An Uprising of Consciences
Gambian voters have a stark choice to make in December 2021: more betrayals in the future, or honest and competent leadership
A lesson I learnt in high school physics is helping me see through the thick fog of politics in The Gambia today. Now, you might wonder how physics and Gambian politics are linked, but trust me, they are.
Mr. Jag Mohan Das (God bless his soul wherever he is) was our fantastic physics teacher during our Sixth Form at Gambia High School in the mid-1970’s. Mr. Das, however, would never solve a problem for you. Rather, he insisted on explaining what he called “fundamental principles,” the physics, of a problem. Once you understood the fundamental principles, you would solve the problem. His principle always turned out correct, and can be applied to the present Gambian political landscape.
Current President Adama Barrow is perhaps the one presidential candidate that has the most at stake in the upcoming presidential elections. President Barrow came to power following a euphoric and unexpected victory in the December 2016 presidential election by a Coalition of opposition parties against former president Yahya Jammeh. Former President Jammeh ruled The Gambia for 22 years with an iron fist, and gained global notoriety for his wickedness, greed, and abuse of human rights.
Against this background, Gambians had high hopes in President Barrow who they expected to preside over a three-year transition period. Mr. Barrow was to resign from office at the end of the transition period, instead of presenting himself as a candidate in presidential elections at the end of the transition period.
Unfortunately for Gambians, and President Barrow especially, he reneged on his promise, and the provisions of the Coalition Agreement which led to his victory. His decision to serve a five-year term provoked many protests, leading to three deaths, as well as many injuries and arrests in January 2020. In addition, President Barrow formed the National People’s Party (NPP) in late 2019 to contest the December 2021 presidential elections.
President Barrow has also been criticized for selective implementation of the recommendations of the Janneh Commission which looked into former President Jammeh’s financial dealings, and for his failure to ensure adoption of the new Draft Constitution of The Gambia, the preparation of which costed about $20 million. In addition, he has been criticized for dragging his feet with regards to the adoption of the TRRC’s report, which is expected shortly. Corruption s has also been a problem under his watch, with anti-corruption laws not being implemented, and conflicts of interest in the public sector.
On my part, I have held a long-standing grudge against President Barrow. Since he came to power, President Barrow has been gaining weight. Although it is natural to gain weight as age, President Barrow’s weight gain is because he is too busy having a good time in office. In contrast, President Paul Kagame has for 27 years maintained practically the same weight from when he came to power in 1994 to as recently as 2019. Similarly, former US President Barak Obama was said to lose weight while in office in part because he worked so hard he would skip meals.
Despite, and probably because of his skinniness, President Kagame has grown the per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of Rwanda from $772 in 2017 to $798 in 2020. Although the per capita GDP of The Gambia increased five times more than that of Rwanda, from $680 in 2017 to $787 in 2020, Rwanda has over five times the population of The Gambia. Rwanda has also performed better than The Gambia in various other measures such as the amount of foreign direct investment, youth unemployment rate, and life expectancy.
Perhaps the worst and most recent own-goal scored by President Barrow is the alliance between his NPP and the APRC, former President Jammeh’s party, to contest the December 2021 elections. Despite the gruesome and disturbing public testimonies at the TRRC by victims of former President Jammeh’s atrocities, President Barrow has no problem with an alliance with the APRC because he thinks this will help national reconciliation.
Although national reconciliation is a cardinal objective of the TRRC and an imperative for peace and national development, a road map toward that objective was laid out by our National Assembly, starting with the TRRC Act 2017. Gambians thus expected that President Barrow would wait for the TRRC Report on its findings and conclusions after almost three years of work, starting in October 2018. The TRRC was on the verge of submitting its final report to President Barrow when he decided on his own to form an alliance with the APRC to promote national reconciliation.
The APRC has managed in the past five years to be active, mostly because of President Barrow’s ineffective approach to dealing with them. As a result, the APRC has been a constant irritant to the Gambian population through their loud support for former President Jammeh, and vigorous defense of his policies.
The APRC’s mindless support for former President Jammeh has been evident during the TRRC’s hearings when many Gambians were traumatized by the testimonies of victims of former President Jammeh. APRC supporters cast doubts on victims testimonies at TRRC hearings, and turned out in their thousands in early 2020 to demonstrate for former President Jammeh’s return home.
Despite all these provocations and self-serving actions by APRC supporters, and despite all the heinous crimes that former President Jammeh committed against innocent Gambians, President Barrow decided to form an alliance with the APRC to help him contest the December 2021 presidential elections. In short, President Barrow who first betrayed Gambians by refusing to vacate his office after three years and then decided to contest elections he promised not to be a candidate in, has now by his alliance with the APRC, betrayed us again and dealt a death blow to what little faith Gambians had in him.
For the APRC, their alliance with the NPP was to be their ticket to redemption, and the return of former President Jammeh to The Gambia. In view of former President Jammeh’s heinous record in office, it does not take a genius to understand the risk of violence in the country if he was to be allowed back home as a free man.
But President Barrow paid no attention to such risks or demonstrated his empathy with former President Jammeh’s victims. Indeed, President Barrow demonstrated that he completely lost sight of the Gambian national interest, and only saw his own interests when he forged an alliance with the APRC.
It is now important for all Gambians, especially Gambian voters, to ask themselves a simple question: what (to paraphrase Mr. Das) are the fundamental issues here? First, is the fact that President Barrow, by forming an alliance with the APRC, has again betrayed the trust of Gambians. Second, he has demonstrated that he will put his personal interest and political fortunes before the national interest.
Against this background, it is my view that Gambian voters should have an uprising, not with sticks and stones, but of their consciences. They should vote President Barrow out to ensure that he will never again stab us in the back to serve his own personal interests.
Every Gambian voter should understand, and spread the message to other Gambians, that there is a stark choice to be made in December 2021. You either vote for President Barrow for more betrayals, or you vote for anyone else you think is more trustworthy, competent, selfless than him to handle the affairs of the country. Whichever way you vote, I do hope you would be comfortable with it in your grave.