What Leader Diaspora

With the Gambia Consultative Council’s (GCC) naming of Dr M L Sedat Jobe as its President, and the unrelenting drumbeat in some media houses that the Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in The Gambia (CORDEG) must select a leader to be credible, concern was rife in some activist circles that the commendable Raleigh process was about to descend into inconsequence should the management committee buckle under pressure by naming a so-called ‘leader of the Diaspora struggle’. As I was finalising my thoughts on the matter, the story broke that CORDEG named Dr Abdoulaye Saine as its public face. The choice of Dr Saine, eminent scholar and university professor, was inspired, but there is no question that choice is separate from the far weightier issue of whether the Diaspora side of the struggle against public lawlessness in The Gambia needs ‘a leader’. Unless this leadership angle is properly thought through and honestly communicated to the principal stakeholders that are the political parties on the ground, this move, by every strategic yardstick, can only further undermine any possibility of a united opposition front against the APRC government of His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya A J J Jammeh (the Professor).

According to conference organisers, Raleigh’s fundamental justification was anchored in the unassailable contention that the lawless state of Gambian public affairs cannot endure without causing major systemic damage to the country’s ability to meaningfully survive as a viable entity. This is an accurate postulation, and one arguably shared with the overwhelming majority of non-ostrich Gambians. Cognisant of its removal from the immediate theatre of gratuitous state violence, Raleigh’s most critical plank was the organiser’s determination to develop “a strategic partnership between The Gambian Diaspora groups and The Group of Six”, in the latter’s “plans to bring democracy and the rule of law” in our native homeland. If temporarily, Raleigh ushered in a committee system of management. Although it matured into what was called the permanent Raleigh Conference Steering Committee, the fundamental structure of management by committee was retained. Raleigh’s evolutionary process gave us what hopefully would be its final organisational progeny, CORDEG.

By virtue of geographic location, CORDEG and organisations of like nature must embrace modesty in their calculations by accepting that on current realities, they can at best act in only a facilitating capacity by playing a supporting role to the political organisations inhabiting the boiling cauldron of the Professor’s public space. Ineffective they may appear, but the reality remains that all peaceful roads to a liberated Gambia must pass through the councils of the political opposition on the ground. The principal failing of the political parties, i.e., inability to craft a front united not necessarily on philosophy but on objective, is unquestionably the perennial albatross of the Diaspora with its mushrooming outfits all purporting to be animated by the replacement of public lawlessness with the sublime magic of the rule of law.

A non-partisan organisation like CORDEG, so far the most credible of contending Diaspora outfits, cannot fail to recognise that its only legitimate function is to bridge the yawning gaps between opposition parties, and, or, leaders, in The Gambia. In short, its only sensible and pragmatic role would be to facilitate dialogue and strategic union between political leaders, not further confuse the terrain by naming a so-called “leader of the Diaspora struggle” without properly addressing its interface modalities with the home-based political opposition. Regardless of how slickly marketed, no serious opposition leader on the ground will purchase the illogical argument of what appears and feels like ‘take on the Professor and make way for us’. Merely naming a “leader of the Diaspora struggle’ will do nothing of practical import for the image of CORDEG, never mind its political fortunes assuming it is so directly inclined. If the issue is handled clumsily, the most likely outcome would be to eviscerate the immense goodwill and positive lobbying potential of CORDEG vis-a-vis the opposition leadership on the ground. Although its clever model of management by committee is more suitable to its stated objectives, naming an overall leader has radically altered its organisational dynamic. Unless the interface strategy is sensitively thought through, adequately communicated, and sincerely accepted by the political opposition, pity the eminent and real Professor who now reportedly wears the potentially worthless mantle of “leader of the Diaspora struggle”.

Clearly, CORDEG is not in a unique position as far as the conundrum of interface with the political opposition on the ground. What is true of CORDEG goes for the GCC, and other outfits that will doubtless spring up in the leadership craze that underlies the ever-present drive behind skeletal organisational setups in the distant and safer public climes of the Diaspora. My emphasis on CORDEG is merely to underscore the incontestable reality that it is currently the most credible avowedly non-partisan Diaspora organisation as far as meaningful actual and potential interface with the opposition leadership on the ground. I hasten to add that this is an objective yardstick based on the massive organisational and logistical feat it accomplished by staging, from the perspective of outcome, a modestly successful gathering of Gambia-based opposition leaders, and Diaspora activists, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Raleigh of course extracted no binding commitment on future conduct from those opposition leaders who attended, and the gulf separating key players of the UDP and NRP was quite clear.  Although the NRP leader was in attendance, more work needs to be done on him if he is to fully embrace Raleigh’s overall architecture.

An even bigger challenge for CORDEG, and its newly installed Chair, must be the ambivalence of PDOIS, a party whose absence from Raleigh remains of crucial concern if only because of its unconvincing explanation as to why it stayed away. Exasperating as it may be, CORDEG must detach itself sufficiently from the opposition players to effect a more pragmatic engagement with a party like PDOIS, marginal electorally, but with a tantalisingly intellectual and populist civic-conscious base that gives it un-discountable influence.

A practical and honest united front can indeed dislodge the Professor from power, but an outfit like CORDEG must engage in mission stock-take, and in particular, restrain excess ambition, whether organisationally, or individually by members of its executive. Its only legitimate zone of operation is to act as facilitator for a united opposition project through 2016, assuming there is a 2016 in electoral terms. Another fundamental soul-search must target the problematic issue of cronyism for that is the other side of the coin of public lawlessness. Cronyism may not be an issue in every CORDEG chapter but the UK and the USA chapters are arguably showing signs of that terminal organisational disease. I don’t think Gambians are interested in replacing one perversity with another! It is unfathomable that six days after leaking its leader to selected media houses, CORDEG is yet to formally notify the public about this significant matter and the way forward. Even the apparent discrimination between media houses on public information does not inspire confidence. Although currently the most credible performer, CORDEG must nevertheless appreciate the fact it is not the only show in the circus. Gambians will take their support where the vision and transparency lies, and this is why there is no room for complacency.

I salute CORDEG for successfully putting Raleigh together but it must now communicate its thoughts on the future, including the crucial interface mechanism with the political parties, especially in light of its reported election of ‘a leader’. And it must now formally unveil its management team to a curious public! Without a convincing project model in the tumultuous road to 2016, CORDEG’s journey may end up mimicking “the march of folly” as that phenomenon was brilliantly articulated by the eminent historian, Barbara Tuchman.

Lamin J Darbo

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