By Ousainou Mbenga
Since the declaration of the “tactical coalition” by the United Democratic Party leadership as a guarantee for the survival of their party and consequently, the death of “Coalition 2016”; all of the characterisations of the Barrow administration as a UDP government, even though dismissed as inaccurate, are now an open secret, even as those, who are raising the alarm, are being attacked as “tribalist” and or disgruntled.
On 23 September 2017, in New York City at the town hall meeting with President Barrow and his staff, the co-master of ceremony Lamin Drammeh made the first “public-official” announcement on behalf of the party: “Since this is a UDP government, we will now introduce…” Naturally, the damage control theatrics ensued but the cat was already out of the bag. Whenever the genie is out of the bottle, it’s always problematic to put it back in.
That announcement drew a comment from Kawsu Badjie saying: “Time out, this is not a UDP government” which did not sit well with some party supporters who attempted to charge at him. I intervened in his defence and in unity with him that it was inappropriate to have made such an announcement. But besides the public announcement of a “UDP government” the town hall meeting was a misrepresentation of the “One Gambia, One People” slogan commonly uttered in speeches. Talk is the cheapest commodity on social media. At conferences and meetings, anyone can talk.
Jammeh’s downfall and Barrow’s lift onto the saddles of power are only the starting points towards genuine freedom. Freedom has never been free, the cost is all the consequences that come with the genuine struggle for revolutionary social transformation of our beloved Gambia. For all intents and purposes, the genuine struggle needs to intensify hundred-fold to prepare the Gambian masses with an unshakable fighting capacity to build the “new Gambia” rooted in our national advancement and not ethnic or tribal loyalties.
The genuine struggle for revolutionary change in our beloved Gambia and the African world will continue until we are free from the need to be free. Yes, the struggle continues. But against what? Tribalism and all forms of reactionary ethnic affiliations against our national interest. The struggle continues, against ignorance and most importantly against any “elite” interested only in a meaningless regime change in contrast to us who are determined to uproot the rotten neocolonial system once and for all.
What is abundantly clear with the Barrow administration (UDP government) and its die-hard supporters is the flawed believe that UDP won the 2016 elections, which explains the “winner takes all” attitude while hiding behind the inclusive “new Gambia”.
Let’s assume the claim that UDP is the majority party and won the elections. Does that mean that everyone should be under its boot? Conversely, so what if any one of the ethnic groups in The Gambia constitutes the so called “majority”? Does it means you have absolute power with total disregard for the rest of us? In my view, this arrogance is more destabilising than the mere constructive criticisms made of the regime.
A history of sacrifice versus betrayal
In the past 52 years, there has never been a period in the history of our beloved Gambia when the people were called upon to rise against oppression and exploitation and they didn’t respond. The freshest in our memory is the 18 February 2017 independence celebration following the “Impasse” with the Jammeh regime. Approximately 60,000 critical mass (inside and outside the stadium) were in attendance. This unprecedented response of the masses can only rival the first call on the masses for “flag independence” during which the entire population was mobilised.
The genius of the masses was at its best. Inspirational, nationalist songs and music with pulsating rhythms punctuated the rallying cries for “independence” not only in The Gambia but across the African continent. The youth and women, the bedrock of all resistance were jolted into an awoken consciousness to shatter the colonial chains of the mind and body, creating a reservoir of resistance from which every government with its opportunist politicians draw support from during political campaigns for local and presidential elections.
Then came the post “independence” call for “Tesito” (organised production) and the masses rose to yet another occasion with the hope for a better life and a bright future. But again betrayal raised its ugly head and tentacles to strangle the people’s hope. As the “Tesito” years went by with its one sided sacrifice from the masses while the “elite” became oblivious of the suffering in the land, the social conditions for anarchy, adventurism and coup d’état were inevitable.
As adventurist as the July 1981 coup was, the fed up masses responded to the call in defence of the motherland with tragic consequences. At least a thousand people died resulting in the first mass grave in The Gambia. As it has shown to be in Africa and other oppressed countries, once a coup, twice a coup. Thirteen years later it repeated itself with consequences beyond tragic.
We thought coup d’états were permanently aborted in the womb of our beloved Gambia. And because the PPP government never learned from its past complacencies, it ignored the wretched social conditions that bred the aborted coup of 1981 and subsequently the coup that ultimately lifted Jammeh onto the saddles of power for 22 damned years
The year was 22 July 1994 when the “soldiers with a difference” called on the masses to support their deceitful programme to entrench “transparency, accountability and probity” after 30 years of the corrupt and cruel Jawara regime. The mass jubilation and support for change was phenomenal but short-lived as betrayal raised its ugly head yet another time.
The 22 July 22 coup happened under the most bizarre circumstances and remained shrouded in “coincidental mysteries,” thanks to the USS Lamoure County naval ship that just happen to be in Gambian waters at the time of the coup and offered Sir Dawda Jawara, the president safe haven until negotiations with the coup plotters were settled. That negotiations lasted for 22 years until the Gambian masses imposed the “Coalition 2016” on the pussy-footing “opposition parties” to make our determination of “no fifth term for Jammeh” a reality.
The masses are to sacrifice as the government and its treacherous politicians are to betrayal. We have entered a new period of genuine struggle with rekindled optimism and vow to end this history of betrayal. It is because of this history of betrayal that we refuse to give the Barrow administration, its “tactical coalition,” Coalition 2016 and subsequent administrations a CHANCE. From this point forward every administration and representatives of the people will be put to the TEST.
We must win the masses of our people to revolutionary politics to cultivate revolutionary leadership as oppose to “leadership of entitlement” grossly impregnated with tribal and ethnic backwardness. The Gambian masses must know where their interest lies and who serves their interest. Has “tribalism” ever served the interest of the down trodden masses who are historically misused as canon fodder by the opportunist elite politicians? Never did, never will. Let’s take possession of our brains and never relinquish it to opportunism.
The author, Ousainou Mbenga, is the chairman of Democratic Union Of Gambian Activists (DUGA. He is based in the United States.