Banjul Elder’s CO LTD
Banjul may be the Gambian settlement with the oldest record of party political practice in the country but the people of the capital city have long been known for their peculiar political culture of unprincipled benefit-driven politics, sycophancy, opportunism and the tendency to leave politics in the hand of tiny elite. During the First Republic the elite in control used to be hounded as the “Banjul Mafia,” not so much because of criminal undertakings as their exclusivist and inner cabalist mode of operation. That so called mafia was dealt a terrible blow by the military junta that took over power in 1994, shouting “accountability, transparency and probity.” Many members had their properties confiscated over some slim allegations of corruption and other improprieties. Some were dragged to kangaroo investigative commissions, dismissed from jobs, jailed or forced to flee the country. But political opportunism dies hard and the Banjul Mafia appears now to have been replaced another group of political hustlers grouped in what is called the Elders Council. The phrase Elders Council has been around the Gambian political scene for about ten years now, since the 2001 electoral campaign.
President Jammeh and his then powerful cronies Baba Jobe and Yankuba Touray conjured up the fascinating idea of Councils of Elders. Before this the Jammeh regime rode on the back of youth discontentment and the slogan “We want Jammeh We Don’t Want Old Pa” was the domineering slogan. This was so until the April 2001 killings of fourteen peaceful demonstrators and innocent by-standers. The youth became disillusioned with Jammeh and all he stood for and the Gambian president and his gang felt they needed to entice other sections of the population to replace the lost youth support base. Thus came the idea of Elders Councils. Such councils were erected in all the regions of the country. The nebulous nature of the stature and role of the councils were perhaps not due to the weakness of the design buts its sly power. It was deliberately conceived to evoke misunderstanding, confusion and to be taken to mean whatever the participants want it to be. Some understood it as a new means of popular participation in governance; others saw it as a ruling APRC party organization, while still others saw membership in the councils as government position, a dispute resolution mechanism, or part of the civil service, so to say. The councils are dormant until when elections are imminent. Elders’ councils exist in all the six or seven administrative regions, and are comprised of district and village chiefs, religious leaders, prominent personalities and APRC party militants and operatives though there are no explicit guidelines as to their mission, mandate, modus operandi and method of constitution. Members are not elected but selected. Recently they have been used to spearhead the campaign to turn The Gambia a monarchy and Yahya Jammeh its king. Cheered on by politico-yai compins, Banjul and its environs have always voted APRC and President Jammeh and had been without the need for any Elders’ council. Last week Sunday however, some in the capital cit, calling themselves the Council of Elders in Banjul organized an interfaith religious gathering of Muslims and Christians within the city at the Banjul City Council to “pray for President Jammeh in a form of reciting the Quran and reading the Bible for the developments he has registered in the country, especially in the city of Banjul, from 1994 to date.”
Ironically enough some prominent members of the defunct Banjul Mafia of the First Republic showed up as the back bone of the new council. The real motive appeared to be to showcase their self-appointed selves as the members of the Banjul Council of Elders. The idea was smart. If they organized a ceremony to launch the council and announced the members of the council, they were likely to attract rivalry, attacks and the hostility of other opportunists in Banjul or inside the APRC party. The history of the APRC in Banjul has been the history of relentless rivalries by different fractions, especially among different yai compins and their women’s groups. So the “Elders” decided on hiding their real motives behind the lofty charade of praying for the president. The trick is that any attack against them and their move could be dangerously equated with being seditious against the President of the Republic. So the “Elders” went on to launch their plan in the form of a sycophantic ceremony.
Speaking at the ceremony, Ousman B. Conateh, alias Fisco Conateh, the chairman Council of Banjul Elders, thanked the elders of Banjul for their turnout to the meeting, saying their move had shown the elders' involvement in matters affecting Banjul. "This is why we invited both the Muslim elders of Banjul and Christians to come and offer prayers for the country and President Jammeh for peace and stability to prevail in the country," O.B. Conateh told the gathering.
Mr Conateh said that in Banjul there are two councils but the one which involves more in politics is the one he is chairing, adding that as Council of Elders in Banjul their main role is to give their support to the government under President Jammeh.
He called on the citizens of Banjul not to leave everything in the hands of the president. "We must make our contribution towards nation-building, and as Council of Elders of Banjul, we would always pray for President Jammeh so that he can develop this country the way he wants," he said. The “way he wants,” indeed!
Other speakers at the gathering included Imam Pap Njie, Bishop William Peter Stephens, the three National Assembly Members of Banjul, the Mayor of BCC Samba Faal, Alhagie Abou Wadda, Alhagie Conteh and Pa Hally Ceesay.
As if in passing, it was announced that the executive members of the 80-member Council of Elders of Banjul, Chairman Alhagie O.B. Conateh, 1st Vice President Alhagie Mbye Chaw, 2nd Vice President Aji Betti Saine, Secretary General Alhagie Pa Hally Ceesay, Assistant Secretary General, Alhagie Momarr Jeng and PRO Mrs Katty Goswel. There are nine ordinary executive members.
Because it is a hot-bed of opportunism, based on a an intent to deceive and defraud, the Council of Elders has perhaps a life that spans only till the coming season of elections before crumbling. In fact do not be surprised if it implodes and crumble even before that. The council is itself unnecessary in a Jammeh stronghold like Banjul. Apart from the single episode of voting in independent Mayor Jeng, Banjul has always voted for Jammeh. In fact you can extend it to say that Banjul has never voted against a sitting government since in the 1960s. May what Fisco and others call Council of Elders of Banjul should have been called Banjul Elders Co Ltd.