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The UDP and the prisoner’s dilemma

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By Alagie Saidy-Barrow

If you are familiar with Game Theory in any of the social sciences, then you may have heard about the “prisoner’s dilemma”. The prisoner’s dilemma is a “concept” in game theory that provides a “foundation” on why two or more rational individuals or organizations, etc., would choose to cooperate or compete against one another. In its simplified form, the prisoner’s dilemma refers to two individuals, let’s say in this case, Kenbugul and Terrenna, who are both in remand at Mile Two, charged with kidnapping a Baddibunka.

If Kenbugul and Terrenna both refuse to cooperate with Police Prosecutor Ceesay Chopsa, then Kenbugul, and Terrenna will only serve ONE YEAR EACH in Mile Two for the lesser charge of “hanging out” with a Badibunka which is a simple misdemeanor in Kiang. However, if Kenbugul betrays Terrenna and cooperates with Prosecutor Ceesay Chopsa, then Kenbugul will not serve any time and Terrenna will serve FIVE YEARS in Mile Two. Similarly, if Terrenna betrays Kenbugul, Terrenna will not serve any prison time and KENBUGUL WILL SERVE five years in Mile Two. If they both cooperate with Prosecutor Ceesay by betraying one another, they will each serve THREE YEARS for their participation in the kidnapping of the Badibunka.

Ordinarily, one may think Kenbugul and Terrenna will cooperate and look out for their mutual welfare by not cooperating with the prosecutor. You’d think they have a common interest in not implicating one another. The bummer is, Terrenna and Kenbugul cannot communicate at all and so neither one knows what the other will do. Hence the dilemma. To cooperate or not! What would you do if you were Kenbugul or Terrenna?

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In game theory, the prisoner’s dilemma is what “social scientists use to investigate and model” Kenbugul and Terrenna’s decision-making process in deciding to cooperate or compete. Understanding why two “rational” individuals, factions, camps, groups or organizations may not cooperate or collaborate on an issue regardless of how it affects society is essential to understanding the political landscape of Gambian politics.

You don’t have to be a political scientist to acknowledge that the UDP and its supporters will play a significant role if we are to see the backs of the NPP/APRC cabal. But you also do not have to be a card-carrying member of the UDP to know that despite the denials or blame-shifting by some of the leadership in the party, all is not well within the party. Some in the UDP are faced with a prisoner’s dilemma within the party: Cooperate with the known by remaining with the tried and tested or spring forth into the unknown with the new and untested. Some want to remain with the existing because they think it serves their interest while others want to spring forth into the future because that is what serves their interest. I am sure some only see the interest of the people and their decision is solely based on that. What is apparent is that there are fissures within the party and denying the existence of these fissures will not make them disappear. Those of us on the outside hear and see these fissures!

Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with people having different opinions within a political party. In fact, I would say any political party that thrives on being an echo chamber or any political party that prides itself on homophily is more of a cult than a political party. So I have no problem with factions within any political party as long as these factions are built on values and principles that put Gambia first and not anyone’s personal interest. I don’t know how many such factions may exist within the UDP but that is beside the point. What matters is whether these various factions, like Kenbugul and Terrenna, will cooperate and work together for the mutual welfare of the party and by extension the country, or if they will disassociate and follow their faction. Here is the advantage that the UDP has in ensuring that the party safely navigates these factional landmines: Unlike Kenbugul and Terrenna, UDP members can talk to each other; they don’t have to talk about each other because as our philosopher and Kocchi Barma reincarnate Omar Touray warned, “where people talk, but about each other more than to each other, those who trust their ears more than their eyes, will soon make enemies out of true friends.”

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In conclusion, here is some free advice for the UDP: Say what you will about Mr. Ousainu Darboe, God knows the man has made many political mistakes along the way, but I doubt too many of us can deny that he is the most important thread that holds the fabric of the UDP together. Removing the thread of Mr Ousainu Darboe may not destroy the fabric that is the UDP, but it will irreparably tear it apart. You may try to choose someone else to be your candidate for 2026 but if that person does not have the wholehearted backing of Mr Ousainu Darboe, your party will be torn apart. I therefore suggest to you, as I would to Terrenna and Kenbugul, that together, you think and WALK strategically for it is only then that you will go far! Let the interest of the Gambians be your compass and not what you think benefits any particular individual leader or what you stand to gain as an individual if that leader becomes president. If everyone is in it for the interest of Gambians, as I’m sure all will claim, then those eying your leadership should have no issues with co-petition!

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