Which way forward?

We’ve got so many people hurt in the political mudslinging that happened and continued after UDP/NRP withdrew from NADD. Egos were bruised along the way. So what? Politics is not for the faint of heart and all the opposition figures in the Gambia knew that all along.

The initial NADD project failed for a variety of reasons. We could either sit here and debate ad inifinitum who is at fault or we could put our heads together to fight another day. The later approach is what Dr. Saine took in a speech he gave in Louisville at a NADD fund raiser. The premise after all is that it is never too late to do the right thing in order to positively impact the future. I hope the opposition leaders and their supporters on the ground will yield to reason and come together for the benefit of all. There is no guarantee that together they will win in october, but there is strenght in unity.

Here is Dr. Saine’s speech:

How did we get ourselves into this Mess; the Opposition’s Political impasse: Which Way Forward?

By Abdoulaye Saine
Hamilton, OH, USA

The forthcoming presidential election of 2006 is a defining factor in the politics of The Gambia, bearing the promise of a choice of regime to ordinary Gambians for a new democratic dispensation under the leadership of a reconfigured new alliance between the NADD and UDP/NRP.

NADD was established on 17 January by five major opposition parties, which to this purpose signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in preparation for the October 2006 presidential polls. This was partly in response to the 2003 changes in the national constitution to a first-past-the-post presidential election process in place of the second run-off election option. Clearly, this electoral change favors the APRC presidential candidate, Yahya Jammeh. Also, growing political pressure from Diaspora Gambians in the United States, Europe and, in particular, Britain, beginning in 2003, perhaps earlier, contributed to the formation of NADD and its overseas official launching in Atlanta, Georgia in July 2005. A lot is at stake in the forthcoming October presidential elections; this against a backdrop of growing tension between the ruling APRC party, opposition political parties and political leaders.

The Commonwealth-initiated inter-party dialogue by the former Nigerian military ruler General Abdul Salami Abubakar did not produce the desired result of political reconciliation. The objective, among other things, was to get the APRC and the opposition parties to sign an MoU that would ensure regular consultation amongst them under the auspices of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). It was hoped misunderstanding amongst different party supporters would be minimized, and in doing so, reduce the prospects for political violence during the presidential campaigns and elections of 2006. This was not to be as relations between the government and the NADD continued to worsen, in spite of Jammeh’s call for political reconciliation.

In July 2005, the NADD was dealt a severe blow when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the ruling APRC and expelled from the National Assembly, Hamat Bah, Kemesseng Jammeh, Sidia Jatta and Halifa Sallah, all NADD executive members. The ruling party contended and the Supreme Court agreed that the four opposition leaders could not belong to the NADD, (a registered party) while simultaneously retaining their previous party affiliations and seats in the National Assembly. In the subsequent by-elections held on 29 September, all the NADD opposition leaders, except Hamat Bah, regained their National Assembly seats. Bah lost his seat amidst allegations of vote-rigging and intimidation. The NADD sued in the Supreme Court contesting Hamat’s defeat.

On the eve of the by-elections, the NADD scored a major victory against the IEC (and by extension, the APRC government) for its decision to allow voters to only show an ID, rather than a voter’s card to cast their ballot. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the NADD, in spite of the fact that the courts as well as the IEC are generally perceived as supporters of the ruling APRC government. Despite the NADD’s political gains, however, its fragile alliance, ongoing internal power struggles and selection difficulties over a presidential candidate, lead to its unravelling. In January 2006, Ousainou Darboe, an executive member of NADD and leader of the UDP, resigned amidst his allegations of “mistrust, “insincerity,” and “hate” within the NADD’s executive. The NADD’s Chairman, Alhaji Assan Musa Camara, and a handful of PPP executive NADD members, including Musa Drammeh, resigned shortly thereafter and threw their weight behind the UDP. Meanwhile, Jammeh continued his control and use of the National NIA to repress the opposition.

