By Samba Jobe
‘Enlightenment is always good but illusions of being enlightened can be dangerous. It often leads to headstrong belief in one’s infallibility and self-righteousness,…’
My query here is to look briefly at the narrative of what many see PDOIS as socialists. Halifa, Sedia and Sam have fed Gambians theoretical ideas on what it means to be a socialist. However, they demonstrably use their personal lifestyles as a mirror for young people to emulate. Thus, we have the ‘rise of the Afro hair’ among young PDOIS fans and the overuse of the word ‘sovereign citizens’. Since no man is perfect, the outward personalities of the PDOIS trio also disguised their flaws, and some personal shortcoming for proper political indoctrinations. This is what I decipher from their ‘Kairaba Beach Hotel Covention’, remember the word Kairaba as you read along. Not merely about the conflict in the climbdown of the ‘puritant political educators’, but the hostility the trio advance in the past at anything flamboyant.
Representatives of most of the parties of the fractious Gambian political opposition gathered to explore the possibilities of an electoral alliance for this year’s presidential election on Sunday 20th March to the surprise of many. Though the meeting was widely reported to have been successful, one notable absentee was the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS). An organization notable neither for the size of its structure nor that of its voters but for the excess of its rhetoric, on Saturday, 19th March 2016, held what it called a convention to announce that Hon. Halifa Sallah was to be its presidential candidate for the December 2016 election. So PDOIS was not represented in that gathering, just like it was not represented in the Raleigh conference of May 2013 Though the three gentlemen who constitute the leadership of the 40-year old organization cannot seriously hope to win more than five percent of the votes, they formally announced Halifa Sallah as their candidate with a pomp that has left many observers scratching head in bafflement. The party that previously wallowed in its plebian and down-to-earth pretentious now shrugged it off to hold what it called its convention at no other venue than the Kairaba Beach Hotel, one of the most flamboyant of places.
Despite all the waffle of speeches there was no mention of the fact that it was a meeting marking the party’s return to participate in Elections.
Ironically PDOIS and five other opposition parties are returning to the polls under substantially more unfavorable dispensation than when they walked away from it in 2012. Last July the Jammeh dictatorship forced through its rubber-stamp legislature a new set of regulations that will take most of the opposition parties off the political scene and that introduced candidature fees instead of deposits and increased them by hundreds of times. But all these were fully ignored on the occasion held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel. Many had hoped that the reforms would compelled the opposition parties into coming together, but this did not seem to be the case until former Health and Social welfare Secretary of State in Jammeh’s post-coup regime, Fatoumata Jallow Tambajang and his group of Concerned Citizens were able to bring the rest of the opposition into frank discussions.
It sometimes pays to be amateurish, fresh and even naïve in politics because as they say politics is the art of the possible. When one is naïve enough to underestimate the constraints and adversities ahead one at times is lucky enough to stumble into the goal that everyone thought was impossible to attain. That seems to be what happened to Fatoumata Jallow and her team of Concerned Citizens; the fool’s luck!
Since May 2015, the parties had been rumored to have been locked in secret talks that few believed would yield anything concrete and practical. Everyone knows that there is no opposition party that can go it alone in defeating Jammeh and his APRC party in polls here as no free and fair polls can ever be conducted under the dispensation that Jammeh currently presides over until it is pressed into doing that through pressures that can only be mounted and applied by a united and dedicated coalition of citizens aided by the international community. Any politician or his party who are opting to go it alone is merely helping to perpetuate the Jammeh autocracy.
Halifa Sallah and his PDOIS who claim to be enlightened and therefore ought to be most aware of this fact are this time around not even speaking of coalition building. Instead in his so called acceptance speech, Halifa Sallah said: “To make a declaration of acceptance of nomination, I dare say that all my life from the age of 16.5 I have no other ambition but to give my life to Africa. I just faced death and I am still alive; therefore, I consider myself to have a mission, and I fully accept your nomination.”
One person who was both a neighbour and schoolmate of the PDOIS leader had this to say: “When Halifa was 16 years six months he was in form four and I was in Lower Five. We would trek together each morning together with people like Momarr Mergan, Amat Jallow, the two Davies brothers, both of blessed memory, and several others from Serekunda to Bathurst. Halifa was timid, withdrawn and looked more destined to become serigne daara than a radical politician. He took no part even in the student politics of the time. If I remember well he was in the same class with Kukoi, Papa Litty, Bala Jahumpa, , Sillah Bai, etc. As far as I can remember he was more of a timid person than someone whose life was dedicated to Africa.”
In the second sentence, Halifa sounded as if he was a sort of a mystic; having faced death, but survived it and therefore considering himself to be with a mission and so fully accepted the nomination. What sort of a medieval-inspired logic! Reminds one of Yahya Jammeh’s January 17th 2007 declaration that he was mandated to cure HIV/AIDS. To Halifa, the road accident on their way back from a funeral of a ward councillor was like a near-encounter with death that has left him psychologically bruised but spiritually somewhat revived.
On the 7th February 2016 the Sareh Ngai Ward Councillor in the Wuli West District of Upper River Region, Mr. Ebrima Menkeh Barrow,passed away after a brief illness. A PDOIS delegation, including Mr. Halifa Sallah, went to the funeral to pay their last respect. On their way back at Jappeni in Jarra the PDOIS vehicle hit a cow resulting in Mr. Sallah sustaining laceration. In the opinion of many the PDOIS leadership looked like people making a storm out of tea-cup and also trying to construct a cult around the Halifa’s person. The road accident was widely published with innuendos that the accident has reinforced his commitment to the fate of Gambians. But Halifa does not appear to be alone on the impact of this encounter.
