. But both misread each other’s intentions, apparently.
While Darboe was of the view that President Barrow was only going to serve for one term and retire, President Barrow was of the view that Darboe and UDP would still back his second term bid. He was one of them and even appointed a lot of them in government positions but wasn’t sure of them. The many audio and WhatsApp messages relayed to him were unsettling and his political father was not saying much this time around as to whether he still harboured a presidential ambition.

To test this hypothesis, President Barrow announced a sudden and cautious cabinet reshuffle when he elevated Darboe to the position of vice president but also appointed some allies to key positions of Finance and Foreign Ministries. The president had hoped that the move would appease the UDP base and doused any formidable opposition to his political agenda. UDP’s congress in December left no doubt in the president’s mind about the party’s stance on his political agenda.
Realising the failure of his appeasement strategy, President Barrow was left with no choice but to make the ultimate impulsive decision to formally severe ties with his former colleagues on 15 March.

Having irreparably lost the overwhelming UDP support, President Barrow will now reinforce his disintegration assault on UDP.
Before the 15 March cabinet reshuffle, President Barrow was actively buying out some UDP National Assembly Members with a monthly stipend in brown envelops thus weakening the party’s majority on policies. Reaction to the Supplementary Appropriation Bill and Ya Kumba Jaiteh’s case are further proofs of the president’s overpowering tactics.
Barrow team is also targeting prominent UDP grassroots supporters and chairpersons in communities across the country, allocating monthly D5,000 allowances.
In a country where politicians often thrive on the misery of the population, Barrow’s robust financial muscles is shaking up grounds and shifting political allegiance in his favour particularly in rural areas.

A bigger and even more politically prudent strategy is now emerging. As President Barrow is making every attempt to break up UDP using some of the party’s well-known veterans, he will be reaching out to GDC and APRC in order for a possible alliance because on his own and even with a split of UDP, President Barrow knows he is not in any politically viable position to win another presidential election.

APRC’s main headache has always been the UDP and any political foe to UDP naturally becomes an ally of the APRC. As things stand, the green party will not hesitate to consummate a marriage of convenience with Barrow if and when contacted.
In such alliances, there will be deals and agreements between stakeholders like we saw in the run-up to the Coalition 2016 but Barrow will again stab them right in the back after getting what he needs. By the end of Barrow’s second term in office, he will have so much political experience and clout that he will certainly not need to form another alliance for his third and final term..

President Barrow has proven beyond any shadow of doubt that he will make and break any promises, turn against anyone, divide families and communities, dismiss or appoint anyone and even do the unthinkable if necessary to realise his objective of staying in power.
President Barrow hasn’t yet fired anyone for their opposition to the National Development Programme. He is getting rid of anyone from government perceived to be working against or not on board with his political ambition. Our civil servants are now faced with a grim reality of either declaring full political support for the president to secure their jobs or look the other way as he continues to refine Jammeh’s old intimidation and fear tactics.
It will be a disappointing mark of shocking naivety for anyone to miss this trend or to even underestimate the president’s resolve to go to the extremes.
Until then, political betrayal, backstabbing and opportunism continue in our small country as means for total power and control…

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