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The Role Individuals,Parties,Coalition Building And National Survival

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The Role Of Individuals,Parties,Coalition Building And National Survival This is another election year in The Gambia, but a most uninteresting one in a country that once had the longest, continuous and regular period of multiparty elections in the west African region, if not the whole continent. One reason for the lack of interest in the 2011 presidential election is its predictability. President Jammeh and his APRC party have swept all the polls since coming into power in 1994 and it is the widespread belief that he will also the one coming that has been keeping interest for the coming polls the lowest ever since the early 1960s. The last presidential election that of September 2006 saw the smallest ever voter turn-out since franchise was extended to the provinces in the early 1960s. Many attributed the low voter turnout to the dashed hopes for a regime change brought about by the failure of opposition to set up a viable alliance while others thought it was because President Jammeh’s scaring of voters while on the campaign trail that he had the ability to know how all voted and would thus be able to deprive all who voted against him the benefits of development projects. It was before the Gambian leader went publicly mystic months later, declaring his claim to have cure for the HIV/AIDS disease in January 2007 and before his witch-hunting activities two years later, but his witch-doctor standing had already been sufficiently established in the minds of Gambians so many decided not to risk being “seen” exercising their legitimate right to vote for any contending candidate. In the eyes of voters it was not worth the risk given the caliber of the opposition leadership that stood as candidates opposed to Yahya Jammeh in the 2006 presidential polls. The men could not even agree among themselves as to how to choose a flag bearer among themselves and ended up giving voters the impression it was all struggle for post-Jammeh government positions. Voters came to believe that the election was not over how to rollback mass poverty, bring forth sustainable development, good governance and respect for human and civil rights, but a contest over who will replace Jammeh in State House. Some voters decided on “punishing” the opposition while others decided on turning their back on the whole process and writing off all political parties for good.    Yet multi-party democracy and competitive liberal electoral politics is hardly workable without organized political parties. They provide the platform for like-minded citizens to participate collectively in a political process that would otherwise be left in the minds and hearts of a specialist minority, detached elite separate from the mass o citizens. Political parties also provide the forum for citizens to exchange opinions on public issues, debate about them to reach common minimalist consensus on policies and issues. They can be organs for propagating political ideas, promoting enlightenment and for peacefully organizing and mobilizing the citizens behind alternative public policies. Together the different parties provide a range of policy options that can enrich the art of decision making and widen the range of choices while enhancing the quality of choices taken.   At least that is the theory whether they do this in practice is a different matter. Perhaps because of its small size that has the tendency of making all affairs charmingly personal, The Gambia has been extra exposed to the dichotomies of personal versus institutional, individual versus collective and private  versus societal. All throughout the country’s history with partisan politics, no political party or organization has succeeded in transcending the personality of its leader. It is not that there have not been political leaders wishing to promote their parties above their persons but such wishes have never triumphed in our political history. Is it as suggested above, the smallness of size of both population and territory where almost everyone knows the other personally, or is it in our culture that is somewhat averse to depersonalized processes and institutions?The Peoples Progressive Party, PPP, which was earlier founded as the Peoples Protectorate Party, was one of the few parties in the country that was built around an idea not a personality and it successfully brought The Gambia independence from British colonial rule. The party was founded before it went around looking for a leader. Garba Jahumpa,  Piere Sarr Njie, J.C. Fye and others and other political leaders of the pre-colonial era formed their respective parties around their persons before going out looking for supporters. They actually never bothered to search for ideas. The PPP sprung out of the aspirations of rural folks to be freed from discrimination and regional inequalities but upon the bargain it won us independence. The rival parties it found on the ground on inception were merely convenient political machines deployed during elections for the attainment of personal political ambitions of whatever cabal ‘owns’ or can appropriate the parties. They had no ideology, no clear or different policies from that of their opponents but just naked desire to grab power at all cost. However political parties need not and have not always been like this. The struggle against colonialism be they the so called peaceful ones and the more militant armed struggles were led by great men and women organized in political parties and Movements. There were a number of such great men in The Gambia’s pre-colonial history. Edward Small, Finding Daly, Collingwood Thomas, Sam Forster, Lenrie Peters Snr, etc, etc, all stood up against the abuse and injustices of colonial rule though ethnic, religious and other particularisms made it difficult for them to take the messages to the masses. Later, the PPP succeeded in this as no one ever did in The Gambia before or after. However, the success was indeed limited in terms of being able to mobilize the masses not that of achieving set goals. In fact it did not take long before a splinter group broke off to form the Peoples Progressive Alliance because it thought the PPP was failing to deliver on the original goal of catering for the interest of the protectorate. Like most other Gambian political parties, the PPA was formed around a person, and naturally died when that person decided to call it quits. Now bereft of its original pro-protectorate ideas and burdened with the task of taking care of state administration, the PPP also started transforming into a personal instrument of a small elite around the leader. By the by the party that used to inspire citizens and mobilize them into potent force, now degenerated into a demobilizing political agent, that sent the masses of citizens into a deep slumber that was to last for about thirty years. Another splinter party, the National Convention Party, emerged out of another inner party PPP squabble in the mid 1970s but also failed to muster the mobilization capabilities of the original PPP.  