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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Letters to the Editor

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After the ‘wars’ for votes come nigh the battle for nation building
Dear editor,

Our election cycle has now come full circle, ‘debilitating, internecine ‘wars’ fought in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Must be draining, exhausting, expensive, tumultuous, divisive and polarising for the Smiling Coast. Imagine a forced smile in a war. After the last ‘war’, we can count our losses, celebrate our victories even if Pyrrhic, nurse our grudges, plot the next Machiavellian moves. But, we must not forget that the ‘battle’ begun immediately the last war ended. After the war for votes, the battle for development is now upon us. The ‘battle’ to transform lives, cities and regions; to make good on one’s election promises and manifestoes; to stay true to the cause. These ‘battles’ cannot be fought on partisan grounds, cannot be won singlehandedly by any particular political party.

Elections, though important element of participatory democracy, do not keep and necessarily guarantee development, good governance and respect for human rights. These are kept, protected, preserved and guaranteed by ordinary men and women who are aware of and believe in their sovereignty and its sanctity and know that all powers reside in and derive from them. Human rights is defended by people who know that they are rights holders and the Government is the primary duty bearer; that governors are answerable to the governed and that the respect, protection and fulfillment of their rights is not charity or favour from the Government but obligations to be demanded.

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‘Eternal vigilance’, they say, is the price the people must pay to keep their liberty. This also means that they have to stand up when the right of any member of the society is threatened, curtailed or violated. It is in that collective, communal solidarity against violations that freedom from fear is assured. Human rights and human rights-based approaches must define the basis and become the foundation of our development. There cannot be peace, security and development without respect for human rights.

From the Councils and councillors the people must begin to demand accountability, transparency, probity, due diligence and good governance. Civil society, acting as facilitators, must strengthen the capacities of the Village and Ward Development Committees as a means of promoting and entrenching community participation and ownership of local development efforts as well as grassroots democracy. Financial prudence and accountability can be assured when the people ‘follow the money’ by monitoring the national and Local Government budgets and their implementation. Budgets of councils must be easily accessible to the people. Weak accountability mechanisms, bureaucracy and information hoarding promote corruption, mismanagement and abuse of office.

Citizenship demands though that rights holders also fulfill their responsibilities or duties- paying taxes, rates and other dues on time, actively participating in village and ward development initiatives, reporting administrative malfeasance, obeying laws. We would cease to be ‘free’ when all we want is freedom from responsibility’. Power without responsibility is the prerogative only of the feckless.
Despite the good intentions of governments, both national and local, the people must remain wary and not create lords and masters over them or Frankenstein monsters. The road to abuse of office is paved with good intention. Constraining that power becomes necessary:

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“If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”–Alexander Hamilton
Congratulations to the UDP for its victories in the Local Government Elections. It is effectively in charge of governance at the local level. No mean feat. This places on it, as never before, huge tasks and expectations, of transforming lives and strengthening grassroots democracy. The Central Government must begin the process of full decentralisation as envisaged in the original Local Government Act 2002. There is no other way if power is to be returned to the people. Time will tell.


Gambia’s political stability to 2021 – And two foolhardy predictions!
Dear editor,

Now that the parliamentary, council and mayoral elections are out of the way, the political environment appears stable for the next three years – not least because the UDP has shown its political dominance winning all these elections.

Sure, the first-past-the-post (or winner-takes-all) voting system is unfair, but Westminster is the “Mother of Democracy” and no-one can criticise UDP’s dominance which is based strictly on the voting system that exists in UK today (here too the voting system will give us a “winning” Mayor – even though 73% of the votes cast are against him or her!). One thing that can be said for the first-past-the-post system is that it produces clear “winners” and stable governments – contrast this with Italy’s system where they have had 40 or so unstable governments since the way.

So now that Lawyer Darboe and his UDP have the legislators and the mayors that they need in place, it is full speed ahead for the necessary reforms and infrastructural developments that they need to show the electorate in 2021. Clearly there will be formidable challenges in the area of youth employment where population growth easily outstrips jobs created; in the area of food-production where new mouths to feed easily outstrip growth in local food production; and in the area of general security as some of the unemployed youth turn to crime (no different from UK). But the political environment will be stable – and that is what is most important in addressing those other pressing issues.

President Darboe in 2021 – for one term only!
That is my first prediction – and if it happens you can say you first read it here. At the moment Lawyer Darboe, the man who risked his life with his comrades to get rid of Jammeh, is sitting comfortably at the helm of his dominant UDP and nothing can stop him from becoming President in 2021 – if he wants to.
Darboe is already in The Gambia’s history books for his 22-year challenge to Yahya Jammeh, just as Mandela was by 1994 for his long challenge to Apartheid. The aged Mandela was rewarded by his grateful fellow countrymen and women with a one-term presidency and then a graceful retirement. I think Gambians, and certainly not least the general membership of the UDP, feel that Darboe deserves nothing less than a one-term presidency and a place in the history books as the 4th President of the Republic of The Gambia. I have no doubt that the 3rd President of The Gambia, Adama Barrow, thinks and feels along these lines too. Whether likes it or not, Darboe will not be able to resist the clamour for his presidency come 2021.

President Bensouda 2026?
This is more of a wild prediction since the young man has just been elected to his first ever political office as Mayor of Kanifing. But it seems to me that the support of the UDP-party machine, and the 100% support of the Barrow Government, not to mention generous international donors and the goodwill of local business, all mean that Bensouda may be able to fix the massive problems of the KMC that other mayors have not been able to fix before (anyone remember my front-page headline in the Daily Observer – RUBBISH KMC!).
If Bensouda can fix The Gambia’s biggest council, not least by clearing the Bakoteh Dump and fixing the roads, he could claim rightly that he is the person to fix The Gambia’s problems in 2026. But I think he has only one-term at KMC to fix the problems, for if he eyes 2026 he will need to be Darboe’s VP at some point to get national exposure (and he will need a long white kaftan, Barrow’s white hat – and some prayer beads when travelling to Basse!).
And of course, it is all “INSHALLAH” dependant!

Dida Halake
London, United Kingdom

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