Last week the Coalition spokesman Halifa Sallah convened a press conference to give the general public an update of the position of the coalition and various parties on how to contest the National Assembly elections. Mr. Sallah stated that two competing positions emerged from two camps. He said some members of the coalition believe that they should contest the NAM elections as a coalition where candidates will not carry any party labels but rather contest as independent candidates. This will allow the candidates to continue to support the agenda of the Barrow government and the coalition Sallah said.
Halifa went further to state that three coalition members, the UDP, NRP and GMC were in opposition to the coalition independent tickets in favor of tactical alliance among members of the coalition. However, Sallah deflected questions from journalists to ask these parties why they favor this position. He stated that President Barrow is in favor of a coalition ticket for Parliamentary elections. Sallah answered further questions on the position of his party PDOIS in favor of independent tickets and why they think this position makes more sense. What was supposed to be a press conference for the coalition appeared to have been a press conference by Sallah because of his party’s strong position as expressed at this press conference. This press conference sent a strong reaction from the three parties mentioned above and a loud response from their surrogates.
The following day, the UDP, NRP and GMC called their own press conference to rebut Mr. Sallah’s position and clearly explained what their own position were. That press conference appeared more chaotic where leaders were speaking at the top of their lungs and angrily dismissed Mr. Sallah’s position as division and not representative of the coalition. The three leaders Mai Fatty of GMC, Ahmad Bah of NRP and Lawyer Ousainou Darboe of UDP further explained why they support a tactical alliance for the coalition to contest for the national assembly. They reasonably explained that having every candidate contest as an Independent candidate may create more chaos and possible disloyalty to the coalition. They further stated that under the tactical alliance each party will put forward candidates where they are stronger which will accord the parties equal opportunity to put forward stronger candidates thus winning the majority seats. One further explanation was that through a tactical alliance NAM members will still carry their party label thus making them answerable to their party leaders where as independent candidates had no one to answer to. This somewhat comforted many people who were critically looking at both options.
However, the press conference was very tense where the GMC leader was overheard shouting at a journalist and asking him to leave the room. He was also allegedly overheard through an open mike saying “he was a foroyaa reporter” insinuating that the journalist asking the question was a PDOIS loyalist. This led to further tension and a confrontation between some members of the UDP and a Foroyaa reporter Kebba Jeffang Jr. The reporter was reportedly assaulted when there were exchange of insults between the journalist and a UDP supporters. This confrontation went viral on social media and many Diaspora activists condemned the alleged assault on the journalist and called for the arrest of the assailant. This counter press conference by these parties created chaos and sparked anger and reaction that the coalition was fallen apart. As usual Diaspora surrogates went nuts and started all kinds of rumors and personal attacks on leaders. For few days every positive change that the Gambia just witnessed appeared to have been in jeopardy and doomed.
This medium as always cautioned that citizens should be allowed to debate various positions so everyone understands the merit and downside of the two competing positions in contesting the NAM elections. We warned that the leaders of the coalition were not helping themselves and the general public by taking their misunderstanding public. That these coalition was no longer in opposition and therefore cannot afford to be operating dysfunctional in the face of enormous challenges. We immediately called on President Barrow to step in and address the looming disagreement before it gets out of control. In a face book posting on Gainako page we stated..
