By Mohammed Lamin Sillah
In the first part of this article we were able to look at some of PDOIS’s Agenda 2016 and its strategic objective, two goals and two tactics critically. We pointed out that the supposed tactics are not properly tuned to the given goals which themselves do not necessarily lead to the objective. We also pointed out that tactic number two was not clearly stated in the said document. Now it is time to look at the rest of the document which looks like a political manifesto, which in other words is a summary of what it would do if it were to come into power after dislodging the suffocating one-man rule that currently prevails in The Gambia.
We began by questioning whether it is right and proper to include a party manifesto in a document that is envisaging a possible opposition alliance against so virulent a dictatorship that is best removed by an alliance of all who are concerned about the plight of the country and its peoples. In the previous part we also questioned PDOIS’ position on continued non-participation in the electoral process. The protest action that they hate calling boycott was only mentioned in passing, perhaps because it has become a source of embarrassment for the opposition parties. Embarrassing, due to its lack of achievement and because it was conceived without any exit strategy. Looking back at the genesis of the boycott that six opposition parties agreed to launch after being defeated in the presidential elections few months earlier, one is tend towards believing that the six parties plunged into it not after sufficient contemplation over it and its implications. It even seemed that the protest action was more inspired by the ECOWAS withdrawal of its observers who concluded that free and fair elections could not be held in The Gambia after a pre-election assessment visit, than from sober assessment of the realities on the ground.
Many mad autocrats, especially those of African breed where state institutions are weak and civil society timid, are immune to certain types of protest actions especially political boycotts of any type participatory or non- participatory.
Comparison can be made Under the Bokassa dictatorship in the Republic of Central Africa, when students, teachers, civil servants launched strike actions and students boycotted classes almost all the time, the mad tyrant simply ignored them. But when they started boycotting the school uniforms his family had monopoly over, the dictator was rattled out of his wit.
Jammeh’s strategy was, and still is, to ignore the six parties completely but to have a watchful eye on them so that that they remain inactive and irrelevant in Gambian politics. When the opposition UDP, was repeatedly denied permits to hold political rallies, decided to be holding in-door meetings in the guise of social gatherings, Jammeh’s hatchet-men went after them. The ferocity of police response to the gatherings is itself an indication of the value of that method of political work and that it was the right way to go.
As we work on the second part of this script, the Standard newspaper published an interview of UDP leader Ousainou Darboe saying his government would privatize NAWEC. PDIOS, who still call themselves socialist, even though they appeared to have replaced Socialism with the word Sovereignty, may not agree with the UDP on this question and this could hinder the attainment of the opposition unity everyone is calling. This is why we think it was wrong for PDOIS to include a manifesto in its Agenda 2016 document as it can be source of lot of unnecessary disagreements between the potential allies. This is why in situations and circumstances like the one that today obtains in The Gambia, parties tone down on their differences and peculiarities and emphasize that which they hold in common in order to facilitate unity. This is time for unity, which is tactical and temporary and is no time for manifestoes. They can wait till after the Jammeh regime, a threat to
our nation’s existence, is dislodged and done away with. The manifesto is best spelt out before the first elections of the coming Third Republic, after the debating, drafting and passing of a new truly republican constitution.
As earlier mentioned, the Jammeh-regime’s strategy towards the six-party non-participation has been to ignore them out of existence. On the eve of the last local government elections, when the dates allocated to the various parties were being announced by the Independent Electoral Commission, the UDP was not mentioned though special days were allocated to the NRP, PDOIS and independent candidates. Jammeh and his APRC party people are enjoying the solitude that the protest action leaves them when elections and by-elections are held. The electoral scene is now left only with them, the NRP and independent candidates. The APRC electoral worries now come more from independent candidates than from the established parties. Agenda 2016 ought to be about the new political forces and the new political terrain their coming has led to. What went wrong with the NADD debacle; the new way ahead, etc? We repeat this is not the time for waiving manifestoes which will be needed for Third Republic.
