The closer we get to the December presidential election the further we seem to be getting from political clarity and sanity in the Gambia; the further from lifting the country out of the quagmire that it is deeply stuck in and from the prospect of our nation being regained by the broad masses of its citizens. While many had hoped that the events of April 14th and 16th this year will unite the masses of citizens closer together, it is now looking like deepening the yawning gap of divisions between their potential leaders. While supporters of the main opposition UDP political party, their newly converted sympathisers, disenchanted house-wives, aggrieved followers of the Christian faith and the angry members of provoked ethnic groups, have all been able to forge a strong sense of solidarity and alliance, the leaders of the political opposition, particularly those who are not in detention, now seem to stand further apart from each other and less certain of what to do next than ever before. How ironic! Now when we are all set against a one-man autocracy that has ruined all the sectors of our national economy; and is more glaringly seen consolidating his project of self-enrichment, a chaotic system of governance; ethnic favoritism and a regime of terror that has left us with little of our rights and civil liberties remaining. The Gambian tragedy under the Jammeh autocracy needs not much words as it so much pain that is being daily felt by a whole people of a country.
The Jammeh regime has ruined our system of agriculture and plunged more and more farmers into the extremes of poverty and deprivations that we all thought was impossible. Without any clue as to how to tackle the crisis in agriculture it had plunged the country into the Jammeh administration, two years ago, started what it called Vision 2016 that was supposed to make the country become self reliant in rice and other food items by the end of this year showing how delusional and out of touch with reality the regime really is. Now that we are no longer that far from the moment of reckoning Vision 2016 quietly set aside and forgotten, like it is no longer in the official vocabulary.
Just like in agriculture, the fisheries sector has also been left into the doldrums. The introduction of punitive fees year ago against Senegalese artisanal fisher folk active in the Gambia has sent many of them catching fish on our waters but landing them on Senegalese territory, thus depriving us more feasible and affordable access to fish and the state of taxes and other related revenues. These are deficiencies that show that the Jammeh regime is inefficient as policy-maker and incompetent as resource administrator. Under its continued rule we all remain losers both collectively and as individual citizens.
The tourism sector has been under what looks like unstoppable decline because of the similar leadership deficiencies. With his fetish -based understanding of the affairs of the world, his insane politics, poor governance records and penchant for exhibitionism that must regularly attract negative publicity, the Jammeh regime has succeeded in turning a naturally favorite tourism destination into a detestable pariah spot. The nearly half a century Gambian tourism profile now surely does need some rebranding to make its place in the international market sustainable. This is a challenge that requires a degree of official discipline and continuity, imaginative policy making skills and commitment that the Jammeh administration cannot meet. And yet this is only part of the challenge that the tourism sector calls for.
The sector needs to evolve from a western-Gambia (Kombo affair) to involve the whole of the country and benefit all of the country’s regions and peoples. For this it needs to unfold from being only a beach and sun-light -based affair into also a river-based and ecology oriented tourism.
The River Gambia is a prominent feature of the country, having given it its name and even its historic raisons d’état. European colonialism and the coming of the rail road in the 19th century has brought about some drastic reduction in the strategic and commercial importance of the river, then the most navigable and most important gateway into that region’s hinterland. About a century later in the 1980s an unfortunate shipwreck brought about a forty-year standstill in most transport on the river, the first such standstill in over a millennium. While this was a big blow to river navigation with large vessels it soon opened up lot of potentials for the recovery of the river’s ecology, its biodiversity and even the resurgence of extinct or nearly extinct riverine life-forms that can be source of a new, great type of tourist attraction to thrive side by side with the conventional beach-based and sun-craving tourism. That way tourism can be turned from an urban, Kombo-based affair into a truly nation-wide affair benefiting people of the whole country and having the potential to boost the off-farm incomes of the masses of peasant farmers.
Apart from these three sectors of the national economy the over twenty-year Jammeh rule also led to the almost complete dismantling of the re-export trade. Amateurish foreign policies, near-criminal official negligence , bad-neighborliness and bad government policies combined to make the Gambia lost big-time on its position as an important regional entreport and trade gateway for the whole former slave coast. It is a position that the Gambia was able to maintain for centuries, giving both the territory and its river the then Portuguese word for ¨trade¨ (cambio) as its name. The international commercial status that centuries of historical happenstances like the ending of the Atlantic Slave Trade , the upheavals of decades of jihad-oriented civil wars of the 19th century, colonial conquest followed by two world wars, could not take, the Gambia came to lose through twenty years of rabid autocratic rule. What two decades of Senegalese expansionist provocations under late President Senghore and nearly a decade and a half under former President Abdou Diouf could do little about, a semi-illiterate moron like Yahya Jammeh managed to damage so successfully that few believe it can be ever restored again for generations to come.
