By Baba Galleh Jallow
Traditionally, African dictators have imposed single-party states either by issuing an order banning all other parties, or by passing law in rubber stamp parliaments legitimizing the imposition of single party states. Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, who has fast assumed the status of Africa’s most callous dictator, has devised a novel and particularly sinister plot designed to turn the country into a single party state in all but name. We may call his sinister method Dollar Power – the imposition of exorbitant fees for all who desire to seek political office in The Gambia.
According to a report published in the online version of The Standard newspaper of June 17, 2015, the country’s Independent Electoral Commission is proposing an amendment to the Elections Act to the Gambian National Assembly that will increase the required deposit for aspiring presidential candidates from 10, 000 dalasi to one million dalasi. According to Hamat Bah, leader of the National Reconciliation Party, the proposed amendment also increases the deposit for National Assembly candidates from 5000 to 100, 000 dalasi, the deposit for mayoral candidates from 2500 to 25000 dalasi and the deposit for council ward candidates from 1250 to 10000 dalasi. What these particular amendments mean is that only a very rich party, such as the ruling APRC, can potentially afford to contest the elections, at least the presidential and National Assembly elections. One doubts whether any of the existing opposition parties in The Gambia possess the dollar power to fund their presidential, parliamentary and all other candidates under this regime in the upcoming 2016 general elections.
There is absolutely no doubt that the Independent Electoral Commission’s draconian amendment proposals come directly from Yahya Jammeh. This not only confirms that the Electoral Commission is directly under the control of Yahya Jammeh, it also shows the extent of Jammeh’s callousness in dealing with dissenting Gambian citizens. Since imposing the single party state through executive decree or an act of the National Assembly could potentially spark riots against him, Jammeh is using dollar power to elbow everyone else out of The Gambia’s electoral politics. There is little doubt that the proposed amendments will be approved by the APRC controlled National Assembly.
One wonders whether the leadership of other political parties in The Gambia will allow this sinister plot to proceed as planned by Yahya Jammeh. One hopes that they will not. In the event they want to oppose and defeat this sinister conspiracy, they might consider three (or more) courses of action. They could file suit in the Gambian courts and hope for a miracle judgment in their favor. They could mobilize their supporters and stage mass protests against the sinister plot. Or they could create a temporary coalition, pool their resources, and finance their candidates for the 2016 elections under the new draconian electoral dispensation. It seems to me that the coalition option is particularly appealing and stands a very good chance of ending the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh.
While there might be other issues that have prevented the emergence of a comprehensive political coalition against the Jammeh dictatorship, one has a sense that one of the biggest sticking points is the issue of who leads the coalition. I suggest that this particular obstacle may be removed if the parties can agree to select an independent candidate for the primary purpose of defeating Jammeh, to serve a maximum period of one or two years or whatever time is agreed upon, and during this time to oversee a comprehensive regime of electoral and other reforms. The coalition leadership will then oversee the conduct of an election in which the individual constitutive party leaders will contest. We hope and pray that our political leaders will consider this coalition – or other viable options – seriously in the event that the IEC’s proposed amendments are approved by the National Assembly, which in reality is Yahya Jammeh’s personal assembly.