In Gambia Uni. Lecture, Prof. Saine Envisages Egalitarian Gambia; Calls Despot Yaya Jammeh, ‘Very Sick Man’

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Good evening ladies and gentlemen, faculty, staff and students of UTG.

First, allow me to extend to FORIED and its membership, and Dr. Katim Touray, in particular, (a dear brother and friend) for their kind invitation to deliver FORIED’s Inaugural lecture.

To Mrs. Juka Jabang, a dear sister of many years and one who always supported my scholarly work during her tenure as MDI Managing Director. And, to Mr. Baboucar Sarr for his warm and kind introduction.

Indulge me in recognizing Alhaji Ba Trawalley, a longtime teacher, who was the first head-teacher at Ballanghar school and veteran journalist. I am also honored by the presence of Alhaji Alieu Mamar Njie, the unflappable IEC Chairman for his gallantry and poise in the face of a very challenging 2016 presidential election.

I would also like to recognize friends, former class and schoolmates even college mates from Yundum College, Alhaji Abdoulie Touray and dear comrades from the resistance, Imam Baba Leigh. I want to recognize my daughter, Aji Saine, Drs. Pierre Gomez, Cherno Omar Barry, and countless others like Kuto Manneh who took the time under such adverse weather to attend the lecture. My wife and colleague, Professor Paula Saine, is also with us. Thank you all for coming.

Being asked to deliver a talk on “Transition from Dictatorship to Good Governance; which way Gambia, is both an honor and a humbling experience.

Having presented my work at numerous conferences and universities around the world but never in The Gambia for reasons I will be happy to get into later, is indeed a joyful occasion.

“Democratic Transitions, Good Governance and the Rule of Law” has been the focus of my scholarly work and those of many scholars for nearly thirty years or more, since what Samuel Huntington called the “Third-Wave of Democratization” in Africa, which began in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

It is a rich and varied literature in which The Gambia occupies a special place because of its unique status as one of four functional democracies in Africa until the 1994 coup that ushered in a deeply repressive polity the effects of which are still felt to this day. “Despot Yaya Jammeh, (below) “very sick man” says Prof. Saine

Along with other scholars, I was afforded the unusual opportunity to use The Gambia, as a site for theory testing and building against the prevailing ideas and debates in Comparative Politics, African Studies and International Political Economy.

Among other Africanist/Gambianist scholars, from Europe and Gambia, I helped chronicle politics and economics of the Second Republic, resulting in numerous academic journal articles, books, book-chapters, monographs and commissioned works on The Gambia, West Africa and Africa. And, many of my colleagues and I have, likewise, have been blessed to witness the birth of a “New Gambia,” following the December 2016 Presidential election.

As Gambians who live overseas, we worked tirelessly alongside our political and some religious leaders at home to bring an end to the twenty-two-year tyranny that deeply traumatized Gambians and shook to the core Gambia’s social, political, economic and moral fabric.

It was a long and difficult road to the current political dispensation and Gambians need not be reminded of the uncertainty, instability and reign of terror that preceded it. This meant that many Overseas Gambians were rendered persona-non-grata in the country of their birth for years.

To reiterate, this gathering is a very special occasion.

However, rather than a lecture, I would prefer to share my reflections, musings on a literature that shaped my scholarly endeavors and a literature which I also helped shape in many important respects.

Another strand of my remarks would be to help create the space tonight to discuss and to reflect on the collective resistance to dictator Yahya Jammeh’s mis-rule of our dear country.

Like many others, I was never content to being an academic alone. This was and is still true of many journalists, Imams and numerous others who risked life and limb to oppose Jammeh and his madness.

In the academic part of my remarks, in broad strokes, I propose to capture  a few thematic issues and theoretical questions on transitions, generally defined, as a process or movement toward deeper political and economic maturity/stability that allows for citizen participation, rule of law (including property rights) and a vibrant civil society. This is not an exhaustive but a minimalist definition.

In the last part of my remarks, I propose to interrogate the idea of a “New Gambia,” and together explore elements of what a new Gambia may look like.

