By Lamin J Darbo
Its leadership is almost entirely Diaspora-based, with some absent from The Gambia for two, maybe three decades. Under Professor Jammeh’s Constitution, none of those leaders are qualified to contest any public elections slated for 2016/17. Outside the cyber political world, the organisation and its leadership are unknown, and crucially, to all but probably a negligible fraction of the home-based electorate. With no money on the table, it nevertheless pretends to the title of “… home to Gambian opposition political parties and Civil Society organisations at home and in Gambia’s various Diasporas”. Without so much as a passing justification, it seeks to wholly diminish the established and singularly significant home-based political opposition by proposing to commingle its influence in an egalitarian commune populated by purported civil society entities peopled, in the overwhelming number of cases, by a handful of individuals. Even more egregiously, what should have been a national project was hijacked and placed in the exclusive control of three very close social and cultural friends.
Welcome to the make-believe world of The Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in The Gambia (CORDEG). As if to compound the illogical and unsupportable claim it is “… home to Gambian opposition political parties and Civil Society organisations at home and in Gambia’s various Diasporas” it asserts that “CORDEG recognises the autonomy of its constituent members as equal partners in the struggle to democratise The Gambia”. Whoever its “constituent members” maybe as of March 2014, it is unreasonableness personified to contend that CORDEG itself has the clout to demand “equal partner” status with political parties whose followership number in the hundreds of thousands!
As the latest organisational progeny of the Gambian Conference on Democracy and Good Governance, Raleigh, North Carolina, 17-19 May 2013, CORDEG was originally projected as a facilitating mechanism for party-based opposition unity in Gambia’s fight for national democratisation. At least that was a plausible understanding of its primary objective based on the marketing literature put out by conference organisers. In the subsequent Raleigh Accord, some reference to the G6 was maintained but the role of home-based political parties was progressively diluted to a point all specific reference to their very central significance to a project that must be fought and won inside Gambia’s geographic contours was dropped from the just-published CORDEG “vision” statement.
Without question, there is a yawning gap in CORDEG’s incomprehensible reasoning. As an “independent, non-profit transnational democratic umbrella organisation that is committed to peaceful, non-violent democratic change in The Gambia”, it stands to reason that CORDEG can effect change in The Gambia only through the electoral process. With no political base where it matters – in The Gambia – and deficient in critical aspects of the political process such as funding, it is hard to appreciate the locus of the leverage CORDEG assigns itself as the “… home to Gambian opposition political parties and Civil Society organisations at home and in Gambia’s various Diasporas”. The established political parties have no reason to subsume themselves in an unknown entity that purports to control them and their clear influence. Herein CORDEG’s disconnect with reality as far as Gambia’s political terrain.
Or maybe there is no disconnect, but what calculations are driving CORDEG’s so far opaque strategy are too opportunistic to openly communicate without triggering great public disquiet. It is an open secret that Gambian public life under the Professor is unsettled enough to collapse either of its overwhelming weight vis-a-vis its utterly weak foundation, or with a little push from some hostile quarter. Should that happened in a chaotic manner on the stretch to 2016, it would completely alter the dynamics of play in the country’s political topography. Like any of the endless array of Diaspora-based organisations, CORDEG would likely want a seat at the table of inevitable reconciliation around a transitional national unity government. There are various other scenarios present in a seismic national event that ruptures the current status quo and elements within CORDEG may want to hedge bets just in case. On the formation of the National Resistance of The Gambia, Yero Jallow of Gainako Online Newspaper profoundly reflects: “Is it by coincidence all these groups are emerging or do the fortune tellers of the land revealed a secret that some of us are not aware yet? I just find things very interesting nowadays. It is as if people are clearly seeing Jammeh’s demise”.
If CORDEG’s focus is sincerely on a peaceful change of government, the key question is why it treats the established political parties as though they are in the same league as some of the Diaspora’s less than ten-people organisations. Can it be that CORDEG harbours the ambition of morphing into a political party and under that calculus may consider it unwise to get too cosy with any of the current crop of home-based political parties. If that is the case, CORDEG ought to dispense with all pretense and consolidate on that independent and legally permissible basis. Or is it intending to travel the fictional route of sponsoring an independent presidential candidate outside the explicit blessing of the established parties, or some of them at least. Whatever its real intentions, CORDEG can achieve nothing meaningful without expressly recognising the stranglehold of the established home-based political parties on the electorate that must decide the outcome of any election. Even more crucially, it must embrace Gambia’s true diversity in its critical decision-making organ.
We can all admire the personal achievements of some CORDEG members but that unquestioned reverence must never extend to matters touching on critical issues of Gambian public life. By all means celebrate the friendships and other relationships but do not require us to endorse pronouncements grounded in mere assertions, and visions that fell far short of what it takes to bring personal and national political salvation to The Gambia. What CORDEG placed on the table is not a national vision. It is a vision for personalities and a quite marginal group when what is needed is a selfless commitment to the creation of a national tent large enough to accommodate all colours of opinion but realistic enough to cede leadership to the more compelling players inhabiting the storm centre of Gambian public life.
