Given the fact that APRC, since its inception, has been run as the
personal property of President Yahya Jammeh, and that the established opposition political parties have been so ineffective, and upon the bargain, been trapped in election boycotts. It is no big surprise that there have been so big and growing numbers of people who filed for independent candidacy and win many votes and seats in the last season of elections in the country. The word “independent” in this context ought to be treated with care, as many of these candidates like Mr. Buba Ayi Sanneh of Brikama Central constituency, resorted to such candidacy after they failed to be nominated by the ruling APRC party in the last legislative and local government elections. Others like Mr. Kebba Singhateh of the Lower Badibou constituency, resigned his membership of the opposition UDP party to contest the 2012 legislative elections refusing to abide by the party’s boycott action. Finally, tconsticaucusst ent candidates like Mr. Sheikh Omar Saho of Serekunda Central constituency who have no known history of association with any of the established parties.
About two years ago there arose this plan to start talks and negotiations
for the launching of what was then called The Third Force, a pre-party
network of all the candidates and National Assembly Members who took part in the last seasons of elections as independent candidates together with their closest supporters and militants.
Before its launching, the initiators had no interest to target the established opposition parties that none of their members and supporters would be targeted for recruitment into the Third Force and that the main target was the dissident APRC members and supporters in order to try to weaken the ruling party, encourage splinter groups within it while at the same time trying to inject issue-based politics into the Gambian body-politic.
A number of meetings were held and a general consensus was expressed for
the draft plan. The plan envisaged the eventual mobilization of all those
who stood as independent candidates in the country’s seasons of elections
together with their leading supporters and election workers into a militant
pre-party Tendency that is unattached to any of the current political parties, ruling or opposing.
There was unanimous and enthusiastic support for the initiative. Two
groups were assigned with drafting a launching statement and a list of
political demands to be put to all the political parties respectively,
while a third one was assigned to canvass the independent candidates or
NAMs. Both drafts were to be later tabled before an assembly of
Independent NAMs, unsuccessful Candidates, their militants and civil
society activists for scrutiny and eventual adoption.
Plans were made for the launching statement to be made in a press
conference to be held on a fixed date, but the process got stranded. This
however does not warrant abandoning the plan at all. A SWOT analysis of
the plan and the steps so far taken may show the way forward on this front:
*1 Strength*: There have always been independent candidates in elections
all throughout the history of multi-party elections in The Gambia with the
numbers of candidates and votes fluctuating with the country’s political
barometer. The last time such a remarkably high number of independent candidates was during the First Republican elections of 1972 when 17 independent candidates contested. It was at a time when the United Party (UP) was on its death throes and discontentment inside the ruling and dominant Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) was simmering. Factors worth taking note of here are dissension within the ruling party and disarray within its political opposition. It is the same factors that emerged in the 2012 legislative elections and the 2013 Local Government elections. The main strength of this tendency is that they usually represent some of the most politically concerned and strong-willed and therefore often the most politically dependable sections of electoral communities.
Because of the neutral and non-partisan light in which independent candidates are seen by the public in general they are likelier to persuade voters out of APRC influence and control than those from the First Sphere. Because of this too they have a greater chance of being able to court civil society organizations and activists into protest actions against violations by the regime. Only independent candidates have so far dared challenge the APRC in elections in the Fonis so they provide greater chance for opposition penetration into that region. They reduce the perception of APRC infallibility among the ranks of the opposition in particular and reduce their votes and numbers. They currently constitute non-APRC members of the National Assembly. They hold stronger voices in the National Assembly because they are not vulnerable to APRC party expulsion and the automatic loss of Assembly seat it carries. Despite the lawlessness of the regime their office carries some nominal immunity allowing them to make statements that nobody else can without big risk of being arrested, detained and tortured.
*2. Weakneses:* Despite all the potential and actual strength of the Independent current in Gambian politics, it is not without its weaknesses, meaning in the view of that which aids or hinder the struggle for the ultimate goals and objectives. Generally, the independent candidate is without any established structures resembling those of a party organization that can help mobilise resources required for political work and for initiating projects for the benefit of his or her constituency. Instead, what the candidate has is a small circle of friends, relatives and political allies who might have been expelled from the parent party together, clung around him like an ad hoc political committee. Very often members of this circle come with concerns and interest far from or even contrary to the interest and concerns of the people of the constituency.
If the candidate wins and becomes a national assembly member he may soon
find himself in something resembling a hostage situation. If he fails to deliver to members of this group he or she is likely to face reprisals meaning failure to win the next coming elections. The independent candidate is seen as indebted to his electoral workers, especially the campaign lieutenants and they in turn may make demands that may be politically incorrect or make the Independent parliamentarian act in a way unbecoming of someone of his/her position. In his or her immediate surrounding are some opponents like the village and district chiefs, Local Government officials who must openly be seen as hostile to him/her and all that he/she does or says. Influential opinion leaders out of fear for political reprisals from the regime for having voted against it, may be expected to put pressures on the candidate to reconcile with the powers that be and become more amenable both inside and outside the national assembly. In the National Assembly the numbers of independent members at one time are a miserable four, one-twelfth of members of the house so they carry relatively little voice and votes. Independents can be so engaged in the affairs of their respective constituencies that they see little in a national perspective. The reigning constitutional clause on cross-carpeting may have helped discourage the act but a model of tamed Independents is currently being brewed around the mayor in Banjul and this may have some impact on the potency of the Independent Tendency in Gambian politics.
Independents are not easy to put into any networking because their concerns are seldom beyond the horizons of the constituency. Because they are busy with their parliamentary tasks and constituency obligations, they have little time in their hands for networking or matters of national nature.
