By Hatab Fadera
It is now 24hrs before Kanifing decides who takes over from a garbage-dumped former mayor in an election that has attracted a huge attention. The political battle for Kanifing’s top job has never been intense and competitive than it is this election cycle. Mayoral candidates have been taken on a hard ride. One would not be reprimanded for concluding that this is the most competitive Local Government mayoral elections in as many years. This is not just that people are free to choose which way to go in a democracy, but due to the caliber of credible candidates chosen by the various parties to compete.
Each of these candidates is bringing to the fold a wealth of experience in diverse areas of their expertise. Of course, they are not equally measured in terms of experience, competence, education, innovation etc. That’s where they have a difference. Will that influence the outcome of the votes? Possibly! However, experiences show that people vote because of a certain political allegiance. Of course, they also vote when they are convinced that someone has what it takes to address their most pressing challenges. Banjul has a good history of that.
Regardless of their conclusions, this election for Kanifing has proven to be one with a difference. The political game proves to be an expensive affair and shows potential candidates already dipping into their pockets to bankroll their political campaigns. The kind of innovative investments the candidates and their parties are employing in this election have been monumental.
First, all leading candidates have started off their campaigns with material inducing projects. Forget about what they tell you about this. It is not philanthropic but a calculated political strategy to entice the unsuspecting electorate into throwing their marbles into their boxes. This is an old strategy very much typical of politics in our part of the world. So, as the trail got heated, we saw aspiring candidates sponsoring market projects through the construction of canopies for women; distribution of hundreds of dustbins etc. Oh! We also saw some sponsoring trophies and soccer materials as a way to get the youth on their side. Relief materials were also dashed out to the locals in a fraudulent show of care. How about trucks that were fuelled to clean up Mayor Colley’s uncollected rubbish? Wrestling contests were sponsored as well.
Fast forward to post-nomination, the last stage of this political war intensified more with significant investments by the candidates. All serious minded candidates who really want to win the May 12 polls have gone further. These days, it is not wise to say, “I have done enough,” but about asking; “What can I do more?” Those who are not complacent went for more. Consequently, we have seen giant billboards with large portraits of the candidates decorating major strategic intersections on our highways. Social media, Facebook, has been flooded with campaign promotional, especially short videos of candidates explaining why they deserve the vote. There have been colored newspaper adverts of some candidates in top local newspapers with programs clearly spelt out. Television commercials on private stations have crowned it all! Tones of T-shirts and flyers have been printed and in greater circulation at every nook and cranny of Kanifing. What a terrific and exciting new campaign trend!
But with all these innovative campaigns, the residents will be hoping to install a mayor who is not only the right fit for the Municipality, but one who can truly deliver development to the people, and propel the economic growth of this local government area.
Kanifing, home to around 400, 000 people, is the biggest administrative local government area, population wise. The Municipality remains The Gambia’s biggest and most important trading hub with the council and central government collecting millions in tax every month. In other words, it is essentially the lifeblood of the country given the intense economic activities taking place daily. This Municipality is also the host of the country’s busiest business avenue – Kairaba Avenue – which hosts all kinds of domestic and foreign companies. All of these major business companies together employee thousands of Gambians and are paying huge taxes every year.
The government relies on these taxes to support its social and economic development programs. In addition to these, some of the most important public offices are found within this Municipality. All of these point to the indispensability of this local government area to Gambia’s socio-economic development. That’s why the stakes are high in the race for the Municipality’s top job.
Facts remain that Kanifing mayoral job will require someone with ideas to fix its myriad of challenges. As a densely populated area, the Municipality continues to grapple with serious economic and infrastructural problems. One key area that the next mayor would need to prioritise is the appalling waste management infrastructure. Today, the improper waste management system within the Municipality has posed real threats to the public health of Gambians. The main waste disposal site, the Bakoteh Dumpsite, is left without proper management such that it poses grave public health risk. Kanifing today is one of the filthiest local government areas. Any mayor who fails to priorities waste management will suffer the Yankuba Colley political humiliation. Yes, Colley, the immediate-past mayor made political records for becoming the first ever local government mayor whose uncollected garbage followed him to his office. Scenes are still very graphic when a group of angry youth protested the Council’s inability to tackle waste by offloading a huge truckload of garbage next to the mayor’s office.
Added to that, the Municipality also has poor drainage system that is also posing a significant health threat. Gutters are uncovered and are filled with all sorts of debris. Dustbins are virtually non-existence, forcing dwellers to litter indiscriminately. Recreational facilities and public toilets are out of sight with youth skill development centers dysfunctional. Past administrations had racketeered public funds and turned the Council into a political bureau to a scale where officials could jump from their desks to brew “Attaya” (green tea) under cold mango shades during working hours. No sound and innovative rate collection regimes meant that there were leakages with public funds being used for errands that did not advance the interest of the Municipal dwellers.
The challenges outlined above mean that the next mayoral administration would have to immediately roll out a sound development strategy to ensuring that the Municipal dwellers have a fair share of their development needs.
A look at what the current aspiring candidates have show very diverse ideas on the way forward for the Council. For instance, the campaign of United Democratic Party’s (UDP) Talib Ahmed Bensouda believes that Kanifing “must start to think competitively and position itself to attract business investment, whilst promoting a welcoming, healthy and green environment.” Top on his agenda is microfinance for vendors; investment in domestic food production; rivitalising region’s agricultural zones; introducing skill centers to promote skills in mechanic and automotive; survey and urban planning etc.
Independent candidate, Bakary Badjie, on the other hand, unveiled an ambitious 10-point development blueprint for the Council. In Bakary’s campaign basket includes a commitment to ensuring that there is more effective, accountable and transparent local government that works closely with central government to deliver the needed infrastructural, economic and social development to the people of the municipality. Bakary also desires to improve local public service and expand accessibility of communities to basic needs such as water, electricity, sanitation and waste collection and management.
Bakary’s campaign rival, Momodou Musa Njie (Papa Njie), also Independent, has been busy selling his ideas to the Municipal dwellers. Njie also has plans to tackle the Council’s perennial waste problem. On his agenda, he wants to create employment opportunities for youth after completing nine years of basic education; introduce basic IT skills training in KM schools; develop a robust five-year agenda; and to promote community involvement in municipal development activities.
The candidate for the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), Adama Bah, on the other hand, is trumpeting a “With You-For-You-For KMC” slogan. Bah outlines a vision that seeks to build the confidence, raises aspirations and gets communities to create their own development with the Council’s support.
With the varied political ideas about fixing the Municipality, electorate will face a competitive choice to vote in a mayor who has answers to most of their needs. Fundamentally, they would be hoping to see a mayor who will tackle the perennial waste problem, fix the old and dilapidated drainage system, create mechanisms that would enhance economic activity and employment for the dwellers, rehabilitate feeder roads under the Council’s mandate, deliver a clean and well sanitised Municipality, usher in a corrupt-free administration, strengthen and expand social amenities to all dwellers etc. Until then, we can just continue to watch and enjoy the euphoria that is preceding tomorrow’s historic polls.
Hatab Fadera is a student at the University of The Gambia School of Journalism and Digital Media