In the current Gambian political dialogue, it is a norm to compare the First Republic with the Second. This, in my view legitimizes a military regime that has never had any intention of playing by the dictates of democracy. Comparing the two Republics is forgetting how the second Republic came into being – through an unlawful act of a coup, taking over power at gunpoint. So, any political discourse that neglects the context and content of the two Republics is not only sentimental but empty of both reason and historical facts and thereby intentionally or unintentionally propagating negativity and encouraging a political dialogue void of reality.
The fact of the matter is the entire civil service structure and staff are more or less, after 21 years, the remnants of the First Republic. Some of the most qualified civil servants, in service, including the leaders of the junta were trained, educated and employed by the very state the coupists deemed incompetent and corrupt. It is an accepted and legitimate argument to equate the two Republics by associating good roads, beautiful buildings with progress and development, that building more schools and hospitals without adequate equipment and staff is progressing. That mindset is a historical therefore incapable of correctly assessing the everyday living condition of ordinary people – if teachers, students, civil servants and ordinary people are better off today than they were in the First Republic.
Another notorious argument is tribalism – insinuating the First Republic favored Mandinkas, the tribe of the deposed President, even whereas tribe never has been a marker in the First Republic. The deposed President was married to Gambians – neither from his language group, nor from outside the borders of the country.
Government ministers, heads of departments, directors were from all language groups. On the other hand, the leader of the junta of the so called Second Republic, is married to a non-Gambian and yet organizes his entourage around his tribe. He has openly declared many times that his tribe comes first, meaning most government jobs are shared amongst his perceived tribesmen who are not good enough to bear his children. Which clearly indicates the fabrication of tribal controversy to explain misfortune whiles benefiting from it. After all enticing tribal sensitivity is a preconceived move to not only legitimize revenge, but also recommend “payment in kind” as morally acceptable. Thereby making vengeance a defining factor dividing Gambians into perceived foes and friends. For the first time in our history, we are encouraged to be more loyal to the tribe than to friends, country, or any other social group.
The contradictory messages of the arguments legitimize the military coup, in effect our relationship to each with tribalism and put us in an extraordinary situation. Where, the political dialogue is sentimental and development means nice buildings whiles the standard of education continues to decline. In a nutshell, a state of delirium, where the political dialogue is in denial of the fact that elections can never be fair and free when basic human rights are denied the citizenry. Where the incarceration of the innocent demanding their God-given rights coupled with a diversionist tribal rhetoric has become a daily ritual of passage from democracy to dictatorship.
Paradoxically, the coupists’ claimed of injustice, inequality and dishonesty were coined in a context of impatience and intolerance justifying the military coup as the only way to justice, equality, honesty and freedom. This contradictory stance sees no other qualified Gambian capable of running the affairs of the Gambian State than the coupists. Therefore, echoes like: “I would rather die than hand over power to another” or “I will not sit by and watch my achievements go down the drain”, are standard slogans in the current political dialogue. Exemplifying the hostile and divergent rhetoric the citizenry has to contain with on a daily basis.
Despite the obstructionist undemocratic intention to kill all electioneering manifested in the constitutional amendment regulating the electoral law – term-limit, registration fees and age limit. The current political dialogue entertains the idea of election as a means to dislodge a man that would rather die than relinquish power. The idea of a peaceful transition through a free and fair election at this point in time is naive when prominent citizens are serving prison terms for demanding the release of a party member asking for electoral reforms. When arbitrary arrests and incarceration of perceived foes and political opponents continues to be the order of the day.
The focus of the political dialogue is misdirected from striving for electoral reforms to believing the possibility of containing gun barrels with ballot boxes without properly leveling the political playing field. Making it conducive for a multi-party system that allows the participation of all without fear or favor. Let’s not forget, for there are too many examples of African leaders invoking the electoral tool to consolidate power. Museveni of Uganda held a highly fraudulent election, in which he jailed the opposition leader before the election. Paul Biya of Cameroon, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, Idriss Déby of Chad, Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, constitute examples of leaders who succeeded in coining a blueprint of how elections are won by incumbents.
Until we are able to make a realistic assessment of the two Republics, we will be lost in comparing two reigns that are each other’s opposite – one an imperfect democracy and the other a dictatorship. The dictator will not hesitate to once again amend the constitution the day he clocks the magic 65 years demarcation to remain in office. Until we understand that the constitutional amendment of the electoral law is a hoax to remain in power. We will continue to pay inconceivable fees to register new parties and candidates. The irony would be the constitution meant to serve the people ends up subduing them.
The politics of this delirium, this contradictory dialogue, this paradox is rewriting history and molding an eccentric future. Painting a bleak picture of the pass coupled with the fallacy of tribalism mortgages the future of our beloved Gambia to a political reality of egocentricity. The urgency of the situation places electoral reforms highest in the hierarchy of our priorities. Elections without a genuine reform of the laws that govern and regulate electioneering and electability would be going against the very principle of democracy meant to protect it.