By Saul Saidykhan
In about two weeks, Gambians will be going to the polls to elect Representatives to the National Assembly. Sadly though, instead of focusing on what really matters, anywhere one turns to on Gambian social media, Gambians are attacking each other on an issue that is at worst, a PR disaster. On online radio stations and different fora, there is no shortage of accusations and counter-accusations with sectional connotations regarding the disagreement about how the coalition that uprooted Yaya Jammeh should approach the National Assembly elections. However, the current brouhaha regarding the supposed coalition implosion is really a storm in a tea cup.
As far as I can discern, the basis for the quarrel is thus: Yaya Jammeh’s APRC is the “biggest” party in the Gambia and unless the seven political entities that came together to unsit him in the Presidential election remain together as a unified body in the National Assembly elections, his party will continue to maintain control of Parliament and thus will be able to thwart the wish of Gambians as expressed in their vote on December 1st 2016. Some have even suggested that such a Parliament may not only frustrate President Barrow’s agenda, but could help bring Yaya Jammeh through the back door. As one who has been in this hazardous hobby of commenting on Gambian public affairs for a while, I’m used to reading and hearing a lot of senseless and ridiculous theories, but the past few weeks were particularly interesting. The bright side is, some theories are pretty entertaining. The downside being, most comments are not only ill-informed and misguided, they intentionally massage the egos of our political leaders thus encouraging needless intransigence. This is dangerous in the long run.
To begin with, the claim of APRC being the “biggest” party in the Gambia has always been more of perception than reality because APRC was NEVER a party in the conventional sense. Yaya Jammeh is the APRC. In other words, the APRC is a personification of Yaya Jammeh. Without Jammeh, there is no APRC. The APRC has no philosophical, ideological, intellectual, or political underpinning independent of the Gambian State which Yaya Jammeh had usurped. APRC depended entirely on the Gambian State and its appendages for both patronage and coercion. For the record, the APRC started off with a big lie by one AFPRC Chairman Yaya Jammeh who told Gambians in 1995 and early 1996 that he’ll never be a politician because “politicians are very dirty” only for that same Yaya Jammeh to turn around to induce and corral a group of elders conveniently trooped from around the country to State House in mid-1996 to “beg” him to become a politician to “save” the country “because of the developments he has been doing in the last two years”! As I warned in an article in August of 1996, nothing good could come from that “Covenant-breaking” con job. Yaya Jammeh and his APRC dragged us away from civility, social cohesion, and moderate democracy only to put us through a brutally repressive autocracy concurrent with a divisive social agenda without showing any modicum of atonement to this day. Thankfully, for all practical purposes, the APRC is on its deathbed. And deservedly so. Only those clueless about the chimera it is don’t seem to know this. But this would become crystal clear in a couple of years because the APRC will die naturally under the burden of its history. Once Electoral Reforms are completed and the Voters Register is purged of Duplicate and Ghost voters with the magic of modern technology, the APRC will be thrilled to win even four seats in ANY national election in the Gambia going forward. They’ll be wiped off the map in most of the country in two weeks for starters. And it will only get worse for them hence. Given the amount of loot Yaya Jammeh and his associates – including the so-called GDC still have at their disposal, the two APRC parties may still be able to retain about ten seats in the coming elections. But unless they are Donald trump with Russian friends who can pull some hat tricks, the future doesn’t look bright for them beyond this cycle from what I’ve gathered thus far. We’ll see.
The real story I’ve been following is the party nominations on GRTS. However, I’m shocked at the generally poor quality of candidates almost all the parties are fielding for the National Assembly elections. This is 2017! There is NO excuse for this. In 1960, D.K. Jawara came up with a genius and progressive idea we’ve abandoned that need revisiting given the situation most of our parties seem to be in. In 1960, literacy rates were very low in Gambia. When D.K. Jawara insisted on making the PPP a national party, he went to the grassroots and sold them the idea that they need to accept and vote for ANY Gambian the PPP nominates in their constituency regardless of his place of birth. He himself is from Niani, but contested for a Kombo seat for the PPP; Mr. AB Njie is from Banjul, but also ran for another Kombo seat; H.O. Semega Janneh is from Banjul, but ran for a seat in Kiang and Amang Kanyi who is from Jarra also contested another Kiang seat. D.K. Jawara’s PPP policy was anywhere the party lacks a local with the requisite skills to run for parliament, the party will nominate a party member from any part of the Gambia more suitable to represent it in the elections. Consequently, the PPP was able to cleverly manage its severe internal skills shortage. A very beneficial by-product of this policy is it forced party members to see each other as Gambians first. Thus, it enhanced young Gambia’s quest for nationhood. The team the PPP sent to parliament in the early 60s included people like AB Njie, Famara Wassa Touray, Keba Nyama Leigh, and H.O. Semega Janneh. None of these men were intellectuals but they were PASSIONATE Gambian nationalists. They were dedicated and unpretentious. Nearly sixty years after their outing, I wish I could say the same about the incoming batch of Gambian legislators. All the registered parties in the Gambia today are claiming to be national parties, yet every single one of them is nominating someone who has no business representing a District in Parliament. Law-making is serious business! People’s lives depend on what these candidates say and do in Parliament! My folks in W. Jarra are sending a brave young brother to Parliament whose only qualification is he is a dedicated fighter. Shouldn’t people like that be sent to the local political bureau instead of parliament? I did my best to protest but no one wants to hear my “American” ideas. But I suppose if you don’t live in a place for forty years, you lose the right to complain about certain things. God knows I’d rather be represented by a competent Gambian from Kartong or Fatoto. I don’t know how anyone can marry a sixty-year old woman and wonder why she does not get pregnant. But what do I know?
Another very disturbing aspect of law -making in The Gambia has to do with its frequency and cost. Until the late 1970s or early 1980s, the Gambian Parliament met only once every Quarter which is adequate as far as I’m concern. Under that system, Legislators get paid Stipends when they attend Parliament’s Sitting. Now, for the same dumb reasons that we created an army, we switched from this sensible legislative system to the current one which is a bonanza for crooks and charlatans of all shapes – thus doubling the cost of governance in the country overnight without an iota of added value! The Gambia is a dependent country and should behave as such. Only fully functioning countries with modern economies need permanent legislatures. A country like Gambia where the government cannot even guarantee the supply of essential utilities like water and electricity for an average of six hours a day to 10% of the population, not to mention lack of healthcare facilities, physical infrastructure, etc. has no business throwing away public money on a permanent legislature. We need to revert to the Quarter system where we pay our law makers Stipends only when they work. Those of us who live in the West know the link between work and pay. The problem in Africa is we encourage and reward cheats and idlers. And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of this ridiculous title of Honorable or Hondorable for law-makers. It’s this childish obsession with titles that made our last ruler lose his mind going around purchasing them left and right. Our law-makers should simply be called MP as originally intended in our Instruments of Independence. No one is honorable just because he/she is elected a legislator. Honorable is a virtue that is EARNED by conduct. Empirical evidence shows anyone – however decadent, with money, can get elected as a law-maker. The very idea of paying dozens of people – many of who won’t even qualify to apply for a Primary School Head Teacher’s position, hundreds of thousands of Dalasi monthly simply because they meet regularly mainly to talk about how other countries or organizations should be helping The Gambia with those peoples’ money is asinine. The Gambia government ought to be spending that money on priorities like education, healthcare, energy, and infrastructure. But what do I know?
We need to learn from our past and chart a new Gambia instead of spending so much time on non-issues, or going around in circles.