By Musa Camara
The 2021 presidential election in The Gambia is now history. If there is one takeaway, the result indicates that the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) is in its last throes of intellectual and political relevance in The Gambia. After reaching its zenith by leading coalition-building efforts in 2006 and 2016, PDOIS is now on a precipitous descend into the doldrums of political oblivion as manifested in the fallout with the Citizens’ Alliance a few days before the nominations of candidates for the December 4th, 2021 presidential election. If there was an iota of doubt left in anyone’s mind that PDOIS is on the decline intellectually, the debate of the presidential candidates between Halifa Sallah and Essa Mbye Faal laid bare the inability of the PDOIS candidate to answer coherently questions of the moderators. Our candidate memorized his talking points but hardly were they cogent policy answers to the questions asked at the debate. Neither could he defend the assault on socialism by his opponent during their contentious exchanges. Not surprisingly, our revered “Alpha Baa” has lost the presidential election with only 32,435 or 3.77 percent of votes cast. The turnout was 859,571 or 89.34 percent of 962,177 registered voters. If he remains true to his word as he’d promised, he’ll retire from electoral contests. The full impact of the defeat will not dawn on many of our comrades until after the April 2022 National Assembly elections where the party faces even bleaker prospects to lose all of the seats it currently holds in that august body. If that actualizes, it will become evident to all and sundry that the party has been for years recoiling under leadership fatigue. PDOIS arrived at this state because of its poorly-created structures born of anti-parliamentary practices best suited for bureaucratic logjams; it rebuffs the people, condescendingly rejecting their political culture; is constituted by members who are unwilling and incapable of holding the leadership accountable for its decisions and their outcomes; is led by a rear genius who combines the proclivities of what organizational development theorists identified as ‘authoritarian’ and ‘dictatorial’ leadership styles; and it peddles outdated economic policies which have been tested but abysmally failed even in The Gambia. These woes, among many others problems, made PDOIS unattractive to the Gambian electorates. Instead of engaging in self-introspection to debrief on our failures, we project perfection by blaming the voters for the troubles of the party.
First things first. I owe it to the readers to make full disclosure. I became a PDOIS supporter in the 1992 General Elections. In 1996, after the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) military junta lifted the ban on political parties, I registered as a member of the party and was one of the members who signed the forms to reregister the party and nominate our presidential candidate with the defunct Provisional Independence Electoral Commission (PIEC). Since then, I have been an active member who supported the party’s causes and activities at home and in the diaspora and had proudly, loyally, and dutifully defended the decisions of the leaders in the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD) debacle, during the United Front (UF) expediency, and Coalition 2016 democratic experiment. In my development as a lifelong learner who is not only concerned about the party’s inherent weaknesses but also reflects on its mistakes, I collaborated with genuine democratic-minded forces in the party to promote intra-party democracy to improve PDOIS for the better. I could have walked away without saying a word as some members of the party have called on me to do. The leadership of PDOIS expects members who become frustrated with its management styles to leave the party. It employs this cessation of membership strategy as an effective tool to silence dissent by provoking the disenchanted to quit the party on what it labels differences in “principles” and “ideologies.” As for me, ending one’s membership in a political party in that manner is an easy way out of challenges but, even more so, a cowardly approach to problem-solving.
Undoubtedly, I know that citizens should fully participate in the democratic process of our country such as in the defining election of December 4th, 2021. Despite the temptation to speak during this presidential election, I stayed silent even though so many members of the party called on me to appear on the media to propagate our presidential candidate. Yet still, others have urged me to make audio and video recordings to explain the contents of the Transformative Agenda to voters. The manifesto was written without broad consultations— both in the country and diaspora — among stakeholders of the party. Our party was indisputably shellacked by voters rejecting the key proposals of the cooperative-state model, socialism, sovereign national funds accounts, cooperative banks, etc., contained in the Transformative Agenda. Contrary to the claim of our candidate that the seeds of System Change have been implanted everywhere in the country, the election results are a complete rejection and total repudiation of PDOIS by Gambian voters. A spirited and vigorous intra-party debate on policies, programs, strategic and operational plans would have prepared our party adequately for the 2021 presidential election contest. Now that the election is over, we could hold the debates the party did not conduct before the presidential election.
