Although I don’t usually write about my opinion on the political arena of this country, I, however, feel compelled to share my thoughts and views on the dramatic surge in political parties in this small country. This increase in political parties, in my own judgement, is meaningless and can jeopardize any slightest chance the Gambian people have in effecting sound and meaningful political change.
The reason is simple. If political parties kept on increasing, it would only give a massive advantage to the ruling party, which has at its disposal state resources for campaigns and support galvanization. This has a tendency of robbing us the opportunity to oust a leader whose political ignorance and inordinate aspirations are apparently downing the country to its knees.
We know very well that some people forming their own political parties are not qualified to head a village, let alone a country. Whether they do it for fame or as an avenue for wealth generation, some of these people’s desires for political power should only be seen as a blatant insult and disrespect to our sovereignty, democracy, and development aspiration as a nation.
A good number of these so-called political contenders lack the requisite intellectual dexterity and wisdom to identify the problems of this country. Why then are they vying for the presidency of the country? Perhaps now the threat and pitfall of becoming an opposition have been eliminated in the Gambia, but this trend of many political parties is nothing to go by in my judgement.
After half a century of underdevelopment, the Gambia needs a leader who has the foresight to identify our current and future problems with realistic plans for redress. And it is very obvious that the incumbent is not the leader we are talking about, and neither is most of the so-called political aspirants whose political ambitions are very sudden. Whatever ignited in them this sudden urge for political power is best known to them, but delusion is different from ambition by all standards.
Also, what I consider as the highpoint of political insult inflicted on the nation is the fact that we have people in the Gambia who are joking with the country’s political landscape. Politics in the twenty-first century is a matter of life and death, and we don’t get to see it as a joke. A president has a whole nation’s destiny in his or her hands and whenever wrong decisions are made, the ramifications could be very catastrophic.
This is the reason we should be very careful with the kind of leaders we elect to steer our affairs and preside over our destinies. Many of these people forming their own political parties now do not really know what it should take to be a president. And sadly, many other Gambians do not seem to know as well. A perfect point of lesson is right before our eyes from 2016 to date. We were so engrossed with the idea of ousting a dictator that we did not stop for one moment to examine the type of person we were going to vote in, and now we are paying the bitter price. Under no circumstances should we allow a repetition of this mortal mistake.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) should be very strict when it comes to registering political parties. There ought to be very stringent criteria all of which must adequately be fulfilled before a license is issued to anybody wanting to form a party. I am not oblivious of the fact that democracy and franchise warrant every individual with stable mental order to vie for political offices, but this doesn’t mean that every Tom, Dick, and Harry should be allowed to register a political party. Otherwise, our political arena could lose its value as just anybody can form a party and contest for the highest office of the country.
Except in few cases, the manifestoes I have seen from many emerging political parties are the same redundant policies that have been there since the country attained its independence fifty-five years ago. The problems of this country have increased considerably and things have changed. You go and bring us policies of fifty-five years old and expect the elites to give you their votes. New problems have emerged and we need leaders who would be able to identify these problems as well as future ones that the country is likely to be faced with.
It appears now that some people want to come into the political spotlight just to make names for themselves, but without any aspiration, vision, or plan for addressing the challenges of the country. If anything, most of them seem to believe that because it is easy to form your own party without hindrance, they can also have their names in the public space.
It is very disheartening that comedians are creating jokes with the Gambia’s political landscape, and worst of it is the fact that we have some people in the country who are actually encouraging this blatant national insult. Youssou N’Dour made a similar insult to the Senegalese when he decided to vie for the presidency of that nation. Even though every individual in a right state of mind has the right to franchise, there are some people, no matter how famous or wealthy they maybe, who cannot be voted into the highest office of the land.
What we need to understand as Gambians are the fact that this country now needs a new direction. After fifty-five years of underdevelopment, poverty, increased unemployment, and regression, we now want to be compared to countries like Rwanda and other African countries that are developing at a very fast rate. This is not something we should create jokes about.
