The Gambian Opposition: Some Honest Analysis Please

Alkali ContehBy Alkali Conteh

Growing up in Sabbach-Sanjal in the early 1960’s we witnessed the Gambia’s political climate beginning to shape up. As the powers in charge were determined to derail the efforts of the emerging political landscape to bring self rule to our nation, our people turned to the grassroots to fight for what was rightly ours. An unspoken phenomenon and less known connivance was the continuous attempt to disenfranchise all other citizens of the nation except for the colony to participate in elections. There was a well concocted scheme to exclude the rest of the country to participate in an election that will remain to be told in the historical precedence of the nation and for generations to come. The grassroots were mobilized to help take on the challenges the nation faced.

The different Rural groups like Burama Njie’s Society of Allen Street, the Jan Jang Bureh Society of New Street, Kombo-Nuimi Society, the Badibunka Kangbeng Kafo of Leman Street and other like-minded people came together forming the Protectorate Peoples Society PPS in a common course for rural enfranchisement and chose Sir Dawda as a leader.

The PPP fought for extending universal adult suffrage to the rest of the country. They went on to win for the country several laudable political statuses such as independence and republicanism. The rest is history that can neither be denied nor devalued.

Let us fast forward to 1994 and the entry of the military junta, and the subsequent emergence of the 2nd Republic and along with it the lifting of the ban on political parties in 1996. Older parties like P.P.P., N.C.P. and P.D.O.I.S. re-grouped and launched their efforts to reform; and newer ones emerged in likes of A.P.R.C., U.D.P., N.R.P. and much later, G.P.D.P., N.D.A.M. and G.M.C. Both the P.P.P’s and N.C.P’s attempts to rejuvenate were not quite successful.

Going by the results of the 1996 elections (and every election thereafter), the Gambian people have accorded the U.D.P. the enviable and much appreciated status of being the second strongest party in the country, followed by N.R.P. and P.D.O.I.S. respectively. The parties’ ranking remained so. Are these facts irrelevant? No. Did these achievements emerged out of the woods? Again, No is the answer. What led to these and other political gains by the opposition parties is a series of political planning, programming, activities, and events such as putting in place an organizational structure, grassroots mobilizations, political rallies wherein the party/parties presented themselves as alternatives to the A.P.R.C. government. For over 18 years, the U.D.P., N.R.P. and P.D.O.I.S. organized such campaign rallies and events where (we will all acknowledge) they did not praise Yahya Jammeh, but to the contrary. These parties travelled the length and breadth of the country to interact and exchange views with the electorate. They attacked the regime’s records openly and very boldly from human rights, the absence of the rule of law to her failed economic programs.

To the pundits none of these are anywhere near the benchmark of deserving their thumbs-up. Now enter the P.P.P. in holding its first political event in nearly 20 years and the whole crowd erupts into a jubilant acknowledgement and tacit approval. As if that is not enough, they proceed further to “damn’ any of the other parties for failing to show up so as to register their solidarity with the P.P.P. Above all, the pundits’ are insinuating this event to be the official beginning of the long awaited unity of the opposition parties. My question to them is:

Where was the P.P.P. when U.D.P. celebrated her 18th anniversary? Nowhere, even though they were invited.

And what analysis did our pundits draw out of this? “Nothing big”, after all. In fact some discount it as irrelevant as any such consideration or argument will only lead one to a “tit-for-tat” behaviour. This logic smacks of either intellectual dishonesty, or, contextual myopia or outright bias.

I wish to remind our pundits out there that sincerity and honesty ought to be their driving stick. Politics is an enterprise where numbers are the key variables or ingredients. If you are calling for unity of the opposition parties on honest and realistic grounds, do not try to invent a new argument. The format is simple; the principle has been proven several times in different countries and continents over and over. Opposition Unity, coalition or alliance (you call it what you may) have in most cases always been based on a party-led format. The party with the greatest number LEADS. What else can you argue for?

The Gambian Diaspora has a significant role to play in strengthening pro-democratic gains. However, what the Gambian Diaspora cannot do is be the catalyst for creating and attempting to promote false narrative on social media and online radios ever ready to temporarily indulge the very increasing urge for information or hearing debates.

The UDP regularly transverses the four corners of the Gambia with its youth leaders, women groups and the senior members to renew the call for people to be politically aware and alert to avert attempts by the regime in power to undermine a strong opposition base. All the efforts the UDP party is doing is practical political works that do not necessarily have to get media attention, since some may pretend but are aware of the reactions of the regime in power to UDP activities. Since 1996, UDP supporters have been arrested and prosecuted more than any other registered political party in The Gambia. Clear and very distinct cases are those of Kanyibaa Kanyi, Wassa Janneh, the late Shingle Nyassi, Sarjo Kunjang Sanneh and more recently Amadou Sanneh in October of 2013; the illegal detention and unsubstantiated charges against Ebrima Solo Sandeng; the arrest and detention of the militant youth group that became known as the UDP-14; and not to forget Alasana Jobarteh, whose arrest and charges emanated from his performance and delivery at a joint opposition/CORDEG event. The latter’s case was fought by a UDP legal team and his D50,000.00 fine was raised exclusively by UDP militants’ contributions (with one exception of a non-UDP contributor).

Dictatorial governments cannot be compared to even the most toothless democratic administration. The Gambian opposition have been blamed and compared to Senegalese opposition and now even Nigerian opposition parties. These out of place comparisons are as if we have forgotten, Senegal is not rule by one man relying on the long arms of the brutal laws, and the heavy weight of the security infrastructure.

Therefore, the hatred for the UDP is not enough to attempt to navigate around it in a Gambian political discourse. The UDP has networks all around the country, and conducts their activities with the party supporters’ assistance. Yes, the UDP does not romance the media as many would want. This is because the UDP believes, honesty and integrity in politics should not be falsely misconstrued. The UDP believes that, grassroots advocacy, the security and personal safety of its activities and militants must be at the centre of all its media activity.