Part 1 of this exposé will focus on how PDOIS is poorly structured which allows it to become ever more a bureaucratic incubation of anti-parliamentary practices. The core defect of PDOIS is in its constitutional framework that created an anti-grassroots superstructure where all members of the party interact with one another but are controlled in a ruthless top-down pecking order. That is the root cause of the problems of the party.
PDOIS’ organizational structures are modeled more like those of international organizations but less so of a political party. The framers of its constitution seemed to have used the framework and elaborate bureaucratic processes of the United Nations Organization as a model for the party. In the PDOIS constitution, the highest decision-making body is the General Assembly. Unlike the General Assembly of the U. N. that meets at least annually, the General Assembly of PDOIS is merely a theoretical abstraction that could practically never meet except where the party is reduced to few people to decide its dissolution. If the General Assembly were ever to meet, it would be a decision-making body of ordinary members of the party to participate in its deliberations. Unfortunately, it’s practically impossible — logistically and procedurally — to assemble the General Assembly to deliberate on ways to reform the party or redirect it on a trajectory that the majority of members believed the party should head. The General Assembly of the party is the fortress for the leadership to block any real reforms because only that insulated organ has the expressed powers to initiate and effect the system change that PDOIS badly needs. The powers vested in the abstract body with the only authority under Article 7(a) of the constitution to meet under the circumstances “to review the structures, principles, functions, and actions of the party organs should the members recognize the need for fundamental changes,” reveals the mindset of the drafters of the constitution that PDOIS is a near-perfect political party that does not need to regularly and intermittently evaluate itself for course corrections. In reality, it’s infeasible for half of all PDOIS members to petition for a General Assembly meeting except if the general membership dwindles to a few hundred members. At that point, given it has been an established party for more than three decades, it would be prudent to decide on its dissolution. The General Assembly is a redundant body that creates another bureaucratic layer on the structures of the party but gives the illusion of democracy in the form of a mirage in the horizon of a desert for members of the party to hopelessly chase. It’s the PDOIS way of showing that we are “not imitators but thinkers” even if by creating superfluous institutions and becoming taxidermists of esoteric and dead concepts. Ironically, the idea of a General Assembly as a structure within the organization is not originally PDOIS’ but borrowed from the United Nations.
Congress is the second-highest decision-making body of PDOIS. Congress is supposed to be constituted by the representatives of all the branches of the party in the country and the diaspora. Its primary functions are to elect members of the Central Committee, amend the constitution, adopt resolutions, approve programs and policies, nominate the party presidential nominees in election years, etc. Congresses in PDOIS are staged, managed, and controlled by the Central Committee which make them impossible for members of the party to hold the leaders in charge of the day-to-day administration of the party accountable. It’s a norm in genuine democratic political parties that delegates to congresses are selected by members of the branches. Even though it may appear in PDOIS that delegates to congresses are selected from the branches, that is merely a theoretical abstraction. In practice, until recently, the branches did not exist in most places in the country. Even in places where they existed, except for the Congress in 2021, the Central Committee, rather than the members in their respective local jurisdictions, selected delegates to congresses. It handpicked them from a list of names it kept and recycled the same people for every congress. Occasionally, it added a few new delegates to replace those whose names were on the list but either left the party or were deceased.