There then came a string of party-political formations that all failed to make any meaningful impact. So little impact that we can fast-forward to the era of Second Republic. There was, though, an important development with a so called collective leadership introduced by the Peoples Democratic Organization for Socialism, PDOIS,however some observers believe that  in real terms, that experiment failed to manifest any significant change apart from the emergence of a closely knitted troika instead of a single leader, their commitment to articulated political idealogy and their small following and seeming inability to break from the marginalized fringes of Gambian politics. For about three decades the PPP remained towering above all actors in the Gambian political arena and a permanent feature of the Gambian political organogram. It was the coup of July 22nd 1994 that was to change that organogram and that was to jolt the masses of Gambian citizens from the thirty-year slumber and apathy. The coup shattered the delusion of tranquility that had long robbed the masses of their interest in politics and that had sent them to the prolonged sleep. But the noisy campaign of vilification of the old regime and rekindled hope for a fresh beginning evoked renewed interest in politics in general and party politics in particular. Under pressures from the international community the military junta was pressured into tabling a time frame for return to civilian democratic rule after initial reluctance characterized with a “no elections” campaign. While voter turnout during the 29th April 1992 presidential elections was down to 58.8% of registered voters, it jumped to 85.9% in the 8th August 1996  presidential elections. Three of the four contesting parties were new, only one, PDOIS, came from the ruins of the First Republic. All the other First Republican parties were not allowed to take part in the 1996 elections. Both the APRC, Alliance for Patriotic Reconstruction, the party of the incumbent military junta and the NRP, National Reconciliation Party of Hamat Bah, were, like the UP, DCA before them, were formed by the leaders who later tried to scout for supporters while the United Democratic Party, was formed by a group of community elders, most of them Mandinka-speaking, who later went around looking for people to lead the party. The party’s idea was restorationist, in other words, return to democratic rule, widely misunderstood as a party for the restoration of “Mandinka rule.”With the help of unrestrained use of its powers of incumbency and a well-orchestrated restorationist scare, the APRC succeeded in forging a coalition of ethnic, religious and cultural minorities into a new majority. But on the other hand the APRC was a state-created party and had to, from inception, start fighting for survival against the machinations of its twin but rival organization, the July 22nd Movement. The party was to develop like a para-statal organization, with a militaristic command structure, that like the state itself, soon degenerated into an instrument for the one-man rule of Yahya Jammeh. The Gambian dictator runs the party like his personal fiefdom in a way that has been rarely seen even in the characteristically person-oriented annals of Gambian party politics. Mr. Jammeh does not only dominate the entire life of the APRC, the party is in his hands to be put to sleep as humbug in between elections and rejuvenated again at election times or whenever needed. Devoid of any political ideas, the APRC has remained a tool in the hands of the Gambian dictator and a hunting ground for fortune-seekers and opportunists of all hues. But lot of water has passed under the bridge since Yahya Jammeh came to power. Heads of many APRC members, supporters and sympathizers have rolled since inception. In fighting among scrambling forces has left the party unstable, weakened and definitely ailing. It is doubtful if the new majority remains a real majority among registered voters. As times get harder more and more people are turning their backs on the Gambian leader and his party. But few of this are crossing over to the opposition. This is because, in the eyes of many, the leadership of the opposition lacks credibility, seen as persons more interested in gabbing power than righting the many wrongs of our affairs of state. The failure of the opposition to forge a political coalition surprised many. Their inability to earnestly explain themselves in face of the failure shocked a whole lot of people. Their reluctance to recognize failures and admit mistakes made them unreliable in the eyes of many voters. Many lost interest in the last presidential elections when they saw NADD television footages more tuned to attacks against other opposition parties than the ruling APRC. As a result more and more people are writing off the possibilities of bringing about peaceful political changes through the ballot in this country.  If the reasons of the failures of coalition building were ideological, political or organizational, they would have been more pardonable because they would have been more manageable. All attempts to bring about reconciliation between the NADD coalition and the Coalition of regime Change failed because there are hardly any discernible contours or demarcations in principles or intent; no ideological, political or strategic differences, only crypto personal feelings that cannot be put into words. In fact, apart from advertised differences in styles of rule and fidelity to the constitution, none of the opposition forces have been able to lay out any noteworthy difference in policy either with each other or with the Jammeh regime.    Are we getting near the death of party politics and the era of no political parties? We in The Gambia, having lived for over seventeen years under the rule of one mercurial man would certainly not be among citizens yearning to live under a no-party rule. Uganda tried it but had to abandon it. Mali has been trying it without much problem but this phenomenon is still regarded as a queer episode of people frustrated with the unreliability of partisan politicians. The only substitute to partisan politics is the politics of individuals, an inevitable rule autocracy, and a system that we Gambian have become sick and tired of. But the ball is not in the court of political leaders but in the hands of us citizens. It is by actively getting involved in the challenges facing our communities and societies that we come across ideas of how to tackle those challenges, form associations with like-minded people to meet those challenges.  It is such associations that can lea to the creating of political parties. So despite all their failing political parties remain very important to the democratic process, a necessary ingredient to the struggle for democratic renewal and expansion.  The Jammeh dictatorship remains the greatest obstacle to the restoration and renewal of the Gambian democratic process and the shortest cut to its removal is the formation of the grandest possible coalition of all the parties, with the exception of the APRC, for its speedy defeat. The main purpose of such a coalition is not to maximize the political chances of the opposition parties, but for the restoration of democracy, a formidable force for poverty reduction and national development. With this sincerely in mind it should not be impossible to try a new chance for a grand coalition against the Jammeh dictatorship aiming to avert national disintegration. The devil of coalition building ought not to lie in the technical details. A tyrant who openly boast of being capable of doing away with 25 000 Gambian lives in order to “save the Gambian nation” has indeed lost the right to rule. Failing to help bring the speedy removal of such a regime is a great disservice to our Gambia.  We, concerned Gambians, call for action now. Let each of the opposition parties nominate a technical panel to quickly trash out the details and come out with recommendations for the quick setting up of such a coalition.


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