Scholarly works on transitions, political and economic liberalization remain a vast and vital area of study for the last thirty years. And, as early 1950s and 1960s, political and economic theorists focused on pattern variables that would serve as prerequisites or preconditions for political and economic development in the newly independent states of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

Theories of Modernization (political and economic development) of the day spearheaded mostly by American scholars, such as Almond and Powell, Samuel Huntington, Walt Rostow, among many others, sought to provide both theoretical and empirically based roadmaps by which the so-called emerging states could move from their relative “underdevelopment” to levels of political and economic stability similar to those of Europe and the USA.

By the late 1960s to mid-1970s, modernization theory came under attack primarily for its eurocentrism and optimism- some say naivety for assuming that human “progress”, development” and “change” were universally applicable and linear.

Many scholars also charged that political and economic development theories and strategies had also failed to liberate or emancipate the poor and may have contributed to deepening social and economic cleavages, political instability and growing political violence in the so-called “Third-World.”

Some scholars whose perspectives were informed by Dependency and Marxist theories charged that theories of modernization were heavily invested in American cold war politics and hegemony.

I came of age intellectually during these great debates heavily influenced by the works of Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, Claude Ake, and many other international relations and Africanist scholars.

In the late 1970s, I completed a M.A. thesis at Carleton University exploring the relationship between economic dependence and political violence in the then Zaire. In 1989, I completed a doctoral dissertation at the University of Denver, that looked at the causes of coups and external military interventions but more importantly assessed the explanatory and predictive strengths of modernization and a variant of Marxist Theory.

This dissertation reflected in no small measure both the theoretical and empirical debates and politics of the day, between socialism and capitalism.

By the 1990s, a wave of political and economic liberalization gripped the continent of Africa while witnessing simultaneously the fall of decades long dictators, one-party states, patronage and corruption-riddled regimes.

Elections, some dubious, along with IMF/World Bank inspired economic reforms became ubiquitous with mixed political and economic outcome. The Gambia had undertaken similar reforms in the mid-1980 during the first republic.

The transitions literature on Africa began to grow in the mid-1990s and borrowed heavily from the literature(s) from Northern Europe and Latin America. Also, the theoretical foundations of the new transitions literature and its neoliberal economic variant regrettably relied heavily from modernization theories of the 1960s.

“The Washington Consensus” came to embody a series of both political and economic measures to address economic woes originating from the lost decade of the 1980s.

These policies systematically dismantled bloated state bureaucracies and put in place relatively non-interventionist and minimalist state systems. With these came currency devaluations, the end to state-supported subsidies with dire economic and social consequences.

Bitter debates ensued in the “Transitions, political and economic liberalization” debates over the efficacy of simultaneously pursuing political and economic reform(s). Other debates and questions centered on the size of a country and its conduciveness to growth and political stability. The proposition was that size matters. (Happy to discuss this further).

These debates were fueled further by the disappointing outcomes of transition programs in many African countries in which autocratic leaders controlled, engineered elections in their favor in order to earn IMF/World Bank approval, which became the basis for loans. This is an all too familiar story in The Gambia during the second republic.

And, before long the euphoria that greeted Africa’s third-wave political and economic liberalization gave way to dismay despite the tentative steps taken by Senegal, Ghana, Cape Verde, and South Africa’s historic 1994 presidential election in which Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the country’s first democratically elected (black) president.

1994 also witnessed a major setback and reversal in the direction of political liberation in Africa in no other place than The Gambia. The 1994 coup ended rule of the longest serving functional democracy in Africa.

And, before long a deeply flawed transition program back to “civilian rule” was put in place. The subsequent referendum over a hastily drafted constitution in which term-limit and other age requirements for the president were lowered or expunged paved the way for an APRC dictatorship that lasted twenty-two years.