Until this year, the Central Committee, our version of the U. N. Security Council, has been the only authority that selects delegates to the congresses. It arrogated to itself this authority under the senseless provision of Article 12 of the party’s constitution that says the “life of each Congress lasts for four years commencing from the first sitting of the delegates to a Congress.” Once it selected delegates for a congress, it reappointed the same people two years later because under Article 12 the selected delegates have a four-year mandate. Even when the four-year-mandate of those delegates expired, it generally reselected the same people for another four-year term. The contradiction of delegates serving a four-year term when congress is supposed to be in every two years is because the PDOIS constitution has not caught up with the Elections (Amendment) Act of 2015 that stipulates in sub-section (g) that “the constitution of political party requires it to hold a biennial congress.” PDOIS tried to catch up with the Elections (Amendment) Act of 2015 in Article 14(a) of its constitution that mandates that “regular sessions shall be convened once every two years by the Central Committee of the Party.” Article 14(a) creates an absurdity in the constitution that if a judge were ever to preside over the contradiction the judge would strike out Article 12 as inconsistent with the Elections (Amendment) Act of 2015 and Article 14(a) of the PDOIS Constitution. But besides that point, delegates to political conventions or congresses — which are not legislative assemblies — do not have terms, but serve just for the duration a convention or congress is called into session. When the deliberations are adjoined, the mandate of the delegates ceases. As such, congresses in PDOIS are not democratic exercises but shams that the Central Committee used to give the appearance of a democratic party that PDOIS has never truly been since its founding.
The last three consecutive ‘congresses’ of PDOIS provide great case studies for Gambians to see ways that the Central Committee manipulates the party’s democratic institutions. These illiberal practices, we must underscore, deoxygenate the organs of the party into hypoxia thereby arresting their development by starving them off organic-grassroots supports. That debilitates the entire organism of PDOIS.
In 2019, PDOIS was compelled by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to hold a congress in compliance with the Election (Amendment) Act of 2015 because it failed to hold a biennial congress in 2018. The party held the ‘congress in Ngayen Sanjal,’ in the North Bank Region, through a sham selection of delegates. Some people who attended the congress became aware at the venue that they were alternate delegates to sit in place of the initial delegates who the Central Committee selected but failed to show up. That ‘congress’ was planned to last for three days but was cut short to only two days because it was not a congress in reality. Rather, it was a gathering for stump speeches by the leaders for regulatory and statutory compliance. The Central Committee called it a “mini-congress” for reviewing policies but not to select members of the Central Committee. There is nothing in the governing legislation nor in the constitution of the party called mini-congress. It was an invention because members of the party were ready to select their delegates who would propose resolutions to reform the party and amend some of the archaic provisions in the constitution. They were preempted by the Secretary General who lambasted a long-term member of the party for suggesting one of his colleagues be nominated to contest for the position of Secretary to the Youth Bureau. In my investigation, people who attended the congress said no resolutions were presented as the handpicked delegates did not vote on any resolution. Still, many months later, the Central Committee published in The Gonga Magazine that congress passed ten resolutions. The resolutions were not published as drafted and amended in congress. Neither the identities of the delegates who supposedly proposed and seconded the motions were disclosed to the members of the party nor were the minutes of the debates. There were no tallies of the votes at congress for the resolutions. The resolutions were just summaries of points contained in the lengthy speech of the Secretary General at Ngayen Sanjal but packaged as resolutions adopted by congress.
Another manipulation of the party democratic institutions took place in Basse in August 2019. In our efforts to make PDOIS a functioning political party after the December 2016 change in The Gambia, members of the party attempted to engage the Central Committee with ideas to expand the party around the country. The elites of the party were not responsive to the members who were determined to expand the footprint of the party by building structures to elevate the PDOIS to win what would have been the “2019 presidential election” had Barrow honored the three-year agreement with the Coalition 2016 partners by calling for early elections. Even if the election has not taken place in 2019, the party would have been in a far stronger state were our efforts allowed to proceed on schedule. Given the stonewalling by the Central Committee, like-minded folks at home and in the diaspora initiated a workaround to create regional branches in all eight administrative regions of the country. These regional branches would also work to create constituency and ward branches in their turfs. All of their efforts around the country were frustrated by the Central Committee.
