In April 2011, the United Democratic Party (UDP) supposedly the largest Opposition political party in terms of electoral votes in the Gambia watched one of its most outspoken and party propaganda Secretary get arrested for allegedly organizing a political rally and using a public address system without a permit.
Mr. Femi Peters Sr. a founding member of the party was prosecuted for an outrageous bogus offense and sentenced to one year in jail by an activist judge for exercising his constitutional rights to hold a political rally. His arrest and detention attracted wide spread international outcry and condemnation by human rights organizations, foreign governments and citizen activists. The UDP majority party could not do anything meaningful about Mr. Peter’s jailing except provide voluntary legal representation by its embattled leader himself a very successful legal scholar. He was never to be the same again after his release as his health deteriorated – a great lost to the party and nation.
If any litmus test on strength and loyalty to party politics and leadership has ever been exercised by President Jammeh, it was and is the continuous blatant arrest, torture, disappearance and jailing of UDP’s prominent members with an open defiance without fear of any backlash. Several high profile members of the majority UDP party have been subjected to all kinds of maltreatment, life ending tortures without a peanut popping open. The late Shyngle Nyassi was arrested and tortured more than twelve times without justice. Kanyiba Kanyi an active party militant disappeared in the hands of the APRC without a trace. Dodou Kassa Jatta a prominent youth leader was arrested and detained countless times until he had to flee the country without a bone cracking. Mariam Denton, Waa Juwara and countless others were subjected to the same ordeal without a finger lifting.
Now fast forward to 2013, the party treasurer and executive member, one of the most resourceful and potential successor to the leadership Amadou Sanneh has been arrested and detained on alleged charges of document fraud and deformation of the country’s image. He was openly tortured and forced to confess on national television with little or no public outcry about his condition. He is currently remanded in Mile II waiting for a Kangaroo court which is sure to convict him. His alleged crime, wanting to help another UDP member fleeing the harsh conditions in the Gambia.
The question that many people are asking is will the country and in particular the UDP party watch another prominent party executive get humiliated, tortured and jail without any consequences? Is loyalty to the UDP party limited to few party leaders and militants in the Diaspora who are doing everything within their powers to sustain the party? Are the rest of so called party supporters only using the party to get their way and sit idly and watch the leadership struggle to keep the party running? How many party militants and or supporters and their families benefited from the name of the party and yet they choose to look the other way once they are comfortable in the West? Where are the majority people who support the policies and leadership of the UDP party? What form of support are they providing to encourage other Gambians to rally behind the leadership of this party? Wasn’t this the very issue the late Shyngle Nyassi deeply expressed concerns and disappointments about in an interview with this network? Where are all the dozens of party militants who were sent to the West with guaranteed legal status to organize on behalf of the UDP majority Party?
In all fairness, one must not fail to recognize that the leader of the party Lawyer Ousainou Darboe along with several others have given everything they have to his party without success. The late Shyngle Nyassi (RIP) lived and died for the UDP party and Gambia! Darboe gave up the most lucrative and successful legal practice to lead a party that only shows few loyal members willing to equally give up everything to make the party successful. From 1996 to date, since Mr. Darboe became the leader of his party, he has shared and sacrificed everything in his life and that of his family with the Party. But this UDP party which many are happy to be associated with behind bars for personal benefits lacks the loyalty, militancy and the intellectual preparedness required to make their leadership successful against a mad dictator willing to cross anyone for power.
From the inception of this Political party in 1996, which initially demonstrated great potentials in terms of electoral constituencies, the party consistently loses ground even in the most loyal districts President Jammeh never dreamed of winning. As a result, many supporters including youths, educated elites turned to the APRC party to contest and win parliamentary and local government elections to make a living. The famous Rambo Jatta who was one time a strong member of the party is a clear example.
In essence, what many critics are struggling to comprehend is why the majority party continues to play nice and watch its prominent members get victimized by the Jammeh regime without public uprising or strong signal of resistance? Why does the party continue to allow its leader to legally represent its members in court which effectively takes him away from the political platform during any representation due to potential conflict? How could the leader represent the accused in court pro bono and turn around and organize a political rally to defy the judicial system? Why couldn’t any other lawyers or behind the scene party supporters – the likes of Borry Touray represent members of the UDP and free the leader from the endless court cases which leaves him no time to do anything?
Many believe that one of the reasons why Lawyer Darboe was not arrested when he returned home from the United States was largely because of the show of support from party militants who showed up to ensure his safe return. Why couldn’t the same support be accorded to Femi Peters and Amadou Sanneh? If UDP were to galvanize its supporters and rally the rest of the country and present several thousand supporters at the gates of the notorious Mile II prison and demand the release of Amadou Sanneh and others, they could probably have been released by now. The slow reaction and or lack of effective coordination from party militants in taking advantage of national crisis to rally the country leaves a lot to be desired. All indications are that the situation is ripe and Gambians are ready to put aside partisan lines and rally behind any group or leadership who will stand up against Jammeh. Until such time that people see such leadership, Gambian prominent citizens will continue to be victimized and the struggle for political freedom will take one step forward – two steps backward.