Following the 1994 coup, a cadre of scholars that included the late John Wiseman, Ebrima Ceesay, Ebrima Sall, and myself, as well as journalists: Ebrima G. Sankareh, Baba Galleh Jallow and Pa Nderry Mbai, to name a few, began to chronicle political events in The Gambia with numerous publications along the way.

What transpired in The Gambia under AFPRC/APRC rule is generally well know and more revelations of alleged regime atrocities are coming to light.

By 2001 Gambians at home and abroad became increasingly concerned about the country’s direction and began a collaborative exercise with home-based political leaders and parties that would last fifteen years.

Along with the political voices at home, Diaspora Gambians also joined the push for a coalition of all political parties.

This was not to be even though we came close by way of NADD in the elections of 2006.

During this time, I continued to capture in my work Gambia’s rocky road toward a liberal political order the most significant publications at the time appearing in the Journal of Democracy in 2002, and African Studies Review in 2006.

These major publications culminated in the book, The Paradox of Third-wave Democratization in Africa (2009), looking at post-independence to post-coup politics in the Gambia. Ebrima Ceesay also published an important book on this subject.

With the collapse of NADD, Gambians abroad rearmed in preparation for 2011, and the quest for a coalition of all political parties again proved elusive. The results were devastating, as Jammeh won a third five-year term.

By 2012, (perhaps much earlier) it became apparent that rather than transitioning to a more liberal political framework, politics in Gambia had become increasingly illiberal- witnessing at the same time a heavily repressive political environment.

Media Laws to muzzle the press along with changes to the constitution earlier in 2001, in favor of first-past-the- post electoral outcome emboldened Gambians to work in concert for a coalition.

We witness at this time the proliferation of numerous political activist groups outside Gambia and a heightened use of social media which injected more dynamism to the resistance against Jammeh’s rule.

With the execution of nine prison inmates in 2012, Gambians everywhere were incensed by the sheer brutality of Jammeh and his underlings. Social and other media attacks aided by the international press further isolated Jammeh and his regime. Gambians raised funds to support a slowly coalescing opposition led by Mr. Adama Barrow.

It became all too clear that Gambia was teetering on economic collapse- Jammeh owned practically everything in the country.

Then came the 2014 attacks on the State House, a military attack that was planned and executed by some Gambians abroad. The cloak of invincibility that had shrouded and mystified Jammeh for all too long was torn apart- revealing a deeply isolated, traumatized and sick individual.

The UDP national tour that followed against government orders revealed further Jammeh’s vulnerability.

Social media along with different political and social groupings intensified the call for a coalition of political parties. This finally happened to the sheer joy of all Gambians- leading to a significant fundraising drive the likes of which were unprecedented.

Jammeh was rendered more vulnerable when a UDP-led demonstration shook the regime’s confidence to the core. Predictably, Jammeh in his characteristic style lashed out, arrested and tortured a good number of UDP party leaders, including the late Solo Sandeng and numerous other women party militants, that included Fatoumata Jawara.

Ousainou Darboe would later be arrested and jailed- this fueled the fire leading to a massive domestic and diaspora campaign to oust Jammeh in the December 2016 presidential election.

The 2016 presidential election brought to a decisive end Jammeh’s twenty-two year mis-rule and ushered in a new political dispensation that Gambians had hungered for. Political freedoms long denied under Jammeh were once more restored.

Allow me to transition briefly to discuss the New Gambia espoused by the new Barrow Government.

Today, the political leaders speak in terms of a new Gambia, where good governance, the rule of law and human rights would be the order of the day. A National Think Tank, a framework for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) are being setup and numerous individuals have been arrested for alleged crimes.

These bode well for Gambia and many believe this speaks to the determination of the new leaders and their resolve to navigate the affairs of state in the right direction.

Yet, in my many conversations during my six-week stay with Gambians across the political spectrum there was concern expressed over cabinet appointments and a sense of entitlement that appear to grip the new regime; failure to appoint a Vice President and what appears to many as a desperate effort to accumulate wealth at a time of great economic hardship.

There is also concern expressed over the lack of a sense of direction, a blueprint, a vision to guide the nation. Most of all, some Gambians have lamented the disintegration of the Coalition that brought President Barrow to power.

