Africa’s Smallest State Getting Ready for Crucial Polls
A Political Report by a Ex-Refugee
Part Three of Three
Traumatized by the ravages of war in our respective countries and having sought heaven in Gambia of the 1980s and 1990s, we from Liberia and Sierra Leone, both the young and old, used to admire with awe what the peace and togetherness that Gambians were able to keep. I remember once listening to a discussion by some Sierra Leonean elders around a table in a bar ran by my mum. While music from Freetown played on the background the men argued loudly. Some said Gambians were able to keep their country from the widespread conflicts around the West African region because they lacked precious natural resources available in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. No disagreed others, it was because Gambians were not as ambitious as others. But would one regard, the Maracca-men or Sarahulles, un-ambitious, yet others wondered. There was Uncle Sam, a tall, dark and handsome gentleman, who said, ¨You guys don’t know where you came to men. This here country is Africa’s longest practicing multi-party democracy, here is where the Africa human rights center is based, so you guys take it from there, man.¨ The exchange was really lively. Some held it that the country’s peacefulness was due to its smallness and lack of what they called Western cultural penetration. ¨No,¨ one uncle Sorie, I remembered interjecting, ¨most Gambians were part of the great Mali empire who already in the 13th century were dealing with Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the other world powers of the day.¨ He was supposed to be a former lecturer in history back in Freetown and was a frequent visitor in our drink shop. On the whole listening to their arguments in our drink-shop left some indelible imprints on my mind and helped shape my political and social outlook and helped stimulate my current journalistic outlook.
It is with that outlook I returned to look at The Gambia as it prepares for the coming presidential election of December 2016.
However, I must say that at the end of my trip and I was to leave my favorite adopted country, I had to with a heavy heart of disappointment suspecting that the country is heading towards civil war. Not only because the country’s hateful autocrat wants it so but because the country’s political, religious, traditional and all other social leaders now seems to look incapable of uniting the people against such a devastating prospect of a senseless civil war. Perhaps Gambians should have learnt more from the experiences of their Liberian and Sierra Leonean guests of the 1980s and the 1990s. But from what I gathered talking to politician of the different parties, youth, women and other community leaders, Gambians appear to be in need of heavy doses of civic education and there seems to be little time for this. If the international community would have listened to me they should have shelved aside all international conventions to go into the country, postpone the coming December presidential elections to later hold an internationally supervised free and fair elections. If members of the international community don’t intervene now they will have to come later when hundreds of lives would have been already lost and a durable peace would have been more difficult to establish and the preconditions for the resurrection of the old ideal Gambia would have been forever.
However, The Gambia remains in a precarious situation that all her friends should be concerned about. Now that the coming presidential election is closely at hand and that the political barometer is pressing up high into the roof the opposition political leaders who alone are left with the option of peacefully returning the state to its sanity, seem like shirking that their responsibility.
All the opposition political party leaders and operators that I was able to speak to say they have long been aware of the fact that none of the opposition parties alone can defeat Yahya Jammeh and his APRC party in the regularly rigged elections held in that country. They all do see need for an opposition grand alliance to contest these elections but they have woefully failed in the forging of any electoral alliance for more than 16 years now. Their failures since July 2001, according informants, has not been because of differences over principles, policies or programs but over the choice of a flag bearer for the past three presidential elections over the last fifteen years. The opposition politicians were unable to agree on a transitional candidate in 2001, 2005 and 2011. And now in 2016, they look more like not being unable to agree on one transitional candidate than ones ready to do the right thing and agree on one candidate even if for a sixteen-month period or as long as it will take to draft a new constitution and prepare for fresh, freer and fairer elections.
All these despite the fact that all they do not agree on is how the mad Gambian tyrant is going to tamper with the vote but not if he will not, and that their best chance of letting everyone, both the Gambian electorate and the international community, know that the 2016 presidential election is rigged and Jammeh’s presidency illegitimate is through one single opposition presidential contestant. The key to saving the nation’s integrity, securing the country’s salvation and restoring the wellbeing of its people is the electoral defeat of the Jammeh dictatorship through fair or even rigged elections. But if they are to be rigged, it should meet everyone so united that it should be obvious to all that it was rigged. It is then that Gambians can easier unseat the regime even after the elections because it would have been obvious both to the Gambian masses as well as the international community the elections were rigged and that the possibility of bringing peaceful changes have been completely exhausted.
In the words of one native Gambian political observer, ¨Why I am so adamant about an opposition electoral alliance is not because I am foolish enough to believe in President Jammeh and his so called IEC. No, I don’t even there is any Gambian who believes that there can be any free and fair election elections under the Jammeh dictatorship. No, I call for a single opposition candidate so that the chances of opposition victory will not be diluted. That opposition victory will be so obvious that everyone will conclude that all chances of peaceful change have been exhausted and the resort to violent change would have been justified and legitimate.¨
But his companion, an older gentleman, has no such hope about opposition unity. ¨This man has not been around in the country for that long. He returned to this country only about two years ago so he can dream. I have been around for eighteen years and have been trying to get all these parties together since the year 2000 after the massacre of the students that year. Now I have given up. Have not even bothered to renew my voter’ card. It will only bring me pain and disappointment. I am now too old for that,¨ he said, holding his breast with obvious care as if it was fragile. Remembering the several interviews I was able to get from some of the opposition party operatives, I shared the older man’s pessimism even if I felt inspire by the younger one’s militant optimism.
From the different manifestoes and the talks I have had with members of the political opposition, there seems to be not material or substantial differences between the eight to nine parties and players. There are no differences based on issues but instead of this making it easier for them to agree on some form of unity, it has instead made it far more difficult, unfortunately.
The fact that there is a mad tyrant they are against who looks likelier to plunge the country into civil war, now when everyone in the sub-region is regretting ever having gone to war, is not making the leaders of the opposition parties know better. They all look like characters in a Greek tragedy steadily and determinedly walking towards inevitable peril.I sincerely hope I will be proven wrong come Octobber 30th 2016.God bless the Gambia.