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Monday, October 2, 2023

Political culture – A broken Link


By Gibril Saine The tragedy of ‘party politics’ in The Gambia could be attributed to several reasons depending on what lenses one chooses to view. For all the politics and gamesmanship on show in the political arena in recent years, it does boggle the mind to think a party political event by the biggest campaign machine in town could be held without any new faces making a bid for the leadership. Whatever the case may be, credit to the UDP for a well-organised congress that sailed almost glitch-free. The notion of political culture assumes that the attitudes, sentiments and cognitions that inform and govern political behaviour are not just random, but represent coherent patterns, which fit together and are mutually reinforcing. According to American political scientists Pye and Verba, political culture assumes that each individual must, in his own historical context learn and incorporate into his own personality the knowledge and feelings about the politics of his people and his community. Political culture gives predictability, meaning and form to the political process. This means in turn that the political culture of a society is limited but given firm structure by the factors basic to dynamic psychology. The idea of a political culture is such that each generation must receive its politics from the previous one, each must react against that process to find its own politics, and the total process must follow laws that govern the development of the individual personality and the general culture of a society.   How did we fell into this trap? The problem is as old to the dawn of independence, perhaps even longer (historian, Hassoum Ceesay, could educate us on this). From an observatory viewpoint, one notices rather than build a leader to the rules/ethics/ethos ”institution of the political party”, we, in The Gambia, tend to go about it the other way around. Cult leadership is the bane of politics today, disingenuous practitioners, except for a few. There are those who argue that Gambian politics should occasion in a ‘cultural’ manner; and not to expect leaders to ‘democracy’ (sic) as the case elsewhere. I refuse to fall for that notion simply because government is mandated to update citizens on its activities in a transparent and timely manner – the absence of this is conjecture, rumour, even false press against the government.   Where are we? When I was young, politics was considered taboo, not to touch or discuss openly. Things were basic back then, somewhat reserved for adults dissecting a pastime in those spare time forums. Today, politics is everywhere and anywhere, full frontal, adversarial – if not confrontational. One of the key functions of a political party is to articulate (sensitise the population) and aggregate (attract new voters) positioning to capture political power. That involves thoughtful planning on policies, programmes and manifestos to enlighten the masses. This could be done through various platforms throughout the year, not just election season. Smart political parties are known to engineer electioneering tactics designed to attract, even test new policies on public opinion before adoption. But despite 22 years of opposition politics, it appears not a single of the country’s political parties had a programme to succeed Jammeh. Political leadership is about institutions and structures through which policies and programmes of government are implemented. It should not have to be a bumpy ride every time we go to the polls – aiming for smooth landing without a glitch. Even though there is an apparent lack of a succession plan to replace ageing party leaders approaching retirement, credible alternatives to take on the mantle of leadership are few and far between. Take the UDP as a case in point, in fact any other party, the whole thing is built ‘thick’ around the leader. Revisionism here, actually a political party should be built around its leader, though not as rigid to an extent that whenever there comes a question of leadership change, the whole structure falls apart. All metrics being equal, Vice President Darboe should have relinquished his stranglehold grip on the party, hand over lead to President Barrow. By design or otherwise, the antics of UDP have undermined the president’s authority, and weakened his rule. Although one empathises with the situation, we can only hope it is The Gambia which will come out the winner.   And how do we extrapolate ourselves from it? I think it starts with oneself, rules, ethics and standards. If ‘honest politics’ is our default position, we should create a healthy environment for the good of all citizens. To sustain democracy, everyone has a role to play – academics, politicians, the media and ordinary citizens – in shaping political culture. And while we do that, we may well set goals high towards a politics of admiration and vision and reject one of desperation and despair. We should aspire to the politics of vision and aspiration when choosing who represents us in public office. Because the alternative is the cause of much division, causing irreparable damage to country and people. The question then becomes, how do we delineate political party from governing party? There is a difference. In the Gambian context, even the cleaners at a given political office all expect to be employed at State House when that party assumes power. It does not work like that. Career civil servants should not be prejudiced or sacked in favour of party loyalists just because one wins an election. In a similar vein, civil servants should not show public support for any political party – neutrality, impartiality, serving national interest should be the watchwords. It is through such avenues that a vibrant political culture may shape up in The Gambia, ushering new habits, ideas, thus cascading norms. What is true is that we have failed to address ‘leadership cult’ within the party structure itself, where leaders enjoy demi-god like status. That, in itself is a stain, posing a significant threat to the viability of the party in the event a leader is no more. What is also true is that it poses a danger to democracy and the sanctity of the law. An enriched political culture shouldn’t be a guessing game or ‘impasse’, but a desirable state of affairs, inheritable, one to emulate. As The Gambia government sort to explain itself on news programmes, isn’t it only right for us in the public to expect such advocate measures credible. It is in government’s best interest to allow technocrats in various departments to explain development plans in the media in an effort to upscale The Gambia’s political culture away from self-serving noise politics to something high and grand. Follow the author on Twitter: @gibbysaine]]>

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