By Tumbul Trawally, Seattle, USA
On January 3rd, 2019, I posted on my Facebook page an article titled [Demba is not OK—Demba is Superb]. The crux of my argument was centred on the PPP’s lost opportunity in denying Bakary Darboe its top job. I wrote that Papa Njie would not be able to appeal to a wide section of the Gambian population. Two years later, the party realised its mistake and changed its leadership. Unfortunately, the party has not solved its problems, with the change in leadership. We all know that the UDP came into being after the PPP was banned from contesting in the 1996 general elections. A respectable percentage of those PPP migrants residing in UDP would love to return to the PPP, with the proper leadership.
The PPP is the party that ushered in the Gambia’s Self-Government, Independence, and the Republic. It is a shame to witness its demise. The party had very humble beginnings–in the living room of the late Sir Farimang Singhateh–in Banjul. Its founders were primarily Mandingoes from the rural areas (hence its first name: the Protectorate Peoples Party). There were significant defections to the PPP from the United Party (UP) of the late Pierre Njie, after the Independence in 1965. Foremost among them was the UP’s main benefactor, the late Alhagie Momodou Musa Njie. Mr Njie’s defection to PPP also triggered the defections of some UP parliamentarians from Basse, namely the late M.C. Jallow and M.C. Cham, and the late Assan Musa Camara, who was an independent. The merger of the PPP and the late Garba Jahumpa’s Muslim Congress Party gave it a foothold in Banjul, which was a stronghold of the United Party. The defection of the late K. C. A. Kah, the MP of Jokadou (my birthplace) and the late Mafoday Sonko of Nuimi from the UP further strengthened the PPP. With all these defections and Sir Dawda’s penchant for [inclusion], the PPP transformed from being a tribal/rural party to a national party, with membership within all tribes and regions.
When a party is teetering on the brink of annihilation, after being out of power for 22 years, it needs a tried and proven leader to resuscitate it back to life. The PPP has to have a leader who can appeal to its former members who sought refuge in the UDP/NCP. The only person who can do that is Bakary Darboe. Mr Darboe built relationships throughout the country, first as a District Commissioner, as the Commercial Manager of the Gambia Commercial & Development Bank (GCDB), and as a Vice President for a decade. Along the way—he accumulated a lot of “Goodwill”. That is the political capital, which the party badly needs, after 22 years of negative press spearheaded by Yahya Jammeh.
For the good of the party, it does not have the luxury for an “on the job training” of its leader. Once the party gains its footing, it can transfer leadership to a younger generation. We saw a similar situation with the Democratic Party’s nomination of its presidential candidate last year in the United States. A vast majority of Americans, particularly Democrats & Independents, saw Donald Trump as an existential threat to the Constitution of the United States. They could have nominated Pete Buttigieg, Senator Cory Booker, or Kamala Harris if they were looking for youth, vigour, or a fresh face. But No! Those were not the qualities they were looking for in 2020. In 2008, these were the qualities they were looking for and they got them in “Barack Obama”. In 2020 they were looking for a candidate who can beat Donald Trump.
Let us remember that Joe Biden had served in the senate for about 36 years, was Vice President for 8 years, and had sought the presidency thrice, without success. Joe Biden was not on the top of any political scientist’s list of a candidate for president, 3 years ago. But after a few years of the Trump presidency, filled with hate and vitriol, Joe Biden became a very attractive candidate. The political landscape was tailored made for him in 2020: empathetic, respectful, and a calm demeanour and temperament.
The Democratic Party voters knew that the stakes were too high to let an untested, unproven person be their party’s candidate. To use a football analogy, when the outcome of a game is very consequential, as the coach, you let your best players on to the field, not the benchwarmers. The PPP was in a similar situation 2 years ago. They blew it then—and have blown it–again!