Dr Badara Alioune F Taal, Boca Raton, FL
It is a good thing that we have so many contenders as candidates competing for the presidency of the Gambia. I have made and stated my comments on a separate cover few weeks ago on the debate contesting for the presidency between Sallah and Dr. Ceesay. I enjoyed listening to the inaugural speech and the introduction of yet another candidate headed by a former lead counsel of the TRRC, Mr. Essa Mbye Faal. It is ironic that the timing of jumping the hoops for presidency has happened so soon when the final report for the TRRC project is not completed. I get it that it was a job for Mr. Faal and not his responsibility to submit the final report for the TRRC. However, it is too soon to elevate to such high-level intensive contest to the capacity of becoming a president on such short notice. Then again, it is also fair to recognize that it is up to any Gambian to campaign and seek votes for any responsible electable office if they so well believe that they have something to offer the nation and its populace. It is therefore within the rights of any citizen to aspire for any legislative position as well as the presidency of the republic of the Gambia. It is also encouraging to see that there are more than 30 candidates and political parties fighting for votes from less than 900,000 registered voters in a population of less than 2 million people.
The greater the number of contenders, the less likely to have 50+1 percent majority for a clear winner in this election. Keeping in mind that each candidate entering the race will draw from others making the required 50 + 1 percent votes very difficult to achieve by any one party. This is also a dilemma in the end there is going to be a runoff between the two candidates with the highest votes to determine a winner; given the small number of registered voters and factoring the no shows among those voters. If these parties are genuine in pursing the presidency to serve the interest of the country, I would suggest revisiting the history of how an incumbent was removed from office 5 years ago. Readers should be reminded that it took a coalition of all parties but one to defeat 22 years of a brutal and arrogant dictatorial regime in the Gambia. That dictator was arrogant enough with the thought and belief that the ballot box will never remove him from office because of some of the laws he put in place with the help of corrupted legislators and judges to strengthen his “place” in the country. Therefore, with such a small participation rate, electorally, another coalition has to be ventured to successfully repeat that history. So, this begs the question: Are these candidates (30+) in this situation because their individual interests are greater than their collective and country interest? – The white house of the Gambia is a house of cards, self-aggrandization, and self-developmental – the food and water taste much better because you (the citizen) pay for it. To justify the question above lies in the fact that all these candidates are unanimous in understanding and narrating the problems plaguing the Gambia. If the denominator is common, therefore, it is only sensible to unite forces and complete the intentions of the previous coalition’s memorandum of understanding – change the constitution to even the playing field for the next contest. Patience is a virtue.
The inaugural speech of the independent candidate – Mr. Faal
The speech would have been more interesting, less boring, and less humorous – the jokes were not funny if that was intended. The message was more pretentious than genuine and did not provide any hints of possible solutions to the truckloads of Gambia’s problems. Mr. Faal had successfully listed most of the problems of the Gambia to include: low salaries, poor healthcare, rampant corruption, failed and lacking infrastructures, poor education system, high unemployment, the “back Way”, sports, poor national security, and to add the lack of leadership in the Gambia. He failed to offer any potential ideas to support how his agenda for solutions would look like. Credit to him for stating that the night was not to reveal his manifesto nor the name of his party or should we guest – “Independent” candidate. BUT WHY NOT? The irony here is that Mr. Faal chose to inaugurate or lunch his ambitions of becoming a presidential candidate and hoped to be supported by the audience in voting for him in December, however, he also chose to withhold plans to convince voters of how to resolve the list of problems mentioned earlier. Mind you, most of these voters have made up their minds towards a party or candidate for whom to vote for in this election. A seasoned and smart politician would have laid everything out to voters explaining the manifesto and plans to tackle all listed the dirty laundry. In fact, a manifesto is derived from problems/issues encountered (expected) on a project, country, village, town or organization. A manifesto, therefore is built upon using the issues at hand to create relief for citizens or stakeholders and also an identity for the party or organization.
According to the American Collegiate Dictionary, the word manifesto is defined as:
“a public declaration, as of a sovereign or government, or of any person or body of persons taking important action, making known intentions, objects, motives, etc., a proclamation” (Barnhart and Stein, 1963).
Keywords: objectives, intentions, motives, and proclamation – none of which the candidate offered the audiences to which these prospective supporters can ponder upon, on their way home after the meeting (something to think about).
The election is scheduled for December 4, 2021 and that is about 3 months and 7 days from today. So, coming this late in the game, every moment is vital to reveal as much as one can to present a stronger standing and preparedness to win the support (crossovers) from the populace. Many of the opposing candidates and parties were off the gates running over 2 years ago building and rallying for support, so joining the race in this late hour, Mr. Faal needed to bring the wow factor, a point of difference for the voters to join his camp. The lesson to be learned at the end would be that running for office need a great deal of strategic planning and logistics-then again, it is African politics.
In the West and the Americas, no candidate will come this late to contest for anything politically more so aspiring to become a president – it is a political suicide. So the name of the game in African political standards and Gambia in particular, is not based on the amount of time left, ideas one has, policies one wish to implement, development plans of a candidate, etc. rather decisions to vote for a candidate are made based on the latest favors offered, or the last dalasi received from contestants (what have you done for me lately?). For example, a country of indifference (Badjie, 2021), we have to be provided with drinking water from the river or edible fish every time, rather than us demanding to be taught the art of fishing or to fetch water for consumption.
