THE END OF POLITICS:THE GAMBIA’s NEW FOUND FREEDOM..
On December 1, 2016, Gambians went to the polls and elected a new president, giving a crushing blow to the long term dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh. Jammeh had ruled the Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years with widespread accusations of human rights abuses. Systematic arrests, detentions, torture, assassinations and other forms of intimidations were daily occurrences. Jammeh’s surprise defeat was followed by another surprise-his immediate acceptance of defeat and congratulation of president-elect Adama Barrow. However, few days later, Jammeh reversed his decision and announced the nullification of the election result by calling for fresh elections. This decision by Jammeh plunged the nation in a post-election crisis that came to be widely referred to as “the political impasse”. It took the intervention of the West African regional military force (ECOWAS forces) to forced Jammeh to relinquish power and fled to exile in Equatorial Guinea, but not without first emptying the national treasury.
The end of Jammeh’s rule was well received on the African continent and around the world. His disregard for human life and dignity as well as international norms had earned him an international pariah status. This paper attempts to examine the factors that led to the end of Jammeh’s rule, and also the regime of President Barrow.
Why did Jammeh suddenly lose power after 22 years?
FACTORS THAT LED TO THE DEFEAT OF PRESIDENT JAMMEH:
There are a combination of factors that led to the abrupt end of Jammeh’s rule, some of the most important of which are:
1.Threats of genocide
2.The arrest and detention of the top leadership of the UDP
3.The formation of a Coalition of opposition parties
The arrest and detention of the top leadership of the UDP
On April 18, dozens of UDP members including the entire party leadership were arrested and detained. This followed the demonstration led by the UDP youth leader, Solo Sadeng to demand for the repeal of the age limit that barred their party leader, Ousainou Darboe from contesting the upcoming presidential elections. Sadeng and many members of the UDP youth wing were arrested at Westfield , believed to be tortured for days at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Sadeng later died from the torture. The arrested UDP members including the party leadership were charged and brought to court. Those court sittings drew large crowds of spectators and sympathisers as well as protesters led by the women of the UDP including Fatoumata Tambajang who would later become the controversially appointed Vice President of the Barrow administration in the new Gambia.. However, these protests, later referred to by some as “the Calama Revolution” were not well organized, nor large enough to threaten Jammeh’s grip on power. In effect, there was no “Calama Revolution” in the Gambia. Following the fate of Solo Sandeng, it was clear that no one else was willing to lose life or limb for the cause of the “electoral reform” that Sandeng died for. Therefore, the leader of the UDP, Darboe’s statement at the book launch with Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow that “the Calama revolution was what brought the end of Jammeh’s rule” was misleading. Contrary to Darboe’s claims, former President Jammeh made a political blunder by arresting Darboe (and others) not because of the so-called “Calama Revolution” but because it made something possible that would not have happened if Darboe was free - The Coalition (of political parties) that defeated Jammeh. For years since the botched NADD in 2006, Darboe, the absolutist leader of the UDP has been the stumbling block to the formation of a coalition. Objective observers of the Gambia agreed that without a coalition, there is very little hope in dislodging Jammeh from power. This sense of hopelessness is what largely resulted in the deadly adventurist armed insurgence on the State House in December 2015, led by former State Guard commander, Landing Sanneh. Yet UDP continued to tow the “highway” that “everyone should rally behind them” without any stipulations.The results of the 2016 election that sent Jammeh packing proves this.Even with the Coalition, if GDC did not break away from APRC, Jammeh would have still won the election easily. Here are the results of the 2016 presidential election: APRC (Jammeh) 208,487, GDC (Kandeh) 89,768, and Coalition (Barrow) 227,708.
