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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The “price of opposition” in The Gambia

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Dear editor,

Given the near total control that the government has over the lives of Gambians, it is a given that if you, as a citizen, want to remain financially afloat, you must support the government. Being an opposition of the government comes at a very steep price. Not many of us can afford it. When you get labeled as an opposition member or supporter, or even a critic like some of us, those in government will do all they can to choke you into submission. If they cannot get you to submit to them, they will do all they can to discourage you into fleeing the country in order to survive.

As one senior government official told me recently: “Mr. Barrow, you know you people are always criticizing us. I see no better candidate for this but I’m worried about the optics”! Mind you, I am not even an opposition member. Apparently, they think I am always criticizing them. Thankfully, I am blessed enough to never have to rely on Gambia Government for my survival even if I were to live in The Gambia for the rest of my life. It makes me somewhat sad to acknowledge that my position is a privilege many others don’t have. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we are as tolerant as we claim, we shouldn’t sideline those we think are opposed to the way we run the country. After all, the colonial space belongs to all of us. No one’s survival should be contingent on their support of any political entity in power. Interestingly, when you travel around Africa, that tends to be the reality for many Africans. And hence the pervasiveness of political debauchery.

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Some Gambians have carved out a niche around pretentious political neutrality, but such neutrality is often fleeting. At some point, one has to show support to the government or risk financial ruin. Ask Alhagie Conteh if you don’t believe me. Better yet, ask any major businessman that thrived during the tyranny of the APRC Government. There’s a reason government officials fight one another as much as they fight anyone perceived to be against them (in opposition). It is about power and control of state resources. If you want power or control, you must align yourself with Barrow and his APRC/NPP. The major players from Jammeh’s era may have swapped seats but the teams remain intact. Yahya Jammeh may have left but the unthinking zombies he created through his reorientation alliance are still mindlessly loitering at all levels of government and society at large. And these unthinking zombies have long memories and tend to be very vindictive.

Given our chosen thinking capacity, some in government think if you’re a critic or in opposition, it means you don’t love the country! And once they label you “opposition” or “government critic,” it’s “jayme obber” as they say in Baddibu. Survival in The Gambia becomes a huge challenge due to the monopoly that those in government have over the lives of the people. They will fight you, block you, ostracize you and categorize you as a bad citizen. Again, ask Alhagie Conteh or any of the major business owners who have since mastered the art of aligning themselves with anyone in power regardless of how terrible they may be.

In The Gambia of today, starting an opposition party can be a detour to “enjoyment”, or it can mean a lifetime of ostracism. Ask Henry Gomez or Hamat Bah. They chose the “detour to enjoyment” route and they are enjoying today. Only because they support Adama Barrow. Sometimes I can’t help but feel sorry for some of us because it’s a matter of staying financially afloat. And you know, many of us have no issues “gaining the world,” even if we “lose our soul” in the process.

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Whatever you do, just know that being an opposition politician or critic is very expensive. If your pockets cannot afford them, you’re better off aligning or pretending to align yourself with the government. That is what we call democracy around these ends: A government of some people, by some people and for some people.

Alagie Saidy-Barrow

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