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December 4th : It looks like a ‘finally’ for Darboe

December 4th : It looks like a 'finally' for Darboe

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By Suntu Ceesay, Brikama

Rarely does a son battle with a father in a race for anything. In The Gambia, we watch with amusement as one such battle unfolds. A long-term leader of the United Democratic Party, Ousainu Darboe, challenges his party’s former treasurer and now president of the republic, Adama Barrow of the National Peoples Party. Darboe is on his fifth attempt at the presidency while Barrow is gunning for a second term. Who is likely to win? Now we know it is a 6-person race, who is likely to win?

Incumbency

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Often, when people analyse politics in The Gambia, they do not care to see what is not apparent. They tend to take things at face value. And power is a lot more complex than that. Someone will say power is an illusion. It does not reside, often, where one sees it. Do not look at who makes the decision but who influences the decision maker.

Apply that to our current situation. Barrow wields the power of state: the executive and with substantial influence in the parliament and even the judiciary, perhaps. Make no mistake, that counts a lot in politics. It means he controls substantial part of the local government infrastructure like the seyfolu and alkalolu.

But is President Barrow the incumbent in the context we put him? To say yes, will mean one will have to negate the influence of UDP. The same way Barrow controls state power, is the same way UDP controls the wards, winning 62 out of 120 seats, and capturing all but 1 chairmanship seats as well as the 2 mayoral seats, and 22 National Assembly Members. In other words, if the state is a bird, UDP is the left wing without which it can’t fly. So, both UDP and Barrow are “incumbents”.

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Barrow’s early costly mistake

While Barrow controls the Finance Ministry, UDP holds good sway in the National Assembly which divides the national cake. Of course, we know the executive has more finance and therefore benefits from patronage regarding the dos and don’ts of the state. That positions Barrow better, but only slightly ahead.

Barrow made very costly early mistakes that will haunt him until December 4th. One was being on the side of UDP at the parliamentary and local government elections that passed. It can be argued, as it was then, that this gave UDP strong influence, but also the most strategic positions in government at the beginning.

President Barrow gave UDP the Finance Ministry which is every president’s ‘Bureau 39’. This is where all politically motivated projects and their financing plans are hatched. You can even get party financiers through contract awarding, in addition to all appreciations one gets from citizens at the dawn of every infrastructure project.

He gave UDP the local government, the home for grassroots political manipulation. He gave them foreign affairs, to build networks all over the world and meet potential donors, rub shoulders with the powerful.

I am not sure agriculture holds such value to domestic and international politics as the other three. At this time, it is safe to argue that President Barrow held on the hope of being backed by the UDP into a second term. Soon after he realised that the father is not giving way to the son, he tried to reverse his costly mistakes. Wasn’t the damage done? UDP still had a significant control of government infrastructure thanks to their past election successes.

It would seem that while Barrow was bluffing to strike, Darboe, a more astute politician, had advanced in his counter-attack strategy. It was rumoured and this would later be confirmed that a Barrow financier wanted to start paying UDP chairmen and Darboe fought it off. The old man knew they were trying to buy their loyalty.

A key sponsor of Barrow, Abubakary Jawara, tried to renovate and decorate UDP bureau, Darboe fought it off. All these, he was ensuring one thing: another tree will not grow under his shadow. The stratagem was if you cannot take Darboe from UDP, take UDP from Darboe. But that fell on its back.

Now what?

It is clear, both Barrow and Darboe hold sway, in this country. Barrow controls a substantial part of the executive while UDP controls the local governance machinery.

This is not to reduce the influence of the governors but proximity to the people in politics matters. The Gambia Bureau of Statistics just did a Governance Perception Survey about two months ago. About 80% of the people say public sector leaders should have a “cordial relationship” with the general public.

People are closer to chairmen, councillors and mayors than governors in the governance landscape. And these are the authorities also directly responsible for implementing projects in the regions. 

Alkalolu and seyfolu were very influential but not as much anymore. They implement no projects and hold no financial powers, and the traditional authority and influence they once wielded have significantly diminished. They were very influential under President Yahya Jammeh because of people’s fear of Jammeh. Alkalolu and seyfolu could report others to the powers that were and made to suffer innocently. Now, everyone is at will to do as one wishes. This is by no means saying they are not still influential though.

