The Gambia: Agenda 2016; The Nexus of Deception, Propaganda and Reality

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By Mathew K Jallow, Madison, Wisconsin

Suddenly, it has taken center stage in the political discourse, to assume the dominant role in yet another historic “presidential” election cycle. In previous elections, the issue came up almost as an afterthought, and typically, the response was, as always, arrogant disregard. This year seems a little different though, due to the politicians’ level of fixation with the issue, and the inordinate amount of time invested in elevating it as the deal-breaker in next year’s electoral cycle. It seems the politicians have finally found a way to force the regime’s hand into making credible reforms, or else this too will turn out to be just another trip down the familiar road to perdition. This year, electoral reform is all the rage; factoring into the 2016 electoral calculus as Gambia’s answer to the underhanded election misconducts of the past two decades. And, for the first time, this year, one of the fifteen existing Gambian diaspora civil society organizations appears to have taken an official position in support of electoral reforms as an emerging 2016 political mantra. By conducting a strategic 2016 meeting, with three of the dominant political parties, in the hope of forcing meaningful electoral reform, Iames Bahoum’s organization has gone where no other civil society has yet ventured. The advocacy for electoral reform in the Gambia presupposes that reforms by themselves guarantee the conduct of valid elections. But the overlooked advantage of incumbency, and the diversity of variables necessary in conducting legitimate elections, suggests the improbability of ever guaranteeing that cosmetic electoral reforms alone will have the desired effect of free and fair elections. The inconveniences of international demands for electoral reform will, of course, force the regime to concede to some visible electoral changes, but it will alternatively force the adoption of far less visible methods of skewing the 2016 elections, and consequently frustrate electoral reforms. And as advocacy for electoral reform grows ever louder, so too does the scepticism of defining what effective electoral reform looks like, and more importantly, the likelihood of guaranteeing that political change can come about with electoral reforms.

The issue of primary concern for a significant segment of Gambia’s population is that electoral reforms are being held up as the ultimate panacea for a chronically corrupt regime paralyzed by mortifying fear of losing control. And what is evident from a historical perspective is that a regime that is literally fighting to prolong its hold on power will never be the architect of its own demise. The existential threat posed to the regime by far reaching electoral reforms, which may have the potential of wresting power and control from a notoriously deadly regime, far outweighs the regime’s desire for political justice, regardless of international pressure. Since many of the political nuances in unfair and unfree elections are impossible to identify, and even harder to prove, the regime may resort to wide-ranging activities that will make effective and meaningful electoral reforms a mere pipe-dream. What seems most certain is the placebo effect electoral reforms will yield, which on the surface will satisfy international demands for change without the reforms necessary for material change to occur. In the end, for Gambians, electoral reforms will change absolutely nothing politically, while for Yahya Jammeh, it will at very least give a more favourable look at his willingness to make some cosmetic reforms, which in practice will change absolutely nothing for the Gambian people. The divergence in strategy in tackling Gambia’s two decades of tyranny makes the meeting of minds among the Gambia’s organizations necessary, if not inevitable, in reaching a satisfactory political consensus that more effectively gives hope for political change. In his recent statement to the media, James Bahoum also referenced a meeting in London, UK, for Gambian groups to argue their positions and agree on a common strategy. This initiative is, in fact, enshrined in the Gambia Consultative Council (GCC) platform, as the bedrock of the organization’s mandate. But that is where GCC’s similarities with James Bahoum’s group end. The sooner the multiplicity of civil society groups, many of which came into existence after the Raleigh conference, are engaged as equal partners in the political discourse, the more likely it will be to force rapid  political change in Gambia.

Before moving forward, it is first necessary to address Halifa Sallah’s disclaimer about James Bahoum’s publicized claims of meeting with political leaders or their representatives, which Mr Sallah unequivocally rejected as baseless. It is borderline unethical for an organization to stoop so low as to wander into the realm of propaganda in the effort to seek public validation. Apart from historically providing deceptive and misleading information, the repetitive propaganda and photo opportunities over the past year insults Gambians’ collective intelligence. But Halifa Sallah’s denial of a meeting is an indictment of the manner in which the less than forthright James Bahoum public statement impacts the moral and ethical credibility of his organization. PDOIS’s shocking disclaimer comes as no surprise; besides, James Bahoum must have known that his statement was deliberately deceptive to embellish and conceal facts. In this, Mr Bahoum likely counted on the Gambian public’s inability to read between the lines, process information and dig out the fact from the fiction in his statement. First, Mr Bahoum’s statement by omission, gave readers the impression that a face-to-face meeting with Hon Ousainou Darboe and Omar Jallow (OJ) took place, and second, he implicitly again gave the impression that the two politicians travelled to London for such a meeting to take place. It is absolutely unconscionable that anyone can accept anything, but the complete representation of the naked truth and any deviation from that moral grounding will prove unfit to be a voice of the people. But moving forward, civil society and the political establishment have a unique opportunity to bar Yahya Jammeh contesting the 2016 elections under the threat of a Burkina Faso type civil disobedience. As a matter of priority, it is imperative for opposition parties and civil society to create a “national transitional council” and a “transitional government” to take on the regime of Yahya Jammeh, and prevent his continued ruin of our country. Listed below are the political parties and diaspora civil society organizations that need to meet in London, to strategize for Yahya Jammeh’s final goodbye. Together we can make it happen.

List of opposition political parties:

United Democratic Party (UDP) Ousainou Darboe)

People Progressive Party (PPP) Omar Jallow (OJ)

National Reconciliation Party (NRP) Hamat Bah

People Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) Halifa Sallah

Gambia Moral Congress (GMC) Mai Fatty

Gambia Party for Democracy and Progress (GPDP) Henry Gomez

 List of civil society organizations;

Gambia Consultative Council (GCC) Dr Sedat Jobe

Campaign for Democratic Change Gambia (CDCG) Hon Bakary B Dabo

Gambia Democratic Action Group (GDAG) Alkali Conteh

Committee for the Restoration of Democracy in the Gambia (CORDEG) Dr Abdoulaye Saine

National Resistance Movement of the Gambia (NRMG) Pa Momodou Ann

Democratic Union of Gambians (DUGA) Ousainou Mbenga

Gambians for Democracy and Development (GDD) Ndey Jobarteh

Gambian Movement for Democracy and Development (GMDD) Saihou Mballow

Coalition for Change Gambia (CCG) Dr Amadou Janneh

Stockholm Gambian Diaspora (SGD) Jaineba Bah

Campaign for Human Rights Gambia (CHRG) Alieu Ceesay

Human Rights for All (HRA) Yahya Dampha

Gambia Association for Democracy and Human Rights (GADHR) Dodou Jobe

Save the Gambia Democracy Project (STGDP), Banka Manneh

The Gambia Association for Peace and Reconciliation (GAPR) Tamsir Jasseh

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