The Gambian people did something unprecedented and historic this last December. They defeated an entrenched tyrant who has total control of political and economic power over the country for two decades. No one expected that a tiny country less than two million people and the smallest and most oppressed in sub Saharan Africa can pull a political stunner through the ballot box. It shocked the world and threw political pundits off the cliff of political prediction.
The recipe for the success of that political tsunami that blew the covers of the weak dictator was nothing more than putting country first, partisan differences aside and organizing for change. For the longest, many of us insisted that when the Gambian people both on the ground and the diaspora puts their heads and resources together the brutal regime would be history. When Gambians had our backs against the wall facing an existential threat that threatened to change the smile coast as we knew it, citizens woke up from their indifference to the political reality and demand their freedom. For 22 years opposition leaders failed to come to terms with the bully in Banjul who will not stop at any limit to eliminate his opponents. Every effort to bring the parties together fell apart to partisan differences and unrealistic expectations of defeating the tyrant alone.
The Gambian diaspora spent better part of their time fighting against each other. Labeling each other names and dismissing any efforts from any serious group to draw attention to the political calamity that existed in Gambia. Many efforts from the NADD coalition conference in Atlanta led by STGDP to the Raleigh conference; New York to Washington DC Siminars, Dakar, London to Scandinavia all felt flat. Efforts to Unite the Diaspora from over a dozen mini groups would turn into nightmares that degenerates into an ugly fight over online radios further widening the political divide and dashing any hopes of unity. The partisan surrogates became louder ignoring the threat that was looming over tiny Gambia. Every party wanted to position itself to take over power without recognizing that the Dictator was determined to crush any opposition threat regardless of its origin.
But when the threat became more real; more prominent citizens continue to get killed, some disappeared and political leaders rounded up and put behind bars the people began stand up. The political leaders realized it was no longer every man for themselves and God for all us, they began to have serious discussions on putting their partisan divides aside and rescue the country from permanent political ruins. The electorates began to show interest in the scheduled December elections. They started to organize themselves into inter-party groups and demanded something be done to change the political trajectory. The Gambian Diaspora from those politically active to almost every citizen who never had interest in fighting for change began to search for efforts and asked questions on how they could make a difference. The withdrawal of the Gambia from the ICC; the declaration of the nation into an Islamic State, arrest and killing of Solo Sandeng, raping of women and the jailing of the UDP’s Executive became the catalyst for rallying point.
Gambian citizens from every corner of the world became nationally conscious of their civic duties and demanded political unity for change. Fear disappeared and citizens both on the ground and abroad rolled their sleeves and had one message ‘ change must happen in December’. Citizens mobilized, engaged their friends, families and anybody who was willing to put time and resources together for the change the country has been yearning for two decades. Two political fronts emerged; one from the opposition parties on the ground determined to come together, and another from the Gambian Diaspora willing to not only put pressure on the leaders but put their money where their mouths were. Political change began to become more realistic the closer the December elections inched.
This unprecedented change was all made possible because citizens were willing to put their political, tribal and social differences aside and make change inevitable. People realized that what united the Gambian people was far greater than what divided them. That Gambia was facing a threat of political, social and economic disintegration while decent citizens sat down and watch it happen. Power indeed belongs to the people and they were willing to take it back from the few who took it for granted. Love of country and fellow citizens took precedence over partisan divides and political apathy. It was a remarkable collective effort that made Gambians proud of being citizens of this smiling coast. The tiny nation became the envy of the world who rushed to stand by the people of the Gambia and demanded their decisions be respected. This led to the birth of a new government and New Gambia that gives the country a fresh start to build a New Republic and plant the seeds of Democracy.
The lessons from the December political revolution is that when citizens take their civic duties seriously and refused to outsource their responsibilities to hold their government accountable and decide their own destiny; they dictate the change they want to see. Change is not a one time thing and it must not stop at the removal of one government and replace it with another. Government cannot police and hold itself accountable. It is citizens of a nation who must not only wish to see change but organize themselves and demand that their government respond to specific demands by the citizens. These kinds of demands of institutional and Democratic change cannot be limited on social media or flooding the airways of online radios. For any government to take citizens’ demands seriously, the people must organize themselves and speak from a position of authority and strength. Gambians must take lessons from the historic collective organization that ended Jammeh’s tyranny in Gambia. They must continue that strength and put together specific reforms and policy agendas before the new government.
In essence, it is Gambian citizens who brought this new government to power and must therefore demand that the government respond to specific constitutional, economic and democratic reforms that Gambians expect from them. For this to bear fruits, it cannot be cherry picked and grumbled over social media and expect politicians to respond to those demands. It would be prudent for Gambians especially in the Diaspora to get back to organizing and put together concrete political reforms beginning with demands to register every Gambian in the Diaspora to vote in subsequent elections. Never again should the Diaspora be marginalized from the political discourse in the Gambia. It must however, be demanded by inviting the government and the IEC to response to these necessary democratic reforms. It is my humble believe that when Gambians organize and play our natural civic duties, the government will not have any choice but respond to these urgent reforms. I hope that the final lesson is that government become what the citizens want them to be. Our demand is their duty to fulfill.
By Demba Baldeh Associate Editor
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