PDOIS however could not wait for that. They say they are going to launch a number of transformations, including political, economic, social and even cultural transformations.
PDOIS says it has the objective of building a self reliant economy aimed at eradicating poverty and ensuring prosperity. This will be brought about through public sector investment, the private sector investment and foreign direct investment. Another source of investment capital is what PDOIS calls the cooperative sector, not yet in actual existence.
They wrote:” The cooperative sector will be the engine of accumulation of Cooperative finances for grassroots development. In 2007 alone rice import to the Gambia amounted to 557 million dalasi, tomato paste, 121 Million dalasi; onions, 18 million dalasi; flour, 130 Million dalasi; vegetable oil, 457 Million dalasi, fruits and vegetables, 57 Million dalasi; Milk and Milk products, 149 million dalasi. If agriculture is linked to processing by cottage or light scale industries financed by cooperative financial institutions a sum of over 1489 Million dalasi would have been put in the hands of Gambian producers in one year.”
What they mean is that the cooperative sector will be importing or producing consumer goods and distributing them inside the country. This sounds more like consumer cooperativism than an agricultural one. The scale of organizationalism and the size of the bureaucracy that such would require make us doubt its feasibility.
We also wonder what would become of the fate of the tens of thousands of small corner shops mainly run by Guineans and Mauritanians. If stores were to be competed out of the market and closed and the merchant aliens dispatched back to their countries? How is the cooperative sector going to attain the organizational capacity needed to run such a vast network of shops, stores, transport network and financial management, etc when it is itself in ruin? PDOIS says “Establishment of cooperative marketing units in villages to which goods could be given in kind for sale and from which goods could be bought to enable producers to benefit from the economics of scale. PDOIS continues: “The cooperative banking system would be linked to a cooperative marketing system and the family farms organized members so that they could be given farming inputs to produce on a large scale and be given fair income due jointly determined prices for their produce.”
While the practice of cooperatives is a most effective method of fighting poverty, job creation and promoting social inclusion its practice everywhere on the African continent has left little to be desired. In The Gambia, the GCU or Gambia Cooperative Union, and its successor or organization FACs, Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Societies failed miserably because they were both state creation. It is only NACCUG, the National Association of Cooperative Credit Unions in The Gambia, which has been able to make it because, with the help of support from the Irish Credit Unions, they were able to distance themselves from state interference. So a cooperative movement initiated by a future PDOIS government would just fail like the GCU and FACS.
Cooperatives are built, we all know, through bottom up, not top down and from the felt need of its membership not through legislation, government decree or party manifestoes. The cooperative movement throughout Africa failed miserably because they were state created and controlled. We suspect that the inclusion of this talk of cooperatives is only a little more than the wave of the red flagged in order to asserting some of its socialist past.
On public sector capital PDOIS calls: “…. for the accumulation of sovereign Nation wealth through mining minerals like Illuminate, Rutile and Zircon which have been found in the coastal strip of Bato Kunku, Sanyang and Kartong as well as explore the oil resources of the country.”
How poetic! But how far from reality! It is true that illmenite exists in the country in commercial quantities and it is being mined and exported clandestinely, but the Rutile and Zircon, which are precious metals, are only figments in the mind of The Gambia’s mercurial president. In nature illminite does not come pure. It is mined and reaped in the form of a mixture of other minerals in a sandy form. Wherever you find Illmenite sand you will also find small insignificant quantities of Rutile, Zircon and even other substances like Uranium. It was when the results of a chemical assay test on the Illimenite were shown to him in 2009 that the deluded Gambian leader rushed out to announce the discovery of several precious and strategic metals and pounced on the foreign company, that President Jammeh had secretly awarded the license of mining and exporting it.
But with the 2004 claim of oil discovery still in the mind of the citizens, most people simply ignored the presidential claims of the discovery “huge deposits of precious metals.” But PDOIS apparently failed to ignore it and instead let it come through the pages of its manifesto.
