The Gambia: The Challenges And Opportunities Of Political Unity For The December 2016 Elections

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By Mathew K Jallow, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

The vast majority watch from the side lines with hopeful anticipation. Some, in true journalistic fashion, assess the evolving political lay-of-the-land with strict neutrality and uncommon candour. But typically, it is the crass vulgarity of the few that is reverberating across the vast emptiness of the net; the internet, that is. It is impossible to conjecture the motivations behind the tactless vilification of the Gambia Democratic Congress and its leader Mama Kandeh, but it is safe to concede that it is tasteless, beyond being impetuous. Yet, in spite of the non-ideological political disagreements and the bitterness of sectarian divisions, Gambians face an urgent life and death situation in these imminent elections. In achieving the goals of an elusive political change, unity, not separation, is key and of overarching necessity. The episode, last week, relating to the ongoing task of forging lasting political homogeneity, exemplifies the challenges Gambians face, and the opportunities these cross-party consultations present.  It would be absolutely preposterous to write the obituary of a coalition yet, but first, some rough edges need to be smoothed out, and a new perspective of moving forward, delineated, but not in arbitrary slapdash fashion. It is worth nothing that these political coalitions are not rare concepts; in fact, a cornucopia of coalitions exists in the political configurations of many governments around the globe. Recently, thirteen opposition parties in Kenya did the unthinkable; merge into a single unity party. Of course, the defunct NADD was born out of this oxymoron of assembly of divergence, but the peculiarity of NADD was in its deceptive impartiality as coalition broker. But Gambians are once again challenged to rise above the narrow sectarianism and boring brashness, to imagine a united coalition built around empathy with hardship of our people and the necessity to return the Gambia to the sanity of a civilized nation.

This year, the challenge Gambia confronts is still daunting, but unlike the historical experiences, a unique opportunity also presents itself; the nexus between possibilities and surmountable conflict. It is evident that the provincial unsophistication of political gate-crashers has done more to inflict harm to unity efforts than the philosophical divergence of political leaders themselves. Motivated by antediluvian agenda, which in its true form dispels the essence and concept of the ideological blending of political parties, surrogates of various political inclinations demonstrate a total lack of political finesse. The political terrain and efforts to forge a coalition, given all the divided interests, requires non-agenda driven intervention and input, in a complex and volatile political climate. With the incarceration of UDP’s Hon Ousainou Darboe, the ground breaking emergence of GDC’s Mama Kandeh, and the independent candidature of Dr Isatou Touray, the new realities of the opposition’s status realignment has shocked the sensibilities of many of those unable to rationalize these changing political dynamics. In other to put the Gambia’s particular circumstances in perspective, it is imperative to examine what on the surface, appears like an impasse in the ongoing effort at coalition building. The inter-party document outlines the modalities of unity, agreeing on an independent candidate in the event no party candidate is agreed upon. This resolves the hardest question to tackle; the gaping political chasm among the parties of the past. A path to unity of purpose and the supremacy of parties dialogue in continuing the tricky talks of identifying a unifying opposition candidate that opposition parties can coalesce around, seems more assured by the political protagonists in coalition discussions. Dr Isatou Touray, who is eminently qualified, has presented herself as Independent candidate, but her candidature, far from preordained, depends entirely on the only constituency she has; the amalgamation of opposition parties.

As of now, one of Dr Touray’s primary tasks remains to block-out the noise from the diaspora, and lobby her only constituency; the political leaders at home, in order to convince the opposition of her worthiness to represent their visions and goals for political change. Clearly, the prospects of bringing Dr Touray’s successful candidature to fruition, lies entirely in the hands of political leaders and a united opposition; otherwise, her only option remains to contest as a stand-alone candidate, a very legally tedious adventure, which also contradicts the impetus, objectives and purposes of her independent candidature. In order to enucleate Dr Isatou Touray’s opportunities and challenges, it is crucial to revisit the inter-party’s agreed upon methodology of selecting a unifying candidate, which requires opening the opportunity up to every qualified Gambian in civil society. As an unregistered political establishment, Dr Touray’s relies on opposition party leadership support to give credibility to her candidacy, and her main task, at this juncture, is to convince the opposition on the ground of her viability as the emissary for political change. But first, there is need to challenge certain aspects of Dr Touray’s rollout, and bring her aspirations into compliance with prevailing political norms. By their very nature, all transitional governments are temporary, of short duration, and lack a sense of security inherent in permanent government establishments. In government, the tentativeness of transitions has inherent shortcomings, vulnerabilities, and a sense of weakness, which does not augur well with the security and stability of a nation. As a consequence, in transitional governments established by political parties partnerships, the stop-gap characteristics of such transitions should not ideally exceed three years mark. The objective is to make the uncertainty of transitional government limited and its mandate limited entirely to laying the groundwork for return to political certainty through the rapid pursuance of elections and prevention of the inherent risks of transitional rule. This complies with the necessity of limiting the duration of the political vacuum created by the transitional government models.

As indicated, Dr Touray’s issuance of a five years development plan in her Manifesto is not in line with the tasks ordinarily sanctioned in transitional governments; which is the expedited return to multi-party rule. Consequently, Dr Touray’s governing Manifesto ought to have been a transitional Manifesto that outlines only two primary tasks; first, the establishment of a new Constitution outside the influence of any political party, and second, preparation of political parties and the nation for the approval of the constitution and free and fair multi-party elections and the return to party rule and multi-party governance. A long duration development governing Manifesto, as that presented by Dr Touray, is outside the ambit of the transitional government Dr Isatou Touray seeks to head. In order to make her candidature more in line with political norms, and more easily sellable to the combined opposition, Dr Touray ought to revise her political Manifesto to reflect the required short duration transitional period of not more than three years, and limit her job description as transitional head to two additional tasks; the rewriting of a new Constitution and prepare the nation for free and fair elections that will exclude her from contesting. It is against the interest of political convention for the temporariness of transitional government be allowed to rise to a level that turns tentative governing arrangement to regular government mandate. Moreover, Dr Touray’s transitional Manifesto extends to a full presidential term of five years, which falls under the category of the insecurity inherent in the impermanence of transitional government. The objectives of creating a transitional government is primarily to choose an agreed upon temporary candidate, first from the political establishment, and if that fails, to agree on an independent candidate drawn from civil society. In the end, no matter who the united opposition ultimately selects to lead the political coalition, political dynamics on the ground must drive the opposition’s deliberative selection process, untainted by the customary bigotry of tribalism and other similar walls of political subterfuge and resistance to unity

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