Before the dawn of the A(F)PRC dictatorship in the Gambia, the country was on a resolute march towards becoming a middle-income country, its currency the strongest in the sub-region, its value quoted in West European cities and even exchangeable in some. The country’s economy rested on five pillars. The four of the five pillars were those touched on above, namely, agriculture, fisheries, tourism and trade; the fifth was foreign aid. But even the fifth pillar which depends the least on the country’s performance and its government’s policies, like the others is now standing on shaky grounds and tending to fall. All these are attempts to highlight how much the Jammeh regime has failed the country and its now long-suffered citizens.
Though this is supposed to be clear and obvious to all, so has it not been due to a concerted policy of having citizens blind-folded by official spreading of lies, misinformation, falsification of facts and figures, propagandistic machinations that can serve to fool the public into believing that the regime is committed to developing the country and lifting up its infrastructure, including building roads, schools, hospitals, clinics. Beatification of public places and other edifices known to have been neglected under the First Republic have been some of the things the regime had undertaken just to strengthen the myth that the A(F)PRC regime is one committed to development of the Gambia and the welfare of its citizens.
For many however, such an exposure would not matter at all to them because as far as they are concerned the schools hospitals, roads, bridges, television station, and so on, are not illusionary but real and beneficial to the masses of citizens and therefore not questionable and acceptable and also applaudable. The value of a developmental project depends not on the designer’s whims or intentions but on its practical help to the beneficiaries. To some it does not matter how the funds are collected. If funds for the construction of the new project hospital are resources diverted from other projects, government institutions or other public endeavors, it matters very little, if in the end, it benefits another group of people.
To clarify this further; if President Jammeh should cook up lies and false allegations against a foreign investor, for instance Carnegie Minerals, falsely accused them of secretly mining and exporting Gold, Uranium and other precious metals. Get the investor on the run and seize hold of his stocks, plant and mining machineries without any lawful process. With the help of a group of private Lebanese businessmen with no known previous mining experience, President Jammeh continues with the secret mining and exporting without any form of accountability whatsoever to anyone. However, some of the proceeds from this activity are used to fund some of the president’s ¨developmental¨ expenditures. How much goes to such expenditures and how much is privately pocketed by President Jammeh, is known by none but the Gambian leader himself. This is Jammeh’s model of ¨governing¨ and his precept for ¨development¨ and he has his whole government machinery, the apparatus of propaganda, terror and repression mobilized and poised to squash any attempt to expose and combat this his model and precept. The Jammeh regime regularly arrests members of the media, the political opposition and civil society who are suspected of trying to let fellow citizens see through Jammeh’s scheme. Hundreds of fellow citizens have been murdered over the past twenty years for being suspected of trying this. Hundreds more have been jailed and tortured for the same and thousands intimidated and harassed for the same reason.
For years after coming to power through his A(F)PRC setup, President Jammeh has been saying he was not a politician and that he was not interested in politics. He has perhaps never publicly uttered nothing closer to the truth than this. As a person President Jammeh has little interest in fellow persons or policies governing their lot and affairs. What brought Jammeh into politics was his realization that it served the most feasible method of amassing personal wealth through keptocracy, stealing through state ruling. This is the be all and end all of Jammeh’s politics. The sooner Gambian political and democracy activists come to realize this the sooner they are able to once and for all tackle this enigma. The realization would make them see that they were wrong to adopt conventional party political methods of looking and dealing with Jammeh and his A(F)PRC.
It is wrong to suppose that Jammeh has anything akin to political principles, ideology or belief-systems. When dealing with him on the political chess board entertain no assumptions that you can share with him, take nothing from him as true and do not be carried away by any even basic human sentiments based on common Gambian citizenship, African origins or even human companionship. Treat Jammeh as a total alien then you come nearer to understanding him and then perhaps you will become immune to his innate treachery.
It was not mere luck that made him able to outsmart all the other fellow-members of the junta that led the July 22nd coup. All the other three junta members, not counting in Yankuba Touray, who came in later, were not less daring, not less trained and less knowledgeable. What cut out Jammeh from all the rest was his lack of scruples, his bestiality, depravity, and his savagery that often goes with an animal-like cunningness that help some excel in situations of conspiracies and plot hatching . It was this that made Yahya Jammeh leader of his post-coup junta and it is the same that now makes him stand out as our unfortunate country’s one-man ruler, our mad autocrat and mis-leader.