Onward with its manifesto, PDOIS promises, “It will collect dividends from public enterprises which as far back as 1998 had a turnover of 804 Million dalasi and paid 68 Million dalasi into government covers. In 1999 the turnover increased to 940 Million and 82 Million dalasi paid into government coffers.” Yes, but that was then, fourteen years ago , now all those public enterprises are in the red, crippled and cannibalized by the mad, keleptocratic dispensation we are trapped in.
PDOIS continues arguing that “1.6 billion dollars, amounting to more than 64000 Million dalasi, is exchanged annually in the foreign exchange market in the Gambia while exports in 2012 earned the country only 92.6 Million dollars or 3680 Million Dalasi. The investment of the private sector in the productive base of the economy falls far short of the volume of money that is currently in circulation. PDOIS will ensure that private sector capital is linked to private sector investment.” How will this be ensured? Through legislation, compulsion or state coercion? Does this not sound as commando economics of the Old Soviet type or Jammeh’s “Operation No Compromise.” That will just lead to capital flight and drop in FDI and a plethora of foreclosures.
The Social Security and housing Finance Corporation invested over 400 Million dalasi to purchase and refurbish Ocean Bay Hotel, PDOIS claimed. Such sums of money should have been deposited in a Bank serving as shareholder since only a sum of 200 Million dalasi is required to establish a bank. But the problem is that the country has only about 20% of the population is bankable and the sub-sector is over-congested with many of the banks in crisis due to bad loans, inefficiency and corruption. It is well known that corruption and such like ills are more endemic in state and cooperative enterprises than they are in private owned companies.
There is a single paragraph on industrialization reading thus; “We cannot just grow what we eat and eat what we grow and attained a self reliant and sustainable economy. We must process what we grow, rear, fish, mine and so on. PDOIS aims to register all the appropriate technology in the country aimed at determining our processing potential and challenges for the primary phase of industrialization. It will facilitate joint public/private; public/cooperative and other continental linkages to facilitate the secondary phase aimed at light scale industries and the tertiary phase of industrialization aimed at large scale industries and machine building.”
On development of the country’s infrastructure PDOIS states: “The North bank and the South Bank would have first class roads linked by a bridge somewhere in URR. River transport would be enhanced by the construction of wharfs in all major towns along the river to ensure that all heavy loads are transported by river transport to reduce the rate of dilapidation of major highways and give new life to the economic activity of many towns. Sounds good, but how are these to be funded?
The bridge being contemplated across the Gambia River will be extended to a ports’ project to serve Southern Senegal, Eastern Gambia, and Mali and beyond. This would facilitate road and rail links in the sub-region.” This begs for a similar question, where will the funds come from? How long would it take for monies spent on such projects to be recovered?
On the political transformation, PDOIS says it “….conceive the citizenry as the embodiment of the sovereignty of the Republic and collectively the architects of our destiny. It aims to eradicate all vestiges of monarchical or self-perpetuating rule and ensure that authority to lead at village, district, regional and national levels are determined by the will of the people”. But this sounds more like decentralization than political transformation. Matters like how the independence of the judiciary and legislature is to be guaranteed in the Third Republic; whether the cabinet should be made of elected members of the National Assembly or selected technocrats; the future of the Gambia National Army, were all not commented on.
PDOIS who are widely believed to have had a hand in the making of the current 1997 Constitution and who went out campaigning for its adoption now say they want a Constitutional and Legal Reform program without taking any consideration to their previous stance. It states that a “commission of Gambian jurists would be constituted to conduct a review of the Constitution and laws and propose reform of all provisions which are unreasonable and unjustifiable in a democratic society after consultation with the wider public.”
It also says it wants Institutional Reform: “… of the executive, legislature, judiciary, the Public service, the office of the ombudsman and the Independent Electoral Commission would be undertaken.” Nothing on the hated National Intelligence Agency, and other security units, the Central Bank or the Prisons.”