Our mission in 2016 was solely to oust a dictator and make necessary reforms through a transitional administration before the 2021 presidential elections, but today we reflect on the demise of this dream with heavy hearts. This was due to the fact that a wrong but necessary decision was made. Someone can say that there was no other genuine choice. But now, choices are available at our disposal; it is left to our own discretion to make the right choice or not, but nobody will escape the dragnet at the repercussion of the wrong choice.
And the fact is that most leaders of these emerging political parties do not have what it takes to salvage the country. The Gambia is different from many African countries when it comes to governance. As such, we need a special kind of leader to propel the country forward; not social climbers and opportunists who would not hesitate to grab every slight opportunity to enrich themselves.
In my judgment, the Gambia doesn’t need more than two political parties. Having many political parties will only be at our detriment, since it could deny us the chance to oust the incumbent, who by all standards needs to leave State House. Vying for the presidency of a country is supposed to be a very competitive race, so that anybody who is selected to stand as a standard bearer of a given political party would not have his competence questioned, because everyone would by then know that the one selected is well qualified and knows the problems of the country with plans for providing practical solutions to them.
If there were only two political parties in the Gambia, people would hardly make a wrong choice since anybody elected from either of the parties would have been well qualified and competent to take the country forward. But with a surge in political parties, competence is highly compromised, since a person can form a political party and insist on being the standard bearer with no opposition from his followers, whether or not the individual has the requisite knowledge and wisdom to govern the country like the way it should be governed.
Our development as a nation will continue to be hijacked if we didn’t stop the trend of forming endless political parties and focus on national development, because wrong choices could be inevitable when there are so many parties contesting in elections. With the appalling nature of political ignorance in the country, we need voter education and sensitization if we are to avoid a repetition of the mortal mistake made in 2016.
At least two political parties in the Gambia deserve special commendation when it comes to voter education and sensitization, but many of the emerging parties do not think along that line. Even though they know adequately that their prospect of winning elections is slim, they merely desire to come into the political spotlight to issue a deliberate insult to our country’s political fabric. This should not in any way be encouraged.
How can a small country like the Gambia, with a population of barely two million people, have up to seventeen different political parties? Is there a secret behind forming a political party that we don’t know about? Because most of the people coming up with their own parties are not coming with the intention of salvaging the country. They don’t even know how to do that; yet they throw their hats into the ring anyway.
My view on what should have happened is for these many political parties to come together, if they are serious about the development of the Gambia, to form a uniformed party and each leader can contest for the standard bearer of this uniformed party. If they believe in themselves and their policies, then I see no reason why they should be afraid to stand the test of competence.
Let them present to us their policies, have debates and those with the right mindset and right policies should contest in elections. I would not be surprised if certain political leaders rejected this view, because when it comes to the test of competence, a good number of them would realize that they would not survive, especially those recently emerging.
It is not enough to present to us written documents of their policies; that’s easy. They need to come and have debates, let us know how they think and what they believe. Forming your own political party means you want to be president; and being a president ought to require a very rigorous process – tests, vetting. If some of these political aspirants have been exposed to rigorous vetting process, they would not even be granted license to form their own party, let alone contest for the presidency of the country.
Every conscious Gambian would agree with me that the current president needs to leave State House in the 2021 presidential elections, and this is the language that all those who love the Gambia speak. Having many political parties in the Gambia can jeopardize the prospect of ousting the president, and we should not delude ourselves into thinking that the National Peoples Party does not have a chance in the upcoming presidential elections.
We need to be very careful if we are to protect the Gambia and our collective destiny. Imagine the irony of giving advantage to the one whose removal from office is a burning urge in every conscious Gambian. What meaningful solutions will these so many political parties in the Gambia provide to our problems?
Our fate as a nation depends on the choice we make in the 2021 presidential elections. Let us not entertain comedians and unserious people to jeopardize our salvation and emancipation from the chains of underdevelopment, poverty, and destitution that the country has been grappling with since the attainment of political independence in 1965.
Ismaila Saidybah is an award-winning writer and novelist, currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English language at the University of The Gambia. He’s the Founder and Country Coordinator of Writers Space Africa – Gambia Chapter.