By Matida Jallow
Since he declared his interest to vie for the presidential position, Mr. Essa Faal continues to be the sole and significant face of his team. Until the recent addition of Mr Kitabu Fatty to Mr Faal, Essa has been spotted visiting communities to present himself to the prospective admirers. While he has been accompanied by group of people, Mr Faal is yet to officially present to the public the structure of his team and the names of members who act in different capacities. Despite this information lacuna, the people remain ambivalent to it despite the larger number of people lured to his recent Buffer Zone rally.
The solace of the Gambians with the truancy of Essa Faal’s structured team fits with the view of Gambian political culture, which is characterized by an obsession with the attributes of a party leader, without giving equal regard to the structure of his or her team and those who occupy various positions with the party. Although this reality may resonate with desires of the followers of Essa Faal, who is yet to present to the public his manifesto two months to the election, the unexamined attraction of urban youths to Essa Faal, despite the absenteeism of his structure and manifesto, suggests that his admirers might have drawn to him by virtue of other irrational considerations. These might include attraction to his curriculum vitae (CV), his fluency in message delivery in English language, consideration of kinship connection and tribal affiliation, his age relative to other presidential candidates, and his link to the publicly applauded TRRC which has golden his profile to the public. A close reflection on these considerations reveals that while they are necessary to win the emotional attachments of electorates to a candidate, they are not necessarily relevant to for one to make an assuring conclusion about the prospect of one’s leadership attributes and quality, neither are they sufficient to deduce the extent to which a candidate can effectively and efficiently impact changes and translate his or her visions and campaign promises into the reality, upon which a candidate should garner the support of electorates.
In mature democracies, affiliation to a political party or a team vying for presidency embodies so much of what one thinks about when he or she reflects on what a party, as collective of individuals, can deliver to the nation. This requires one to be content not only with with the leadership attributes and the qualifications of a candidate, but also of those who constitute the executive membership of the party, and who might eventually occupy different ministerial and other executives positions in the country.
Although Essa does not have a conventional political party, he is expected to form a team of individuals, men and women, who would work with him toward winning the elections. At this stage Essa as a presidential candidate cannot solely carry out his campaign, monitor its progress, and ultimately gain or loose the elections. This requires a highest decision making body that will determine much of the functions of his team. The composition of this body is necessary to trust the team, as the names of members, their qualifications, experiences, and their past records in public affairs are equally important not only to support the team, but also to make an evidence based prediction about performances of the team in the government. More importantly this would equally permit political pundits to judge the diversity nature of the team, in terms of the representation of women, people with special need, different ethnicities and professions. These reassure electorates to trust the candidate and his team for its commitment to respect heterogeneity of the society.
Therefore, in the absence of the manifesto of Team Essa Faal coupled with the public ignorance about the structure and the composition of his team, the euphoric attraction of the urban youths to Essa Faal further attests that the Gambian political culture, which reduces a party to one individual, is at the display in the case of Essa Faal too . This is not a new phenomenon in our country; rather, it is one of the fascinating aspects of how people base their support to a party on the personal attributes and achievements of its leader. The media has often reinforced these elements since they resonant with the dominant political culture of their viewers and readers.
This dominant political culture has successfully reduced the identity of UDP to ANM Ousainu Darboe; hence his age and tribe remain impediment for the subscription of some Gambians to UDP, despite the presence of impressive number of different tribes and young educated and well-experienced members in the executive of the party. Similar erroneous judgment made the identities of CA and PDOIS to be reduced to the academic qualification of Dr Ceesay and the eloquence and constitutional mindset of Halifa Sallah respectively, as the reflection of other members of their parties. This pattern of judgment can be applied in the public perception about parties like GDC to some extent.
It may sound somehow naive to some, but in a wider angle- perspective what should be considered when thinking about how safe is a country to be entrusted to a presidential candidate is to consider the academic qualifications, work experiences, quality and traits of the candidate and influential individuals who might work with him in policymaking positions . However, it is quite fashionable and common in The Gambia that electorates attempt to entrust the country with people for simply speaking good English, dressing well in their finest clothes and have featured presence in the society pages of media, as sufficient indications of their eligibility for presidency, regardless of the nature of the team they recruit in their executive who would eventually work hand in hand with the President to discharge their responsibilities at different levels of policy making.
With such prevailing attitude in display in following presidential candidates in the country, we are probably assuming that the attributes of a presidential candidate must be enough to reassure quality based policies that would transform the country and bring the must needed socio-economic developments. However, true of the matter is that policies are made by different people, and their beliefs, attitudes, values, opinions and prejudices intervene to shape these policies. This necessitates that electorates know those people who might become responsible, in addition to the president, for identifying public problems, creating resolution and carrying those resolutions out, prior to the elections to the public office. This is yet to be visualized in the case of Essa Faal deposit his relatively growing popularity in the urban area of the country. Until the structure of team of Essa and his manifesto are reveled to the public, the question of what are the rational principles that might have drawn people to Essa Faal will remain a legitimate concern.