A case in point occurred on 15 November, when the NIA arrested three NADD executive members following their criticism of the APRC government and President Jammeh himself. The three, (Omar Jallow (a.k.a. OJ), Halifa Sallah, the NADD’s Coordinator and National Assembly member, and Hamat Bah accused Jammeh of political intolerance, corruption and mismanagement. The trio further challenged Jammeh to provide evidence that the opposition sought to foment discord/war between The Gambia and Senegal over Senegal’s border closure. The two-month border closure (August-October 2005) resulted from President Jammeh’s unilateral fee increase for trucks at ferry crossings into Casamance. It took the personal and diplomatic initiatives of President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria to resolve the border conflict at a meeting on 21 October in Dakar between the two heads of state. It also took the combined efforts of international and domestic human rights organizations and activists to get the three NADD executive members released. By the time they were set free on 13 December 2005, however, the NADD had been dealt a significant setback as selection of a presidential candidate was further delayed.

In addition, the daily interrogation of the three at NIA headquarters and their appearance in court used up what little funds the NADD had to launch it’s eagerly anticipated rally to announce its flag-bearer.

Thus, while the formation of the NADD as well as growing international and domestic pressures on President Jammeh bode well for future democracy and security, a lot remained to be done before the October presidential polls. In addition to the issue of a standard-bearer for the opposition, the lack of a level playing field, a non-partisan and reconfigured IEC to allow for NADD representation, franchise for Gambians living abroad and the presence of international observers remained issues to be addressed. Financial support from the Diaspora to foot NADD’s election bill also grew bleaker the longer its executive took to select its candidate. Amidst this political impasse and challenges, Darboe resigned from the NADD executive.

Darboe’s resignation in January 2006, contrary to the pronouncements he made in Chicago in September 2005, following the July visit of some NADD executive members in the US, was another blow against NADD. It was also a disappointment to those who had worked tirelessly for a united front against Jammeh in preparation for 2006. For those who supported Darboe, however, the UDP leader had exhausted all options and was, in the end, left with no alternatives.

It seems Darboe’s unwillingness to accept a process that could have lead to the selection of Omar Jallow as the NADD’s presidential candidate, was the primary reason for his resignation. It also appeared, however, that Darboe had legitimate concerns about his political colleagues in addition to the legal basis on which the alliance was built. In the latter case, he was vindicated by the July Supreme Court Decision that expelled the sitting National Assembly members.
Also, the political fallout between Darboe and Waa Juwara spilled-over into and further muddied the waters within NADD. Yet, it seems that if Darboe had any prior indication that the selection process would have favoured him, it is probable that he would have remained in the NADD, in spite of his initial misgivings. Amidst the clamour, a UDP/NRP alliance was beginning to crystallize and shortly after the NADD announced Halifa Sallah as its presidential candidate.

The UDP/NRP alliance, however, appeared to have already stolen its thunder and NADD risked being rendered politically irrelevant. However, this was not to be as the NADD’s political rallies that were held in Brikama, Sukuta as well as this evening’s gala in Louisville and yesterday’s in Atlanta attracted considerable support.

For the ruling APRC and other sceptics alike, however, the split within the NADD had been predicted; an alliance of self- interested politicians, with divergent political views, interests and strategies, they argued, could never set aside their differences to help build and sustain an alliance. The split within the NADD emboldened the APRC, President Jammeh and his group of political pundits who seized the opportunity to further discredit Darboe, OJ and the other politicians. To Jammeh and his propagandists, the choice to the Gambian people was clear because the disintegration of NADD, which only a few months ago posed a major threat to his rule, made the presidential election outcome a foregone conclusion. Then the 21 March, 2006, alleged foiled coup and its theatrical aftermath gripped the country.

The events of 21 March undoubtedly shook Jammeh’s confidence to the core. Apparently spearheaded by the military brass of the Gambia National Army (GNA), the alleged foiled coup was the culmination of The Gambia’s deepening political, economic and social crises under President Yahya Jammeh. It also, without doubt, exposed the internal cleavages within the army as well as the APRC’s dwindling support. More important, the alleged foiled coup highlighted the APRC’s inability to reverse the country’s rapid descent into the ranks of “failed states.”