Threats of genocide
In June 2016, at a political rally, Jammeh threatened that he would “kill the Mandikas like ants”. Mandinkas form the largest ethnic group in the Gambia, and both Jammeh’s APRC party and the “largest opposition party”, UDP compete intensely for their support. This proclamation by Jammeh brought fresh reminders of the Rwandan genocide and prompted a swift condemnation from within and outside the country. The U.N Special Adviser to the Secretary General on the Prevention of Genocide issued a strongly worded condemnation of Jammeh’s statement. Jammeh and the APRC had enjoyed wide support from the Mandinka ethnic communities by co-opting many of their influential community leaders. Besides Badibu and Kiang, Jammeh has consistently won every Mandinka dominated constituency in every election. Jammeh appeared to have mastered the politics of patronage from his predecessor Jawara regime. However, his derision and threatening of this ethnic “sleeping giant” (the Mandinkas) alienated many from Jammeh and his APRC party.
The formation of a Coalition of opposition parties
As the UDP leadership languished in jail and it was apparent that no amount of pressure (no Calama Revolution) will force Jammeh to release them any soon, the talks for a coalition intensified both in the Gambia and in the diaspora. Those who were calling for a coalition for years and those who were resisting it for years suddenly have their mutual interests converged. At a national convention in Kololi in October 2016, a single candidate was selected to represent a coalition of seven opposition parties to challenge the incumbent Yahya Jammeh in the upcoming December election. The candidate, Adama Barrow, was a little known member of UDP who agreed (and signed) to resigned from his party and run as an independent candidate for the Coalition to serve only three years and retire thereafter. This seminal moment in the political history of the Gambia happened clearly without the participation of Darboe, the leader of the UDP, and has rekindled new hope in the democratic political process. Barrow , who exudes a quiet, tolerant demeanor in the like of former President Jawara, however will later prove to be not totally free from the devils that plagued his predecessors. The formation of the coalition alliance together with the “on-the-spot’ counting of the ballots sealed Jammeh’s fate.
The Gambia has a small economy largely dependent on agriculture, tourism, and the re-export trade. Agriculture, as the mainstay of the economy employs nearly 80%, 70% of foreign exchange, and contributes 32% of GDP (Access Gambia, 2014). With 12.5% of the GDP, tourism is increasingly important to the Gambia’s economy, driving the development of real estate and infrastructure as well as providing employment and foreign exchange.
The Gambia has a fairly significant export economy characterized by a large trade deficit (-$794 million in 2015). Being a major port, the country serves as a transit for nearly 80% of its exports to other countries in the sub region, especially its larger neighbor, Senegal (World Bank, 2007). This re-export trade is a significant source of foreign exchange for the country. At several points in both Jammeh and Jawara regimes, the re-export trade has been cited as what saved the Gambia’s economy from total collapse. Recently, remittances from the diaspora has been a very critical life line for many households in the country. With roughly 65,000 Gambians living abroad, mostly well educated (63%), total remittances contributed to 8.2% of GDP in 2010, according to the World Bank.
The Jammeh regime has taken systematic policy decisions, combined with human rights abuses and tensions with Senegal that undermined agricultural productivity, tourist arrivals, regional trade and remittances. Expropriating private land and inputs for personal use, interference with the exchange rate, withdrawal from the Commonwealth and the Cotonou Agreement (October and January 2013 respectively), severing ties with Taiwan (November 15, 2013) all added to isolate the Gambian economy.
In January 2012, President Jammeh, initiated a consultation with the Gambian diaspora to help salvage the economic in crisis. Unemployment, inflation, and the general suffering of the ordinary Gambians increased as commodity prices continue to swing up.
By the winter of 2016, Jammeh’s regime was so isolated that you could feel the tension in the air. Jammeh continued to appear less in public amidst increasing security concerns. His campaign for the 2016 election was very lacklustre with the absence of his key campaign officials and national mobilizers such as Yankuba Touray, Lamin Kaba Bajo and Yankuba Colley. The campaign also lacked the usual confidence and vibrancy that characterized previous elections. Jammeh himself, whenever he spoke, spent more time lashing out at Mandinkas, Senegal, and colonialism than espousing his policies and programs. After 22 years, certainly APRC fatigue has set in.
