As we get closer to the presidential election, there is no shortage of issues to talk about, and one of those is no doubt the alliance between President Adama Barrow’s National People’s Party (NPP) and former president Yahya Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic, Reorientation and Construction (APRC).
While this unholy alliance came as a complete surprise to many people, its context could easily be interpreted and indeed, to many political pundits, the signs had long been on the horizon. We had seen that since the rift between President Barrow and his political God-father, Ousainu Darboe and his eventual divorce with the United Democratic Party (UDP), he had been cozying up to the APRC by not only recruiting former Jammeh loyalists in his government, but it had been rumoured that he had also been holding secret meetings with the APRC executive. In fact there are even speculations that the infamous Seedy Njie was planted into President Barrow’s camp in order to help work out how to bring the two sides together. Even the very fact that the APRC executive was never heard bad-mouthing Seedy Njie since he left the party, was an apparent indication of a possible life-line between him and them.
Of course, both the NPP and APRC are legally-registered parties in this country and therefore, why should anybody question their coming together in an alliance? The simple answer, probably is that the APRC is not just any other party, but it is the party of former president Yahya Jammeh whose regime had been accused of committing the worst economic and human rights crimes in this country. It is also the party that Gambians shed a lot of tears and blood in order to remove from power, just less than five years ago. Therefore, it is hard for anyone to understand how President Barrow, in whom those Gambians placed their hope and confidence and voted to remove that dictatorship would just turn around in such a short time to go to bed with such a party.
We of course know that President Barrow is so desperate to cling on to power that he would not hesitate to go to bed even with the devil if that would help him to remain in office. It is quite obvious that ever since he reneged on his promise to serve three years as was the agreement with his Coalition 2016 partners, his main pre-occupation had been to do everything possible to remain in power.
However, apart from his failure to keep the agreement he signed with his coalition partners, we have also all heard him say in one of his interviews that “when campaigning, you can say anything”. But despite all those credibility issues associated with him, one would wonder why the APRC executive would risk everything in order to forge an alliance with him, with the possibility that he can ditch them after they help him to retain power.
Of course, members of the APRC executive no doubt had something in return for agreeing to help President Barrow to win the elections. We all know that being out of the corridors of power for about five years, the APRC executive members are quite desperate to get near the cool breeze and they would not hesitate to do anything to facilitate such an alliance. Also, from what we have heard from some of them, a lot of money and resources had exchanged hands in order to get the deal concluded. For instance, the deputy interim leader of the APRC, Rambo Jatta was quoted saying that President Barrow had given them 10 vehicles and D3 million, and he has no doubt promised them a lot more. What is however not quite clear is where that money came from. We are aware that some accounts belonging to the APRC were frozen and their vehicles seized after the Barrow administration took over, as it was quite obvious that state money and resources were being used to finance the APRC. Therefore it was seen to be quite in order to seize their assets. However, what is not quite clear is whether President Barrow alone has the power to unfreeze those accounts or return their vehicles to them. Therefore, the most possible likelihood is that the money and vehicles given to the APRC executive were from the large reservoir of resources made available to President Barrow by his dubious financiers, apparently all in a bid to help him cling on to power.
It is however quite obvious that the APRC is not quite unanimous on the decision to go into alliance with the NPP. The party is split in the middle, with each faction claiming to represent the authentic APRC ideals. However, to add to the confusion, the party’s Supreme Leader is keeping mute over the alliance while each of the factions is claiming to represent his views on the matter. While it is not quite obvious what his own stance is on the matter, but it appears that his silence is deliberate as he is playing a wait-and-see game. In reality, he may not be against the alliance because apart from being fed up with living in exile, he would also want to get back his numerous assets seized on the recommendation of the Janneh Commission. However, his large ego would not permit him to come out openly to endorse the alliance, after all that he had said in the past. Therefore, his only credible option is to keep mute and allow the process to take its course, with the hope that after President Barrow’s re-election, he would also benefit.
However, it is quite obvious that while members of the APRC executive and a few other individual members will reap some financial and other benefits from the alliance, but they would be fooling themselves if they believe that President Barrow has either the will or the capability to meet most of their demands, including granting amnesty to their Supreme Leader to return to this country anytime soon after the elections. Of course in his desperation to remain in power, President Barrow would be ready to promise them anything just to get re-elected, but the reality is that he may not be in a position to deliver most of those promises. The very fact that the agreement purportedly signed between the two parties has been kept as a well-guarded secret is an indication of the lingering lack of trust in the ability of anyone of the parties to implement their own side of the bargain at the end of the day.
As regards all the public pronouncements by the APRC executive about Babili Mansa’s return to this country, they are all quite aware that it is much easier said than done, and President Barrow has neither the will nor the ability to do it. In fact even Babli Mansa himself would not want to come to this country anytime soon, knowing what fate awaits him here. He is also aware that apart from his many victims here in the Gambia, he is also wanted in other jurisdictions such as Ghana and Senegal whose nationals were among his numerous victims. Therefore, while he is now safe in Equatorial Guinea under his host President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, but there is no guarantee that if he ever steps foot outside that country, he would not be arrested. His safest bet is therefore to remain there for the time being.
While it is now quite clear as to why President Barrow would risk his credibility by going into alliance with a party with the worst governance record in Africa, what is however not quite so clear is to where that leaves the reputation of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) whose report and recommendations are expected to be handed over to him at the end of this month. We have all heard the strong opposition of the APRC to the TRRC and whatever it stands for. Therefore, we would assume that one of their demands to President Barrow would be to disregard its recommendations, apparently it is one of the reasons why the agreement of the two parties is kept as such a well-kept secret from the Gambian public.
However, it is hard to imagine President Barrow going that far just to get re-elected when getting justice for former President Jammeh’s numerous victims had been his regime’s cardinal pledges. Of course it is quite unlikely that President Barrow would take any action on the TRRC recommendations before the elections, which apparently, was one of the reasons why the Commission’s mandate was extended. He no doubt must have seen it as a very hot cake to handle and there is no way he is likely to take action on the recommendations before the elections. In such a scenario, one could therefore conclude that his re-election takes precedence over obtaining justice for the victims.