By Momodou Loum
Since 1992, when President Jawara had to be persuaded to seek re-election for
another term, the PPP could be said to have been struggling with a leadership problem. Before the 1992 election, President Jawara had expressed his desire to retire from politics and not seek re-election. It was only after strong protest from his party and the Banjul elites that he agreed to stand for one last time. After winning the election, President Jawara reshuffled his cabinet, demoting his former Vice-President, Bakary Dabo, and promoting the former Finance Minister, Saihou Sabally, to the post. The appointment of Sabally did not go down well with the majority of Gambians because Jawara was seen to be paving the way to the presidency for Sabally, who was perceived to be dishonest. The appointment of Sabally also divided the ruling PPP into factions – those in the camp of Bakary Dabo, who was openly considered by Gambians to be honest, and those in the camp of Sabally, who was commonly believed to be only interested in personal self aggrandisement. This PPP factionalism and division also began the process of de-legitimising the regime. The factors involved in this process are detailed in the rest of this chapter.
Political analysts have highlighted the prevalence of neopatrimonial regimes throughout sub-Saharan Africa, so called because they reflect the outward
features of institutionalised administrative states while operating essentially along patrimonial lines control over broad realms of public life. The personal prerogatives of the ruler typically eclipse the authority of laws and organizations, fostering a weak and unstable institutional arena.
It can be said that PPP hegemony for over 29 years had resulted in a neopatrimonial regime accessible only through the party and top echelons of the ruling elite. Jimmy Kandeh made an explicit observation of the situation when he noted that “Gambia seemed the quintessence of domestic tranquillity and political stability in Africa…this stability however, masked a corrupt political system mired in patronage, cronyism and nepotism”.
In the Gambian case, political and social elites used democracy, respect for human rights, and stability in the country as a cover for their exploitation of the patron-client networks. Loyalty to the PPP or to President Jawara was generously rewarded by access to the state’s meagre resources. Members of the PPP elite became the primary beneficiaries of the state in both the public and private sectors. Nepotism and favouritism were common practices in The Gambia. The elite did not hesitate to use personal connections with functionaries in the government bureaucracy to gain undeserved favours, such as untendered contract awards, employment and the awarding of undeserved scholarships to their family members. Prominent PPP ministers, senior civil servants, and major figures in the Gambian business community were engaged in orchestrating this behaviour. As John Wiseman noted, included in the modes used for personal enrichment were:
1. non-payment of taxes and duties by members of the regime and their associates over long periods and involving large sums;
2. non-repayment of government loans;
3. serious irregularities over the allocation of valuable plots of land in the Greater Banjul Area, including multiple allocations to important individuals and their families and a selective failure to enforce regulations on land use;
4. government employees working for party members in a personal capacity;
5. serious overpayment of travel expenses for government members on overseas trips;
6. the widespread existence of “ghost workers” and “ghost pensioners;”” and straight forward theft.
Agbese has observed that the struggles for access to the state by various factions and interest groups can have serious ramifications for the economy of the state. These struggles, he argues, “assume life and death dimensions” in that they engender class cleavages, which impede the development process of the state. They also create “primordial identities” in which “ethnicity, religion and region of birth all become mobilisation tools” for the advancement of political objectives. The consequence is that factions pay more attention to the advancement of their own interests than to the interests of the state. Within the aforementioned context, also, the ordinary people do not have a stake in the politics of the dominant class. These problems provide the basis or rationale for the military to intervene. As a majority of the people are already alienated from politics, the military does not face much opposition when it overthrows elected governments. In fact, its intervention may be initially welcomed by the majority of the population.
In The Gambia both patrimonialism and clientelism were evident in the modus
operandi of the PPP regime. Iawara presided over power and resources, which he distributed to favourites and potential adversaries. While this method provided a resilient mechanism for stability in the country, it created a weak vessel for economic growth. The resultant impact was the alienation of a majority of the Gambian people, which gave disaffected elements within the Gambian army officer corps the opportunity to intervene.
Apart from the neopatrimonial nature of the PPP regime, the Jawara
government’s reputation among Gambians was further damaged by continuing allegations of corruption by cabinet ministers and civil servants in the government. The most publicised allegation was that against Vice President Sabally, when he was Minister of Agriculture. This promotion was given after Sabally lost a libel suit which he brought against Sana Manneh, the editor of the newspaper, The Torch, who had accused him of corruption. The judge who presided over the case acquitted the editor of all the charges on the grounds that the plaintiff had not shown himself innocent of corruption. Amidst the acquittals of the editor, and Sabally’s subsequent promotion, many Gambians began to think that Jawara was grooming a notoriously corrupt man for the presidency.
Another famous scandal involved senior managers at The Gambia Cooperative
Union, who were put on indefinite leave as a consequence. However, rather than rendering swift justice against the alleged perpetrators, to restore confidence and minimise resentment, President Jawara ordered an audit of the union. When the final report was released, rather than fire the discredited officials, the president chose to set up a commission of inquiry to study the report, interview people connected with it and make recommendations.” This lack of action was not welcomed by many Gambians, who thought that the findings of the audit should have been enough for the president to have taken action against the named officials. In fact, even police investigations which had begun were suspended. Condemnation by religious leaders in civil society, both Christian and Muslim, highlighted the problematic nature of the corruption situation within the Gambian government.
Revealing evidence of the level of corruption in the PPP government and the financial activities of the regime also surfaced during the restructuring of the Gambia Commercial and Development Bank. The bank was established by an Act of Parliament (The GCDB Act No. 13, 1972) “to assist in the economic development of The Gambia…by promoting trade, industry, agriculture, fisheries, mining and tourism in the country”. However, the bank failed, in large measure, in the implementation of these specific tasks. It had become a bank for PPP stalwarts and elites, who benefited from massive loans which they were either unwilling or unable to pay back.
At the behest of the IMF and World Bank, as part of the structural adjustment programmes, the Gambia Commercial and Development Bank was privatised. The government conceded that a considerable amount of public funds had been loaned to the bank’s customers, some of whom had defaulted in their payments.
It was against this background that the Assets Management and Recovery Corporation (AMRC) was established to try and recover the loans. Most of the loans had been given to top ranking supporters of the PPP. The top most notable beneficiary of these loans was Saihou Ceesay, who owed Gambian Dalasi 100 million (equivalent to US$I0 million). Although the establishment of the AMRC was a positive development, its efforts to recover loans were not very successful.
The pervasiveness of corruption had undermined the Jawara regime to such an extent that it faced what Chris Allen has characterised as a “crisis of legitimacy”. This legitimacy failure is confirmed by the fact that Lieutenant Jammeh made combating corruption the primary goal of his new government and established a commission of inquiry to probe the assets and activities of his predecessor. He characterised the AFPRC coup as a necessary sacrifice “to respond to the early warnings of a potential political turbulence emanating from social injustice and human rights violations inflicted upon the majority of Gambians for 30 years by the ousted government of the PPP under the leadership of Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara”. He continued, “these malpractices were exacerbated by crime, drug trafficking and rampant corruption.”
He promised remedial measures which would ensure “compliance with the
principles of accountability, transparency and probity”. Apart from the corruption controversy, the implementation of a policy of structural adjustment did also lead to a de-legitimisation of the Jawara regime.
This chapter is extracted from a thesis submitted by Momodou Loum to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, Carleton University Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Political in April, 2000.