By Tabora Bojang
Straight-talking political science lecturer, Essa Njie has criticised the Gambian opposition parties on one hand and the civil society on the other for lack of vibrancy to promote democratic accountability.
Speaking to The Standard yesterday, Njie said the absence of a credible opposition and a vibrant and strong civil society are major threats to democratic governance with risks of authoritarian resurgence.
“It is very sad that what we have in the Gambia is election-oriented opposition parties and project-oriented civil society. Opposition parties are only concerned about elections, and when elections are over, they get back to their [political] bureaus with no effective engagement in holding the government to account for its actions or omissions.
With all the alleged corrupt practices of the government reported in the media every day, political parties and the civil society are not seen condemning them as well as promoting accountability over the regime, which is why the government does not feel pressured over its conduct,” Njie said. He added that most civil society organisations too are project oriented, arguing that they are active in winning projects and get funding but when it comes to holding the government to account there is less engagement. “This is a major threat to our democratic governance. Yes, we have seen some CSOs like Gambia Participates and Centre for Research and Policy Development doing some engagements at some point and trying to promote democratic accountability but it is sad to say majority of civil society organisations are project oriented and do not effectively play their role in ensuring that there is effective democratic accountability in the country,” he said. According to him, Gambians should be worried about this trend because political scholars in Africa argued that 65 percent of countries that transitioned to democracy in their first five years did experience an episode of democratic backsliding due to the absence of democratic accountability by the opposition and civil society.
“This is more apt in The Gambia where some politicians sold their parties and their souls or have been co-opted by the ruling party regime while others are dormant. You wonder whether these [opposition] parties are serious in what they are doing and whether their leaders have a clear idea about their mission,” he said.
He said opposition parties are supposed to be governments in waiting and be prepared that they can be in government anytime. “So, people look up to opposition parties and the civil society to correct the government where it goes wrong. Sadly, these things are not happening in the country and the danger about that is when the government knows that there is a citizenry that doesn’t care about values, it will become used to scandals because they know that people will just talk about it for just a day or two and everybody goes to sleep. This is one major threat to Gambia’s democratic governance and of course in our bid to fight corruption,” Njie, who holds a double master’s degree in human rights and democratisation in Africa, told The Standard.