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By Omar Bah

A PhD fellow and political analyst has warned the country’s opposition that Imam Ba-Kawsu Fofana’s Friday visit to the State House is a smart tactic by President Barrow to silence his critics. Imam Ba-Kawsu’s visit followed a recent one of a group backed by one King Sport, another former strong critic of the president.

According to Mr Lamin Keita, the president’s recent political enterprise to co-opt his critics is not based on the ideals of democracy, but based, instead, on the use of soft power.

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“Supporting the numerous classical International Relations theories, Barrow’s attempt to invite his critics such as Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, Manding group (Kings Sports, Bakary Trawally and the core groups), and the recent visit of Ba-Kawsu Fofana, was the idea that Barrow aims to closely work together with such groups to establish a semi-liberal world and perpetuate himself. In theory, his specific goal of inviting Ba-Kawsu was to empower himself and acquire self-legitimacy to confront and control dissent in a pragmatic approach,” Keita told The Standard.

For these reasons, Keita added, Barrow “is a corporatist strategist who knew that our new democratic dispensation would only be strengthened if he created a system that would reconcile the differences with his political opponents. Such a system in a soft power approach would certainly be based on the rule of law and respect for our religious authorities and to protect human rights with voluntary participation to promote peace and reconciliation. At the same time restrained and silenced counter movement groups, especially the looming November 11 protest group,” he added.

“Barrow’s recent attempt to invite Ba-Kawsu to the State House and to lead Friday prayer sermon evidence that history is repeating itself. Because we saw that Jammeh bullied some religious leaders and at the same time garnered their unreserved support for self-perpetuation purposes. In this schema, certain religious authorities went above board by being micro-managed by Jammeh. These religious authorities mobilized people and showered all kinds of praises on Jammeh. This inevitably gave Jammeh the so-called legitimacy to comfortably rule Gambia for 22 years with iron knuckles. Similarly, Barrow also tends to adopt and replicate Jammeh’s hard mix with soft power politics because of his desire to consolidate and entrench his power base. Currently, what Barrow is doing suggests an empirical observation to the same path dependency theory,” he said.

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The PhD Fellow advised President Barrow to face the realities of the country’s current economic and security challenges.

“He should invite his team of experts and scholars in the country to formulate policy agendas that would translate our meager resources into equitable resources and eliminate systemic corruption, instead of focusing on groups of spent force. Focusing on such groups might outwardly appear reconciliatory but it might portray signs of state failures and lack of agenda for the country. It might also appear as ill-intent for personal gains of self-perpetuation.

“Moreover, observation shows that involving religious leaders in a blatant party patronage politics could result in ambiguous use of hard-power, which is pragmatically wrapped within semi-democratic narratives. Barrow would be commended if his intent is to reconcile his political differences with his opponents, but he needs to genuinely look up to sentiments out of our political space,” he added.

However, Keita argued that religious authorities such as Ba-Kawsu could be commended for speaking the bold truth to power Barrow but the moment they accept patronage and empower signs and symbols of self-aggrandize method of personal rule, they are equally accomplished for furthering such a status quo.

“Critics are beneficial in the country because they could potentially serve as checks and balances to eliminate corruption and abuse of power. It is equally important to remind religious authorities about Robert Greene’s famous quote that “Reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation alone you can initiate and win; once it slips, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides.”

“Legitimacy is what defines our religious leaders and should be protected—perversion through presidential patronage would build a bad legacy.  I am with the fervent belief that Barrow and or other team members who visited him wants to leave an indelible legacy. They must understand that the collective interest of The Gambia trumps the individual interest. Barrow should pay close attention to our children’s future and build universities meant for exploration of research in the sciences, social sciences, and technology,” he said.

He said the State House should not be taken for granted for little chit-chat “Bantaba” only to project for one’s political goals while ignoring the sick and the poor who are struggling for their daily bread.

“These are some of the political actions that had held back The Gambia during the past regime and the current regime. These actions embolden ineffectiveness of the state and the society. As a result, people would not be able to use their talents, ambitions, ingenuity, and skills. Instead, such political actors will turn our citizens to praise-singers, beggars, and succumb to bad policies of the state—resulting in accumulation of grievances,” he concluded.

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