Africa’s Smallest State Getting Ready for Crucial Polls


                        A Political Report by an Ex-Refugee

Part One

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..




  1. Deyda Haidara

    We know the Gambian EU expert who wrote everything for Isatou Touray.
    Isatou cannot speak good english without reading on paper. Isatou cannot write one single sentence without making 5 errors.
    Give us a break with your illiterate Isatou Touray who struggle with grade D average all the way. Isatou is the least intelligent amongst all the potential candidates. The Gambia is a small country and we know each other.

  2. How could you ever doubt it will come down to this. Who said it way back in the debates,’Lafia, watch out for infiltrators’? Now, I guess these infiltrators could only be those proven and deprogrammed hypocrites in the Gambia’s public domains who can do no better than show us how the illful art of hypocrisy have the potential to destroy a whole civilisation of people. I hope @Haidara is not one of them……….

    Exportation of timber is desertification of rain forests! Desertification is already a threat in the sub-region….Isatou perhaps is not a speedy global warmer as such.

  3. My concern with Isatou is why she was silenced all these years and why she refused to take part in peaceful demonstration which entire udp party executive were jailed ? She is well qualify to be president because she has the experience and education but is she in politics now because of selfish political reasons . She needs to demonstrate that she is not politics for her personal interest . Isatou needs to align herself with opposition leaders who has been fighting for democracy and rule of law for 22 years . She must remember that she did not have political base as we speak . Isatou should align herself with current leaders and she should not insist to lead the coalition. If she play her card well , the opposition leaders might select her as a compromise candidate but she show greed and insist on leading the coalition , she will cause her own political demise . She needs to be outspoken against injustices and corruption .

  4. Haidara

    I have been lectured by Dr Isatou Touray to graduation to diploma level when on a development program at MDI; ‘giving the devil its due’, the lady is educated, & developmentally more than most if not all the current flag bearer aspirants…

    However everyone are entitled to our own opinions on others; as already observed by an opinion in the above write-up it’s time Gambia move in par with rest of the world in according women the rightful well deserved status &/ opportunities equally as partners in humanity…

    We all can’t agree on same things all times; therefor must disagree on issues of communal salvation but must adapt to forge a coalition of consensus on compromise to pave the way for our collective salvation & security to alleviate our predicaments or otherwise contrarily suffer the consequences collectively…

    • Deyda Haidara

      Bajaw, you might be satisfied with her level of intellect but I am the least impress with her english language delivery.
      More so the OP is a political office and not and academic office as such only good politicians have the greater chance of being elected into a political office.
      For your information women are the most powerful people on earth after money power.
      Politics is not about gender, it’s about a people’s choice and nothing can change that.
      Time will tell. Have a nice weekend.

  5. Quote : “…..first woman ever to aspire to be president of this small, impoverished, and to be honest, God-forsaken, West African state of the Gambia.”

    Comment : We may be dealing with a problem right now, but when have we become a “God-forsaken country”, and this label comes from an ex-refugee..? I would have thought that there are better ways to show appreciation for being granted refuge and sanctuary from own people.

    If the writer is Liberian or Freetonian, then he/she should be reminded that we may be a “God-forsaken country, but we haven’t got to the stage where we chop each other’s limbs off in broad day light.

    You’re welcome for your appreciation of our help and hospitality. What a cheek…!

  6. Hope a woman’s presidency in the Gambia won’t warrant the cops in my house to confirm that my wife is safe and sound in the sense, if I obey and comply to her orders indoor and outdoor. No!. absolutely No. The latter is not the idea of many’s suggesting a lady president. Hope marital issues remain under the competence of elders and the local courts and hope a Mrs. president makes a virtuous difference in the Gambia’s political history.

    .. and Suntou! this is not a contradiction. Why grow antsy about my own comment like the above? Because lots of folks are keen. Uuhm.

  7. Bax

    I believe it’s a humorous pun (/play on/with words in describing….); I think our friend is alarming a fear but meant us well; I read instead a warning message from this “Gambian” by refuge, who saw at firsthand & lived all the barbarities & havoc war can wreck upon a community…

    Presently all the ingredients for catalyzing civil war in the Gambia are laid bare for all to see & acknowledge unless one fakes in burying head in sand; how this pending catastrophe is timely averted is the task at hand face with by all well-wishers, Gambian & otherwise…

    I believe our ex refugee friend is indeed grateful for the Gambian hospitality & is reciprocally concerned the same unhuman fate shouldn’t befall Gambia of all places; innocent Gambia never knew of the current sadistic barbarities unheard of that never happened before July 1994 & counting; we’ve had a window of the taste in Kokoi’s 1981…

    Whatsoever happens by this election EVIL yaya KILLER DEVIL Jammeh is certainly on the last leg; sooner than later the status quo will crumble down under the resilient efforts of the collective Gambians efforts supported by the well-wishers & international community…

    Deyda Haidara – As an opinion, I see your point & respect it; the president is supported by the human resources particularly at the executive level; Isatou have the knowledge & ability to utilize the resources for alleviating the country if given the mandated opportunity; anybody else among the contenders would be better than yaya the KILLER; we just need to unify without delay for the final political assault..

    Long live the Gambia..

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