The political chaos in the Gambia three years after the dictatorship is caused by one major issue. The President of the Gambia Adama Barrow who promised to oversee a transition government instead made a 360′ turn and want to perpetuate himself in power. Not only did the president desecrate the coalition that brought him to power, but he used the constitutional loophole that he knew at the time of making his promise that the mandate of the presidential term is five years. The President and all coalition party members knew the constitutional stipulation of five years at their finger tips when they signed the coalition agreement.
The elected president upon tasting power, decided to pave his own development agenda at the expense of the coalition agreement. He took advantage of the political fragility and division in the country to perpetuate himself in power. He started showing signs of reconciliation or forgiveness to the former dictatorship party the APRC. He brought back members of the Jammeh operatives from security chiefs to political machinists who aided the former regime in looting state coffers and hunting citizens in the subregion to bring them back to the Gambia to be killed. The president entertained these rogue elements some of whom were found culpable for financial mismanagement, money laundering, torture and alleged human rights violations.
As if that wasn’t enough, President Barrow boldly formed his own political party even before the three year transition period ended. Clearly the president had no intention of ever given up power upon his election as President of the Gambia. His personnel decisions and on other policy matters he consistently demonstrates incompetence and lack of comprehension of the political chaos that he was overseeing.
President Barrow’s decisions or lack thereof time and again threatened the peace and security of the nation. His Justice department’s attempt to release serial killers of the Jammeh regime undermined the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Comission (TRRC). It puts to question the whole purpose of the process and why the need if killers are allowed to walk the streets of Banjul free.
History has adequately documented that African leaders use constitutional loopholes to cling onto power and as a result destabilize their countries. The million dollar question that any common sense Gambian should ask, why didn’t Gambians protest two years ago upon changing their government? Why now? If President Barrow had honored his promise and step down at the three years, would there be any political chaos at this time? The Vice President would have constitutionally taken over and complete the remaining two years of the five year term. Better yet, if President Barrow had focus exclusively in reforming the system, put in place new and independent institutions within the three years, Gambia would have been at a different level.
Granted opposition leaders in the coalition equally made mistakes that potentially may have emboldened the inexperience president in relying on his political operatives to convince him to hang on to power. In hindsight, members of the coalition should have remained fully engaged in the transitional operation of the Barrow government.The moment they decided to go back to their partisan comforts chaos and partisan interest started to creep in at the detriment of the coalition.
The United Democratic Party which backed President Barrow in contesting for the coalition candidacy made unprecedented miscalculations along the way. They had embraced Barrow as a defactor UDP leader and therefore they initially not only supported the government but served in major positions of the regime. This prompted the president to declare that the government was a UDP government since “they occupied the number one, two, three and fourth most important positions of the government”. What the UDP leadership never foresee was that President Barrow was out to take over the country and the party that help propelled him to power. UDP was slow to see the president’s increasing efforts to bribe the leadership to support him to stay in power in future elections. The leader of the main political party Lawyer Ousainou Darboe therefore made statements that would only help strengthened Barrow in power. The whole political marriage came crashing as Barrow aimed to take over the party. Once that was resisted all hell broke loose and UDP members were fired from the government and the political battle ensured. Who gathers most crowd to show political support became the game in town.
Essentially there are enough blames to go around for the disintegration of the coalition. But truth be told there was only one leader elected to manage the affairs of the state. The Gambia’s system of government is an Executive system and therefore who ever is elected President has the power to control the government. Barrow unfortunately, decided to use that same power to cling on regardless of the consequences. The reforms that were supposed to take center stage were replaced by the so called “National Development Plan” (NDP). The irony is that the NDP would only come to fruition with the help of the European donors who pledged 1.4 Euros at a donor conference in Belgium. However, these funds were conditional on systematic reforms which the Barrow government did not fully comprehend. It is unfortunate that security reforms that could have gotten rid of bad elements of the former regime who may be more interested in creating chaos and unrest in the country took backstage too.
In summary, the Barrow government’s lack of comprehension of the magnitude of the change from twenty-two years of dictatorship and the opportunities that avail themselves to the regime led to the chaos that we are witnessing today. One could clearly see the President’s indecision from one incident to another and his reactionary steps would eventually lead to an immeasurable political chaos that will go down in history as one of greatest missed opportunities this government squandered. Ultimately, the government must be held responsible for any chaos that leads to political unrest and possible lost of lives in this fragile democracy. This is how political oppression begins which eventually leads to dictatorship. All eyes are on Gambia government on how it handles and protects the freedom and rights of all citizens. Arresting Journalists, closing media houses amounts to crackdown on the independent media and sets Gambia back from recent progress made in attempts to reform the draconian media laws in the country. Journalists needs to be freed to do their work without hindrance. Attempts to silence the media will only reflect negatively on this government.
Commentary by Demba Baldeh Associate Editor