December 01 Is A Referendum On Governance

img-20161129-wa0226img-20161129-wa0121Easily a million Coalition 2016 supporters in Bakau this last official campaign day of election 2016. Standing room only in the Atlantic seaboard community and what fitting end to afor the record books. Gambia was in Bakau this evening of 29 November!

A sea of people stretching from Bakoteh to Sukuta Police Station – at least a three hundred thousand crowd of enthusiastic Coalition supporters – welcomed Adama Barrow and team to Sukuta a bare two days ago on 27 November. On the welcoming of the Coalition team from its country campaign last Friday, a record crowd stretched from Brikama to Buffer Zone, through Westfield, and then for the final stop at Brufut around 02:00.

A campaign sui generis, there was never anything like it in the political history of The Gambia in terms of numbers, and diversity going to ethnicity, gender, age, profession. Some refer to the Coalition’s phenomenal appeal and public support as a ‘revolution’. Others called it a ‘movement’. Whatever nomenclature is employed, it is incontestable that seismic political events are unfolding as 01 December 2016 approaches.

The carnival atmosphere as expressed in jubilation, the dancing, and sloganeering are unprecedented. A young lady remarked as she passed to the meeting ground in Bakau that Jammeh came to power on Friday and he will vacate on Friday. As they walked home from the Bakau Primary School, a group of young ladies in their late teens to early twenties joyfully stated that they must now walk home to London Corner. A restaurant cook who was heading to work told me he walked from Buffer Zone to Bakau this evening, and I travelled back with him to his place of employment on Kairaba Avenue.

It would be extraordinary if the 01 December presidential election does not usher in a change of government in The Gambia. No independent observer can be in any doubt that the smell and shape of change has commandeered the public space of homeland dearest. The people are emboldened and the overwhelming logic of numbers compellingly drives the narrative. I subscribed to the contention that a new government will begin to take shape in Banjul at the tail end of the next sixty hours.

In conversation after conversation, it is settled that the 01 December presidential election decides the straightforward questions of liberty and dignity within the rule of law. In short, governance over a generation is the single issue up for appraisal by the ruled of the rulers. Or more accurately, the ruled of the Ruler!

Ordinarily, liberty and dignity are not issues in a normal political system. They are givens and taken for granted. In The Gambia of Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh, Babil Mansa, liberty and dignity are contentious and demanding them can, in some cases, become fatal, and herein the significance of 01 December to Gambians of all stripes.

As that other profound event was unfolding a generation ago in 1994, I warned the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council on 01 August of that year: “Without doubt, you are the men of the hour, symbols of heroism to at least 90 percent of all Gambians. The question mark is over the future. And the future is what we must address because therein lies our collective destiny. In light of the track record of military regimes in other African countries, the near unanimous but qualified support is understandable. We would hate to see our parents, families, friends, and any Gambian for that matter flee the country in fear for their lives. Death would be preferable to countenancing such a spectacle. To solidify your position and keep the country together, you must avoid the adoption of the modus operandi of military governments in Africa. More fundamentally, you cannot afford to create martyrs. And vindictiveness must not be a part of the new order of national affairs. Memories last forever, and if bitter, they become a factor in the calculus of daily events, escalating the potential for tragedy on a constant basis. Ordinary Gambians, especially the unlettered bulk whose support for Jawara’s government had no rational basis, must be left alone. Only those public servants whose conduct clearly triggers the response of our laws may be fair targets for investigation.

You have the right to expect loyalty from your closet advisers, but they must not be fearful to the extent of endorsing all your policies regardless of their merits. You must be open-minded and receptive to ideas different from yours.

We are not nostalgic for an era and a government that visited executive vandalism on the Gambian people. But we also refuse to be sentimental and complacent about the present. Your place in history will entirely depend on how you utilise the awe-inspiring instruments of government at your disposal.

After a fraud lasting three decades, the populace may be prone to the syndrome of unrealistic expectations that are almost always integral to forceful government transitions in Africa. Your task is to communicate in effective but realistic terms, and to refuse to feed the frenzy of utopian sentimentalism during your honeymoon with the Gambian people. This, however, is not to suggest that you shy away from engaging the practical challenge of nation building. And nation building necessarily involves national reconciliation. In light of the manner you ascended power, certain constituencies may feel alienated. Your task is to reassure everyone, and not make anyone desperate through fear for personal safety. And even if private property is seized pending further investigation, I strongly recommend that a final determination of forfeiture be adjudicated before the tribunals of justice in The Gambia.

In similar vein, and notwithstanding the suspension of the Constitution, the Cabinet members of the overthrown government must be accorded due process commensurate with the basic tenets of justice. The families of those former cabinet members, whether among the Jawara asylum party in Senegal, or other parts of the world, must not be used as bargaining chips. They are not even vicariously responsible for the untoward conduct of their spouses and/or parents. Although our first successful national encounter with a forceful displacement of government, the experience of other countries should provide cogent instruction in our attempt to fashion a strategy of national unity in the aftermath of such an earthshaking event. The overthrow of the Jawara government was bloodless and we challenge you to keep your administration bloodless. This means no hostages, no summary trials, and absolutely no executions.

A watcher of the Gambian political scene said that we should approach events in our homeland with “cautions optimism”. For now, we salute you, albeit cautiously, for ending a three-decade fraud that emasculated the Gambia. Everyone I contacted simultaneously endorsed the overthrow of the Jawara government, and expressed uneasiness with a permanent military regime in The Gambia. I strongly recommend that you seriously consider and communicate to the Gambian people a timetable for a return to civilian rule…

Excuse my concern but my civic duties dictate that I express my thoughts on a condition of first impression in my country. The stakes are too high, and sink or swim, we are in it together as Gambians. For 17 years, I have followed every major political event in Africa and the world. I have seen governments, civilian and military, engineer and nurture atrocities of mind-boggling dimensions on the people whose welfare they are supposed to protect. I have also seen the silent killers, the governmental equivalents of high blood pressure, arrest the hopes, and drown the dreams, of generations of their youthful citizens. Jawara belongs in the latter. Governmental crime has different formulations, but after the enervating trials of the Jawara fraud, Gambians may have no patience left to tolerate an assault on their material and spiritual heritage”.

A generation later, an appraisal of the record of the government of Babil Mansa yields a result of devastating calamity in the form of unlawful arrests and detentions of defenceless citizens and residents of The Gambia, abductions, torture, threats, forceful disappearances, and extra-judicial executions, clear desecrations of the most basic contract, i.e., of liberty and personal security between the governors, and the governed. Fear has taken over the lives of Gambians thanks to a merciless shadow state that runs alongside as well as overwhelms the facade of regular government.

Twenty two plus years later, Gambian citizens are poised to take back their country thanks to a remarkable collaboration between the Diaspora and Gambians on the ground. As the sun sets on Coalition campaign 2016 in that iconic and traditionally defiant opposition town of Bakau, there is no question that the impending election is a referendum on governance. If the numbers present in Bakau are anything to go by, an emphatic verdict rejecting the status quo would be delivered 01 December.

A new era is palpably present in the air and I hope the inevitable transition is managed with dignity and humility. Where Bakau goes in 2016, the rest of the country goes, and it is clear Mr Adama Barrow is poised to assume the mantle of third president of the Republic.

Commendations are in order for all actors in a remarkable electoral project!

Lamin J. Darbo


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