Before his speech at the Kairaba Hotel “convention”, his comrade, Seedia Jatta had this to say: “We have two fundamental things to celebrate: the first thing to celebrate is something that you have engaged in for the past three months; that you have never witnessed in this country.
“For the first time in your lives as sovereign citizens, you have the opportunity to exercise your fundamental rights of determining the person you want to be in charge of the affairs of your Republic.
“Three months ago, you started the processes of determining the person you want to be in charge of the Republic, in the aftermath of December 2016 presidential elections.
“This is your fundamental right and duty, to determine the person who should be in charge of the affairs of this country because you pay diverse taxes in order for you to live in peace, security and prosperity.
“I am sure you would like to know the results of the process of determining the presidential candidate for December 2016.”
Mr. Jatta perhaps forgot to say what the second thing to be celebrated was. The first, from what I can understand from his speech, was that for the first time Gambians had, through an attempt to hold primaries, selected a presidential candidate and that was what Mr. Jatta thought was worth celebrating. But the fact was that there were no real primaries at all, because there was no other person on the race for the PDOIS presidential candidature. It was a mere shadow boxing. In fact few Gambians were aware that such an exercise was going on. The long list of names of so called returning officers of the different regions was first published at the end of the exercise. When I looked at it I started getting suspicious because I found some of the names I know of unconvincing. The name Ebou Jaye otherwise known as Samba Sowe in Banjul caused some sudden tightness of the stomach. It was not clear who was and who was not entitled to take part in the contest.
Because it was held in a hushed up atmosphere and few knew it was being held and the terms under which it was being held, Halifa Sallah naturally went unopposed. If for instance, Abbas Manneh was to stand as a contender and won who would have paid the candidature fee ? Manneh himself or the organization? At the supposed end of the exercise, Seedia and Sam announced: “Having presided over the counting of all the nomination forms submitted so far before the deadline established for submission, we the two appointed presiding personnel responsible for the declaration of results, hereby confirm that Halifa Sallah has been duly nominated as the Presidential Candidate of the Party for the 2016 Presidential election in the first phase of the Primaries.” What a parody!
The second person to address the gathering was PDOIS secretary general Sam Sarr, he is the third man of the group that had been ruling the organization for forty years now. He said: “the day is a momentous one for the party, as there is clear indication that the sun has risen and shining over our country, and PDOIS is a party of enlightenment; and with enlightenment you have clarity, you have hope and confidence to be part of the country’s development process.”
The choice of metaphor is revealing of PDOIS tendency to textbook politics. In temperate countries where there is cold darkness nearly half of the year the shining sun can be very desirable but for us in this part of the world it is depressing and stifling and therefore not so desirable. Furthermore, yes enlightenment can lead to clarity, but clarity does not necessarily give hope and confidence. When the prospects are not so good and encouraging, clarity lays bare the facts and they can turn out very hopeless and discouraging. Enlightenment is always good but illusions of being enlightened can be dangerous. It often leads to headstrong belief in one’s infallibility and self-righteousness, making it impossible to be able to step into the other’s shoe for a while and take a glimpse of the world from his viewpoint.
Hence Sam Sarr went on: “The candidate who understands the political situation of the country is what Gambians needs,” I called on all Gambians to make wise decisions, come the December 2016 presidential elections.”
Before Sam walked over to the podium to give his brief address, Chairman Seedia Jatta had said, among other things, ….this is the Republic where freedom of speech is limited; this is the Republic where, even if you are a taxpayer, if you do not support the ruling party you are told that you will not benefit from any development.”
And this is why Gambians are yearning for a Third Republic which because of the current executive illegality can hardly be dislodged through neat logical argumentation alone, nor through single-party politicking alone, but through re-assembly of all citizens, civil society organizations, community-based organizations, professional associations, political parties, religious bodies, youth and women organizations, all together, for another new Republic, where the free and fair voice of the majority will prevail.
Instead, as if the dictates of the current situation is not clear enough for him Halifa Sallah declared:
“I, Halifa Sallah, hereby declare before the whole people that if elected President I will serve only one term which according to section 63 of the Constitution is for period of five years.
I, Halifa Sallah, hereby declare before the whole people that if elected President, our Cabinet will introduce a Bill to secure the following constitutional amendments:
The establishment of a two four year term limit to the presidency of The Gambia;
The establishment of one-third gender parity in the composition of Cabinet and all other representative institutions through proportional representation. Special interest groups like the physically challenged shall be given special consideration;
The restoration of the absolute majority so that no person shall be elected as President on the first ballot unless the votes cast in his or her favour at the election are more than fifty percent of the total number of votes validly cast at that election;
The abrogation of the upper age limit under section 62 of the Constitution which deters competent people from exercising their right to be elected as enshrined under section 26 of the Constitution which is a fundamental political right; the safeguarding of the separation of powers by giving parliamentarians and judges immunities from removal from office by the executive. Provisions shall be made so that parliamentarians who are dismissed from their parties shall automatically become independent members of parliament. Judges would be appointed by a service commission and removed only through impeachment after judicial and parliamentary inquiry.
I, Halifa Sallah, hereby declare before the whole people that if elected President, I will do away with all the monarchical privileges of the presidency through constitutional, legal, administrative and cultural reforms.
I, Halifa Sallah, hereby declare before the whole people that if elected President, I will not hold any other office of profit or emolument, whether public or private, occupy other position carrying the right to remuneration for the rendering of services, or directly or indirectly carry on any trade, business or other undertakings.” How theatrical indeed!