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Why the Jammeh-Barrow alliance is giving Gambians goosebumps?

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The UDP has also reacted to the alliance. While noting their strong support for freedom of associations including parties forming alliances, the UDP said that “the NPP-APRC Alliance is borne out of expediency at the expense of the Gambian people’s aspirations for justice and reconciliation. This Alliance demonstrates that President Barrow has no moral qualms, no understanding or appreciation of the raison d’etre of the democratic forces coming together to end the dictatorship of former President Jammeh. He lacks empathy for the many victims of Yahya Jammeh’s repressive rule and the sacrifices made to usher in a transition to democratic dispensation.”

Not a great look for the TRRC

Many Gambians are worried about what this alliance will mean for the Truth Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) established by President Barrow to investigate past-human rights abuses under Jammeh, provide reparation to victims and promote national reconciliation and social cohesion. The truth telling process which was aired live on television as well as on social media platforms exposed the glaring abuses committed under the Jammeh leadership. While victims testified on their victimhood, perpetrators including the junglers (Jammeh’s hit squad) explained how they killed and tortured many Gambians and other West African nationals. Essa Faal the lead counsel of the TRRC who has since joined the political race as an independent presidential candidate, claimed that more than two hundred people were extra judicially killed and all the killings were linked to Jammeh. A 2021 Afrobarometer report highlights that since 2018, the support for prosecution of perpetrators of human rights crimes under Jammeh’s leadership has increased as well as called for the extradition of Jammeh.

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APRC has always accused the TRRC of witch-hunt against Jammeh like the Janneh Commission before it. The Janneh Commission was established to investigate the financial activities of Public Bodies, Enterprises and Offices as regards their dealings with former President Yahya A.J.J, Jammeh, his close associates and connected matters. They have openly criticized the process and even organized protest demanding the return of Jammeh. They have also organized protest demanding president Barrow to ignore the TRRC report alleging that the Chairperson of the commission was “illegally” constituted as well as the “impartial” nature of the process. The party has also directed attacks against the victims’ center including the chairperson, Sheriff Kijera. The TRRC is expected to submit its report in September 2021 and the report is expected to be a key discussion point for the election. Both the UDP and CA have committed to implement the full recommendation of the TRRC.

Gambians are not sure whether this current alliance will include forgiven Jammeh and ignoring his victims since both parties are yet to make the MOU public. More so, what will happen to the recommendations of the TRRC as the current regime has habit of ignoring commission recommendations and where it acts, have been accused of doing so selectively.  Critics have, since the announcement, condemned the move and argued that it was not only a betrayal to Gambia’s democracy project, but a great threat to TRRC outcome. Sidi Sanneh a blogger reacting to the alliance said “it is a slap in the face to every freedom-loving Gambian and, therefore, unacceptable to many. We defeated Jammeh in 2016. We will defeat him again in December 2021 in the name of ALL of Jammeh’s victims.

A good one for APRC?

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Hate them or like them, the APRC has been a formidable force in the post Jammeh dictatorship and occupy five seats in the National Assembly. They have as the current situation show have been able to overcome many hurdles including the call for the party to be banned. While targeted sanctions were levied against the party, members continued to invest and sustain the party with common goal of protecting the legacy of Jammeh. Although they are divided over the decision to join a coalition, they largely agree that between UDP and NPP, they are safer with the NPP.

The announcement came at a right time for the party, given that Jammeh has seemingly lost a key ally in the sub-region President Alpha Conde of Guinea Conakry who was recently toppled by the army, in a coup d’état. Given the role that Alpha Conde played and his influence within the sub-region, the table seems to be slowly turning around for Jammeh. Hence, this current arrangement provides an opportunity for Jammeh to benefit from Senegalese diplomacy given the good relationship between President Macky Sall of Senegal and President Barrow.

Sign of failed political transition

and return to Jammeh days?