In light of its comparative strength and appeal, CORDEG is best advised to pitch its tent in the domain most suited to its objective character, advocacy that has as its central element the facilitation of opposition party consolidation where it matters, inside Gambia. If, like others, CORDEG projects itself as an entity committed to forceful change in Gambian public life, this rejoinder would not be necessary as it would then be operating under different justifications and rules, and more crucially, on its exclusive resources to realise its objective. In the political world, it denotes unreasonableness of the highest order to seek to either proactively control or diminish the significance of entities without whose willing cooperation and resources there is absolutely no chance of achieving ones desired objective. As CORDEG advanced no reasonable explanation to its boldest assertion of not conceding any supremacy to political parties with supporters in the hundreds of thousands, its true intentions may at best be regarded as mired in opaqueness. To recognise no distinction between established political parties on the ground, and few-person entities like the myriad of so-called civil society organisations in the distant Diaspora, is the very epitomisation of fantasy.
This apparently characteristic opaqueness on critical questions is threatening to be the albatross around CORDEG’s neck. In the run-up to Raleigh, the conveners of the conference were marketed as STGDP, based in Atlanta, and GDAG, based in the host city. After Raleigh, DUGA-DC was retrospectively included among the conveners. No explanation was ever advanced. Even more crucially, when CORDEG’s leadership team was unveiled, GDAG, the other principal to Raleigh, came out utterly empty handed in the executive and sub-executive line up. Again, no explanation whatsoever even though this turn of events is potentially the most fatal development going to CORDEG’s very questionable credibility. In case any is tempted to advance the democratic process as having spoken on the leadership issue, I strongly suggest that a fair and visionary group would exercise heightened and appropriate sensitivity in the overall circumstances it was confronted with as far selecting its top echelon team. To its regrettable peril, CORDEG blatantly ignored common sense!
For example, CORDEG purportedly ‘elected’ three socially and culturally connected individuals in the persons of Dr Abdoulaye Saine (Chair), Ms Sigga M Jagne (Vice-chair), and Abdulai Jobe (Secretary General), and probably imposed them on the group as the untouchable Executive Committee (EC). Were the participants in its so-called executive elections on prior notice that “the EC is CORDEG’s top-tier administrative group, responsible for overall policy, strategy and implementation of CORDEG’s programs and projects, with the Secretary General (SG) serving as the hub for CORDEG’s specialiased Committees/Directorates”. These three very close friends are “also responsible for Foreign Affairs/International Diplomacy, strategic partnerships and overall management of CORDEG”. Or were the responsibilities attached to the positions after the elections? If the latter, the overall process does not pass the smell test!
Stated unequivocally, Dr Abdoulaye Saine, Ms Sigga M Jagne, and Abdulai Jobe comprise CORDEG’s equivalent of the UN Security Council with power to veto anything they don’t like. The public deserves clarification on whether the so-called “vision” statement predates the elections, or whether the “vision” statement was crafted after the elections. I cannot accept that some of the independently minded individuals I encountered in this struggle, and who participated in CORDEG’s so-called elections, would have voted for such a perverse arrangement had they known they were endorsing a dictatorship of three social and cultural chums in the sense that the “Steering Committee”, and the “Specialised Committees/Directorates” are utterly redundant in the area of crucial management decision making. In light of the above, I emphatically reject the claim in the so-called “vision” statement that CORDEG “enjoys wide mandate and legitimacy, as the recognised representative and voice of the Gambian opposition the world-over”.
Notwithstanding the claim of “home to Gambian opposition political parties and Civil Society organisations at home and in Gambia’s various Diasporas”, we know there are other Diaspora groups with competing priorities and some are calling for even CORDEG to join them. The claim and the reality therefore diverged. Indeed CORDEG continues to ignore the fact that not all political parties were present in Raleigh, and some prominent participants are now leading groups with quite a militant approach to ending public lawlessness in The Gambia. CORDEG’s very deficient “vision” statement can only make it impossible for those outside this architecturally flawed “umbrella” to want to peep in, much less join its cover. Although there appears to be many unanswered questions around CORDEG’s intentions, or at least the intentions of those steering the entity in the unlit pathways of potential deception, what is explicit in its own “vision” statement is alarming enough to scare me away.
Those who contend for the proposition that unity is the highest value we should aspire to in our fight against atrocious public lawlessness in Gambian public life are counselled to embrace the more admirable philosophy of objective reason and fairness as the highest foundational values of any viable national space. As currently constituted, CORDEG’s “vision”, and top leadership team, lacks both reason and fairness! CORDEG will therefore struggle for traction. Don’t take my word for it. I am more than content to leave the verdict in the hands of that great arbiter of human affairs – time.
And in case any is tempted to brand legitimate queries on seminal national issues as a distraction, I suggest some inner self-conversation around the fundamental question of what you have done/are doing for the vital struggle for a democratic Gambia that the person supposedly causing a distraction has no done. In the event of a struggle for an affirmative answer, that inner conversation should constitute cogent instruction that more self reflection may be required. And in the event of an irresistible temptation to don a mask and hurl abuse, ask if you are any better than the faceless criminals wreaking havoc under colour of public authority on defenceless fellow citizens in The Gambia
Needless to say, I shall not be supporting CORDEG as currently constituted and projected!