Despite the negative energy from the Central Committee, members of the party in the Upper River Region (URR) succeeded in leasing office space in Basse for a regional headquarter which stood idle for almost a year waiting for bureaucratic approval of a mere inauguration to commence operations. During the inauguration of the office in 2020, members in the URR region wanted to hold a regional congress of their branch to create positions within their structure, elect their regional leaders, adopt resolutions and approve programs to expand the party in that administrative region. When the Central Committee gave in to the demands of the members, it did so only to hijack the regional congress by calling it the “Congress for Women and Youth.” In political parties, congresses are for entities such as the national party, regional branches, constituency, and ward branches. The Central Committee did not announce to the public that the “congress” in Basse was an emergency session. It couldn’t have been a regular session because the party held a regular session of ‘congress’ in Ngayen Sanjal in December 2018—just nine months before the Basse so-called “Congress for Women and Youths.” The Central Committee, however, announced before the “congress” in Basse that it will hold its Extra-Ordinary Session to review resolutions passed by the congress in the Ngayen Sanjal almost a year into what should have been the implementation phase. The decision to call for an Extra-Ordinary Session of the Central Committee which supposedly takes place behind closed doors when ‘congress’ is also meeting was an attempt by the Central Committee to steal the wind off the sail of the local democratic efforts. Such high-sounding-nothing activities precipitously included in the party’s calendar are not new to members of the party. In PDOIS, the roles are reversed as the Central Committee, the third-highest “supreme decision-making body” in praxis rules over congress that was supposed to be the “second-highest supreme decision-making body” of the party.
Similarly, in 2021, the party held a congress in Kairaba Beach Hotel, in Kololi, where it nominated the Secretary General as the flagbearer for the December 4th presidential election. Succumbing to pressure from members that the Central Committee must not select delegates to congress, the Central Committee allowed the branches to select their delegates. Despite this improvement, the delegates selection process was still flawed because the regional branches did not organize regional congresses to choose their delegates. Few people met and made a list in their respective regions to deputize for their members. It was still not the highest realization of unadulterated democracy that PDOIS promised Gambians. When the congress finally kicked off, it was poorly planned without the identities of delegates known to even those who supposedly credentialed and seated them in congress. The confusion extended also into the deliberations of congress as the party is still reeling from some of the fallouts of 2021 Congress. We shall return to the fallouts later, for now, suffice to say that the congresses in Ngayen Sanjal and Basse in 2019 and 2020 respectively were all constituted by delegates handpicked by the Central Committee rather than by the people they were supposedly representing. To my understanding, this is the way it has been done throughout the history of the party. It’s the PDOIS modus operandi. As power concedes nothing without a demand, members of the party scored a big victory in 2021 when the Central Committee gave in to their demands to allow branches to select delegates to the congress. Allowing members to select their delegates to congress was a success by PDOIS standards. However, relative to the conventional standards in genuine democracies, it was an albatross as many of the general membership across the country were left out in the selection process.
In every organization, the structures, processes, and people are cardinal forces that interact to produce outcomes. The interaction of these three forces in our party matters for our success. PDOIS is a piece of elaborate bureaucratic machinery that is highly inefficient, ineffective, and wasteful. It never envisioned creating regional bodies but required few, at least three, people to form a branch if approved by the Central Committee. Within its structure, it has bureaus such as “Political,” “Organising,” “Information,” “Women and Child Affairs,” “International Affairs,” and “Youth” bureaus. Furthermore, it also has committees such as the “National Assembly” and the “Finance” Committees within the structures of the party. Like the U.N., it has a Secretariat that is the “administrative or coordinating arm of the Central Committee” headed by the Secretary General. The individual bureaus are referred to as the organs of the party and are each headed by secretaries or a chairperson as in the case of the Central Committee. The Secretaries of the organs and the Chairperson of the Central Committee are all elective positions to be filled by delegates at the congress. These bureaus sort of replicate the specialized agencies of the U.N. such as WHO, UNESCO, etc., tweaking them to a political party. The problem is that each of these bureaus has no other members with clearly defined roles, duties, and responsibilities because the constitution is silent on them. Neither has congress, for thirty-five years, adopted resolutions to staff these bureaus to function. In short, they are one-person bureaus led by leaders who themselves are members of the Central Committee elected by congress to their respective bureaus constituting the “highest working body of the Congress.” Making these bureaus functional means bringing more people in and having congress elect them into positions that could make them members of the Central Committee. That is too much democracy for the high priests of the Central Committee who are terrified of internal democracy and have shunned it for its inherent tendency to lead to competition among members. Competition, even for excellence, is anathema in PDOIS.