The Governance Perception Survey also says only three in every ten respondents reported to have a lot of trust in the executive while 17.5 per cent and 20 per cent of the respondents report to have somewhat trust or just a little trust in the executive respectively. A quarter reported they do not trust the executive at all. Contrast that with people who trust the lawmakers.

Generally, most of the respondents (62.5 per cent) reported to have some degree of trust in the National Assembly. Here is what is even more significant, according to the survey, 72.3 per cent— 7 in every 10 Gambian— reported to have at least some degree of trust in the local government authorities. This slant influence on the side of UDP and GDC.

The big talk right now is the CepRass polls. It is very significant, the lead it gives to Barrow, but the GBoS survey speaks a different language. And let’s not make it seem like we have nothing to measure Barrow’s popularity against. In 2019, an Afrobarometer survey says 7 in every 10 Gambian had trust in President Barrow.

If what is being said in the whispers are right, this declined (in their most recent survey due to be published soon) to 3 in every 10 Gambian. Of course, we can argue whether or not Afrobarometer or CepRass has the right sample size. However, CepRass is a part of Afrobarometer and Afrobarometer has a larger sample size, among others. And also, Afrobarometer seems to speak the same language with the GBoS Perception Survey.

The APRC blunder

Some of us who are critics of Gambian politics as a system, often we say the beginning point is to reform our politics. Political parties do not have a secretariat. Therefore, they could not do structured campaign that is deliberate, well-funded and coordinated from a structured party secretariat. In advanced societies, all parties have strategists and analysts.

This is because in politics, things are very fluid, with perception (influenced by interests) and emotions being key drivers of voting decisions. If one brings such strategic analysis here, you may ask: what was President Barrow trying to achieve with APRC?

First, let’s look at the alliance in terms of what it can achieve. In my opinion, the alliance is not as it seems in terms of the size of their voters or collective influence. NPP is a new entrant in politics. It came to take supporters from APRC, NRP, UDP, GDC and others to become a force to be reckoned with. So, what is correct to say is APRC-NRP alliance, for NRP is the only ‘significant’ party with Barrow. Thus, Barrow comes to that table with little outside of that support base, the APRC-NRP alliance. He could not break the UDP and he did not take enough to make GDC redundant.

But what is interesting to note is that APRC had a depleting support base since 2016, relegating them to largely Foni audience, the only place they could win parliamentary seats. From amassing over 208,487 votes in the 2016 presidential election, the APRC votes declined to a mere 65,938 votes in May of 2017 during the parliamentary elections. This is before the Truth Commission and the Janneh Commission, two state investigations that revealed horrendous human rights violations of the Jammeh regime and massive theft of public resources. One can only imagine, an ARPC base has further depleted.

It remains true that they have supporters all over the country, even though that is not sufficient to get them a win in any election. Now, they split between a Tombong Jatta executive and those who, in ex-Jungler Malick Jatta’s words, are affected by “cryptism”. That faction with Jammeh is now with GDC. Now, a half at most of APRC’s voters, having an alliance with NRP, with what Barrow gets from UDP and GDC: is that enough to get him a win with a first-past-the-post system?

The question now is: where is Barrow’s strength if he has just about half of the APRC votes or less? In fact, a number of people in the APRC splinter group are now vowing to vote for UDP, to stop the Tombong Jatta group getting into government. Of course, this is different from a sizable number that joined the GDC. They consider the Jatta group betrayer of Jammeh, their “supreme leader”.

Barrow’s best bet is to break the support base of UDP and make significant inroads into the GDC or he will lose the election. Is he able to do that? No. He only managed to take 8 out of 31 UDP lawmakers and 2 out of 5 GDC lawmakers. 

Meanwhile, external factors Barrow was supposed to count on are not working in his favour. Leading among them is an Essa Faal candidacy. This is an era of victims, most of whom are UDP. It is an era of justice, many believe most will count on Faal to deliver. A study done by Afrobarometer, a pan-African, nonpartisan survey research network, said almost three-quarters (73%) of Gambians think perpetrators of crimes and human rights abuses during Jammeh’s regime should be tried in court, a 5% increase compared to 2018.

The UDP base appears to have generally loved Faal. Faal has shown deliberate attempts to win Mandinka votes by targeting mostly Kombo and Brikama areas. This is not a bad strategy. But has it worked? You only have to see the list of names Faal released as members of his executive to know it hasn’t. Faal has proven unable to make any inroad into the UDP support base. I am not sure BB Dabo is even considered a threat. He is generally respected but nevertheless seen as a relic of the past.