“President Barrow needs to sermon the coalition leaders into a room and address them with a straight face in their eyes. No public display of animosity against each other under his coalition government. If you have your political differences or personal agendas you keep them out of the coalition government. You have been elected by the Gambian people to rectify the wrongs of the former regime. This childish behavior of ‘you started it first’ is getting so sickening and a laughter to the outside world. If you want to admonish each other over petty politics do not use the coalition name or platform to address these childish behaviors. The whole world is glued to this coalition government that led Gambia into a historic defeat and all of a sudden your egos are on display against each other publicly. The very egos that kept you out of power for 22 years. Where is the message of unity and ONE GAMBIA? Where is the message of rebuilding our nation? where is the message from all the ministries on the challenges you are all facing in your various areas? And you dare sit in front of the whole world and admonish each other… Where are the adults in the room to say this is not right? Are you not aware that our country is still bitterly divided, are you not conscious of the fact that thousands of Gambians are still in pain and suffering from 22 years of dictatorship? Are you not aware of the millions of dollars looted from our coffer? What are you fighting about Parliamentary elections and positioning. We call on President Barrow to step in immediately and put everybody in their position. You are the president and we expect you to lead the country away from these embarrassing episodes. You have the veto power and bully puppet to remove anybody in their position if they misbehave. We mean anybody and no one must be indispensable!!! Gambia comes first, second and last!!! We await your press conference or address to the nation to settle these matters once and for all!!! Gainako Online Newspaper
Our call for President Barrow to step in and address the situation as echoed by several other conscious citizens which appears to have reached the President or may have been coincidental. The following day President Barrow called for a meeting of all coalition members to discuss various positions so they all have an understanding of what the various positions are. With a clear leader in the room President Barrow was able to listen to both sides and urge the the leaders to resolve the situation amicably in the room. After each side made it’s case on why and what they believe, the two positions were put to a democratic vote. Majority of the parties voted for the Tactical alliance proposed by UDP, NRP and GMC.. PDOIS took a neutral position while PPP abstained from voting. Just like that this issue that appears to have been the end of coalition 2016 came to another remarkable end. Leaders were seen shaking hands, hugging and smiling as one team united under a common purpose. The outcome was received with an overwhelming relief from Gambians who were beginning to be anxious about a possible split within the coalition.
There are clear lessons to learn from this chaos. First to the Gambian Diaspora and partisan surrogates, there was absolutely no reason for people to go rogue calling various leaders names and inciting political and ethic divisions within Gambians. The ugly intolerance of dissent which has marked a bitter divide within the Gambian Diaspora resurfaced again at the expense of unity and national interest. The Diaspora must learn to discuss issues respectfully and allow all sides to fully explain their positions before drawing any conclusions. It appears that the fighting lymph nodes which were developed to resist Jammeh’s infectious dictatorship are yet to heal within the Diaspora struggle. Thus any little news sends reactivation of defense antigens for the Diaspora to react. The Diaspora should accept that the first difficult phase of the fight against dictatorship has ended. They should now pivot from political activism to helping the new government reasonably govern within the difficult circumstances they found the New Gambia.
The lessons for the coalition leaders is for them to understand that they are no longer in opposition. They are now the government and cannot pass blame to others anymore. In fact, they are the government, the face of the nation and their tones, words and associations do matter to the Gambian people. So those days where you can call for a press conference or conduct an interview and rant and pass blame are gone. Any press conference or interviews conducted by any member of the coalition must be done in the name of the government and in the best interest of the Gambia. Leaders of political parties who are now members of the Cabinet no longer make blanket statements without substance or evidence. They too must transition from being an opposition to leaders who are now in charge of policies and functioning of government. This is what is expected of them and Gambians expect them to conduct themselves with decorum and professionalism at all times. It is also essential for these leaders to show tolerance and exercise good judgement in their daily interactions with citizens while conducting the duty of the state. They will make mistakes and where that occurs they must admit mistakes and correct course. There is no shame in making mistakes as the only people who never make mistakes are those who have not tried anything!
The whole world is watching the new leaders in the Gambia and just as the new historic victory brought hope to the Gambian people and the world, the same hope and change is expected from Banjul. Ultimately, with President Barrow continuing to impress many Gambians in his leadership quality, the same is expected from all other coalition leaders. So just like that, with leaders leading the chaos that was created unnecessarily the coalition is back on track and everything else appears to be much Ado about nothing. Gambians have challenges to transitioning from 22 years of destructive dictatorship to restoring the dignity of the Gambian nation in its rightful place among civilized nations. For the Gambia our homeland “forward ever backward never” Barrow…
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