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.