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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Revisiting history: one year into the New Gambia, hopes and fears

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By Abdoukabirr Daffeh

Disguised on the pretext of fighting for accountability, probity and transparency, the AFPRC seized power in The Gambia on 22 July 1994. In the Yoweri Museveni style they promised the Gambians that their mission was to cleanse the system and return the country to a civilian government. However, many people who were accustomed to the political trajectories of the continent believed little that the then AFPRC junta leaders would return to the barrack.

In 1986, when the then army commander of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni seized power, he reminded the Ugandans that the problem of African governance is leaders refusing to leave power (BBC news); he promised Ugandans that he does not belong to that group of Africans. Almost thirty years today Yoweri still maintained power in Uganda amidst a disenchanted populace.
In the early days of the leadership of the AFPRC/APRC, many political commentators of the Gambia observed that the Junta had visible plans for development and socio-economic transformation of the tiny Gambia.

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However, as it has been the norm of leaders in many African states, soonest they settled down in power, they are often caught up in the very ‘mess’ they set themselves to have come to clean. Tony Blair was right ‘Africa is a scar in the moral conscience of humanity’. According to Fongkon Kini (2016) most African countries are nothing but ‘banana’ states. The political history of Cameroon speaks true to this. Haven come to power in 1980 with a clear objective and vision, President Paul Biya of Cameroon presides over a divided country between the Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians today (Kini 2016).

Borrowing from these callous leaders of the continent, it appears that the “borne-again “ democrat of the Gambia, President Jammeh began to change course and established a clientele system of leadership. Indeed many would not be wrong to conclude that Jammeh was an ‘A’ student of Machiavelli. In his famous book the Prince, Machiavelli sets standard for his so-called best practice of leadership, he cited fear and callousness as the ideal quality of a good leader. He is famously quoted by most people “the end justifies the mean”. According to Machiavelli which clashes with postulations of the human behavioral theorists, he cited that a leader should use both the ‘carrot and stick’. Tyranny he believed surely as one of the outstanding features of leadership.

No wonder, the 22 years leadership of President Jammeh most political commentators observed was despotic, cold-hearted and fails the thesis of rule of law and good governance.
According to the reports of the Amnesty International and Humans Rights Watch, attacks on journalists, political opponents and human rights defenders were frequent in the Gambia as in the words of PLO Lumumba they were frequent than breakfast.

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The 22 years repressive experience of Gambians was a litmus test for Gambians to be united in diversity and put an end to this nightmare. President Jammeh’s sarcastic rhetoric on almost all tribes in the Gambia including his own tribe (Jolas) more so the majority Mandinka tribe was what was going to sow the seed for his downfall.

Jammeh has put up a misjudged approach towards the 2016 election. His dismissal of all supreme court judges prior to the 2016 election was a calculated political score for Jammeh ironically he got caught up in the ‘mess’ he created and all doors legally for him were shunned.
Besides, the arrest of Solo Sandeng and his alleged killing by members of the defunct NIA as well the alleged mistreatment of Fatoumatta Jawara and the arrest of UDP top executives including Ousainou Darboe was what I described as the “school boy politics” of President Jammeh. Indeed he (Jammeh) should know better such a political ‘Taliban’ style of ambush against political opponents in a not too far distance from the 2016 election could only darken his hopes for victory.

Certainly, the introduction of spot counting of votes was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Was it that Jammeh was unaware of the disillusionment of people towards his maladministration? Or conceivably his political advisers were not honest to him about the realities on the ground.
The closure of all international call centers and the shutting down of internet a night before the 2016 Presidential election by allegedly President Jammeh was nerve wreaking and indicative of the fact that something fishy was going to happen. As Dr. Kevin would say, when citizens become embittered no amount of threat and coercion could silence them. Paulo was right education is the only tool for popular consciousness.