Failed Independent candidates are easier to approach and talk to and
usually pay more attention to affairs outside the constituency than their more successful peers. So also are independent candidates like Mr. Sheikh Omar Saho of the Serekunda Central constituency and Mr. Kebba Singhateh of the Lower Badibou who has no previous APRC affiliation records. Also, networking can risk Independent Members of the National Assembly to be seen as belonging to a party and this could be interpreted as breaking parliamentary rules and eventual loss of seats. These and many more factors contribute to weakening the chances that Independent candidates will forge unity among themselves into a Third Force in Gambian politics.
Another serious weakness is that the independent NAMs constitute only a tiny minority in the Assembly and this tends to hush their voice and limit their room for maneuver inside the institution. Finally, a look at the Gambian political history will show that independents often survive in parliament for only a single mandate period of one. This naturally limits the possibility of shaking the system and making lasting marks on the institution’s capacity to be an instrument for progressive change in the country.
*3. Opportunities:* The independent candidates, especially those who are
break-aways from the ruling APRC party, and the current they represent in
the Gambian body-politic risk becoming only an episode in the scheme and
flow of things unless they are able to network among themselves and
address issues that are not being addressed by the established political
parties. Membership of the National Assembly accords them a voice for
amplifying the concerns of citizens. It also gives them nominal immunity
that only they themselves can strive and turn into real one through testing
it to its maximum and pushing it further. They have now, with the virtual
absence of the established opposition political parties in the political
scene, a unique opportunity of making indelible marks on the Gambian
political scene. The marks they can make on the system includes turning
Gambian politics, now mainly based on loyalty to party or person to a politics of issues emanating from the concerns of citizens. They can help in heightening dissension within the ranks of the APRC membership, party structures and realm of sympathizers. Given their knowledge of the local political terrain they can be of valuable source of information of a range of issues for the whole front. Given their independent and non-partisan stand they are natural mediators for healing rifts and tensions among the opposition parties. Their office gives them access to diplomatic legations based in Banjul for channeling concerns over many of the atrocities regularly committed by the regime.
*4. Threats*: Perhaps the biggest threat they pose to the political opposition is the same electoral threat, in terms of maximizing numbers of votes, they pose to the APRC. But apart from that their participation in elections and by-elections dilutes the strength of the impact of the boycott of the Group of Six. Because many of them were able to win because they might want the boycott extended. Because the prospect of extending their mandate over a second period is slim (seldom in the history Gambian elections), they often hardly think beyond the current mandate period and not so dependable partners for long-term political work.
Some of them are open to secret negotiation with regime party or
government officials for a smooth rejoining of the APRC party. Some can
even serve as spies for the regime. They are mostly men of little means apart from their monthly payment from the National Assembly some of which has to be shared with close supporters and other members of their respective constituencies. The numerous life-cycle ceremonies in their neighbours and supporters, they have to attend and distribute gifts both in cash and in kind. All this takes its toll not on their pockets but on the time they have available for other matters. The votes they had managed to snatch from the other parties risk being returned back to the APRC (through vote selling) come the next elections. This unless they are able to rally militants and supporters in their respective constituencies around programmes and structures beyond the electoral calendar. If the established political parties continue to be sluggish in their activities, the Independents can steal the show from their camp. They can also further divide the opposition. Selection to membership of various parliamentary committees, international assignments that give per diems, are all sought-after fringe benefits in the current Assembly. It can be used to set some against the requirements of the struggle.
*A Way Forward*: The way forward to final victory can be any one of many.
All roads lead to Timbuktu as a matter of fact. But there are those that go
through the tunnels, of war and conflict, blood and gore, death and destruction; but there are also those, that may not be short-cuts, but they are likelier to lead our society to final victory intact, not dismembered, and with the spirit, not distorted, to bequeath to all its children equal and unrestrained access to the pursuit of happiness. The Independent Tendency has today the unique capability of leading our struggle for the restoration of democracy through peaceful means. The great majority of Gambians want peace but there are a growing number of them who question the possibility of defeating the dictatorship by electoral means. The only way they see out of our present tribulations is either through another coup, or an armed insurrection by supposed liberators.
However, both options are imbued with their own attendant dangers of running out of control and twisting us into a revolution that will spin 360 degrees on its own axis to land us worst than where we were. Independent candidates can redefine the political landscape by helping end the current political deadlock; they can change our current politics of the character of leaders to one of issues and policies. To be able to do any of these they have to be able to constitute a caucus at start, together with the the failed independent candidates of the past electoral seasons they can constitute a club, with members of civil society organizations they can constitute new non-partisan tendency in Gambian politics with the tactical aim of putting an end to the political deadlock and enriching Gambian politics into one of issues and policies, while strategically struggling for the extension of the frontiers of democracy and restoring it in its genuine form. The tried model put together a twelve- progeamme for lunching the initiative:
But the Twelve-Point Programme stranded early in its implementation. So
what prospects are there for its successful implementation. It might have failed because The independent candidates, are not really convinced of its candidacy; they might have chickened out of fear for the ferocity of the regime and therefore reluctant to assume the role of launching the project; they might have mistrusted the project initiators, taking them to be fifth columnist sent by the regime; they might have been bidding time waiting for a better situation for the launching, or they might have turned their back completely on the project.
However, before a better plan for bringing the Independent candidates and their followers onboard, the advice is to push on with by going back to the drawing board, changing the roles, or actors , or sequencing of the changing the steps themselves or bringing in new ones. They represent a big chunk of the Gambian electorates and citizens who must be brought on board. The initiators may go re-look at the whole programme together with the failed independent candidates and see if they would be ready to bell the cat by taking on the launch, hoping to get The independent candidates, and civil society actors later.
To be continued