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Monday, July 26, 2021

Gambia: The mercury must fall

Seventeen days ago on 29 May 2021, the Independent Electoral Commission began a 44-day general voter registration exercise. By the end of the exercise on 11 July 2021, at least a million Gambians are expected to be registered. The registration of voters and issuance of a voter identification card or voter’s card is sanctioned by sections 39 and 43 of the 1997 Constitution, and Section 11 of the Elections Act. 

At the end of the first week of registration, the electoral commission issued its first periodic report which indicated that a total of 191,509 people were registered, of whom 81,834 were males and 109,675 females.  Registration figures are expected to dip slightly for the week just ended but that is expected after the eager rush of the opening week. But all indications are that a record number of Gambians will get registered and vote.

Part of the reason for this is that a lot more Gambians have become politically engaged, not just for the odd pre-election campaign period, but for every day of the week, all year round. This new era of perpetual politicking is brought about mainly by the explosion of “netizens” on the various social media, radios and televisions that proliferate the social space in The Gambia today. Suddenly, everyone has been given a voice and the means to amplify that voice on WhatsApp, Twitter, Telegram, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and even TikTok,

Without the filters of the traditional media, anyone can now do a Facebook live to cajole or agitate thousands of listeners and viewers with any kind of message and in the process spur them into some form of action. Politicians and their surrogates have quickly latched on to this opportunity that the new media offers. Remember one Donald J Trump, a lying, racist bigot and chauvinist orange-head who used the 280 characters or Unicode glyphs on Jack Dorsey’s social media platform to make tens of millions of the citizens of the most sophisticated and powerful country in the world believe the most outrageous lies as cardinal truths?

In our country, the same thing is happening. People swallow hook, line and sinker all the things they hear on audios released by their leaders in their WhatsApp groups. Retail politics has become old fashioned. It’s groupthink now. This is why like in Trump’s America, a record number of people in The Gambia will get voter’s cards and cast marbles in the 4 December presidential election.

What we should guard against in this country is the overspill of emotion just as it happened in the US capitol on 6 January this year when baying hordes of rednecks swamped the parliament, ransacked offices and even killed people in one of the most brazen attempts to subvert the expressed sovereign will of the American people.  We must be firm in preventing foreigners from acquiring our voter’s cards and other national documents but we must not do so in a manner that smacks of xenophobia or tribal discrimination. We must remember that after all the hullaballoo and the ‘pirim-param’ of this December election, there is a country we have to build.

That country, The Gambia, will be built not with the fasces, or the splitting axe of the National Fascist Party of Italy but with something like the clasped hands of The Gambia’s United Democratic Party. We are one people. Indivisible. As Mandinkas, Fulas, Wolofs, Jolas, Serahules and Akus or as Muslims, Christians and people of no faith, what binds us after our humanity is The Gambia. And it is The Gambia we should put first. Always.

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