Given these bureaucratic structures that centralize powers in fewer hands, it allows the leadership of PDOIS to circumvent internal democracy to operate with a free hand. In 2018, a few days after the Congress in Ngayen Sanjal, the Central Committee undertook an unconstitutional enterprise of selecting deputies or assistants to the key leaders in the committee. They claimed that the 2015 ‘Congress’ in Bansang gave them the authority to appoint their assistants. Electing leaders into the Central Committee should be the exclusive power of congress or where feasible theoretical General Assembly. Even where Congress gave it that power, which should be a residual power under its non-delegable authority, the Central Committee did not report to ‘congress’ in Ngayen Sanjal that it failed to execute the order which would have allowed that ‘congress’ to elect assistants to the principals just as it elected the Secretaries to the Bureaus and Chairperson to the Central Committee in Bansang where it should have elected them. Neither did it submit those positions for elections in the so-called congress in Basse. Even where it usurped power, the Central Committee bungled the execution of that so-called ‘mandate.’ The leadership of the PDOIS never really announced to members of the party that it had appointed Deputy Secretaries into the Central Committee. At the ‘Congress’ in Kairaba Beach Hotel in 2021, the Secretary General in elaborating when the congress was electing assistants to the Secretaries to the Bureaus, said the assistants appointed after the 2018 Ngayen Sanjal ‘Congress’ were in training capacities of “shadow deputies.” He illuminated that the congress in Kololi was now electing them as fully-fledged assistants. “Shadow Deputies” was an invention to circumvent the constitution and authority of members of the party and Congress to appoint whoever will sing the tunes of the leadership.
Badly designed bureaucratic structures run inefficient machinery that produces substandard outcomes. In the 2021 congress at the Kairaba Beach Hotel, even the members of the Central Committee who supposedly wrote and adopted the constitution of the party were confused by their legal framework. Kemeseng Sanneh alias Kexx, and Aminata Correa were elected as Secretary to the Youth Bureau, and the Assistant Secretary General respectively. During the nomination and voting, Adama Bah who is said to have been a founding member of the party and had served in the Central Committee for years sought clarifications on the delegate status of attendees nominating members for positions and of the nominees themselves. Bah’s understanding of the process was that only delegates to the congress could be nominated and be voted for positions in the Central Committee. However, by implication, this would mean that anyone who is not a delegate will be automatically disqualified from becoming a member of the Central Committee as well as becoming the flag bearer since by default those people are excluded from any consideration. Other delegates, on the other hand, were of the view that even though delegates have the exclusive power to nominate and vote at the congress, they could nominate and vote for other members they deemed qualified even if they are not delegates. These contradictory positions were never reconciled for the delegates the majority of whom may have not read or understood the constitution of the party. Sanneh and Correa were elected into their respective positions under this uncertainty of the rules since the PDOIS constitution was silent on whether non-delegates to congress could be nominated and elected into the Central Committee. According to reports that came out a few days after the congress, Sanneh and Correa received communication from Adama Bah who presided as chair of the occasion inquiring about their delegate status at the congress. Sanneh, according to sources, went to the congress as a member of the media team of the party. Correa, on the other hand, went to the congress as a spectator. Word within the party was that after their elections to the Central Committee, Sanneh and Correa were to be asked to resign their positions. Others said instead of asking them to resign their positions, which would have generated a scandal, the leadership saw it prudent to sideline Sanneh and Correa from the deliberations of the Central Committee since their elections into that body. PDOIS already had a precedent of electing a member of the party into the Central Committee who was not a delegate at the congress. According to sources, Edi Jallow, the current Secretary to the Political Bureau, was elected as the Secretary to the Youth Bureau in the 2015 Bansang Congress that he didn’t attend in person let alone as a delegate.
