By Lamin Keita
Once an elder leader is gone, it is essential to seize the instruments of power, such as the treasury, as quickly as possible. This is particularly important in small coalition systems. Anyone who waits will be a loser in the competition for power. Speed is of the essence. The coalition’s size in most political systems, is much smaller than a majority of the electorate. Furthermore, even though we tend to think it—if one leader has enough votes or supporters, then the other potential candidate must be short—this is wrong. There simultaneously can be many different groups trying to organize to overthrow a regime. Each might have sufficient numbers of lukewarm or double-dealing supporters, who could aid them in securing power—or just as easily aid someone else—if the price is right. This is why it is absolutely essential to seize the reins of power quickly to make sure that your group gets to control the instruments of the state, and not a different group.
Yahya Jammeh (The Gambia), much like Samuel Doe (Liberia), ruled and continued to entrench themselves because not only their group had guns, because they understood the theory that they did not need everyone or even the half the nation to support them. They just needed enough confederates to allow them to control the army, while suppressing the rest of the population. However, the reason why many also tend to recast their minds over post-dictators’ developmental agendas’ was because these dictators understood the needs of the poor and by providing such short term needs, it enabled them to hold the poverty-striken’s support—by dangling the hope that government would address their needs—falsely before them. Indeed, these approaches were veritably explored by both smart dictators and the pro-democratic leaders. There were many other coalitions that could have formed, but Jammeh grabbed hold of power first and capitalized on the opportunities available to him, which were embedded within our national institutions. He quickly triggered developmental agendas, formed commission of inquiry, set up either sham or genuine referendum for constitutional review, boosted-up military, and built roads, bridges, TV stations, and the University, in an impossibly short period (within one or two year), amid his suppression of the greater majority of the people. Admittedly, it is true that Jammeh messed up a great many things in the country, but this does not and shall not preclude our present government to judiciously and promptly act on so many things that are at stake. For example, by now the Constitutional review (and even the proposal for referendum), should have been history (after almost over one-and-half-years). What is wrong with our constitutional experts or is Mr. President putting his ‘foot-down’ on national interest? Moreover, does this imply that we are a nation without ideas and passions, unable to catch up with the rest of the world? Personally, I believe that is time for us to immediately move forward because the more we wait, the more it is going to be difficult for national healing to take place. Current leadership requires bold approaches, quickly implemented ideas, and developed goals that will consolidate and set a solid foundation for future generations to come without fear because only this will bear you a name or legacy for centuries to come. This is the essence of coming to power—THE ABILITY TO ACT PROMPTLY AND DECISIVELY.
Consider a room filled with hundreds of people. Anyone might take complete control if only they had five active supporters equipped with right tools that could be used to attract or persuade others through cogent and formidable policies, at the right time in a conducive, democratic, environment. These dictators were able to buy the hearts and minds of the people for a long time, as long as, these five-people continued to convince the supporters. In this light, there was nothing special about these rulers or their five loyal supporters, except they were able to grab (and utilize) the capital resources accorded to them—FIRST—permitting them to achieve a more productive venture in a precisely short-span of their rule. Moreover, if someone else grabbed the capital resources and given to them to five of their own supporters, then it would’ve been somebody else ordering the nation’s citizens what to do.
Waiting is risky business. “There is no prize for coming in second.” With this in mind, all human agency presupposes ideas. Policies are shaped not only by interests and structures, but also by ideas. In our modern-day Gambia, there must be a considerable interest in ideas and ideologues that can shape the country’s policies and shape the State’s formation. Nonetheless, this suggests that ideas matter in our political affairs, as much as elsewhere. In fact, neglect of the ideological factor by our country’s leaders, is the status quo, and such behavior obscures learning from either the past or present, as well as, distorting any meaningful developments for the future. Consequently, policy failures of our states are never inadvertent or the byproduct of diffusion; they are ineluctably linked to rent-seeking and neo-patrimonialism, which leaves no room for learning or the interplay of ideas. For these reasons, neo-patrimonialism advocates claim that, in contrast to structural determinism of the dependency schools for example, it seeks to give agency to Africans by permitting them a choice about development trajectories, its approach is predisposed to downplay ideas (Mkandawire, 2015). Relatively, whatever ideas the elite hold are dismissed by neo-patrimonists as rationalization. Thus, although much is said about human agency, individual, and collective initiatives, it turns out that, individual choices are ultimately determined either by the ubiquitous logic of neo-patrimonialism, or huge doses of ignorance. Where social actors do what they do reflexively, or even compulsively, agency ceases to have much meaning. In other words, how agency and choice are brought into play is ultimately limited by the logic of neo-patrimonialism. Marrying public choice to neo-patrimonialism produces communities whose members are attracted by the possibility of material gain. This is why is highly important for the present coalition government to pay attention in situations where there are no ethic bonds, no sentiments of place, no bond with the past, no loyalty, no passion, and no belonging; except perhaps, as ‘smoke screens’ (camouflage) to conceal crass material interests.