A Political Report by an Ex-Refugee
It was early afternoon on Friday 2nd September. It was hot and humid and the roads were muddy, wavy and full of pot holes so you thought you had walked a kilometer when you had done probably only two or three hundred meters. After the first hundred, and you were a Diaspora Gambian, on a brief trip to the country, your handkerchief would have been so soaked with sweat you would have been in need of a second one. But on that early Friday evening, everyone colorfully dressed in Muslim gowns it was like it was a carnival of some sorts, all dressed and gathered just waiting for the master of ceremonies. The people have been waiting for a woman called Dr. Isatou Touray, the first woman ever to aspire to be president of this small, impoverished, and to be honest, God-forsaken, West African state of the Gambia.
Dr. Touray is a woman from a civil society organization that has for nearly three decades campaigned against what it calls harmful traditional practices, including female genital mutilation, or FGM, a practice, widespread in Africa and the Middle East, that really horrifies the Western mind and is prone to make many Western donors ever-ready to pull out the wallet as a sort of a reflex reaction. That Friday evening was one when Dr. Isatou Touray was to announce her intention to become the first female contender for the position of president of the tiny nation.
Addressing a large crowd of listeners at the fashionable Kairaba Beach Hotel, Dr. Touray said her vision was ¨ to bring energy, hope and compassion to the people of the Gambia¨ and to build a country ¨where every individual will thrive and fulfill her or his dream. All these to be actualized within a one 5-year term as¨Said in her manifesto.
On her plans on the economy, Dr. Touray said that: ¨ costs will be minimized, all wasteful spending eliminated, expenditure shifted away from non-productive spending to more productive sectors such as agricultural capital spending and the protected sectors of health and education. Though she did not say how much could be mobilized from these measures she went on to say that the root cause of the deficit will be tackled by building a more productive economy and encouraging a long-term investment culture in the private and public sectors and supporting small businesses in their growth.
On what she envisaged to be the medium term, Dr. Touray added that ¨a well-designed program for the strengthening of state owned enterprises would be put in place to make them more autonomous and competitive as well as less dependent on government subventions and bailouts. ¨ She went on and on, a lot of it making it sound like the sugar-and-honey narratives of many a political party manifesto. Among the crowd listening attentively, were the newly installed leader of the largest opposition United Democratic Party, Mr. Adama Barrow, some of his colleagues and some members of the other much smaller parties that have seen their hey days during the First Republic though they are with membership sizes not much bigger than football teams.
Mr. Barrow, himself a buisnessman and custodian of dozens of absentee private businesses, listened respectfully as Dr. Touray explained that the ¨The Central Bank’s independence would be strengthened and measures taken to deepen the financial markets, and enhance their role in mobilizing savings for the investment needs of the private sector, so as to make monetary policy more effective and the financial market more efficient. ¨
¨We would,¨ Touray went on ¨maintain a liberalized trade and flexible exchange rate regime in order to continue benefitting from high levels of foreign direct investment and remittances.¨
In the medium to long run, ¨the subsistence rain fed agriculture would be modernized, by promoting investment in irrigation schemes, mechanization and processing of agricultural produce on public private partnership basis.¨ Though the incumbent government of The Gambia’s autocrat have for years promised the same without any success at all, Touray insisted that, ¨We will create certainty for investors by taking a long term approach to investment decisions.¨ But though boosted sense of security for foreign investors may help increase the volume of foreign investment but not necessarily into irrigation schemes, mechanization and processing of agricultural produce. Investors are most likely to come in from Asia and the Middle East and those investors would tend to treat long term investments risky. Most recent investment has been going into trade and commerce which do not get them tied down to the country for too long and thereby too risky. Few have ventured into irrigation or processing. Electricity being too expensive and too unreliable discourages many from processing as well as manufacturing. Governments in such situations can do little to press investors into those sectors of the economy being targeted by the Touray manifesto.
Dr. Touray however, does believe that restoring relations with traditional development partners could help in ¨the orderly implementation of the needed economic reconstruction and reform program.¨ She added that her long-term economic plan was for more export diversification to reduce the over dependence of the economy on groundnuts and tourism. Ever since the time of the colonialists Gambian government leaders have been talking about the need for economic diversification. But there has been almost no planned export diversification over the past century. All signs of diversification, that in the Gambia have only come over the past decade or so, have come not as result of any planned policies but as a result of activities or circumstances not planned or even envisaged by the authorities or by circumstances foreseen by them. Over the past ten years the Gambia has become net exporter of timber and cashew nuts because of the civil and rebel wars in neighboring Guinea Bissau and Casamance from where these products originate. So groundnut is not the only exported foreign currency earner, but cashew nuts and timber have come to perhaps even surpass groundnuts as foreign currency earner but this fact seems to have escaped the female presidential contender’s realization.
