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Sunday, December 6, 2020

The cold war raging between President Barrow and Darboe is an existential threat to our fledgling democracy

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By Amadou Camara

The war chests are studied, battle lines drawn, troops deployed to bat and battle and proxies wheeled out to do their masters’ bidding. It is open season. The political genie is now out of the metaphorical bottle. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the smoldering cold war raging in the high command of Gambia’s government between our country’s president, Adama Barrow and his vice president, Ousainu Darboe. And there can only be one winner between the warring factions. Like the cold war of yore from the heady post-war days to the halcyon years of the early 90s, the victor would write the political obituary of the defeated, preening peans on the ingenuity it uses to see off its opponent. From the wreckage, the crash and burn it is condemned to, the looser would pick himself up, roll up his sleeves, sulk, sear and suck it in and hope to palliate his pall plight, live for another.
That is where the cold war analogy stops.

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Because, underlying the battle through proxies between the United States and the Soviet Union, were competing ideologies: capitalism vs communism. The cold war between President Barrow and Darboe is not a battle of ideology, but, rather regrettably, of personalities for naked, neophyte and nihilistic power grab. Power for what? Should not power be a means to an end, not an end in itself? Both of them are having their hands on the levers of state, which they can use to leverage the much-needed change our country desperately needs. But, each day that passes, each machination their dyed-in-the wool supporters makes, each masma of maneuver they concocted – for that is what it is, from their brick-a-brac, bunches of rambunctious, unreconstructed fanatical zealots, – our country, the everyday hard-working Gambia, suffers. Our fledgling democracy is kicked in the teeth, too. It should never be like this. A president and his deputy should be members of the same congregation, avowed the same faith and sing from the same hymn sheet.

That is precisely why we cannot carry on like the way things are going. It shouldn’t be. It cannot be. Thousands of Gambians, who broke free from the shackles of former president Yahya Jammeh’s dictatorship and embraced the coalition, despite threats, tantrums and terror, did so to have their faith restored back, dignity secured, pride pronounced and honor harnessed. That should take the form of building an economy that works for them, giving them secure pay-packets, reforming and refunding the public services they depend on – hospitals, roads, infrastructures and schools. Alas, any lingering hope left that the new government, in a New Gambia, is ready, willing and equipped to fulfill their side of the bargain is crushed. Because the pair principles at the top of the government are focusing their energies and attentions towards carte blanche control of power when the next cycle of election comes. Like two bald men fighting over a comb, dear reader, they would realize after the fatal battle they are locked in, after puffing each other’s mouth, soaking in blood, nursing their bruises, that they don’t need the prize they are fighting for. Talk of an emperor with no clothes, and it is anything but: meaningless, minuscule and mishmash.
What we are having as a government is a rump of a government that is at best rudderless. At worst, it is a zombie limping into a no-man’s La La land.

And here is why: that the former government set the country back economically, socially and politically is absolutely true. But its defeat offers a massive opportunity for a forward-looking, economically-competent, socially-cohesive, politically-adroit and internationally-facing government. Despite all intents and purposes, they are shooting that opportunity in the foot. The economy is the be-all-and-end-all-of any serious government, people, society and country. There is no politics without an economy. And it is the duty and responsibility of a politician to know how the economy works, it should be grown and its fruits share among the populace. The path to that? A mega economic strategy where Gambians are trained from the cradle to grave with the skillets needed to prise open any job opportunity, build the necessary infrastructures to power the growth, set-up a seamless and smooth system for setting up business, a reasonable tax rate and, then, that is the time that investors will feel confident to pour their money into the country. The resultant effect of this? Good wages for Gambians workers, high standard of living and flood of cash into the government coffers – money that is in turn use to fund our public services. Pure and simple that is how you develop a country. The processes, the pieces and plans are what generate discussion, debate and dissent among politicians.

