How useful is partisan politics to Gambia?

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As the various political parties prepare for their congresses, I can’t help but ask how useful is partisan politics to Gambians. It’s only the African, and in particular those of us trapped in this colonial space we call Gambia, who continue to obediently march to a drumbeat that’s not meant for us. Other nations explore and find what works out for them and adopt accordingly. Not us. We insist on international best practices whether they fit us or not.

In The Gambia, we consider political parties or partisan politics to be a key ingredient of the so-called democracy we lay claim to but when have we ever sat down to question the efficacy of any of partisan politics? We simply adopted the characteristics of the abusive colonial system and hardly ever question how useful these systems are to us. One such system is what we call a “multiparty democracy”, where we have many political parties contesting elections every five years. Political parties go to congresses where most times, anyone can guess who the leaders of the party will be. But that’s what we call democracy; it’s all about results for us, processes only matter on paper. Besides the divisions that multiparty democracy has exacerbated in The Gambia, can we truly say that partisan politics has benefited our people?

What are the advantages of this multiparty system to our people considering our unique population size, geography, political education and ethnic makeup? What are the disadvantages of multiparty politics considering the same factors? Given how our politics have been tribalized, religionized and parochial, how has partisan politics exacerbated enduring societal chasms in The Gambia? More importantly, how has partisan politics contributed to the advancement of the average Gambian?

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When you tell a politically-affiliated Gambian that you don’t believe in partisan politics as it is conducted in The Gambia or that we should consider dismantling and reevaluating our way of politics, it comes across as some form of abomination! Many of us have been conditioned to never contemplate alternatives. Many Gambians cannot think of politics in any other way besides partisan politics.

And that’s the abiding tragedy: The thought that we must maintain unyielding fidelity to what obtains and never contemplate alternatives or question the foundations our systems are built on are the very reasons we remain mired and wired to mediocrity and all its attendant consequences.

Apparently, many of us Gambians have never heard of non-partisan democracies or nonpartisan elections. We think that all elections must be conducted through political parties. Many of us have also never heard of direct democracies where the people vote on issues directly. Because we think there’s only one way, we never consider dismantling any system to examine its efficacy. We never consider hybridizing any of our systems according to our unique needs. There’s a reason our National Visions turn out to be useless slogans. Believe it or not, the political system we have today was passed down from an abusive colonial system. But somehow, us Africans, particularly Gambians, insist that out of our undemocratic foundation, out of an abusive colonial structure with all its undemocratic apparatus, we insist on democracy. We insist that we will forge democracy out of an undemocratic structure.

Now I’m not saying a nonpartisan system is the answer to our myriad of unending political and ethnic and religious chasms, all I’m saying is that since most of us profess to believe in a God, that God gave us brains to think for ourselves and solve our problems. We shouldn’t continue to rely on the brains of others in the hope that they’ll deliver us to nirvana. You cannot continue to operate one way and never question if the way you’re operating is benefiting you or not. So, I ask the question again, how useful is partisan politics to Gambia? Do we need political parties as they are? If so why? If you think we need to dismantle the political system, then I’m in your camp. If you’re wired and mired to some political party and you don’t want to question anything, please leave me alone and stop asking me to join your party.

Alagie Saidy-Barrow