As Chinua Achebe would say “when a child washes his hands he could eat with elders” it appears Jammeh failed to wash his hands before the 2016 election. Surprisingly as in the Case of Amalize the cat who Achebe described that his back never touches the ground in any wrestling contest throughout the night villages of Umofia, his defeat was like the fall of a Mahogany tree. In the political science jargon, the defeat of Jammeh in the 2016 election was a “political earthquake”. Yet what surprised many commentators and followers of Gambia’s election was Jammeh’s acceptance of the verdict of the Gambian people and his readiness to help in the transition to change. This triggered a sea of commendations on Jammeh from the international community.

Conversely, as Sait argued in his thesis, many who are accustomed to Jammeh’s political melodrama were not the least surprised with his political U-turn and in his own words “I have rejected and nullified the votes, we must return to the polls to be spearheaded by God-fearing people”. This political travesty of his sets confusion as many Gambians run to Senegal helter-skelter.
As Jammeh continued to manifest his political controversy, the role of the Gambians and the international community remained forward, “the verdict of the Gambians must be given due consideration” and the watchword “#GambiaHasDecided hits the air waves.

On the 19th of January, 2017, Adama Barrow while in Senegal was sworn in President of the Gambia in the Gambian embassy which international law accepts as Gambia’s territory.
One year today, I ask the question, how far have we come as a country? Have our coalition government stood the test of time? Have they delivered on the promises they told us a year ago?
Having come from afar politically, it is only prudent to remark that our nation has changed fundamentally in widening the political space to allow diversity and dissent.

According to Amartya Sen in his development as freedom, he argued that development is the process of expanding the freedoms and rights that people enjoy (Sen 2000).He noted that the growth of GNP and rise in per capita income do not alone necessarily translate to development. He contended that efforts to reducing poverty and ensure development must be centred on improving the freedoms, rights and choice of the human person to live a life he cherished (Sen 200). He pointed out that real development requires removing the major sources of unfreedoms. According to him democratic and responsive governance that guarantees rights and freedoms will be the only means to end underdevelopment and poverty in the world (Sen 2000).Thus far the new government has continued to perform remarkably well in the protection and promotion of rights and freedoms of Gambians which is alien to Gambians for the past 22 years . While we most remarked that this new freedom is also the effort of Gambians, we applaud the government as the primary duty bearer for trekking this thin line along with the Gambians.

That said, the new government must know that a lot are expected of them, democracy many experts believe is a mere word that grumbles in the bellies of people without peace and tranquillity. The recent pocket conflict in the country is indicative of the challenge of governance we face as a country. The government must equip the SIS with the needed knowledge and tools to play the role of an efficient intelligence services for national development.

While the YEP project for youth development is commendable, the government needs to work harder to create more room for employment. Just last week, we witnessed the graduation of thousands of young Gambians, all these young graduates are expected to be employed. It must be said that the recipe to criminalist activities is unemployment. Whereas the recent increment of wages of civil servants received applause from all the political spectrum, the need to adjust and help civil servants with housing scheme is relevant for sustainable development.

Suffice it to say, the government must work ahead with all stakeholders to bridge the current national divide in the country. In the pursuit of this, the National Council for Civic Education needs to re-adjust to ensure a politically educated Gambia, a country where tolerance to diversity and rule of law will become the mantra.
It is often said that most dictators in the continent have often got a clear vision on how their countries would develop in the first few years of their leadership yet they end up getting consumed by greed and insatiable desire to lead.

The new government has a choice to either be recited in the dinner table of humanity as a government that presides over a new Gambia and makes it the envy of the world in tandem with respect for rule of law and sustainable development or a government that presides over a new Gambia and fails to uphold its tenant. History is never the burden of only one person, history is watching to have a fairy tale.


Sen Amartya (200) .Development as freedom: New York USA
F Kini (2015). Political governance in Central Africa, University Buea: Cameroon
BBC Focus on AFRICA (2016) .Interview with Yahya Jammeh: BBC, London
BBC Focus on Africa (2010) .Interview with Yoweri Museveni: BBC, London
The Standard Newspaper of the Gambia (2015) .Gambian election bill: Standard Newspaper Company, Gambia

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