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Pastef’s victory in Senegal – a clarion call for The Gambia

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By Lamin Manneh
UDP diaspora secretary

When Yahya Jammeh and his junta arrested democratic governance in The Gambia on 22 July, 1994, the country’s fortunes changed. Predictable and consensual governance, with its shortfalls and shortcomings, was replaced by erratic, emotional, predatory and oft tribalistic politics in our beloved country. We went from a democratic law-abiding president to an autocratic and reckless president who bent, circumvented and changed laws, rules and regulations to serve his needs of the day. He was aided and abetted in his actions by a cohort of subservient and enabling parliamentarians and civil servants.

The opposition parties organised themselves to resist the dislocation of our country and destruction of the national fabric. My party, the United Democratic Party (the UDP), was established in 1996 and bore the brunt of Jammeh’s fury and folly. It went through various phases, vicissitudes and milestones since 1996. Its leadership and militants were arrested, kidnapped, detained, tortured and sometimes killed. In 2016, The Gambia managed to bring Jammeh’s government down, through the ballot box, without shedding blood at all.

In the same vein, on Sunday 24 March 2024, the Senegalese went to the polls to sanction another African government that harassed, plotted against, arrested, detained, manhandled and sometimes killed its political opponents. Indeed, President Macky Sall went from a well-appreciated, apparently democratic, law-abiding, pan-Africanist president to a power-drunk and scheming president. He was genuinely loved in The Gambia because of his efforts, as well as his diplomatic, political and military support to help us get rid of a tyrant. He lobbied Ecowas, the AU and UN to secure support for a military intervention to remove Jammeh from power. Unfortunately, the “liberating” multinational Ecowas military contingent overstayed its welcome and the loved Senegalese president morphed into the archetypical unwise and ill-advised autocrat who entirely ruined his legacy.

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After harassing and imprisoning Karim Wade and Khalifa Sall in the past, in the drive to select the opponents he faced in elections, President Macky Sall turned his attention to Ousmane Sonko and Pastef, with effect from 2019. Mr Sonko was frivolously accused of all sorts of offences, was tried, wrongfully sentenced and eventually arrested for allegedly stealing a mobile phone from a female security force officer stationed outside his house at a time when he was illegally besieged in his home for weeks on end. Most of the top management of his party and over 1,000 of his supporters and random Senegalese citizens were arrested, jailed and sometimes tortured. Over 50 Senegalese youths were murdered by thugs allegedly hired by his party.

This final phase of President Macky Sall’s harassment of his opponents culminated in politicised trials, bending of rules and rulings, refusal to enforce court decisions, presidential decisions that ran foul of the country’s constitution and, finally, presidential elections of 24 March 2024 and the election of President Bassirou Diomaye Diakhar Faye. That election will have a significant bearing on The Gambia.

Indeed, after struggling with the Jammeh dictatorship for 22 years, the country in general, and the UDP in particular, is again exerting efforts to put an end to the misrule and mismanagement of the country and its meagre resources by a government infested with corruption. After the electoral fraud of 4th and 5th December 2021, which maintained him in power, President Barrow, learning from the playbook of his mentor, President Sall, has set his sight on harassing his political opponents in the run-up to the 2026 presidential election. The supposedly Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), some fringe elements of the security forces and his political enablers have been weaponised. They could be used to prepare electoral fraud in 2026 and to harass opponents. The only trouble for Barrow and his shortsighted and ill-advised actions is that the same actions lead to the same results. What doomed Macky Sall’s government and legacy and denied him an honourable exit in Senegal, will doom Adama Barrow’s government, actions and exit from power if he does not change course.

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As for the UDP, its current work programme was cut out for it by the December 2021 fraudulent elections and their subsequent fallout. Work on that programme started in earnest on the day after the Janjangbureh Congress. It will be seriously intensified with effect from today because with its incoming ethical government, Senegal is now on the path to development. Its vast oil, gas, mineral and other natural resources, coupled with its well-trained human capital, will be put to good use. Consequently, The Gambia has to have a government that takes its development seriously because the country cannot remain an island of graft and corruption-induced poverty in a sea of development and prosperity. That is an existential issue for us.

A rapidly developing Senegal, in an African Continental Free-Trade Area (AfCFTA), surrounding a poor and corrupt Gambia will call our very existence into question. Indeed, the AfCFTA entered into force on 30 May 2019 and constitutes a considerable development potential for African countries. If we take advantage of the open, integrated and seamless African continental market, which is being created by the AfCFTA, to develop our agriculture, processing industries, agribusiness potential, industries and operate throughout the entire values chains thus offered, we could exponentially grow our economies and revenues. The AfCFTA is just one of the numerous potentials of regional and continental integration.

We in the UDP, strongly believe in and advocate for regional and continental integration because it is desirable and imperative. However, to take advantage of the integration dividends, The Gambia needs a corruption-free, ethical, visionary and development-focused government. It would appear that the Barrow government is antithetical to those values.

Furthermore, regional and continental integration, as advocated by the UDP and the incoming Senegalese government, must be negotiated by committed, lucid and level-headed governments. Integration requires pooling some of our sovereignties. We do not lose them; we simply pool them to create greater efficiencies and economies of scale. Thus, they must be negotiated from a position of strength, not from one of utter weakness and submission. The Senegambia Confederation is a case in point that should remain a vivid lesson in our collective national memory.

That unfortunate episode of our recent Senegambian history notwithstanding, African integration is desirable. For us, it could start with a better-conceived Senegambia grouping and a functional Ecowas, as necessary primary building blocks and even walls, for the larger continental integration. A properly conceived and operationalised integration is vital to make us all count more on the global scene. It is that integration at the AU level which got Africa a seat at the G20. However, that integration is possible only between countries with comparative levels of development and which work towards the attainment of certain convergence criteria. This might sometimes require accepting a variable-geometry approach and integrating the zone in concentric circles, that is, smaller groups with similar levels of development come together first and others follow slightly later. We see that in the attempts to develop an indigenous and independent West African currency.

All the above beg the question: Is The Gambia ready for the inevitable integration and is our government working resolutely to take advantage of integration? The short answer is, no!

If The Gambia remains mired in corruption, with no visible development trajectory, a crumbling agricultural sector, a non-existent industrial sector, an unreliable and unaffordable power and water supply, an inadequate education sector and so forth, we are headed for the wall. If we remain an unproductive consumer country in the midst of rapidly-developing producer countries, our very existence as a nation could be in jeopardy. Replacing President Barrow in 2026 should be a non-negotiable objective and an imperative for The Gambia in general and the UDP in particular, just as Pastef and its coalition did on Sunday, 24 March 2024.

As a sister opposition and ethical party, we welcome the victory of Pastef in Senegal and it should be a wake-up call for us here in The Gambia. Indeed, The Gambia should work closely with the incoming progressive, patriotic and pan-Africanist government of Senegal. However, that does not mean that we must put ourselves in a subservient junior position, as Barrow did with Macky Sall.

We have a golden opportunity to move forward on the path to development because Senegal will become a development pole in our region. That comes with its pros and cons. We have to be smart, honest, patriotic and single-mindedly development focused. The Barrow government is incapable of achieving that. It must be replaced. Ousainu Darboe has to replace Barrow at State House, come 2026. That fight starts in earnest now. The UDP will rally around its leader, unified, and forge ahead. We will again request Gambians to entrust the country to our care for good development outcomes. We will do so because if we do not harness our potential and comparative advantages to propel our country towards development, The Gambia could become irrelevant on the African and global stages. 2026 will offer us the opportunity to stay relevant and Pastef’s victory should inspire us.

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