When he suspected that Lang Tombong Tamba might try to replace him in a coup plot as a result of his mad witch-cleansing exercise he rounded him up together with known personal friends and got them charged with high treason. Lang Tombong’s home village of Sibanorr had been a major theater of the barbaric onslaught and even his father was said to have died as a result of the exercise but almost all knew the story of a coup plot was a frame-up. With the help of a mercenary judge and very incredible witnesses, Jammeh got all eight accused persons convicted and sentenced to death. Upon the bargain, Yahya Jammeh was able to simultaneously pursue his personal scheme or project of self-enrichment by releasing one of the convicted prisoners (so called Rambo) in exchange for millions of dollars.
That case was a vivid show-case of the true character and curriculum vitae of the Gambian autocrat; who he really is and what he is capable of doing. His readiness to betray the trust of persons working with or under him. His pathological paranoia. His capability to hatch plots against real or imagined contenders; as the whole witch-cleansing exercise might just have been designed merely to get rid of his Chief of General Staff, Lang Tombong Tamba.
If Gambians truly knew the type of person they have at the helm of their state, they would have treated the coming December 2016 election not as a ’presidential’ election but as a referendum. If Gambians truly knew the type of leader they have and the level of destruction he can unravel against the nation, they would not be thinking partisan. They would have realized that now is not the time of founding and forming new parties that are bound to only aggravate our divisions, but the time to think of how to forge the broadest possible form of unity. They would have known that now is not the time for partisan politics but the time for national salvation. Not the time for political parties but for individual citizens, civil society organizations, community-based organizations, faith-based institutions and organizations, rights groups, youth and women organizations to constitute a National Salvation Front. Such a front will then, in consultation with the leaderships of the various opposition parties, identify a non-partisan candidate ready to lead a one-year interim government that will hold presidential election in December 2017.
The repeated failures of the leaderships of the opposition parties in forging viable and long lasting it is not only due to the capacity of the Jammeh-autocracy to divide and rule but perhaps even more due to them and their inability to look and see beyond the immediate needs of themselves and their respective parties. This will be the 16thyear of futile or nearly futile attempts at all-opposition alliance building. The most promising one was the NADD attempt of a decade ago which in fact ended up dis-spiriting more than half of registered voters or those eligible for registration out of the electoral process. For ten good years now less than 50% of registered voters and perhaps less than 40% of register-able voters actually have been going out to vote. This has left Yahya Jammeh and his APRC the most electable force in the Gambian electoral terrain. If this was so in the last electoral season of 2011 to 2013 it will be more so for the coming one of 2016 to 2018 unless concerned Gambians are able to get up, come together, consult with each other to make the coming election one of an alliance of citizens against the APRC. This remains the only peaceful and reasonable way of avoiding another five-year term of one-man rule under the Jammeh autocracy. The only way to peacefully get rid of the Jammeh-autocracy with the intention of holding fresh, free and fair multiparty elections within the shortest possible time. For this we need a National Salvation Front of the leaderships of all opposition parties (temporarily demobilized), all concerned citizens, civil society organizations, community based organisations, faith-based organisations and institutions, voluntary organisations, women and youth groups, professional associations even cultural groups, to contest the election. The Front shall then look for a reliable, non-partisan candidate with past patriotic pedigree who is ready to sacrifice and contest the election and who after victory is ready to lead an interim government that will shortly resign and hold fresh elections for all the parties to resume activities, start their respective electoral campaigns and contest the election that will be a prelude to a Third Republic.
Dear compatriots, we know that it is a very complicated project we are hereby proposing to you as concerned Gambians. Coming , as it does, after the trials and failures of several such attempts opposition unity, after the repressive clamp down on the main opposition UDP party and the incarceration of its leadership, after the sudden emergence of new or renewed opposition political parties widely suspected to be undercover partners of the Jammeh-autocracy; and coming as it does only months before the elections, the proposal cannot be free from errors and shortcomings that we hope your critical scrutiny will help unveil.
Nevertheless we here within attempt to explain and elucidate it by coming up with the Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q.s):
1.) Who are you?
Answer: We are a group of concerned Gambians living in and outside the country and drawn from all the currently registered parties inside the country.
2.) How do you rate your chance of succeeding with this proposal given the enormous tasks that lie ahead, the fractious nature of the opposition, the disarray in which the main opposition UDP is currently trapped in and the potential of ethnic divisions brought in by the recent registration of the new GDC party?
