“Getting Yaya Jammeh out; that is the easy part, the real work lies in the aftermath of his ouster.” The aforementioned has almost become a cliché among The Gambia’s political commentators.
There is no doubt that the current Gambian political environment is a polarized one, at least online and sadly; amongst very familiar and outspoken Gambians who were happily in the same camp in the fight to uproot the tyrant. There was unity of purpose and all who stood in opposition to that found out they were swimming against the tide. Maybe the current toxic environment could be blamed on the newcomers who feel the need to be heard or be seen to be outspoken, the fact remains that the toxicity is there and should not endure.
Another fact is that most observers and commentators familiar with The Gambian situation know that the level of division engineered by Yaya Jammeh for political gain was so deep and so far reaching that people feared the aftermath of his ouster, be that by the ballot or the bullet. The fear mostly premised on the notion that there will be reprisals towards his supporters and enablers for the years of tyranny; or, on the other hand; the denial of his defeat by supporters and enablers to the extent that they will resist his ouster violently if they had to.
Relief and hope came with the emergence of the coalition of opposition parties. In the midst of such a divided political environment, a powder keg awaiting a spark, the nation could not afford a divided political leadership in the opposition camp as well; and so the Gambian people demanded unity of purpose with much thanks to the diaspora indeed. Unity that has for the past election cycles eluded us and handed the tyrant easy victories at preceding polls in succession. It was evident to all observers that at that point it was unity at any cost or doom for that generation of politicians, and united; they did. As President Barrow rightly pointed out in New York; “It was a do or die moment.”
With that unity of purpose, the political leaders and the parties they represent said to The Gambian people without any ambiguity that “although we may have differences in ideology, approach, strategy and vision for the country, there is no issue more pressing now than saving the country first.” The chances of ousting the tyrant increased exponentially and those in doubt of the dire straits we were in, got awoken to the reality and the grim future that lie ahead should the status quo continue. The response was overwhelming. It was a show of patriotism by all in an attempt to save the nation from the impending doom. The voices were one, the purpose was one and the march was unified. Politics of ideology suspended, the nation needed all of her children under one banner.
With the decision by the PDOIS to break camp and not take up any executive positions, political loyalties re-emerged. The self-assigned role of keeping the executive in check and holding them accountable through the National Assembly, that amongst other issues gave rise to the bellicose we are witness to this very minute. Issues get cloaked in personalities and relentless bickering and cynicism only seems to widen the fissure into chasms, at least on the surface of things.
The argument that the National Assembly is an equally important institution and that they are needed to keep the executive in check is a valid one. But taken at face value it fails to recognize the other mechanisms that could also be as effective if not more so; and that is the power wielded by the citizens directly without going through any representative. The Gambian people broke free from a decade long repression that cost so many so dearly, and to think they will let their guard down for once and let things slip back to where they were is showing a great deal of lack of faith in our collective capacity, or at the very least underestimating our collective resolve to consolidate our gains.
In this new polarized political space (as far as social media is concerned), two camps are seemingly locked in a battle of wits without much regard for issue centered discourse. On one hand are those who took a sigh of relief that the tyrant is banished and in his wake, mature, measured and sincere leadership whose goodwill they are willing to put to the test by being vigilant and cautious but optimistic and accommodating of flaws.
On the other hand are the wary cynics (for the most part) who see remnants of tyranny and potential for its re-emergence at every turn and with every word uttered. They will not let up on even the most frivolous of issues and they let their cynicism take the better of them to the point that they will label their comrades in the former camp as turncoats just for being optimistic. The belligerence within this camp is amplified in the name of democracy, freedom of speech, and holding “them” to account.
Truth is, the PDOIS is endowed with brilliant minds who could, at this very minute be helping deliver the goods to The Gambian people if not for the political ideology they subscribe to that prevented them from joining their compatriots in transitioning us to the ideal political space. Even if it be one ministry, they could help transform one aspect of the executive into what could be a pilot department for the rest to emulate if their theory could be translated into tangible results. But sadly, their sympathizers and supporters, and those self-proclaimed independents find it reasonable to give excuses or complain of being victimized or marginalized in the “doling out” of executive positions to warrant their breakaway, accusations yet to be substantiated; so much for patriotism!
We have seen members of the PPP, NRP, UDP and other parties come out in open opposition to a certain decision or other by the current executive even though their parties took up roles in the executive. The narrative therefore, that if all parties joined the executive it’ll prevent effective oversight is invalid.
At some point in every politician’s career they make certain errors in judgement and make mistakes politically. This decision by the PDOIS to not assign a single member of its entire party to take charge of any executive function is one such error in judgement. Party members, supporters, and sympathizers alike can defend the decision all they want, but fact is we would have been better off with them in the executive than outside of it projecting the voice of an opposition party. That is not say without them it cannot be done. Many disagree with the party and Halifa out of disappointment emanating from that decision and nothing else. The expectations were high, the outlook into the future was good but that one decision left many disillusioned and disappointed.
As soon as we start looking at issues for their merits or otherwise, use our media outlets and public spaces for constructive criticism aimed at helping the government succeed for all of our sakes we will make progress much faster. Anything short of that will only engender more disagreements devoid of substance and in the process costing some very dearly, politically speaking. If you must attack someone, attack them on ideology, but even there, great caution is needed and attack them based on superior (arguably) ideology. Accusing someone of all manner of perceived ulterior motive is distasteful.
Promote your party and her agenda by all means, and tout your ideas as superior based on their merits. Truth is, all parties have a vision for a better Gambia, whether we agree to that vision or not, and all political player within those parties sacrificed in some way or the other for the sake of The Gambia; some more than others of course but sacrifice they all did; so…
Let us remain To The Gambia Ever True, and that calls for sincerity.