Others have expressed bluntly that the new government “is indeed a UDP Government.”

Equally, many in the diaspora feel “unappreciated,” and left out in the cold following Jammeh’s ouster from office.

A very small sample of Gambians appear to have given up on politics, and see the New Gambia, as “business as usual.”

In fact, a young person summed it up well last night at dinner when asked about the new Gambia, he responded: “New Gambia, Old Habits.”

There were also a good number of Gambians who expressed to me that the new government was/is bound to make mistakes. After all, the art of running a country is very different from the role played by opposition parties.

Many, including a taxi-driver cautioned that “Gambians needed to be patient,” and “give the new government a chance, as they have been in power for barely six months.”

There is also the view in some quarters that the new government was on track and doing the right things- apprehending alleged criminals, freezing Jammeh’s assets, among other achievements.

The fundamental question that arises from these observations is: what is the new Gambia?

  • I propose we begin by first defining and identifying what the New Gambia is, what it is not and what it embodies.
  • Is it an evolving and dynamic concept or one that is static?
  • An equally important task is to determine how the New Gambia is different from the Old Gambia.
  • Crucially, what political, social and economic strategies will it take or require to arrive at the New Gambia?

I suggest that the New Gambia is an evolving concept whose definition and characteristics need critical scrutiny. It must not become a cliché or a hegemonic ideology in the hands of politicians alone.

It must also be appropriated by members of society. This is where the newly established Think Tank, as well as other civil society organizations, including FORIED, can play a crucial role.

In other words, defining the conceptual and substantive issues surrounding a New Gambia is too important an enterprise to leave in the hands of politicians and policy makers alone. It must involve the historically marginalized, as well as other constituencies in our society, including the urban poor.

For much too long, our development strategies have been elite driven and foisted on us by powerful international financial institutions (IFIs).

At the risk of sounding presumptuous or even arrogant, I am clearer in my thinking about what I want to see in the New Gambia.

  • A new Gambia, I humbly propose requires us to think outside the box and take bold steps looking forward.
  • More significantly, a New Gambia, for it to be truly new, must strive toward social and economic justice and to resolving centuries old social, political, gender and cast inequities.
  • A New Gambia must commit to creating an egalitarian society where every Gambian has access to opportunity for self-improvement free of structural and direct violence- not business as usual politics.
  • A New Gambia must be more inclusive and celebrate, as well as reflect its diversity in its national institutions, and systematically dismantle privilege and entitlement.
  • In the long-term, a New Gambia must become economically and politically independent and wean itself from the international welfare line and charities.
  • The New Gambia must maximize its natural, and human resources and youth, in particular, to reduce external dependency on handouts.
  • A New Gambia must endeavor to providing its citizens and youth with an excellent and appropriate education geared to addressing our organic needs, aspirations and challenges.

These are broad and non-exhaustive proposals that could begin an important dialogue for the New Gambia. The time is now!

The new Barrow Government, unlike the past Jammeh Government, has created the political and democratic space to engage in such discussion and debate. That’s an achievement in itself.

It is vital, as we lay the conceptual and substantive infrastructure of the New government that we strive to engage its various constituencies; strengthen communication lines, and continue to communicate vital information with the population to engender transparency and confidence in its dealings with Gambians and the outside world.

I hope in my short remarks tonight, I have succeeded in creating the context for discussing the broad outlines of a New Gambia? Which way the New Gambia takes is still at a formative stage and calls on all civil society organizations like FORIED, and citizens to take part along with the new government to create the substance/content of the New Gambia based on our cultural sensibilities and economic realities.

Gambia and Gambians can ill afford to continue on the same road we have been on since independence.

Finally, we must always bear in mind that we are One Gambia, One Nation, One People, indivisible.

Thank you.

Abdoulaye Saine

FORIED Lecture/remarks

Faculty of Law

University of The Gambia

July 8, 2017.

Followed by Q&A/Discussion

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