By Sana Sarr
Friday, March 15, will now be a memorable day in the history of Gambian politics. In Caesar’s Rome, it’s the day the soothsayer warned Julius Caesar to beware of. It’s also the day Caesar was literally stabbed in the back by his most trusted friend, Brutus.
President Barrow vs Vice President Ousainou Darboe and UDP – I don’t think anyone will accuse President Barrow of reading, much less of being a scholar of Shakespeare, but students of literature will appreciate the coincidence that he chose March 15 to finally fire his mentor, trusted “friend” and Vice President, Ousainou Darboe – the same man he once called his “Political Father” and the one who dubbed him the “Moses” that came to deliver Gambians from the clutches of tyranny. Social media went wild with many of Darboe’s UDP supporters calling Barrow a traitor and many UDP critics celebrating the president’s move. Some neutrals expressed concern at what impact such a fallout will have on the country. To the keen observer, this fallout could be seen from a million miles away. You cannot encourage me to cheat on my wife with you and then expect me to be faithful to you. After Barrow, with the encouragement and support of Darboe, broke away from the MOU and all his coalition allies including his campaign promise of a 3-year transition, we did not require a soothsayer to predict that Darboe himself would eventually be a casualty.
Personal and political party interests aside, I think the fallout is a net gain for Gambia. In my blog of February 27, I explained why Darboe continuing to serve as Vice President does not serve the best interest of the nation, so i won’t bore you with the same reasons. Proponents of democracy place great value in the existence of checks and balances. If a strong opposition is good for democracy, then this fallout is a huge push towards having a strong opposition. UDP supporters may be upset that they’ve lost a Vice President (and two ministers), but Gambia just gained more than UDP lost. The opposition has gained a strong voice – the leader of the majority party in parliament. Now out of government, Mr. Darboe is no longer restrained and is free to stand stronger and speak louder in holding the government accountable. His political experience and professional experience as a lawyer will be more useful to the nation as a critic, activist and political leader than as a mute yes man to President Barrow. He will no longer turn a blind eye to Barrow’s many transgressions, but will speak up and challenge him where necessary. If Barrow tries to bribe members of parliament with cars from “anonymous donors,” Darboe will be there to advise the majority UDP members to reject the “gifts” and call out the President. Now when Ya Kumba goes to court, she will have one of the veteran legal minds and prominent faces standing by her side. Now Mr. Darboe can spend more time organizing his political party in readiness to challenge Barrow and his big advantage of incumbency. A loss for UDP? Maybe. A loss for Barrow in the long run? Perhaps. A win for Gambia? Absolutely!
Ya Kumba vs President Barrow – The Supreme Court of The Gambia also made a ruling in the case of Ya Kumba Jaiteh, a nominated National Assembly member who is suing the President for revoking her nomination from the country’s legislative body. The court ruled that Ms. Jaiteh should abide by the President’s decision and that her newly nominated replacement can be sworn in to begin duties while the court makes a decision on whether the President has the power to revoke her nomination. To many, especially Ya Kumba’s supporters, the ruling is an indication that the court will side with the President. Many are angry and have started accusing the Supreme Court of aiding a Barrow Dictatorship. The topic has been one of great contention even among legal scholars. Many, including the President of the Gambia Bar Association, argue that the President does not have the right to revoke the nomination of a member of parliament once the individual has been sworn in. Many others argue that the same powers the president has to nominate a member give him the right to revoke the nomination. I’m no lawyer so I’ll trust the judiciary to do their job. My personal opinion though, is that since the elected members of parliament can be recalled by the constituents who sent them there in the first place, it only makes sense that the nominated members can be recalled by the constituent who sent them there – in this case, the President. Despite that opinion, I will respect whatever decision the Supreme Court makes. I hope other Gambians also learn to trust the process and respect the court. Storming the court to express one’s anger can be seen as an attempt to intimidate the judiciary and anti-democracy. We should also note that it’s not a dictatorship simply because you did not get your way. Is Barrow right? Maybe. Is Ya Kumba right? Perhaps. The court will decide. The good I hope will come out of this is that the biggest party, the UDP, will now join the rest Gambians to work on making constitutional changes so we no longer have any nominated members. The Parliament is supposed to hold check the powers of the President. It therefore makes no sense to allow a President to handpick 5 members, including the Speaker, to be in the body.
I hear some argue for the nominated members to represent certain minority groups who may otherwise not be represented in parliament. While i am all for inclusive representation, I don’t think the system as it currently is is the solution. For starters, at no point since Independence has the President ever filled those seats with minority groups. It’s always been privileged people or political carrots for the President’s political allies. Second and more importantly, if we want minority representation, then how about allow those minority groups to elect their own representatives? That’s a lot more empowering than giving the President powers to nominate. I hope this move by Barrow is a reminder and an inspiration for all of us to fight hard to stop allowing nominated members inside a body of elected representatives.
Gambia Press Union President vs Journalism – Finally, we saw the video of Sheriff Bojang Jr, the president of the Gambia Press Union, thrown F-bombs at a journalist who simply asked him for commentary on a case at the Supreme Court. Mr. Bojang screamed that the journalist was “reckless” for asking him to comment because he (Bojang) was not a lawyer…and then told the journalist to “f**king put the mic down.” Of all the day’s stories, this one was the most disappointing to me. Journalists around the world continue to face harassment and persecution, including death and imprisonment at the hands of authoritarian leaders. Gambian journalists in particular have been murdered, tortured and sent into exile over the past 2 decades. As the nation emerges from such times for journalism and freedom of the press, journalists need all the help they can get to build the confidence to do their jobs without fear. Nobody should understand this more than someone who assumes the position as leader of all the journalists, and the editor of his own paper, The Chronicle, in the country. It is therefore sad and shameful that Mr. Bojang, for whatever reason, acted in such a manner…and the calls for his resignation are highly justified!
To his credit though, Mr. Bojang was quick to issue an unreserved apology to the journalist he abused, all journalists and all Gambians. This apology supports the many who came out in his defense to attest to his character as a decent guy and argue that his resignation would be a loss to the Press Union. While i take their word for it and hope Mr. Bojang stays on, I must say that his actions are utterly disappointing and I hope he learns from the moment and uses the video to teach how not to treat a journalist. I hope he works extra hard to prove his supporters right through his work at both the Chronicle and at the Gambia Press Union.