During his speech, Faal mentioned that his awareness of the level of poverty in the country was observed during his travel tours along the length and breadth of the Gambia. On these tour(s), he encountered such loss of hope, increased poverty, and despair of people and families. It was a surprise to me that he had to travel in the country to realize the poor condition in which fellow Gambians lived daily. I will put it this way – if at any time Banjul suffers from the Flu, then the rest of the country is suffering from pneumonia. Banjul is not fit for a town, city or better yet a capital. I was shocked that President Barrow on a State of Affairs interview with Mr. Alieu Ceesay, stated in the session that some diplomat from Germany on a state visit to the Gambia driven on Independence Drive heading to State house, this diplomat mentioned to him that Banjul is one of best-looking cities he ever visited. I strongly believed that the German was being more sarcastic (shocked) than complementary and Barrow took his comments as a complement to boost his ego. We all know that the worst slums in Germany is not comparable to Banjul’s brightest spot.
My biggest turn off and disappointment of the night came when Mr. Faal lamented behind the microphone, “Focus more on the sciences instead of the arts…. I started helping only those in the science because that is what our country need…. If we invest in the wrong education, we have…” (Faal, 2021). I was disappointed to say the least with the above quote as words uttered by a potential presidential candidate to lead this country. It was wrong to say that the arts is a wrong investment in education or educating the young. We need the arts and it has proven to be the center for developing creativity, communications, and other useful entities that keep the environment at peace within itself. De-funding the arts will definitely hurt more people than he thinks. Not everyone is a scientist, every individual is gifted with some talents that can be on either side of the isle. Individuals need to be encouraged on following that which they find a passion in doing.
In fact, he used to continuously confess to the world during the TRRC hearings (lead counsel) that math was not his cup of tea. It is a double standard confessing to one thing and supporting something else. What message was he sending to those students in school like him that are good in the arts but not so good in math – for them to drop out and join the ranks of beggars that continue to receive bread crumbs for life? I was expecting something critical and intelligent from someone that had his degree in the arts to be more supportive and try to merge the two disciplines to show their usefulness for our developments. We cannot all be scientists nor can we all be artists. The arts has been drastically underfunded all over the world (Taal, 2021) and leaders have to start recognizing the arts as important as the sciences. It (the arts) is a necessary tool for scientists to have but the abilities to teach creativity to the scientists other than immersing into the arts to gain the knowledge (creativity and communication) is work in progress (Taal, 2021).
In present day China, some universities are promoting the arts (liberal arts) to be taught in all higher education institutions just like the West is pushing for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs in all levels of education (Taal, 2021). This idea of lobbying for increase funding for STEM programs in the U.S was triggered to give students and businesses in the country an advantage to compete on equal footing with others outside the country. And, as a result, visas were granted to Asians and other students and professionals to attend American institutions to share their knowledge with American students and businesses. After completion, these graduates are provided with facilities including granting them work permits visas to work and live in the country. So, it is only smart to brain drain the outside and empower the brain inside with the bounties (typical Western strategy). Take a page from Jaliba’s song relating to feeding the home rats before feeding the bush rats – a metaphor.
In my previous analysis of the big debate, I had on my remarks that both candidates in that debate should find a common ground and work together. I will offer the same to Mr. Faal because realistically, he joins the race too late in the game and the best would have been to observe the game as it is being played. It is also realistic to say that out 900,000 voters, there is a very likelihood that 50+1 percent votes will not happen for any of the contesting parties, and lastly, he should join the other parties and replicate the efforts of 2016 that ousted Jammeh. It will be very difficult given the size of the population, and the number of registered voters, and voter absenteeism to have one party declared a winner as depicted in the constitution with 50+1 percent majority votes. Faal, Dr. Ceesay, Sallah and the other 28 plus parties should come together and work on their differences to unite forces against the NPP and UDP. That is wishful thinking but it will not happen because these candidates are not sincere about in their intentions to make a commitment for country, however, they all want to have their cake and eat it alone. I think, this country has a lot to lose in this coming election just like the last one before in 2016. So the voters should think critically before casting their votes for free food, cooking oil, and sugar. If these candidates could not afford to give you any provisions free before coming to office, then ask yourself, why now all of a sudden? There is no free lunch.
I want to believe that all 28 plus parties have an interest to develop and move the affairs of the country forward in the 21st century and beyond. On second thought, I wonder if that is true looking at the horizon and listening to the rhetoric. For example, APRC is only interested in bringing Jammeh back to the Gambia and that is the worst disaster that will ever happen in the country. That is grounds for a civil war because Jammeh will cause havoc and major instabilities by undermining any leadership. His loyalist and appointees are still holding the same positions in the civil services and military camps. In addition, President Barrow has been signing contracts with foreign governments (China) that neither he nor his entourage is capable of comprehending. For example, if one is convinced to close a major manufacturing facility (plant) because part of the production includes some alcoholic beverages, then that showed incompetence on the decision-making processes at the highest level of government. The Julbrew factory was an economic power-house that hired more people than many facilities in addition to being supportive of economic development in the country.
So these parties (28+) should focus their attention and efforts/energy (synergized) under one leadership to contest this coming election. The best and proven leader in my assessmen is Mr. Sallah because he is interested in the future for your Children’s welfare and the country as a whole. He did outline his plan and is willing to discuss it and answer questions. Coming together, all party differences can be ironed out to work a common agreement (MOU) since they have all listed the same problems affecting the country, so the problems as far as all parties and candidates are concerned is clear. However, forming a coalition will not happen because most of these candidates are motivated by GREED, GREED, and GREED. Stating Mr. Sallah as a choice is just my personal opinion and as a result, they can collectively come to consensus to decide on one flag bearer for the interest of the Gambia. After the election, the winner can make the necessary constitutional changes for next elections to be somewhat coalition free to determine one winner in congressional and presidential contests. The current constitution has to change to reflect democratic principles and values for any 30 plus parties and free elections to proper in the Gambia.