Some observers question the timing and manner of Dr Touray’s entry into the political landscape ,among them Alagie Yorro Jallow a respected Gambian Journalist wrote on his face book wall in September “Dr.Isatou Touray Independent Presidential Candidate can bring motherly sensitivity and emotion to the presidency and heals the wounds of Jammeh’s decades of brutal dictatorship if elected into office come December.
She has my admiration and respect as a gender activist and human rights campaigner but her recent refusal to condemn ,or even fully acknowledged ,the state sponsored repression of her fellow country men and women,not to mention the human rights violations against the youth and women members of the UDP is alarming.
Leadership is about falling in love with the people and the people falling in love with you. Its about serving the people with selflessness, with sacrifice and with the need to put the common good ahead of personal interest. Dr. Touray is a moral icon, a human rights champion, so why has she been silent about Yahya Jammeh’s threat of obliterating the entire Mandinka tribe in The Gambia and declaring The Gambia an Islamic State. So where does Dr. Touray fit into all this? Well for a start, her silence is inexcusable: Did she visit Nogoi NJIE, Fanta Darboe, Fatoumatta Jawara and any support she gives to baby Aisha. Her silence is again inexcusable and this makes her part of the problem not the solution.
Human rights abuses of the most serious kind should certainly come before any selfish political ambition. There seems to be no other explanation for her silence other than her entertaining her dreams of her possibility of one day become in the first female leader in her country. It seems political ambition and popularity is another factor plays in her entering the political arena.
Dr. Touray has long been a champion for girls rights who believes that uplifting women will uplift the nation as a whole. I would challenge Dr.Touray to tell the electorates the overview of women suppression under Jammeh and how she will improve on the lives of the vulnerable women folks in the rural areas.
Suppression of women in the name of ” culture” is rampant. Cruelty against women is thriving unabated in the name of cultures. Large number of women are suffering mental cruelty and extreme physical violence within their own compounds or by their own family. They are eventually ending up,receiving harsh inhuman and certainly from deprivation of their rights within mediocre mental health services .Any more to change their barbaric practices are swiftly halted by everyone with gruesome justification of interference with their culture.
Where is the political class? It’s goes completely missing , or is it polishing resumes for personal gains”. Mr Jallow concluded.
Mr Ebriama Kamara a Gambian resident in Sweden also observed that “Dr Isatou Touray, in my view, has good intentions, but as the saying goes, we cannot climb a tree from the top. She summed up the problem well and came up with a solution. Even though we cannot sidestep the morality of taking part in this election, she echoes the position of many by invoking a joint force strategy as the only means to dislodge the incumbent. However, trees are climb from the ground.
There is a contradiction between leading a coalition of parties and being independent, since a coalition means negotiation amongst stakeholders, whiles being independent implies autonomy, an amount of control one exercises, not a consensus. In a coalition, all stakeholders come to the table with the intention and desire to reach a consensus, agreeing on a final document. An independent comes to the table seeking support for a document.
Interestingly, listening to Dr Touray, and reading the Manifesto it occurred to me she is advocating a coalition. Meaning, in my view, her presentation did not serve her purpose. If she had adopted the logic of “climbing the tree from the ground”, doing the groundwork before assuming a position, an intermediary – an inter-party negotiator-position would have made her the natural leader of the coalition. Dr. Touray´s presentation is conflicting but the intention of her formula represents what many have been saying for the last 5-6 years.
Secondly, her good ideas should be the yardstick to measure her capability and not because she is a woman. Invoking womanhood, as a legitimizing element would be reducing her to “a woman with substance”, which is not only disapprovingly disqualifying other qualities she has but also turn-off would be sympathizers.
That said, I find it very difficult, if not impossible to defend the morality of going to election in this point in time”
But whatever the defects in her manifesto are, Dr. Touray should be appreciated for having one. Most of the nine or so other potential presidential contenders, do not even have any or even understand the need to have any. The only others with anything resembling a manifesto, is that of UDP , PDOIS party and the newly formed GDC, Gambia Democratic Congress, which in the middle of September 2016 came out with a semi-literate write-up it calls a ¨manifesto,¨ looking more like it was compelled to do it than it felt the need for it.
To be continued..