THE BARROW ADMINISTRATION
The post Jammeh Gambia or the “New Gambia” should not espouse the end of politics but rather more aggressively demand our leaders to do more and above all live up to expectations. Gambians often say that “politics is over, its time to build the country”. Politics must never be over, its a daily thing- of making the government accountable. Many are complacent and are relapsing into the old order syndrome. We have to remember that our leaders can be only as good as we demand of them. Many Gambians are willing to disregard many misgivings of the Barrow administration understandably for their new freedom. Most of the criticism is coming from the diaspora who have much higher expectations of the government. Maybe one can argue that time should be given for the new administration to have a foothold on the government first. However, some of the recent trends in the country are troubling to some, at least in the diaspora.
Barrow's continued failure to appoint a vice president 6 months into his presidency in disregard of legal and security concerns worries many Gambians. He appears to be holding the post for a designated overseer, Ms. Tambajang as a reward for leading the so-called "Calama revolution’ and perhaps also helping the coalition negotiations from the UDP side. This failure to appoint a Vice President despite calls by many Gambians in high places including solicitor general Carol, and his eventual “midnight appointment” of the “VP Overseer” following an earlier lifting of the age limit remains troubling. Filling government positions and the foreign service with party loyalists, most without any prior experience betrays the spirit of the coalition.
The fleets of vehicles President Barrow donated to mostly UDP National Assembly members also raised concerns of potential corruption. The government initially failed to disclose the source of the vehicles, citing an anonymous donor. However, following mounting pressure, information about a Senegalese businessman as the donor began to emerge. The problem with these “under-the-table” gifts is that it can put the President in a conflict of interest in awarding business contracts. Such donors often expect a quid pro quo. I must also add that the representation of the president as the “donor-in-chief” of the country where the president takes a lot of pride in donating various items to individuals and institutions is not helping the fight against corruption.
Recently there are concerns that President Barrow may not honor the 3 year transition time table agreement that he signed with the Coalition members. This was earlier mentioned by Darboe of the UDP at a joint press conference with the NRP and GMC leaders shortly after the Barrow administration took over citing constitutional reasons, and recently confirmed by Vice President Tambajang. Many are concerned about what else of his promises will Barrow renege on.
The recent budget estimate presented by the finance minister, Sanneh prompted a lot of criticism from both the society and the National Assembly. Some of the sticky points remain the perceived inadequate funding of key sectors such as agriculture and health, as well as the millions of taxpayer money spent on the controversial “First Lady’s office” and the (annual) refurbishment of the President’s office. These are seen as hallmarks of former President Jammeh’s schemes of syphoning national wealth to his private accounts. The debate also raised important questions about the theory and philosophy of ‘national development’ itself. There are some who argue that we are still stuck in a system that has not worked for 52 years, and that it is time to move away from exporting raw materials, seek self reliance and mobilize internal resources for production and create jobs in industry.
The firing of the interior minister, Mai Ahmad Fatty 9 months into his tenure and the failure of the Barrow State House to give any reasons in the face of allegations of bribery are raising fundamental questions about the transparency of the government.
This government is a Coalition government of seven political parties. However, it is disproportionately represented by the UDP, and it is largely described by some perhaps cynically as a UDP government. Therefore, the UDP must guard its image not to become the party of “deplorables “ who viciously launch personal attacks on anyone who speak against the party. The party must try to engage all Gambians and rid itself of its “restorationist” and “ethnic” labels.
Barrow’s recent commissioning of his “Youth Movement” and its seemingly rival “Yellow Boys” of the UDP may not be an indication of a rift between the presidency and the “largest opposition party” but it certainly is a reminder of Jammeh’s often brutally repressive “Green Boys”.
As a last word, all Gambians must realize that the future stability of the country and the consolidation of democratic governance depends a lot on the success of the transition.