Last week it was reported by the central bank that our debt stands at D31.2b. That is the real issue that should jolt politicians in a fiery debate. Because to build a strong economy, our deficit and debt – the former being outspending more than what we earn and the latter continues accumulation of the former – should be tackled first. We expect President Barrow and vice president Darboe to be globe-trotting the world, on a diplomatic charm offensive, to meet key players at the IMF and World Bank, plead for our debt to be written off. Given that these are partners who are friends of our country, whose country reports are read like Qur’an/Bible by foreign investors, they would welcome them with open arms, and listen with sympathetic ears. There is a clear, compelling and concrete case to be made to them – in a quid pro quo offer – that our country is open for business, that there is a huge reward to rip from investing in Corporate Gambian Inc. In appealing to the IMF and World Bank in this way, the government would be following the aesthete axiom of Adam Smith in his book The Wealth of Nations, which is the foundation on which capitalism is built on, that: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.” That should be the approach. Difficult, but not impossible.

But instead, last week what we had in the newspapers was, like the cold war, all shout, no trousers ( they would never come out to bomb each other) from supporters of both principles: shrill and shallow debates about the legality of the sacking of nominated NAM Ya Kumba Jaiteh, week before that the open civil war raging in UDP bureaus. Important though these things are, but they are nothing short of shitty sideshows. Both President Barrow and Darboe should do the bloody right thing, and pull together. Failing that, they should come out in the open – via a press conference or interview – call a spade a spade by telling Gambians what is going on between them behind the curtains of power. They owe it to Gambians. In the end, in this political chess-game of calculated cold war, Gambians are the pawns sacrifice on the altar of pusillanimous power play.

Something has to give. Darboe, together with Solo Sandeng and others, deserves respect and recognition in our country’s history for putting their lives and limbs on the land against a dictatorship, heralding democracy. But the transition is being bungled and blundered by the government he is a prominent part of. He is faced with a simple choice: to put up or shut up – to use former British Prime Minister Sir John Major’s ultimatum phrase to the Eurosceptics MPs who threatened to bring down his government in the 90s over the EU Maastricht Treaty – the very people who contributed to Brexit. Or he could stay and salmi slice the government. I personally have nothing but enormous respect for him. I recall an interview we had on West Coast Radio when dissenting views were hamstrung by the government of the day. His bravery, tenacity and strength shined throughout the interview. Also, he was able to spell out what his UDP party was for: social justice, democracy, rule of law, helping the downtrodden, dispossessed and dislocated Gambians. Noble vision and values. Put them into practice now you are in power, Mr Darboe.

The jockeying and jostling for power between Barrow and Darboe remind me (apart from the Osinbajo vs Atiku, or Koroma vs Sumana power play) of the one between General Charles de Gaulle and his dauphin deputy, George Pompidou in the 50s. Forced out of retirement after successive governments in the 4th Republic France failed to quell the Algerian issue, the general, leader of free France who restored her dignity and pride in the Second World War from the Fuhrer Hitler’s Gestapo-gripped, was called to do the same in Algeria, where France was losing face badly. As was, and is, the nature of these things, a problem of different type popped up which was not expected on the radar, making the Algerian issue secondary: student riots across France demanding social reforms, morphing into a movement against the state (like the current gilets jaunes). All the tricks in his tool-box were devised by the general, but, in the twilight of his career, they didn’t work.

He was past his sell-by-date. His leftist rival, a young Francois Metterrand, deviously cunning, great tactician, with a sharp political antenna, duffled up the general’s fait accompli plan he wanted to foist on the French people by declaring his leftist acolyte Pierre Mendes France, as prime minister in-waiting: throwing political spanner into the general’s plan that it was him or chaos into the open air. Pompidou, shred, sharp, with a polymath brain, which earned him the nicknamed ‘Raminagrobis’, after the well-rounded, purring cat of La Fontaine’s fable with deceptively sharp claws, advised the general to call Metterrand’s bluff and a general election. De Gaulle, seeing himself as father of the nation, as someone who was beneath politics, groused and growled over the advice initially. After sleeping over it, he knew in his hearts of hearts that was the best course of action. He obliged. Election called. He won. Pompidou’s left a luminous reputation among cabinet ministers, for coming up with the cunning plan. After the episode, he was seen as the future leader. He basked it, encouraged it even. The general, who understood the peaks and troughs of power more than any other, cut him down to size by firing him. He, like Mitterrand, ended up being president, anyway. But the lesson is clear: there can be only one king in the kingdom of the sanctum sanatorium of power. Therefore, to president Barrow and vice president Darboe, nolens volens, do right thing for yourself and Gambians. Recall the saying: que sera sera, which is ‘what will be, will be’!

Amadou Camara studied Political Science at University of The Gambia. He is currently based in the United States

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