We argued for a fair and balance media discourse on our difficult political existence and how to map out a way forward.



  1. Batch Samba Fye

    Yes you may be right in most of what you say, the UDP must also behave like the biggest opposition party. This means acting like a government in waiting, taking the initiatives for the way forward at each turn or stumbling block on the road to the 3rd Republic. Another thing is that it is time the UDP declares of the Gambian public their choice of a flag bearer and a replacement to party leader. It is also does not mean that the two must be carried by one person. Separation of the two is not only possible but perhaps even more desirable especially if the two positions can be separated and more specially if Darboe remains party leader and someone with popular national appeal chosen by the UDP as flag-bearer. The choice of this bearer must be a descretion of the UDP not the motley crowd of fractious opposition parties in the interest of a smooth and stable transition to the 3rd Republic. But to rise up to the challenge of being opposion leader party, it has to do more. Darboe is among the loneliest opposition party apart from GDP party leader, Mr. Mendy. Where are all his committee members? All in permanent hiding! Who among them,apart from ex-propagander secretary Femi Peters, and party financial secretary, the latter’s being accidental?

  2. Lafia Touray la Manju

    Batch Samba Fye,

    As you may know, this age limit issue is currently in the electoral reform agenda of the G6. That process needs to be given a chance before UDP and all the other parties affected by this issue can do anything. Meanwhile, the UDP position is as follows;

    If the age limit is not remove from the constitution, the UDP will provide a new candidate for 2016 presidential election. However, if the provision is removed, Lawyer Ousainu Numukunda Darboe will be UDP’s presidential candidate in 2016 whether or not there is a coalition involving the UDP. There is still a potential that the age limit and be removed and that means you have to assume that Lawyer Darboe is the presidential candidate for 2016 subject to age limit provision in the constitution.

    I agree with you though UDP needs to always act like the big party and accept no bullying or undermining tactics from any party or group.

    Darboe has too much company within UDP and therefore does not need the friendship of other party leaders. All that we all need is for the opposition leaders to work together on the basis of principles and in the national interest. That does not require personal friendship but political maturity and love for the country. Lawyer Darboe has all of that. He will drive his own car to meet Sidia in Bundung, and whenever Halifa Sallah refuse to go the UDP Bereau for a joint opposition meeting, Darboe will just drive to People’s Centre to meet Halifa. It is the same Darboe who called a meeting of all the opposition parties to discuss a coalition in 2011. So Darboe has done his bit. You can only take a horse to the river but you cannot force it to drink.

    I must say though, I don’t like Darboe going to People’s Centre to Meet Halifa Sallah. I think he should stop doing that. Enough is Enough. Halifa can continue his hatred for Darboe and the UDP. Nobody cares. But whenever Darboe approches Halifa in the national interest. That always get into Halifa’s head and it’s not helpful. That’s why Darboe needs to stop talking to Halifa or meeting him at people’s centre.


    • Why drag Halifa in your response….batch Samba asked specifically about the role the UDP can play….It seems that without Halifa, your life is hopeless…

  3. Lafia Touray la Manju

    By the way, no other party has declared their candidates for 2016, not even those opposed to a UDP led alliance, so why UDP??? Let’s work on electoral reform and exhaust the process; then we can talk about candidates. There is no need to waste time on this. The UDP has a clear strategy on it.


    • Lafia left to you alone there will be no electoral reform.You are very divisive i hope Darboe doesn’t listen to you.

  4. Thank you Mr Conte and the U.D.P must keep moving on and not let any the others drag it down. Some day, that party willbhave a noble role to play in that nation. It is a God sent that now, who ever wants to know who the time wasisters are, it’s be coming clearer to see by the day. God free that nation and her peoples.

  5. Lafia Touray la Manju

    Bax is vexed. The truth is got to be told my friend.


    • I’m not vex buddy…Just wondered why you can’t go to bed without “reciting” Halifa. ..

  6. Bax, do not worry yourself since the UDP militants themselves appear confused as to what they should do next. Know that every time they drag PDOIS or Halifa into their discourse, they have run out of words and are not sure of what strategy to adopt. When a big party cannot come up with a clear strategy, it means it has lost its balance. Bax, did you hear them, the clause dealing with the age limit in the all opposition document on electoral reform is all they are banking on and Lawyer Darbo is their candidate when that reform succeeds.And you are being told again that PDOIS is part of that reform agenda working with the UDP and others and again being informed that PDOIS is part of the opposition group on electoral reform. How then can PDOIS drag UDP or slow it down when they are working as a team that is in the best interest of all of them especially for the UDP at this crucial time when they badly need the only candidate.
    Do you also observe the attempt to use PDOIS as a scapegoat for their inactivity? Hear their cries: “UDP should not accept no bullying or undermining tactics from any party or group”. Big parties dont complain, they act for all to see.

  7. Lafia Touray la Manju

    The UDP militants have been clear all along as to what to do next and here it is;

    1. If the upper age limit in the constitution is not changed, the UDP will provide a new candidate for the 2016 presidential election.

    2. However, if the upper age limit is removed as called for by the G6, Lawyer Ousainu Darboe will be the presidential candidate for UDP with or without a coalition.


  8. gibiril samateh

    I hope Darboe will do ground work to find out all those who are sent by Yahya jammeh to udp to sabotage any efort by opposition to dislodge his government. Mr. Darboe don’t be fool to think that your relatives or close buddies will not accept this job offer from might billionaire president, you must smart enough to learn from cases like Gangie touray, Ousman jatta( rambo) and Lamin waa juwara, Darboe be careful of your buddies