Coalition governments: Should the current administration in The Gambia set the structures of democracy and development or uphold what was inherited?

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By Badara Alioune F Taal

Overview
According to online dictionaries, the word coalition is defined as “a group of people, groups, or countries who have joined together for a common purpose: The coalitions or processes of joining together with another or others for a common purpose” (Webster, M, 2018).
The definition of a coalition government by the same medium is “a cabinet of a parliamentary government of multiple political parties cooperates, reducing the dominance of any one party within that “coalition”. The usual reason for this arrangement is that no party on its own can achieve a majority in the parliament”
(http://en.wikipedia.org.wiki/Coalition_government). According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, members of the coalition government are supposed to be appointed to cabinet (http://www.britannica.com/topic/coalition-government).

Granted that I have no access to the actual documents (MoU) signed in the 2016 coalition convention in The Gambia by the various parties that formed it to defeat the Jammeh administration, the goal was clear as stated in the above definitions of a coalition. To defeat the dictatorial government in a free and fair election, a coalition of parties aligned for a common purpose was required without which, it would not have worked. That path travelled in the past where individual parties contested the presidential elections and Jammeh was dominant on both cases. Government coalescing is the coming together of parties in cabinet or parliament to reduce any dominance of any one party with a majority within the system, to strengthen and topple that dominant party in an election. It should be clear from this point that the coalition formed in the Gambia in 2016 is no different from that formed anywhere in the world in achieving a goal to defeat the ruling party and win seats in congress. The goal to defeat also led to a bigger ambition to make sure that the country will not be subjected to abuse of human rights and dignities, and to restore government responsibility and accountability. Those were some of the reasons that triggered the coalition and the record pouring of support from within and without (diaspora) for the effort to succeed.

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The decision to select a flag-bearer for the coalition was made, and the person turned out to be an unknown candidate to outsiders. This candidate was not only a surprise but was also an underdog whom the despot leader had no fear of defeating in a contested botched election, therefore, he (Jammeh) had full confidence of defeating the coalition hands down with its unpopular flag-bearer. The largest misconceptions of the dictator were 1). Arrogance, 2). People yearn for change. 3) Citizenry fed up with failed promises, and 4). The atrocities, hopelessness, insecurities, uncertainties, fears, and desperations of the masses was at its maximum capacity.

Those victims, who succeeded in escaping the jaws of the notorious dictator, voluntarily gave out some credible amount of incriminating information of the Jammeh government. Some of those girls used as sex slaves in Kanilai and the State House in Banjul by the president, came out and gave detailed information amounting to criminal acts of rape and assault. Those new allegations about the president’s conduct and behaviour were surfacing daily in the Diaspora’s social media and that brought awareness to the masses at home as well. Insiders and previous State House employees also divulged top-secret information that contributed to the people’s doubt on the government’s activities and the hypocrisy of the junta. The average Gambian is not stupid, they can be naïve and ignorant sometimes, but over all very smart, so when Jammeh thought he got them, he turns to insults directed to the elders and religious leaders to an extent of trying to divide individuals, tribes, and cultures in the country.

Enter the Nigerian judicial mercenaries who came to hijack the justice system in The Gambia at Jammeh’s invitation. The broken justice system was officiated by some rouge judicial mercenaries from Nigeria. Those “legal” mercenaries were not fit to do their own laundry more so rendering justice over the citizenry. The justice department personnel were not only an insult to the country but were also a shame to their mother countries. They have contributed to the miseries, atrocities, and injustices that happened in The Gambia under their watchful eyes in the name of “justice”.

The social media contributed greatly to the downfall of the despot government because everyone was tuned in and became aware of the information denied them by the state propagandist medium, GRTS. The arrogant despot leader was overconfident, and due to his behaviour, failed to recognise the writing on the wall. He also failed to account for the will of the people. It is ironic that the God Jammeh praised so much was nothing but a false pretense because he was a voodoo junkie. This person could not recite the shortest surah from the Holy Qur’an, but he knew what sells and took the opportunity to exploit it. God has ways to make you aware that He is in control, it was just a matter of time, and all his (Jammeh’s) walls came crashing down on him. Where were the voodoo dolls that absorbed so many human sacrifices including babies? – God’s time is the best – lesson learned.

 

Term limit
Coming back to the focus of this paper before losing track, I wish to discuss the idea of term limits as stipulated by those members that argued against the one set in that hot day at Brikama. First, I would like to set the stage to make a distinction between the constitution of The Gambia and the document signed and agreed upon by the coalition members. Yes, the Constitution mentioned that a president is entitled to remain in office for five years but that should not have to be misinterpreted to mean the same for the MoU of the coalition. The coalition was a combination of four parties to contest an election held between three parties, and as a result, the Constitution cannot address that which internal parties agreed on as a party principle or bylaws. Let us say the Gambia Football Federation (GFF), has its constitution that guides football in the country, laws that oversee everything as far as football is concerned, and that has nothing to do with each individual soccer club preamble, laws and bylaws. This is a good reference to relate the situation of the coalition party and the constitution of the country.

The unknown candidate that most Gambians had trusted and expected miracles from was Mr Barrow. Briefly, Barrow was not a threat to the APRC and Jammeh had no respect for public opinion. According to online media interviews, Halifa Sallah and Omar Jallow (OJ) both addressed the issues of the agreement (MoU) on term limits, and to be fair to the coalition, none of us outside that room knew the details of their terms and conditions unless otherwise publicised or leaked to the masses by attending members. Therefore, whatever I am saying here on that document may be mere speculation, hear say, or coming from online media, and interviews.

The main disagreement or disappointments coming out of the media were the term limits of the chosen flag-bearing candidate of the coalition. The arguments between different factions were the term limits of three years in office as opposed to five years etched in the constitution of the country. According to online radios and media such as the Fatu Network, Diasporium, YouTube, et cetera interview with Sidia Jatta, the PDOIS secretary general, and Halifa Sallah another PDOIS leader, both argued the three-year term limit as agreed at the inception of the coalition meeting to select a flag-bearer. In addition, Ousainu Darboe, then vice president, supporting the five-year term limit to the extent of threatening legal action to argue the case in the courts. The election commissioner on the other hand also recently confirmed as reported by other online media that there are no scheduled elections anytime soon other than that of 2021.

I am not an attorney, nor a constitutional attorney, and as a result, looking at the issues from an economic, leadership, and academic lens, the constitution should not be dragged into such issues. First, the constitution gave the provision for a coalition to be formed to contest in the election as a “coalition party”. Agreements can be reached if they are constitutionally viable, and the agreements of the coalition on term limit should have stood for three years as agreed and signed by members on that day in 2016 at Brikama (MoU).
To be continued.

Badara Alioune F Taal is a doctoral candidate in Higher Educational Leadership Research and Methodology at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida.

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