When leaders speak, we expect their every word to be dissected by the audience, especially if such a leader is of Halifa Sallah’s caliber and standing in The Gambian political scene. So after his presser yesterday August 13, 2019 social media and conventional media outlets have picked up on his wide ranging statements and they are being dissected and interpreted severally.
A lot of people expressing their impressions on how policy-centered the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) is when it comes to Gambian politics. Some took issue at the facts surrounding some of the issues addressed, mainly the coalition agreement and the constitutionality of a 3 year term for the coalition backed candidate, now president of The Gambia.
What mainly stood out is how the discussions aim to lay bare the facts around the issues raised and the competing views around the issues raised; in other words it is all issue centered for the largest part.
Politics is a game of disagreements, of differing opinions and compromises all aimed at a better nation. Wouldn’t it be beautiful that all issues of public concern are debated along such lines of which position yields more merit and which position does not? Rather than the constant pitting of personalities against one another when all they represent are views. Some of that did creep into the discourse obviously, when blame was cast on who to blame for the coalition “disintegrating”. That is a topic for a different day.
It was however surprising to see how elated some people were on social media to learn of the PDOIS policy on how to eradicate poverty in The Gambia. The PDOIS ideology on this matter has always remained the same as evidenced in their manifesto; socialism of harnessing sovereign national wealth to enhance the productive base of the economy and economically empower citizens. It is surprising because it lays bare the fact that a lot of the very vocal among us are not abreast with the political platforms of the parties we support, and that can be said of a lot of the supporters of all the political parties. This is one reason why we hear that the largest political party has no agenda to develop the country.
I have stated it elsewhere that there are two political parties in The Gambia, ideologically speaking. These parties are the PDOIS and the United Democratic Party (UDP). This will be evident if we take a closer look at the manifestos of the parties concerned.
Harnessing our sovereign national wealth as PDOIS advocates is a very rational and excellent idea, but the strategy of greater state involvement in that process that the PDOIS proposes will mean a large government in my estimation. Large government here does not equate the number of ministries; it means how involved the government will be in our daily lives and economic activities. This is the point of divergence for me, and so far I have not been convinced that the brand of socialism that PDOIS advocates for is what is best suited to our needs. In fact many go as far as labeling the party as having communist ideals, a tag I think may be a little too extreme.
But looking back on the Gambia’s realities and political history, it was everything but a pure capitalist country, in fact it was socialist in nature going by the theoretical definitions of the two terms and the practical applications of each.
Mr. Sallah cited Singapore and the policies they adopted to get to where they are today. This is significant because Singapore and The Gambia both were British colonies and gained independence the same year. Their geopolitical realities, resources, and size are similar. What Singapore did to emerge out of the third world grouping is a model suitable for The Gambia to adopt. Those familiar will recall that there was a ‘Singapore Dream’ promoted in the 1980s aimed at replicating the Singapore model for The Gambia. Herein lays the pointers as to why I claim that for all intents and purposes, The Gambia was a socialist leaning country in the sense that public welfare was central to government policy.
Basic education was free even though access was a challenge and access to post primary education was even more of a challenge compounded by the need for fees that were out of the reach of mainly poor farmers. With the Gambia College, secondary and high school graduates were absorbed into either the schools of public health, education, agriculture or nursing catering to very essential services within the country and the cost for such training was free. Further education was accessible through government scholarships to universities abroad for higher degrees and Fourah Bay College offered more course material and for a newly independent, cash strapped nation, the efforts were commendable and The Gambia prided itself with one of the best civil service structures to be found in sub-Saharan Africa, of course the ever present cancer of corruption was lingering close.
The government back then did not just focus on these very basic but most essential disciplines, it also incorporated into its programs other essential services.
The creation of the Gambia Commercial and Development Bank (GCDB), The Gambia Cooperative Union (GCU), the Rural Development Program (RDP), The National Trading Corporation (NTC), The Gambia Public Transport Corporation (GPTC), The Gambia Produce Marketing Board (GPMB), The Public Works Department (PWD) The Board of Health, and a host of other initiatives were all on track to gradually build the Gambian economy and give it a strong footing with emphasis on welfare promotion. These institutions, amongst many others are highlighted to point to the fact that although The Gambia promoted a free-market economy and an empowered private sector, the government took on its role as well and partnered with private industry where needed to enhance that productive base of the economy.
I may not be too familiar with the articles of incorporation of the National Partnership Enterprise (NPE) of Fisco Conateh or of “Lie (Laye) Fish”, but these were ventures that the state had stakes in and were aimed at harnessing and processing our fish resources just as the PDOIS advocates albeit it on a different scale. What happened to them leading to their disappearance from our economic scene is a mystery to this author.
What is interesting to note is that the PDOIS was formed first as an opposition party to the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) that formed the first republic. As stated above, a lot of these brilliant initiatives were beset with corruption and embezzlement to the detriment of the country and her poor masses. The Gambia Commercial and Development Bank stands as testament to the scale of embezzlement of public funds in the first republic. So opposition to such a state of affairs was very justified and patriotic on the part of the PDOIS who emerged on the scene in the mid-1980s with fresh socialist ideas. Considering the fact that the government of the day was in pursuit of general welfare as opposed to full blown capitalism, it was easy to label PDOIS as being on the extreme end of the socialist spectrum bordering communism and the PPP did just that.
With the heightened corruption, the military took over the machinery of state, banned the PPP and all parties of the first republic safe PDOIS and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). That large scale ban gave rise to the UDP and their base and ideology mirrors that of the PPP to a large extent; general welfare is at the core of the party’s ideals as it is for the PDOIS. The difference in how to increase welfare and reduce or eradicate poverty is in strategy.
This is where we need to expend our energies; on what strategy will work best and which strategies will not towards achieving that goal. Hon. Halifa Sallah will do that which enhances the PDOIS agenda and Lawyer Ousainou Darboe will do that which enhances and promotes the UDP agenda. That is what is expected of political leaders, what are their agendas? This is what our concern should be. Labeling one a traitor and the other a patriot will get us nowhere.