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Out of Touch

The commissions of inquiry into the activities of the past regime are thus far revealing to the Gambian people how, for over two decades the people entrusted with political leadership used their position and privileges to unleash atrocities on our compatriots through their subordinates who acted on their order.

“Undesirable elements” incapable of properly raising their own children were tasked with running the affairs of millions while those capable looked the other way safe a few brave souls

Newton’s law of physics states that to every action there is always an opposing and equal reaction. In essence, actions are consequences of every choice we make and even when we fail to make choices.

More applicable for the purpose of the piece is Plato’s argument in The Republic that if good, honorable, intelligent men do not to wish to serve in government they will pay a penalty for it by having themselves governed by less intelligent and less honorable men. He wrote; “but the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule.”

Although that may not entirely be true in our case one thing is clear and still shapes our arguments around politics, especially when it comes to the largest political party; the United Democratic Party (UDP). Every misstep of the President is blamed on the “mediocrity” that UDP thrives on and the party’s penchant for celebrating “incompetence.” That notion can be very well argued against but since that is not the essence of this piece, I digress.

Those constantly screaming “incompetence” and “mediocrity” in the direction of the President and the UDP fail in one aspect; an overwhelming majority of them tag themselves as “neutral” when it comes to picking a side on the political divide. They are comfortable just being “critics” although most of that criticism is devoid both of substance and depth. At best they project a heavily biased preconceived notion with limited to no understanding of The Gambia’s political landscape or its political evolution. We simply have too many chiefs and not enough Indians; the number of political parties springing up speaks to that fact.

It is only in The Gambia that one hears that political parties are an anathema to patriotism. “They put party before country” (speaking of UDP) even whereas the issue at hand is entirely partisan. This is akin to the argument that one cannot be a Muslim and be American/Western. It is the same flawed argument.

The more advanced democracies show us that groups can emerge around political thought. Some may be progressive, others conservative or liberal or any variation thereof. These various groups all think their ideas and strategies will create the best governance structure for the country. This common goal is what gives birth to political associations. In our case, it is bad. So we’re told.

The notion held by such “neutral critics” is that such associations are peopled by compatriots beneath them, people who cannot share their views and so are a hopeless bunch who can only be pitied but otherwise allowed to wallow in their misery. This is why even though they may share some perspectives with the various parties; they will never consider joining the ranks of such riff raffs to help inject newer ideas for our collective good, sitting on the sidelines and condemning their strategies and views is more amusing than associating with them.

It is evident that people who were formerly “neutral” get the cold shoulder when they become partisan; especially if that party is UDP. Dead and buried is the only good thing that can happen to the UDP as far as they are concerned.

The United Democratic Party was formed to be a counter weight to military rule with the aim of restoring constitutional democracy; it’s politics and strategy has largely been influenced by the attitude of the military junta towards the party. The party has solid and efficient structures from the grassroots to the national level; it has good policy documents and a robust internal democratic culture. Would it not be prudent to have the ranks of that party injected with new life and new ideas rather than trying to bully them into non-existence?

For a lot of the same critics too, the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) is a party in conflict with their capitalist outlook on issues; lest they be branded hypocrites they have chosen to not be associated with the party but are never hard on it either because they perceive the party as having an intellectual persona. After over three decades of existence, the party does not resonate with the common man and woman, an anomaly blamed on the lack of sophistication of the constituents. But may be after three decades a revisit in strategy may not hurt after all. This is where new ideas come in also, but again the “intellectuals” are more amused on the sideline and cry foul for not getting it their way.

So here we are, saddled with an “intellectual” class who think too highly of themselves but have completely lost touch with their fellow citizens whom they hold in contempt and hence unable to make any inroads into the political base of the already existing parties. On the other side is a somewhat not-fully-functional political class in a tug of war. The problem is that the political class are sitting comfortably and are adept at evolving. The “intellectual” class cannot convince the people that they are out for the general welfare. Even if their life depended on it, they cannot effectively relate to the common person, not until they come off their intellectual high horse.

The constitution gives equal rights to all citizens who are qualified to be voted into office with no emphasis on intellectual attainment. Some people may be less ideal than others in that regard but they make up for it with charisma. So if they are front and center in the political game, they will emerge on top because they put in the effort.

The claims of mediocrity and incompetence are becoming cliché; one has to be willing to do the hard dirty work, including being called names in order to earn a seat at the table. Find a party that closely aligns with your ideals, it doesn’t have to be perfect, join the ranks and help build them up. That way, when they ascend to form the governance structure, they would have covered much ground.

One thing is certain; the path to national leadership in a democratic space is through winning hearts and mind through political engagement. One does not have to be a politician or desirous of political office, but to cast political associations as bad for the country is at best dubious.

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