In 2016 as candidate for Coalition 2016, President Barrow had offered himself as transition president who will serve for only three years as head of an inclusive coalition government to embark on constitutional, institutional and administrative reforms to “put an end to the culture of impunity and self-perpetuating rule and usher in an era for Gambians to enjoy liberty and prosperity under a system of government that is sensitive and responsive to the needs and aspirations of its citizenry”

While Gambians enjoy greater freedom today compared to the days of Jammeh, its legal and administrative instruments are still the one used by Jammeh. We are enjoying democracy without change. When MP’s close to President Barrow shut down the draft constitution, it broadly affected most of the sectors that updated their legal documents to suite the democratic trajectory. For instance, the Independent Electoral Commission act was reviewed to capture the new changes in the draft constitution bill but was later review following the failure of the constitution to realign it with the present albeit significant adjustments. The bill is still in parliament and the country will head to the polls with the problematic 1997 constitution and its first past the post system.

The symbolic nature of this alliance to many Gambians, especially those that voted and hope for new Gambia, can only be reminded of Jammeh returning home. Some worried that he might returned to the presidency and whether this country will return to dictatorship. If Gambians are asking this question today, wouldn’t it be fair to say perhaps that our transition was differed and we are heading to unknown territory.

While Gambians will continue to debate the why and why nots of the new marriage, the international community might be frustrated that their five years investment in a political transition that was supposed to usher in new Gambia has been hijacked by political expediency that has undoubtedly created an unknown trajectory for the TRRC and for the direction of ‘New Gambia’.

Can there be a counter force

and what should it look like?

The image that Gambians are confronted with this marriage is the fact that the two biggest parties have joined forces for self- preservation and perpetuation. When two forces seemingly seen as “anti-new Gambia forces” join hands, what should the pro-new Gambia group do? Clearly, there is a contest between the forces of change and those that want to conserve the current arrangements and deny Gambia and opportunity to further deepen its democracy, address victim needs and fight impunity. For them instead of this election been about the people and what can be done to address their problems and increase trust between the state and society, its about their survival.  While the anti-change movement have joined forces, all the other forces calling for change are fragmented and silent about coalition formation as they are not sure yet how to address the leadership question. Clearly, a line has been drawn at some point hard decisions have to be made by the opposition. Will Gambia head to the polls with two alliances or will the 2021 election be between Barrow and his allies and the fragmented opposition? December is right at the corner. Yal nenj kor feke 

Of course, ego is central to the current silence, but lack of trust among opposition leaders is another concern. It is clear to many Gambians that a Darboe and a Sallah coalition is very unlikely. It is not only that it has been tested severally and failed, the position of the two leaders on coalition formation vis vis the leadership question is likely never to change. In the past and perhaps even presently, the UDP has always favored a party led coalition until 2016 when they decided to join the race. On the other hand, Sallah has always favored a coalition selected through a “democratic” process. The difference is only on how a leader of coalition should be selected. Mama Kandeh, equally refused to join coalition 2016, on the basis that the established process to elect leader was not fair. However, I am of the opinion too that context does matter and have considerable impact on the decision-making process of political elites. As the saying goes, there is no permanent friend in politics only permanent interest, if the NPP-APPRC alliance is anything to go by. What should be the interest of these politicians and others perhaps is what needs to be explored. I do not think the question is about the love for country, because no one can deny them that. They have contributed to the best of their ability and means to strengthening democracy in the country.

Seemingly there are three potential axis that might emerged following the announcement of the NPP-APRC marriage. UDP might decide going it alone as they are so confident and have been aggressively promoting and selling their agenda on all media platforms. They have equally been marching president Barrow on the ground largely due to the increasing effectiveness of their ground game and solid financial backing from their large diaspora base. December 4 will be exam day for all these parties and their strategies. The second camp that might emerged mostly like will be a coalition of PDOIS, GFA, CA, GDC and some of the other smaller parties. As much as this is likely, it might be confronted with the same challenges as Coalition 2016, especially when parties that are likely to contribute less have equal share of the votes. While the NPP led alliance is undoubtedly easier to manage as the incumbency has given Barrow increasing leverage to negotiate terms and conditions under which one should join or who should be accepted or not. In my view, it looks like the NPP Alliance is more focus on winning because it is also a coalition consisting of former ruling parties. But then what other methods outside consensus building exist for the opposition? As President Barrow said, this election is about voting for progression or regression.

Sait Matty Jaw is the Executive Director Center for Research and Policy Development (CRPD). He is also a political science lecturer at the University of the Gambia. A Commentator on Gambian affairs.

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