At least from my experience, I draw reference to Yahya Jammeh’s style of politics relative to the current status quo because I know very little as to how political machinery operated under Sir Dawda. Nonetheless, accounts from Jawara-era generation point to a more tolerant, peaceful and less combative atmosphere with Sir Dawda playing key roles in setting the tone. Yahya Jammeh was different.
The retail politics championed by Jammeh and supervised by his henchmen was that of coercion, inducement, intimidation, harassment and, in order cases, outright violence. It was a case of either you were with us (APRC) or against us or more like us (APRC) vs them (rest of the people) type of politics. Consequences of such polarizing and uncompromising political temperature were swift, unsparing and far reaching. In the Civil Service and across the strata of the society, the quick and effective way to get rid of your ‘enemies’ was to brand them or their families as opposition supporters or sympathizers. Regions or Constituencies that preferred others to APRC had prices to pay in various forms.
These divisive tactics appeared to have spill-over effects in the opposition camp. People who were aligned politically tended to stick together and took care of one another as the element of compromise or peacefully winning over each other became difficult or almost non-existent. It had almost always been a politics of Either Or…
After a brief period of political compromise and unity that was buoyed by other critical factors and led to the electoral defeat and exile of Yahya Jammeh, we are slowly sliding back to the old days of political acrimony and dogmatism. Personal relationships at community, regional and national levels are being influenced by political considerations. I dare say even our Social Media interactions highlights some of these segregations. Fewer people can claim to be best of friends yet belong to or lean towards different political parties.
President Barrow and his NPP are now benefiting from and pushing such politics of division and harassment. Backed by State Machinery and Resources, the President and his team have made no secret in using National Assembly’s appropriated funds for political gains. Mayor Rohey Malick Lowe has on numerous times been sidelined or bypassed in matters concerning her own city. We hear reports of communities and individuals in Jimara and elsewhere being left out in the Covid-19 relief program rolled out by the government because of their political affiliation. Our Civil servants are again put on gag order and forced to the order way just so they can keep their jobs.
What all of these examples depict is that we are losing a political center crucial in uniting people in the face of these nasty, divisive and insensitive politics. Compromises and reaching across the political divide to get the job done isn’t a sign of weakness or hypocrisy but alludes to political pragmatism and maturity and the realization that our politics should be guided more by conscience and less by dogma in the service of the people. Our country is in that important stage as we yearn to elect a National Leader to replace President Barrow in 2021. To succeed in these efforts, we need a Political Center and a candidate – regardless of their political membership – to change the tone and narrative of the current retail politics and for Gambians to show flexibility in their political mind-set.
Zakaria Kemo Konteh