On the Executive, PDOIS states: “Combat monarchical and self perpetuating rule by advocating for a one term mandate after the transfer of power from the current administration followed by a constitutional amendment, to introduce a two four-year term limit, as is the case in Nigeria and USA; Introduce Gender parity for the filling of two thirds of Cabinet posts in National Assembly; Ensure security of tenure of parliamentarians by subjecting them to removal only through the exercise of the right to recall by the electorate; Introduce proportional representation for two thirds of the seats in Parliament, so that one third of the membership will always be balanced by gender; Eliminate the post of nominated members and its replacement by introducing a policy of proportional representation.”
On the Judiciary it will establish a “Special Judicial Service Commission to appoint judges on the basis of merit and subject to removal only for misconduct and infirmity confirmed by judicial inquiry; Establish a jury system for district tribunals with presidents appointed by the Judicial Service Commission; Establish Special Public Service Commission to appoint members of the IEC with Party leaders having the right to raise objections and be heard by the commission which would sit publicly to preside over the hearing of the objections. “
A clause on Local Government says: “Effect decentralization and devolution of power by replacing governors with regional permanent secretaries to handle central government matters in the regions; establish elected councils to administer villages, districts and regions.” It didn’t say how changing names from “governor” to “permanent secretary” how that would decentralize and devolve power down to the masses and regions.
Then comes what PDOIS calls “Civil Transformation” a lengthy list of sugar and honey promises, including the protection of the liberty, dignity and self worth of the citizen; upholding fundamental rights and freedoms; Establish a National Human Rights Commission to monitor and ensure protection against violations of Human Rights; eradicate of all laws and policy directives which hinder freedom of expression, eradicate all laws and policy directives which hinder freedom of expression; undertake reform the Criminal Code to decriminalize all provisions that are not reasonable or justifiable in a Republic or Democratic society; National Police Service Commission would exercise direction and control over the police force and appoint all senior officers of the force on the basis of merit, and so on and so forth went long and wordy document. A display of political naivety that is truly astounding!
It is the same naivety that PDOIS displayed with its call for primaries that would determine the choice of a flag bearer for any electoral alliance of the opposition parties.
What all concerned Gambians want to know is how can PDOIS contribute towards the creation of a viable opposition alliance that can help lead the struggle against the Jammeh dictatorship; would it consider dropping the call for primaries for selection of a coalition flag-bearer? Why should the opposition parties wait until 2015 before starting to work on the 2016 presidential elections? Jammeh is not going to meet the demands for electoral reforms that the Group of Six is calling for; he is enjoying it now profoundly. Reverend Jesse Jackson does not appear to be taking the mediation role seriously. May be he has even long forgotten that commitment if he indeed made it. Is it not time to drop their non-participation poise? It leads to no good. It is the answer to such questions that Gambians reasonably expect from any document published by any of the established opposition parties. Hope we can get one from the UDP, NRP, PPP, GMC and GDP. Frank, open but respectful airing of the views of the parties on the way forward. We are taking on PDOIS’s document because it is the only one yet available.
But we must not forget that they are good and patriotic men who have meant well for the country and its people. They are all three learned men, but I doubt if that has made them any wiser. Having observed them all throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, I belief they are men who think sincerity is the be all and end all of public service but I suspect that stems from an inner religiosity.
It was Livy an ancient Roman historian named Titus Livius Patavinus (64 or 59 BC – AD 17) who said it is never wrong to change ancient ways. Accordingly, PDOIS must change its ways. I am myself of socialist thinking and do believe that it was not socialism that failed, it was humanity that has failed, proven not yet ripe or mature enough to be able to properly practice it. The 2008 financial crisis and the 99% movement attest to this.
What socialism requires is to be renewed, stripped of its archaic 20th century clothing revamped anew. This is what the PDOIS leadership must do in the service of the nation and its long-suffered people.