Gambian foreign minister Lawyer Ousainou Darboe has made a bold promise that Gambians will be registered to vote by the country’s next General elections in 2021. Mr. Darboe made these remarks on Sunday during a private meeting with his United Democratic Party members in New York. Darboe said translated “God willing, the Gambian Diaspora vote will happen come next elections” He added that he believes President Barrow will support the enfranchisement of the Diaspora. He rhetorically remarked, “even if the president did not support this, he will make sure that his party in the Diaspora will organize to sponsor the registration of the Diaspora to vote”.
Mr. Darboe was responding to earlier comments and concerns that Gambians in the Diaspora has been disenfranchised for far too long despite their immense contribution to national development and the fight for political change in Gambia. Gambians in the Diaspora obviously played a critical role in the fight against the dictatorship in the Gambia. Former president Jammeh and his government regarded Gambians in the Diaspora as “enemies of the state”. He was successful to a large extend convincing Gambians that the Diaspora were out to destabilize his regime. His slogan was that Gambia’s peace will not be compromise because of certain unhappy percentage of the population. It is estimated that there could be as many as 150,000 or more Gambians in the Diaspora who may be qualified to vote.
However, Mr. Darboe did not talk about the constitutional amendments that are required to enable Gambians to be incorporated into the political process. The Gambian constitution has residency requirements for Gambian electorates and unless these reforms are instituted, many Diaspora Gambians would not be able to vote or contest elections. It is therefore critical that the Hon. Minister lead this push for constitutional reforms to finally give the Gambian people the full citizenship rights to exercise their civic duties to vote and be voted in.
Meanwhile, the UDP town hall meeting was well attended by supporters and well wishers of the party in New York, a huge controversy surrounds yesterday’s bigger ‘town hall’ meeting with the President and his delegation. Gambians from all over the United States flew to New York to attend the organized town hall meeting with Gambia’s New President and his entourage. However, the town hall meeting appears to have caused some controversy as there were no time left for question and answer session in the five hours meeting. Although there was specific time allocated for Q&A, it appears that there was no agreement between the organizers and the Barrow delegation on whether there should be questions and answers from the audience. The well attended meeting had some award ceremony to some friends of the Gambia who joined the fight during the struggle to get rid of the dictator. Former RFK Human rights coordinator and now Executive Director of Vanguard Africa Jeffry Smith, Rev Jessey Jackson of the Rainbow Coalition and Nigeria’s television comedian Adeola were among those awarded certificates of appreciation. This award seems to have taken most of the time of the meeting thereby overriding other programs.
Although there was missed opportunity for meaningful dialogue between the new Government and Gambian Diaspora in the US in the form of Q & A, many Gambians had a great opportunity and historic moment to meet Gambia’s new leaders. Critics of the event and lack of Q&A decried that an opportunity was missed to hear from Gambians on their concerns and get straight answers from the President and many members of his cabinet. In fact, the government too may have missed an opportunity to really hear directly from the people that supported them the most in terms of fighting against Jammeh’s dictatorship. This would have built trust between the Diaspora and the new government. Some pundits are with the opinion that the government is still new and is not too comfortable with answering direct questions from the citizenry. Some are outraged that a town hall meeting should consist direct interaction with attendees of the meeting. This is in fact very accurate as town halls as we know them in the United States involves direct questions from the audience. Politicians have often taken advantage of such meetings to win the support of people who were sitting on the fence in support of one candidate or another. Even Presidents of the United States do organize town hall meeting and take direct questions from audience.
In any case, this was a historic moment for Gambian Diaspora to meet the President and his delegation. It is expected that a meaningful dialogue with the government will be encouraged going forward and that the same opportunity accorded to UDP supporters should have been given to the larger coalition of Gambian Diaspora. As in many things, the first is always a test of what could be done better. We are confident that Gambians will learn from this and continue to demand that their leaders answer questions directly from the people. It is an opportunity that the President himself would have benefited from, as often aids to the President tend to filter messages and or questions when delivering to the President. So hearing directly from the audience is something any leader should encourage.
Report filed by Demba Baldeh Associate editor.. for questions or concerns contact the editor @firstname.lastname@example.org