“Banku Kantala ning Mansa teh kiling ti!”
Here is a logic; if power belongs to the people, won’t the one with the greatest number of people loyally behind him be the most powerful one? In case you’re tempted to say the state machinery makes one powerful, let me stop you there; I am talking about a democratic nation. State power belongs to the state (the people).
If we break down the political mass into single aggregate political units; who would be the most powerful man in the Gambia today? (That’s the concept of Mansa).
O.J may say he is not interested in running for leadership of the PPP/national leadership; that he wants to EMPOWER young people to lead. As much as that projects an image of contentment and seems forward looking, it is not all there is to it. If we aggregate the sphere of influence (number of loyal supporters) of each of the PPP head honchos, who within the PPP of today can match O.J in terms of support base?
It’s a power play; whoever ascends with O.J’s backing will be beholden to him, at least until that person can forge his own new alliances. I put an emphasis on EMPOWER because literally what that means is that whoever empowers you is the real source of your power, if he withdraws his support prematurely, your power crumbles or diminishes significantly.
B. B Dabo cannot be that person whom O.J empowers, he has more political clout than O.J whose sphere of influences is mainly urban centered as opposed to B.B Dabo’s rural base. It’s a numbers game. And even though it may be a far off possibility, if B.B. Dabo wins the presidency on a PPP ticket, O.J will hold no sway over him beyond their long years of political (and may be) personal associations.
O.J may not want to be president but we should not be expecting him not to be a power player or expect him to retire from the national limelight any time soon.
And don’t misquote me; I am not saying Papa Njie will be his puppet deh; I am saying with him in charge O.J will hold sway over a lot of things and that influence and ‘king maker’ status is much more powerful than the ‘king’s’ symbolic power in a democratic republic.
I am not speculating on any back room deals either, but evidently O.J favored Papa Njie over B.B. Dabo as we saw at the congress. Paraphrasing him at the congress, O.J said that when Sir Dawda was selected to lead the PPP he was young, when he himself joined the PPP and was given responsibility at the national level, he was a young man. “It is time we give chance to young people also.”
As much as that sounds like O.J excluding himself from the race, it clearly tagged B.B. Dabo along in that ‘old guard’ category of those who should not stand in the way of young people. “If O.J can step aside to give chance to the young ones so too can B.B. Dabo.” I will argue that was the reaction of some of the delegates, whether it influenced their voting or not will be speculative.
Enter Papa Njie; “a child of the PPP” by virtue of the his father’s position and influence within the party as O.J reiterated. He vouched for Papa Njie very well in that congress. Within the past year, or at least since the change of government, Papa Njie has had numerous political experiments/transformations; ranging from siding with different political parties and even making it to the nomination stage of the UDP for the mayoral race; a bid he lost. After which he went independent before “returning home to the PPP.”
What can be deduced from that, if nothing else; is that he is ambitious about ascending to elected office. Now that he is head of the PPP, it is safe to conclude that he will be the flag bearer for the party at the next elections. At the very least, we can conclude that he will not voluntarily cede that chance to anyone; he will have to be defeated in a contest for flag bearer.
So will B.B. Dabo stay around to help him until the next congress in 2020 when he throws his hat in the ring once again? Or will he give up the contest and recede away from national politics or will he find a new home? That is left to be seen.
What is clear is that when it comes to national leadership and experience, there is no contest to be had between B.B. Dabo and Papa Njie. No offence to Papa Njie, but the former has been tried, tested and he came out with flying colors each time. May be our obsession with young people leading is more appealing to us than having seasoned and capable statesmen steadying the ship of state first.
Without doubt, B.B Dabo’s popularity across the political divide rang “tribal” to some. But as with the misnomer regarding the UDP as a tribal party, a lot of our political commentators/pundits are ill-advised of how grassroots politics works in The Gambia. Yes, there are people who will affiliate with those they share tribal/ethnic or regional bonds with, but claiming that such minorities define how our political dynamics work is a misrepresentation of the facts, or at best not fully representative of the facts.
The rural areas of The Gambia are still very traditional, very close knit and very homogeneous communities. That is true for most rural communities around the world. Just like you are likely to share the same views with your friends and those within your sphere of influence, the same is true for rural communities and more so for them due to their conservative nature. Whichever way the voices of authority or community leaders lean ideologically, so leans the community. It’s that simple. Rural Mandinka communities are so much more culturally conservative in many aspects of traditional ‘governance’; with no disrespect aimed towards non Mandinka communities; it’s just the fact of the matter. Kundalu; Kabilolu; upwards to the largest extended family units and villages, traditional systems are still intact, and family and community matters are conducted as they did centuries ago.
Contrast that reality to the urban areas of the greater Banjul area and you will see that, thanks to migration and the ‘melting pot’ scenario that obtains in the metropolis of any country, you will find more individuality than cohesive communities. To a certain extent, Banjul still maintains that cohesiveness but very minimally compared to earlier days and such community spirit is found mainly around religious affairs.
This is why in retail politics, certain key community figures are targeted because once you get their blessing, you get the support of the community. In Senegal for example; get the endorsement of a Seringe and the adherents of the sect he heads become yours politically.
B.B Dabo is not just a figure head in Kiang, he is a national icon. His record of service to the country and upright character earned him the admiration of the people. The late Sheriff M. Dibba had similar standing in Badibou and beyond, in fact the two shared much in common. But that was their past record speaking for them. Unfortunately for the latter, he made a miscalculation, which comes once or twice in every politician’s life and it did not pay off. In the same vein, it is natural that B.B Dabo returned to the PPP; and how he plays his political cards going forward will determine how he is received at the polls politically, no threat to his stellar character.
Yes, O.J headed the PPP as interim leader prior to this congress, but his sphere of influence is mainly centered around the greater Banjul area and not because of ‘tribal’ biases. Farmer’s and the rural communities are not full of too much praise for the PPP government, and O.J being the face of PPP government as agriculture minister came to symbolize whatever disappointments they had in the PPP government. Fairly or unfairly for him, it is true that much was left to be desired in the agricultural sector and with the failings of the Gambia Cooperative Union leading up the 1994 coup, it is natural that those impacted communities have some misgivings about him and that those negative feelings shaped their view of him, in part.
Another fact of the matter is that after the re-emergence of the PPP on the national stage; the national leadership of the PPP included people like Alhaji Yaya Ceesay (Jarra), late Landing Jallow Sonko (Upper Niumi), Lamin Kiti Jabang (Kombo) etc. alongside O.J as interim leader of the PPP to keep the party functional; they are all household names.
So let’s not always default to tribalism, once it creeps into a discourse, it takes over entirely and we lose substance.