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Why Must Young People Lead?

e8957-20170117_022915“We need Yaya; we don’t need old pa!” So it was chanted every election cycle from 1996; what has changed? If the old pas feel like passing the baton on leadership on to the young, that should entirely be their prerogative.

There was no conventional politicking in The Gambia for the entire duration of the Jammeh tyranny. Politics, in conventional terms means battling with ideas and debating alternative solutions to common issues. That never happened under Jammeh, it was intimidation, sectionalism, torture, opponent harassment etc. Yes, there were political parties but realpolitik hardly took place save for the UDP. Realpolitik is based on practical considerations. That is the reason why the UDP stands out in their fight against Jammeh; politics of practicality considering the environment under which they operated.

This is by no means attempting to diminish other parties’ contributions, but politics is as much about strategy as it is about ideology. The reason UDP is erroneously tagged a violent party is because the party refused to take Jammeh’s thuggery lying down; and that sometimes requires meeting him on his own turf. The rhetoric, the militancy, and even the physical confrontations were all part of the game at the time. Each time UDP hits the trail, there was not just an expectation, but certainty of bullying, harassment and often times assault from Jammeh loyalist, a group which unfortunately included the security establishment.

PDOIS never missed an opportunity to call Jammeh out with his missteps, but since inception the party has been, and remains constitutionalists in the sense that added to their advocacy for better alternatives, their strategy was to ensure the status quo adhered to the letter and spirit of the constitution. Each time there is a violation of any sort, the party will not hesitate to call it out directly, which landed Hon. Sallah in “trouble” with the powers that be.

It was, and still remains a good strategy to ensure elected officials religiously adhere to the dictates of the constitution, that will always remain true. Yaya Jammeh was no such leader with whom such reminders could ever work. The Gambia was already a pariah state, so he cares not what the international community thought of him. As far as he was concerned, “they can all go to hell.” The international organizations are expected to put pressure on partner states to adhere to the rule of law or face consequences, but for a nation as isolated as ours under Jammeh, constitutional order or lack of it did not matter.

Except for specific incidents that aroused outrage, many political leaders remained largely inactive when it came to political activity on the ground except the UDP and PDOIS, the latter usually involved in voter sensitization and offering alternatives to the status quo. UDP was the party that engaged in organizing political rallies and campaign style nationwide tours often to the chagrin of the Jammeh government. Various speakers never shied away from calling the elected officials in whatever capacity, from the president down, and naming their failures. UDP party supporters are not called militants for no reason. Just like activism was necessary in the diaspora, so too was militancy necessary to keep the political machinery from completely shutting down in the face of Jammeh’s remorseless encroachment with his characteristic heavy handedness.

That willingness to take on Jammeh with all his state backed power was what led many to distance themselves from the party. Civil servants who were known to be UDP sympathizers not only lost their jobs and livelihoods, some like Kanyiba Kanyi disappeared never to be heard from. Even teachers were fired from their jobs because the Chief or Alkalo reported them as UDP members. For some of us who were away from the reach of the tyrant; people unfriended you because you said one or two things showing affiliation to, or sympathy for the UDP. Family members admonished against posting anything that could attract the attention of the state.

Newspapers and other media houses were so censored that the likes of Dodou Sanneh was tortured and remained permanently handicapped as a result until his death earlier this year. His only crime was filing a report that Jammeh viewed as exaggerating the numbers of people in a UDP convoy, so imagine covering a UDP rally to objectively report what was said. Under such an environment, beyond the known and identified members, no new members were attracted to the party, even if they were they kept a distance. Such was the situation in Gambian politics.

Young people who need to learn the political terrain and assume the roles of the “old pas” have been at a distance, never seen politics in the real sense of the word for the most part. So now that the terrain is less dangerous (if at all), they should roll up their sleeves, be prepared to get ‘dirty’ and learn from the seasoned politicians how to be an effective politician in The Gambian political terrain. More than that, they need to be prepared to assume leadership roles; and political leadership at the national level comes with a lot of unpleasant rhetoric attached. They need to get familiar and grow a thick skin, thick enough to focus on national matters when the time comes and not be distracted into petty squabbles.

People will not dedicate their whole life, careers, freedoms and even their lives to a course only to hand over to inexperienced young people because that is what the times demand. Young people who may not be aware of the burden they are being saddled with or the price that was paid to acquire what they demand be handed over to them. They need to appreciate those facts, be willing to be patient, dedicated and ready to learn to be better prepared to assume national leadership roles.

Yes, young people are the future; they have ideas, are creative and innovative. Young people will need to assume roles to engineer reforms, but they need to be involved to know what is working and what is not working. It is easy to be on the outside criticizing, but real reforms will require active involvement and that requires full participation.

When Sidia Jatta was once asked why they were not handing over leadership of the PDOIS to the young people he asked to be shown which young people. Some took offense at that but in a sense he was right, people need to show responsibility in order to be entrusted with that which others have expended sweat to build, some have given blood and others gave life and limb. They need to be prepared to show that they will do what it takes when the occasion demands it. The proof for that is not mere utterances but concrete action.

So let the old pas reign until the young ones are ready to step up, step in and take charge.

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