05 September 2011

Gambia on the Road to Political Limbo

By D.A Jawo
As Gambians gear up for the presidential elections in November, and the National Assembly elections, less than two months later, we have seen President Jammeh intensify his socalled philanthropic gestures, including dishing out tractors to various individuals and farming communities as well as flooding the country with sugar and other food items for the Ramadan, virtually putting traders in those commodities out of business.   It is obvious to anyone who cares for the truth that President Jammeh has neither the money nor the wherewithal to provide all those tractors, for instance, on his own. Therefore, the only logical conclusion is that they were either bought from state resources or a grant from Taiwan for the Gambian people. Yet, Gambians were deliberately given the impression that they were being provided by President Jammeh out of his magnanimity, no doubt as part of his election campaign.   President Jammeh and his APRC can therefore be accused of using state resources to campaign for re-election, including a complete monopoly of the public media, which belongs to all Gambians, regardless of political affiliation. We also recently saw him campaigning in the guise of ‘Dialogue with the People’ tour, which is sponsored and paid for by the Gambian tax payers.   However, this is despite him telling Gambians that he was not going to campaign, even though his every action, including making numerous promises during the tour as well as dishing out those tractors, bags of sugar, cash and other material gifts, as well as virtually all his utterances and other actions, tantamount to campaigning.   However, while President Jammeh is busy campaigning in various guises, there is hardly much happening in the opposition camp. While we have recently seen some sabre rattling between the leadership of the UDP and PDOIS about the possibility of forming a strategic alliance for the elections, but there has not yet been any serious attempt so far to make such alliance between the only two active opposition parties left in the ring to challenge the APRC; with all the others either hibernating or, like NDAM and NCP, having completely been submerged into the APRC, a reality.   Therefore, with the present division within the opposition, President Jammeh can confidently say that he does not need to campaign in order to win the next elections with a ‘landslide’. This is because his opponents are yet to indicate that they are ready to put up any formidable challenge to the APRC hegemony during the elections or at any time.   Of course it is a well-known fact that the APRC is not as popular and homogeneous as its apologists would want us to believe, and there is no way that the party can win a free and fair election in this country, but the facts are quite glaring that free and fair elections cannot obtain under the present political dispensation. We have all witnessed the persistent repression of the media and the opposition, including the ridiculous imprisonment of the UDP campaign manager Femi Peters for one year for merely organizing a UDP rally without a police permit, which the APRC does on a daily basis, and yet no policeman would dare to confront them.   We have also seen how President Jammeh has been going around during his recent country-wide tour threatening not to bring government projects to those areas that vote against him, as if the money for those projects comes from his pocket and not the Gambian tax payers’ money, which of course includes the opposition.   This is in addition to the unfair use of the public media by President Jammeh and the APRC at the expense of all other Gambians, including the opposition, who all have an equal stake in them. It is indeed a shame to see the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS), for instance, being transformed into the propaganda organ of the APRC. It is therefore a big joke for anyone to call such a situation ideal in a democracy when only one political party has access to the media and everyone else is denied such access.   Despite the large turn-out during the recent general voter registration exercise, which produced an unprecedented figure of over 800, 000 registered voters out of a population of less than 1.5 million, what is likely to happen during the elections is that the voter turn-out would again be much lower than in the last elections in 2006 when just about 50 per cent actually turned out to vote. Therefore, unless the opposition get their act together and convince Gambians of the need to come out and vote, only those very few Gambians who support President Jammeh, together with those numerous non-Gambians who have been registered to vote in the country, as well as those induced by money and other material gifts and promises, would come out to vote, while the vast majority of the people would stay at home, for lack of a credible alternative, no doubt as a result of the failure of the opposition to come out with a credible strategy to confront the APRC.   Indeed, we are all aware that virtually all those who do not come out to vote are actually opposed to the regime, but because of the failure of the opposition to form a strategic alliance, most of those people see no point in coming out to vote unless there is a formidable opposition strategy to dislodge President Jammeh.   Of course President Jammeh and his praise singers are always quite happy with such a scenario and in fact that is no doubt why he goes about saying that neither elections nor a coup d’etat would remove him from power. It is all part of his psychological onslaught on the psychic of Gambians, with the intention of being seen as an invincible super-human who is several rungs above ordinary mortals.   What is therefore likely to happen is that at the end of the day, President Jammeh will again be re-elected with a ‘landslide’ victory, which he and his praise singers will attribute to his popularity and magnanimity, completely disregarding the unlevelled political playing field that his opponents have been operating in. He will be sworn in for a fourth term as president of this country with pomp and gaiety and the present system will not only continue, but The Gambia’s reputation will continue to slide downwards and the ship of state will get stuck deeper and deeper into the mud.   With this trend, The Gambia will continue to become more and more an international pariah state as well as attract scum and laughter within the sub-region.   

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