In summary, Barrow appeared to have gone against a popular wish (Jammeh to justice) and he could not break UDP. He just managed to make few inroads into the GDC base and APRC, whose support he banked on greatly, is split in two. With such ‘disappointments’, can Barrow win the December 4th election?

Certainly, the new players in the field, Essa Faal and others, are taking from all parties including NPP. This means both UDP and NPP are at a threat of losing supporters. On that score, they are even.

Largest moving crowd?

Now, let’s look at the anecdotal evidences. You often hear people say crowd does not make you win in politics. That has got to be the most ridiculous thing to say. Crowd size is significant for propaganda purposes in politics. It also helps one gauge a party strength.

At the peak of his campaign in 2016 when Barrow was coming into Kombo from rural Gambia, he passed the night at Basori in Kombo East. His team left Basori at 2pm and headed for Brufut, where he reached for a night’s sleep at 3am because of an incredible moving crowd. At the time, this was described by most analysts as the ‘biggest moving crowd’ in the history of Gambian politics.

On Thursday 21st October, Ousainu Darboe broke that record, hands down. At the end of his nationwide tour, Darboe’s convoy left Brikama at 2pm and reached his Fajara compound after 4am. Most analysts called it the biggest moving crowd in Gambian politics. This shows Darboe had a far bigger moving crowd. 

What is Mamma Kandeh’s play?

Going by anecdotal evidence, Barrow is making some inroads into the support base of Mamma Kandeh. Not only has Kandeh lost two lawmakers to Barrow but he also took a parliamentary seat that previously was Kandeh’s – Niamina West Constituency. He also took Kerr Jarrga Ward, a place Kandeh was predicted to win hands down.

Kandeh knows one thing: a prolonged Barrow presidency means a dead GDC. So, for him, his task is to survive the storm and make sure he keeps a greater, or at least half, of his party together. And prepare for post 2026 presidential election.

But why is a kingmaker not gunning for the top job? Kandeh does not have the support to win and a win for Barrow will kill his party. Why is a UDP win better? Because UDP does not threaten a Kandeh base. More importantly, there is likely going to be a storm after a UDP presidency. Darboe is edging towards retirement, and when he leaves, there is likely to be a power struggle.

There is a Lamin Sanneh, a potential president. There is a Talib Bensouda, a potential president. There is a Landing Sanneh, a potential president. There is an Olley Dibba-Wadda, a potential president. There is a Rohey Lowe, a potential president. There is their version of Julius Malema, Momodou Sabally, who is equally ambitious and pompous as hell. A potential exploding situation, right!

More importantly, there will be economic problems: a public debt at over D80 billion and counting and rising food prices. Barrow shelved the civil service reform, the retrenchment plan for civil service to reduce the wage bill, security sector reforms, all things a UDP government will inherit.

There will be an implementation of the TRRC report which could make or break a party depending on how well they do. The potential for a UDP government to mess up is highly likely.

We saw early costly mistakes Darboe did in 2016. He hired a number of his own party supporters, a number of whom came to be involved in the diplomatic passport scandal at both State House and foreign ministry. His actions, by no measure, increased the efficiency of the civil service that is already over bloated. Darboe’s politics thrives on loyalty. He may not be tough on corruption or implement the recommendations of the Janneh Commission. His ‘commando’ Momodou Sabally is himself indicted by the commission. 

Meanwhile, GDC will be counting on being the biggest opposition political grouping to cash in on a UDP’s near-inevitable mess. For Kandeh, all that is required is to survive the storm, cash in on UDP mess to make a stronger GDC.

The greatest challenge to a GDC win in 2026 is a lack of reform in their leadership roles. With a UDP win, Darboe will lose all moral authority if he fails to put life into the killed draft constitution. And with that constitution in place, all parties will be required to have a 50+ percent of votes to get elected. The era of minority governments will be dead.

That would also spell doom for tribal politics and any dependence on it. The GDC, like all other parties, will need to reform to wear the face of a national character to form a government. Is Kandeh prepared for that considering how a number of his top executives left him in recent times citing poor leadership and corruption?

Therefore, the election though an open race, it is likely to be a UDP win.

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