The Spotlight: The Gambia’s Opposition
By Yero Jallow
“It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership” (Nelson Mandela -The Great Madiba, Apartheid hero and South African former President).
To every situation we have, be it pain, pleasure, success, failure, disease, ease, love, hate, and you think of the long list of opposite pairs in life, that there is something responsible. Yes, the higher power God Almighty is intact and ever in place, but more to what I am looking at today in this review is the human phenomena shaping human destiny, despite the fact of the uncontrollable situations. A case point is that the Gambia landed under the mightiest dictatorship since July of 1994, putting in a situation of national political and economic crisis.
In July of 1994, armed bandits under the guise of Gambia’s military, stormed Gambia’s palace and took over power undemocratically. According to Human Rights Watch, (Washington, DC), “Gambia: Two Decades of Fear and Repression,” the Gambian Government under the Government of Yaya Jammeh committed serious human rights violations, thus:
“Gambia’s government commits serious human rights violations against perceived critics and political opponents, perpetuating a climate of fear and repression, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 81-page report, “State of Fear: Arbitrary Arrests, Torture, and Killings,” describes the human rights situation in Gambia since President Yahya Jammeh took power in 1994 and ruthlessly repressed all forms of dissent. State security forces and shadowy paramilitary groups carry out unlawful killings and arbitrarily arrest, detain, and forcibly disappear people, causing hundreds to flee the tiny country, best known internationally as a tourist destination. Most of the abuses documented in the report are from 2013 to 2015” (Human Rights Watch. Culled from the web 9/17/2015,https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/09/17/gambia-two-decades-fear-and-repression).
The Opposition Parties
Among all those really challenged and living challenging times are the sincere Opposition leaders. True, as Citizens observing the political wrestling from the far with little or no participation, we might not know exactly what caps they are wearing. Certain things are however known to us and we know we can use that information to accurately analyze our current political predicament.
It is often common to hear people asking; Why are the opposition not united? Why is so and so not taking to the street? Why is such a law not contested? Why is such an electoral law in place? These questions are legitimate but quite honest; the answer lies in each and every citizen’s shoulder, if we are to pass a peaceful legacy to our succeeding generations.
We know opposition leaders are not paid and all of what they do is sacrifice at the expense of their families, with risk of being preyed on by the dictator. How many of us citizens are ready for that? Kindly raise your hand if you are. Oh well, we are faced with a voter population some of whom can downplay on the politics, either taking back seats (aka neutrals) or just waiting for “Yallah-baahnah” to end the tyranny. Others defaulted to being enablers of the tyranny in different capacities, added to complicity. Nothing is more annoying than those that make themselves ignorant of our prevailing situation, to them life is good as long as one of their family members or friends are in position, and they have the mighty connection. But there is much more to life, considering how temporal this world is, and there is something called principle, a balancing and guiding inner and outer spirit that helps people balance and analyze things. Those that wants to serve as house dogs picking up bone crumbs from the so-called master’s high table, similar to what the Late Malcolm X (Malick El Shabah) described as the house negro, must as well start thinking of their liberation and freedom. The type of citizens has given up their capabilities and they accepted being treated that way, and to them nothing is worth living and doing, other than serving a criminal ruler blindly, whether wrong or right. It is a scary situation to be in, and activist citizens can only be hopeful that their continued engagement and enlightenment will get to those trapped in the situation. May God help us!
With all that is known, the Opposition can also suppress their wish to lead, and their solid principles which are making unity hard to achieve. That stubbornness, the difficulty of theirs and their blind supporters are mindboggling. A case point of reference is the miscarriage of NADD in 2006. That was an opportunity that would have seen the Gambia liberated from the clutches of tyranny. Whatever happened remains history and should have offered a learning curve for both the opposition parties and their surrogates both at home and abroad. The blame game, divisive traits, tribal politicking and political Ping-Pong proved very low politics and not a good winning formula.
Considering the simple majority win in Gambia’s electoral process, it is not possible for a divided opposition to defeat an incumbent criminal leader, one hell of a desperate tyrant who will do anything and everything to shamefully hang onto power. Gambia’s opposition is operating under the worst and most unfriendly environment. Think for example media access; GRTS positioned itself as Jammeh’s own mouthpiece and the independent newspapers and radios are targeted for reprisal for merely covering the opposition events. We also have a constitution with no term limits to the presidency, while putting an age limit to potential contestants of 65 years, disqualifying some of the most valuable Citizens. This is a well calculated smear move to pillar the dictatorship on firm ground and bar the most active opposition from participating and winning the elections.