Answer: We are realistic enough to know that the chances of successfully carrying through are in fact less than 50% but we know too that this does not mean that we cannot try and succeed, especially if this is the only peaceful option left. Only a united opposition can win the Jammeh autocracy on the polls and eventually force through the results into concrete regime change. Even under more normal circumstances, the leaders of the different opposition parties were incapable of forging any lasting alliances among themselves. Now with the whole leadership of the main party behind bars and the emergence of a new party shrouded in suspicion, electoral unity can only come through non-conventional methods like the one we are proposing here.
3.) Where will you get funding from?
Answer: From the parties, collections from members and sympathisers, fund-raising donations, etc, etc.
4.) How will the leaders of the salvation Front be selected or elected?
Answer: First they will be selected from the leaders of opposition parties, civil society organisations, community and faith-based originations, NGOs, etc.
5.) Do you suppose this will be easy? Will many not feel intimidated? Will internal rivalries, wrangling and other unprincipled discords wreck the work of the front? What about infiltration from the autocracy, as you call it?
Answer: All are teething problems we will have to deal with and go on but knowing that it is a question of life and death of a nation, we are likelier to win than lose.
6.) Some of the parties have spent up to million dalasi in registration and so on, why do you think they listen to you and sacrifice all that?
Answer: There will not only be more value for money in the coming Third Republic, they may be refunded these monies in the new constitutional arrangement.
7.) From looking at past experiences, there are bound to be opposition parties who will not be part of the Salvation Front, what will you do with them.
Answer: All we can do is to argue not force and hope that reason will be influential enough.There are bound to be difficulties that even you cannot now think of and ask about, but believe in our righteousness and that it is the only viable available option will sure take us through.
8.) Now we come the crux, the GDC party is a recently formed party, after the April 14th and 16th incidents and arrests. The party seems to have raised new hopes among many but it’s met with skepticism and suspicions in many political circles. There are many who keep on thinking and saying that party may be a creation of Gambian autocrat Jammeh himself. The suspicions are fuelled by the fact that the leader of the new party was a member and even an MP for Jammeh’s APRC party. His party suddenly came into life without any previous signs or preambles from his Jimara constituency or the URR region. Many wonder how was he able to lay his hands on all the funding he seems to have access to.
(For this question we let a member, we call LANG, who is at the same time associated with GDC respond. We will only intervene for clarification or if we disagree with LANG’s views.)
Answer (LANG): We have had many such remarks especially after Mayor Yankuba Colley’s lies about the APRC being behind us. But everyone knows that if that was true he would be the last to say it in a public gathering. I understand that we are so suspicious of each other it is because of the type of enemy we are dealing with. Listen a man who can go so far to catch Lang Tombong, as said in your introduction, is a man who should not be taken slightly. The party did not just come out of thin air it developed out of a process. We were on the process before the April events. You can ask Madame Fatoumata Tambajang about this I was at the YMCA meeting in Kanifing representing the party. Hon. Kandeh, it is true, was with the APRC but that means nothing I can assure you. To be honest with you I don’t know where all the funds come from and even if I knew I will not disclose it here because that is private. I am not promising that we accept your proposal 100% but it will be given the consideration it deserves. Hon Kandeh is a reasonable man. Thank you.
9.) What about those from the other parties?
Intervention: No.no it is not yet time for roll call from the actors. This is just a pre-press release meeting, any more questions before we conclude?
10.) Mr. Chair, how much ethnic-division damages can the emergence of the new party do to the political opposition in the Gambia?
Answer: We are of the opinion that the emergence of no political group and be held responsible for the ethnic fragmentation of the Gambian political opposition. This was there before the coming of the new parties; before even the older ones. Remember wherever there are scarcities of resources, civil liberties, rights, privileges and liberties and there are different ethnic group there is bound to be ethnic rivalries , narrow-minded nationalism or so called ¨tribalism.¨ History, past and even contemporary ones, example in the case of Somalia, that it is not ethnic diversities that are behind so called ¨tribalism.¨ It is the real or perceived misallocation of resources that most of the time lead to tribalism and the failures of common popular efforts. And it is the adoption of strategies designed to preempt such failures that can lead to successes. It is this that led us to proposing this strategy of adopting a non-partisan, National Salvation Front-type of strategy. It is a strategy that will serve to postpone whatever ¨tribal ¨problems we face until after the Jammeh autocracy has been dispatched off.
11.) Who do you think can successfully initiate such a program?
Answer: I think this is a crucial and pertinent question as almost all of us are currently living and working inside the country. While we can do a lot to facilitate the implementation a lot of the works related to the implementation of this project, we cannot currently identify with it openly. In our view, this is best initiated by Diaspora Gambian organizations. This is why we are coming through your most respected media group and also other Diaspora groupings and media outlets. This is a national emergency issue and calls for extraordinary measures.