The quality of the people in our party and its pool of human resources are products of the structures and the processes in place that serve as a training ground for our individual and intellectual developments. The PDOIS machinery produces mediocrity at best. An illustration is the quality and caliber of some of the people the Central Committee selected who later came to be called “shadow assistants” to support the iconic leaders at the helm of the party. Given the way PDOIS has differentiated itself on quality leadership from other political parties in the country, with all due respect, so many of the appointees were not up to their responsibilities and tasks. Another example is the “assistants” who were selected into the Central Committee at the Kololi ‘Congress.’ Except for those in the top positions of leadership, our party is starved of intellectuals and professionals with the experience to sustain a party ready to govern the country. Gambian intellectuals and professionals are not attracted to the party, and PDOIS doesn’t have enough homegrown intellectuals and professionals to address the demands of a dynamic, adaptive, and vibrant political party. Please, don’t tell me all the intellectuals and professionals who are not in the party are all selfish and not patriotic looking out for only after their own parochial interests. The responsibility to recruit and nurture competent folks into the PDOIS fall, squarely, on the leadership of the party.
PDOIS is a highly centralized bureaucracy that moves at tortoise speed and expects other political parties to function just like it does. Many of us are not surprised when leaders of the Citizens’ Alliance (CA) said they reached out to the PDOIS leadership for talks on possible coalition but were sent home with instructions and conditionalities that PDOIS would never accept from other political parties that have tenfold its support base in the country. We in PDOIS are all too familiar with instructions being given to us like little children lost in bewilderment. Fortunately for CA leaders, as horrible as it sounded to them, at least they were not given a deadline to report to the high priesthood of PDOIS after working on the instruction to declare their intention to not put up a candidate against that of PDOIS’ but to also negotiate with other political parties to enlisting them into the prospective alliance. The party is finally crumbling under the weights of its nonfunctioning bureaus and exclusive decision-making.
PDOIS’ legal framework allows the leadership of the party to oust the power and authority of members of the party and emboldens the Central Committee to indulge in pathological flagrant anti-parliamentary practices which aborted democratic governance within the party. PDOIS is reeling under its machinations from which it may recover but only if the leadership allows the party to evolve organically by enabling members to have individual and collective autonomies to run their affairs. PDOIS aspires to engineer ‘sovereign Gambian citizens’ in a cooperative sovereign nation-state. There is no better place to manifest that ideal than ‘sovereign members’ of a ‘cooperative political party’ selecting their local leadership and delegates to Congress to hold the Central Committee accountable for its deliverables or the lack thereof. The party undermines its sovereign citizenship message by preaching what it does not practice internally. All PDOIS members must toil now, more than ever before, to institute a system change in the party. Despite the logistical nightmare members of the party will have to endure, we must call a General Assembly to institute an overhaul of the PDOIS party for a system change. The Central Committee must make the registry and contact information of all registered members of the party accessible to facilitate reformed-minded members to petition for a General Assembly to be called into session. Disregarding the democratic demands of the party members, and by extension of the Gambian people, by stubbornly resisting a system change in the party only guarantees it the destiny of death — a premature if not sudden death — of PDOIS. That should be a legacy the party’s founding fathers must avoid by any legitimate means necessary.