The Gambia: Coalition impediments and opportunities; a broad autopsy


By Mathew K Jallow

Inflexibility is anathema to reason, often with dire consequences. In the heat of the gratuitous Ad Hominem excoriations hurled at some political opponents, the polemics unleashed lend themselves to divisive bellicosity and dogmatic fracturing, just exactly when broad ideological confederation is most in demand; not less. At this crucial juncture when Gambians are united, not by common hatred of Yahya Jammeh, but by the unyielding quest to be free, the expectations of coalescing around a unifying political theme, ought to be a no-brainer, as effortless as drowning a calabash of milk on a serene Sare Gainako evening. But, at another more absurd level, the juxtaposition of Gambians united in the pursuance of political change, against the insane inter-party bickering, is by every account, a shocking monument to the shallow grasp of the issues Gambians face, and the misery of our people. The unbending desire to lead a coalition, which, for some party leaders, trumps the unification effort, and the restoration of political sanity in Gambia, presents what seems like an insuperable barrier. And last week’s coalition were a mixed bag of emotions; joy and apprehension, but what stood out most was Gambian’s determination to elect a political leader, in spite of the challenges the absence of Isatou Touray and Mama Kandeh presented to the united effort. Both the GDC under Mama Kandeh, and Independents, under Isatou Touray, had strong expectations of leading the coalition, but GDC’s joining the coalition was predicated on Mama Kandeh leading a unity coalition, an added dimension that ignored the very essence of negotiations; compromise. GDC thus disregarded the concept and purpose of negotiations, where no party or individual had expectations of leading a unity coalition, and where that determination was deferred to public, by means of democratic vote casting. At the end of that election process, a conclusion could be inferred that the result more closely mirrored the public sentiments across the country.

The coalition elections process were not without controversy, however; most notably, Dr Isatou Touray’s and the Independents the lack of participation. By every account, it was a monumental failure of communications; perhaps a complete lapse in judgment, if the Independents account is to be believed, nonetheless, Dr Touray and her supporters have come around their grief, to join the united front, a gesture of solidarity Gambians laud with unreserved gratitude. For Independents and Dr Touray, the experience may be seared in their minds infinitely, but at a time the national exigency surpasses every other consideration, standing up for the Gambian people, over one’s own narrow, individual interest, is a mark of patriotism as powerful as paying the ultimate war price. Whatever happens in the elections, Dr Isatou Touray has made her mark, and her name will go down in Gambian history for the selfish gesture she has exhibited under difficult circumstances. In contrast, the selfish single-mindedness GDC and it’s leadership, consistently demonstrated since the party’s hapless emergence and embedding into the national consciousness, has been as pathetic and as arrogant as anything Gambia has experienced since Sheriff M Dibba’s founding of the NCP party so many decades ago. The opportunity for GDC to join the collective struggle to effect political change is still open, but the alternative is an unforgiving and an unflattering story of betrayal, which may end GDC’s short run, and turn Mama Kandeh into the Gambia’s Quisling. It is a sad place in history, which the largely Fula supporters of GDC will live to regret; for when our children and grand-children ask what we did when our fellow Gambian were being tortured, incarcerated, or murdered and their bodies fed to crocodiles, it will be a time for reckoning, a place from which no one can escape. Fulas did not lead this charge against Yahya Jammeh from the last twenty-one years, from 1996, for GDC and Mama Kandeh to suddenly come out of the woodwork to dilute this noble effort. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, the venerable Buba M Baldeh must be turning in his grave, in absolute and utter disbelief.

In the inter-party talks, tribe and individual personalities may have come into play, and for Fulas in support of GDC and Mama Kandeh, some very important facts about Adama Barrow remain unsaid; facts that can obscure the artificial Fula and Mandinka divide, particularly in the realm of politics. Fulas and Wollofs still apprehensive of voting for a Mandinka, in the person of Adama Barrow, based entirely on the centuries old inter-tribal conflicts, which continue to impede social and cultural progress in Gambia, Adama Barrow’s candidature presents no excuse for rejection and a unique opportunity to support someone who by social and cultural disposition, is a Fula, at heart. Growing up, Adama Barrow’s father was the only Mandinka in their Fula village and Adama Barrow’s mother is a Fula, and so are both of Adama Barrow’s two wives. And Adama Barrow himself grew up speaking Fula, in a predominantly Fula village and in a Fula district. With his mother a Fula, and two wives both Fulas, Adama Barrow’s fluency in the Fula language and natural inheritance of the Fula culture from his mother, his village environment and his peers, set him apart from the typical Mandinka candidate that Fulas are disinclined to support. Even as this section of the article speaks to the fears and prejudices of Fulas, Gambians of every stripe can feel reassured that the elected leader of the party coalition is a safe bet and an honorable person to support, otherwise so many people, like myself, would not shy away from opposing his candidature with the certainty of day break tomorrow. The opportunity for political change or high probability of inadvertently re-electing Yahya Jammeh, are the competing factors Gambians face. So far, Gambians who fled and drowned off the coast of Libya, on their way to Europe, are in their hundreds, if not thousands. And as the Gambia inches closer to the elections, the rumors of Yahya Jammeh’s vote buying are rife, but it is an illegal practice that diminishes seller’s citizenship. True, Gambians are free to support a party of their choice, but uniting to change Gambia’s dirty political culture far overrides all other considerations. The supporters of GDC, are, therefore, urged to put pressure on their party leadership to join the coalition, and give Gambians a fighting chance at political change. Every Gambian wishes tribe wouldn’t play any role in our elections, but that is wistful thinking, far removed from reality. Let Gambians come together across tribe, support Adama Barrow, Mama Kandeh and Dr Isatou Touray, as the leaders of the coalition that Gambians so badly need.


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