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Why President Barrow should not listen tothe advice of his adviser Saihou Mballow

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By Bamba Mass

I read on your newspaper with shock and disbelief the statement attributed to Mr Saihou Mballow, a political adviser to President Barrow, and once the CEO of Organisation for Democracy and Justice in West Africa based in New York, USA. Mr Mballow was a self-acclaimed advocate of democracy and term limit for all African leaders but he is now exposing his own nakedness by turning 360 degrees on everything he ever previously campaigned against simply because his living condition has changed.

For Saihou Mballow to say that the chairman of the Ecowas Parliament’s committee on political affairs “has no moral authority” to advise president Barrow not to consider running for a third term sounds not only ridiculous to me but politically senile on the part of Mr Mballow because every Gambian who knows Saihou Mballow knows these have been the same statements and sentiments expressed by him in the past about Yahya Jammeh and not only Yahya Jammeh but most African leaders.

Saihou Mballow, during his stay in America, had pretended to champion the imposition of term limits for African leaders. In fact on several occasions, he attacked both Guinea’s Alpha Condé and Côte d’Ivoire’s Alasanne Ouattara for their attempts to extend their terms. And he has condemned other nations like The Gambia that either didn’t have term limits or abolished term limits.

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Mr Melvin Snowe Jnr of the Ecowas Parliament suggesting that President Barrow should follow Macky Sall’s example, was merely reminding President Barrow of his 2016 campaign pledge to Gambians. Maybe Saihou Mballow was not supporting President Barrow then but on 5 December 2016 while giving his victory speech, then President-elect Barrow pledged to bring in a new constitution instituting term limits for the president – which the majority of Gambians have always advocated for. Maybe greed must have overshadowed President Barrow and his inner circle but in doing so the president would make history for himself and his country as the first Gambian president who left power willingly by not seeking a third term on the basis of “constitutional technicalities”.

Mr Melvin Snowe’s advice was aimed at making President Barrow leave a good legacy but it is now clearer to all that the likes of Saihou Mballow as political hustlers, do not care if the whole nation goes down and they would try as much as they can to dissuade the president from leaving office by 2026 for their own selfish ends.

We all saw when the draft constitution was presented to the president and his cabinet to look at. The first thing they cried about was term limit.

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History is always on the side of the righteous. Former prime minister of Guinea, Ibrahima Kassory Fofana was appointed by former president Alpha Condé to push his desired agenda to run for a third term as Guinea’s president in May 2019 just like President Barrow has in his camp the likes of Saihou Mballow who would support his desire to stay in power for as long as it takes. Mr Fofana tried conducting a referendum to tamper with the constitution and allow Alfa Condé run for a third term saying, “We support you for life”.

He even hoisted a billboard outside Guinea’s National Assembly to that effect but what happened at the end? A military coup. Alpha Condé was unceremoniously overthrown leading to his eventual fall from grace.

Guess what?  The same Fofana and other members of Condé’s inner circle who convinced him to renege on his campaign promises while fighting the dictatorship of Lansana Conté, were the first to abandon him. They told him to follow the footsteps of his predecessor Conté just like Mballow and others are now convincing Barrow to renege on his 2016 campaign promises and follow Yahya Jammeh’s footsteps. Yahya removed term limit from the draft 1997 Constitution and stayed in power for over 20 years.

Now Gambians are beginning to see the same trend with President Barrow who came on the promise of serving a three-year transitional term but reneged on that promise, went on to serve a full constitutionally-mandated five years and is now in his second term. Saihou Mballow’s recent outburst against the Ecowas parliamentarian, is a crystal clear indication that Barrow and his cliques including his political advisers and inner circle compelled NAMs under their influence to reject the 2020 draft constitution for having a term limit that would have made it illegal for Barrow to run again in 2026. The aim is to try keep Barrow in power for as long as it takes even beyond 30 years!

These people are intoxicated with greed and thus care less about Ecowas’ waning authority on conflict prevention and good governance for final stability in the sub-region. If not, why must anyone oppose that? Don’t these people have any morals whatsoever? Is ten years in power not enough? What else would they do that they’ve not done in ten whole years? They are not considering what The Gambia could descend in to because of their actions.

For Saihou Mballow not to realise that Africa, particularly West Africa, and international development actors are all working hand-in-glove trying to build democracy and stability by working towards peaceful political transitions underpinned by regionally accepted governance norms, including constitutional term limits based on national consensus and public opinions, shows how politically senile he truly has become.  Standards are being tested and proven in neighbouring Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, South Africa, Kenya and are spreading all over the continent. Do you want our Gambia to be among the few unwilling advocates of democracy and democratic norms?

History has taught us about some African leaders before President Barrow whose bids to remove or extend term limits failed due to public pressure from citizens of their own countries. These include Frederick Chiluba of Zambia in 2001 and after him Edgar Lungu; Olusegun Obasanjo tried it in Nigeria in 2005, Mamadou Tandja tried it in Niger in 2009-2010; Blaise Compoaré tried it in Burkina Faso in 2014 and recently Macky Sall tried but public pressure forced him to announce abandonment of his plan to run for a third term in 2024.

Presidential term limits are deemed necessary for a number of reasons.

1.         There is a common view that it would usher in better governance, equal opportunity to serve in government.

2.         It would curb patronage politics as well as end authoritarianism.

These norms and standards are seen as a way to stabilise countries not to have peacekeeping forces parading around.

I am wondering if it is indeed the same Saihou Mballow who fought alongside us? What sort of legacy do you want for President Barrow? Convincing President Barrow to run for a third term against the desires of most Gambians would be disastrous to everything President Barrow wished for his legacy.

It’s now becoming clearer to me why since President Barrow appointed Mballow as his political adviser, all political decisions he made have been unpopular.

Africa needs visionary and courageous leadership, not benevolent or autocratic rulers. We need leaders who can create the enabling environment for democracy, peace, and development to thrive and endure, and for citizens to live to their fullest potentials and abilities to hold leaders to account and be able to contribute to the realisation of the vision of a democratic pan-Africa. As Gambians we don’t have to make a choice between democracy and development. We deserve both. I think by now President Barrow should begin soul searching and do a lot of meditation to free himself from political leeches before its too late.

Saihou Mballow is just scared that after President Barrow he might be going back to sleeping in the basement or in cars in New York. Because if not, what is the big fuss about President Barrow leaving power gracefully for another Gambian to be voted in by the people? For someone who has experienced homelessness in New York because he could not return to his country of birth because of dictatorship, it’s sad that Mballow is trying to truncate the values of democratic transition.

The author, Bamba Sering Mass is a supporter of the UDP and lives in the UK.

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