It is disappointing that some citizens who in fact once occupied power has decided to leave the Gambia without participation. Former top leaders under the PPP, who now takes outside for their home, is one case point. As Citizens continue to suffer under the dictatorship, their silence on Gambia’s politics leaves much speculation, and Gambians are greatly bothered by their likes, those that put themselves forward for leadership to enjoy all the power that comes with such positions, but when it is time to defend the nation, such citizens are nowhere to be found. It is not the easiest discourse but if we have to be honest with ourselves, we must pose these questions. Their political triumphs, power excesses, and pitfalls will define their political legacies and further exposes the selfishness and lack of patriotism in some of these knuckleheads. Political positions are for sacrifice and love for one’s nation, and not a high-jump game to get rich quick, get fame, or occupy positions of power. At least, credit is earned by those among the defunct PPP that stayed to fight, a case point is the recently deceased Landing Jallow Sonko of beloved memory, and the rest of them continuing to speak truth to power.
Solutions to the Problem
Gambia’s current solution for liberation lies in many parts. It is a need and call to duty for the opposition leaders to unite under a unified umbrella. That will increase the likelihood chances of getting rid of the dictatorship. A unified coalition will can take the current Administration to task, by seeing fair and balanced electoral laws supportive of true democracy, added to being able to reach out to Citizens and International communities for possible support, making it saleable, and doing a complete stop to impunity by the rogue regime. Creating a neutral ground in the Gambia is one way to go, and left to Jammeh alone, that won’t happen, because a neutral ground will easily boot him out of the power.
For all I can openly say, just like the great many of you disturbed by the continued human rights violations and an interfered judiciary under a mad tyrant supported by foreign mercenary judges, I am a believer of a fair law representing Citizens, and where there is no fair law in the books; I firmly believe using any necessary means to root such bad systems and their criminal leaders, the Gambia as an example. The Arab spring type of Citizen Uprising though comes with its demerits as far as possible infrastructural and collateral damage is probably one element yet to be tested with Gambia’s dictatorship. Of Course we are not ruling out any similar December 30th type of event, maybe internal or external, as the Gambia continues to sit on a ticking time bomb. Such cannot be ruled out and this much is known to the tyrannical regime itself.
When it comes to uniting the opposition, selecting an independent candidate might do the job, but that doesn’t tell all that good in my view, because it says that the existing political parties couldn’t agree and trust anyone of them leading. While selecting, one thing that needs to be part of the equation is considering sharing of a shadow Government proportionately to a party’s strength. Added to all these, some of the seasoned politicians must pass the leadership baton to others more saleable, especially after they contested two elections. That energizes citizens on political participation and remedies for the part of power struggle. Such seasoned politicians can lead in the back as mentors and advisors, and serve as honorable guardians continually, and there is nothing nobler than that. A leader doesn’t have to be in the front; a leader in the back can be even more effective.
When it comes to citizen participation, voter apathy must be put to stop, and citizens must empower themselves with voting power and speaking up without fear or favor. Fear must be conquered and citizens must live their own dogma, and not one that oppresses citizens and denies them their rights to freedom and liberty. You cannot sit and just watch for a miracle to happen when you are the miracle of changing the status quo.
It is possible for elections to get rid of the dictatorship in Banjul. It requires fair and balanced electoral reforms. For example, age limit for the presidency at 65 neither makes sense nor should it find itself in a constitution as a way of stopping others from participating. A constitution in my view can look at someone’s health, to see if in fact it does support the handling of such a demanding position. The opposition can also fight to get rid of the simple majority, because it is not possible for a divided opposition to edge the dictatorship by even a littlest point. The opposition will also need to suppress their stringent desire to just lead for its sake or just the enjoyment of just defaulting in the position. The opposition must as well fight to see equal media coverage, to be able to hold meetings without censorship, and to have access to voters throughout and not only during election seasons. Part of Africa’s biggest problem when it comes to Government and leadership is the lack of term limits, which is a recipe for military coup d’état, a very bad way of power transition, one that has the potential to cause structural, human and collateral damage, added to the bad image that it gives to any nation and cutting international donor organizations from sending Aids. A third world country like the Gambia with no major export, no minerals, no oil, and surely relies mostly on the dwindling tourism industry and few exports like cotton, groundnut, and fish.
The opposition coalition must also not limit itself to only elections, especially given the unfriendly environment. Given Gambia’s current situation, a minor political surgery for redemption will be acceptable to rescue citizens from the clutches of tyranny, and such can be channeled through a citizen uprising or instructing the serving military men and women to do the operation and return power to civilian rule.
Despite an activist’s hard criticism on some of the operational lapses, I have an unconditional love, respect, and admiration for the sincere opposition and their party supporters doing something to salvage the Gambia from the clutches of tyranny. When history is written, it is such patriotic citizens that shine, and my continued blessing and solidarity for their untiring efforts. The Gambia’s sincere opposition are good citizens, celebrities in their own rights, and such show of national patriotism is national call to duty.