The coup revealed yet another crisis, however. This time, it is a crisis of confidence in the political process and disappointment over the splintering of the NADD. To the alleged military brass and their civilian conspirators, the split within the NADD ended what little hope there was to dislodge Jammeh in the forthcoming October 2006 presidential elections.

Where do we go from here?

For many Gambians, however, not all hope is lost. A UDP/NRP alliance and Halifa Sallah’s selection as the NADD’s presidential candidate sparked renewed hope for a new and stronger alliance. The Kombo-East by-election results suggested that the UDP/ NRP alliance alone cannot defeat Jammeh in October, even though the UDP/NRP appear to have supported their claim- that outside the ruling APRC, they are the majority party. And for the NADD, the prospects of victory in October appear bleaker. Together, however, a UDP/NRP and a NADD alliance could have won the Kombo-East seat. Thus, the two entities desperately need each other.

It appears that a carefully renegotiated new alliance between NADD and the UDP/NRP could spell victory in October’s presidential elections. Against this political reality Gambians opposed to Jammeh’s continued rule demand that UDP/NRP and the NADD to immediately begin talks in order to revisit/amend the MoU. Political leaders must also promptly reconcile their political and personal differences.

Clearly, the Darboe resignation and the alleged foiled coup, gave rise to a period of soul searching among Gambians every where regarding the future of The Gambia. It led to intense debate and discussion of various strategies and options that could serve as a foundation upon which a new alliance could be built between the two existing UDP/NRP and NADD political entities. From that dialogue and discussion by a politically diverse constituency of Gambians emerged the following proposals:

(1) Establish a UDP/NRP and NADD Alliance to contest the October Presidential
elections;

(2) Select Ousainou Darboe or Halifa Sallah as its flag bearer;

(3) Establish a Sallah/Darboe or a Darboe/Sallah ticket;

(4) Upon victory, establish a government of National Unity with proportional
representation in cabinet of all constituent parties; (It may not be unwise to agree,
upfront, on the distribution of cabinet positions to avoid individual interpretation of
“Proportional representation”);

(5) The incumbent president and other political-party leaders can, if they wish, contest subsequent presidential elections; and,

(6) Establish two technical committees to iron-out the details, which when signed would
be binding to all the parties. (Technical committees should be clearly spelt out prior
to the re-signing of the revised/amended MoU).

The primary benefit of a Darboe/Sallah or a Sallah/Darboe ticket is the appeal it is likely to have on a larger voting constituency and reduce individual political vulnerabilities. In turn, this would positively showcase their collective strengths. A Sallah/ Darboe or a Darboe/Sallah ticket would also enable the new alliance to strategize, pool resources and effectively mount a campaign for the October presidential elections.

A speedy conclusion to these negotiations by June 30, 2006 is crucial because Jammeh and the APRC have been dealt a severe blow by the alleged foiled coup and, therefore, remain vulnerable, politically. Despite this fact, however, victory even with a new alliance is not assured and is daunting. Yet, this opportunity must be seized immediately. Furthermore, renegotiating a new alliance is going to require caution and tact as well as thoughtful strategies to reintroduce the new alliance to the electorate. Expected APRC criticism and accusations of “disunity” and “opportunism” within the new coalition, must be countered with strong and compelling arguments.

In conclusion, despite the political differences that divide the opposition, we must not loose sight of the common interest that we share- peacefully and democratically removing Jammeh, not a coup d’etat. All political leaders and parties, together, must begin a new chapter to engender healing and reconciliation amongst themselves and their supporters in The Gambia and Diaspora. This is the way forward and the only way to victory in October.

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One Response to Which way forward?

  1. cynthia says:

    Hopefully, this will work this time. I will be keeping my fingers crossed.

    Ok, since Darboe is the oldest, the ticket should read Darboe/Sallah..

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