Knowing the role and importance of political parties in a multiparty democracy it is therefore no easy decision that the largest political party in the Gambia has decided to stand by democratic and human rights standards. The news that UDP has declared that public servants will not hold party positions and that 30% of their elected officials will be women is indeed steps in the right direction that directly impact on the good governance of the Gambia. Political parties are the pillars of our democratic governance system because it is parties that produce the president, parliamentarians and local councillors. It is these people who run our presidency, legislature and local councils.
Hence if these elected officials come from an environment where democratic standards are upheld and promoted then it means we will end up having a presidency, parliament and local councils that are democratic and abiding by good governance practices. For that matter the decision by UDP to begin the democratisation process from inside its party can only serve the best intertest of the Gambia.
We must bear in mind that when political parties are undemocratic there is no way that when they win state power, they will deliver democracy at the national level. Political parties are either ruling governments or governments in waiting. Hence adherence to good governance principles and practices must start first inside the political parties in order to achieve democracy in the government. It cannot be the other way around.
The decision to also allocate 30% of positions to women is in direct fulfilment of the agreements that the Gambia made to international declarations and instruments for gender equality and social justice in the world. The best example of that is the fourth international conference on women held in Beijing in 1995 where world leaders identified women in power and leadership as one of the 12 critical areas to address in order to empower women and ensure equality.
The Beijing Declaration and Plan of Action specifically mentioned that political parties should examine party structures and procedures to eliminate discrimination against women’s participation and to develop initiatives to encourage women’s participation and incorporate gender issues in their political agenda. Therefore, this decision by UDP is indeed revolutionary in the context of the Gambia for which the party needs commendation and support.
With decisions like this it means UDP, on its own, will raise the number of elected women in our National Assembly and local councils if it ensures that 30% of nominations are women. This can only bring immense benefits to our society by stamping out gender discrimination and exclusion hence spur national development exponentially as we saw how such decisions have benefited countries like Rwanda and Sweden. Considering this welcoming news, I hereby inform UDP that I, Madi Jobarteh is willing, free of charge, to train the leadership of the party and their women leaders in particular on gender and women’s empowerment. Anytime!
Just as UDP has a gender quota we urge it to also consider quotas for youth, persons with disability and other minorities with a view to make the party more open and inclusive hence further strengthen the party and overall governance in the Gambia. In similar vein UDP must also endeavour to set term limits for leadership. The benefit of terms limits for our young democracy is that it allows rejuvenation of the party, build and maintain confidence and morale in the rank and file and limit self-perpetuation in power.
Furthermore, I wish to call on the party to still continue to seek further decentralisation of power. For far too long, by default or design, few names and structures seem to dominate or are synonymous with the power and profile of the party. While I pay special tribute to Ousainou Darboe for steering this party through the most trying times of our history, yet we must recognise that UDP has to transcend Ousainou Darboe. It is not enough for Ousainou to say this, but he has to translate it into practice by creating tangible bylaws, policies and structures so that no one person or committee ever dominates the life of the party.
It is true that during periods of dictatorship or colonialism in any country or in emerging new nations certain individuals do overshadow their parties such as Yasser Arafat and PLO, Nelson Mandela and ANC or Xanana Gusmao of East Timor. Now that the Gambia has defeated dictatorship in which UDP played a major part it is therefore necessary that the new leaders realise that UDP need no more heroes of liberation but heroes of democracy and good governance. This can only be achieved through decentralisation of power and decision making to and through a diversity of structures and processes.
Therefore, it is heartening to realise that there are youth and women’s wings. But these wings must not just merely be structures for politicking, mobilization and to serve particular leaders. Rather these structures must be made into robust and autonomous bodies of power and decision making and whose decisions must carry weight. This is one of the best ways to avoid power being concentrated in one person’s hands or in one committee hence dilute the quality of decision making and the viability and survival of a party beyond a leader.
While we commend UDP for these ground-breaking decisions, I wish to further urge the party to continue to aim for higher democratic and good governance ideals and standards. For example, the party needs to begin to create necessary structures, tools and processes to further enhance its governance, leadership and management. National policy and law-making begins inside political parties in true democracies.
For that matter UDP need to begin to create technical structures or working committees for policy and law-making, gender, budget, oversight, youth, persons with disability, environment and indeed all aspects of our development. Through these structures the party will also become a more professional, vibrant and relevant entity.
In this way the party would easily gather information and evidence in order to suggest policy and development alternatives that can only enhance good governance. Political parties are also accountability instruments for the government hence when UDP and indeed all of our parties modernise their structures and make knowledge and evidence the basis of decision making they will have succeeded in better holding the government accountable if they are in the opposition or better perform if they are in government.
That aside, UDP like all other parties must also uphold the highest standards of transparency and accountability for their own affairs, decisions, activities and leaders. For example, I hope UDP will release the details of the resources for this congress: how much was spent and what are the sources? These cannot and must not be anonymous rather the party must continue that leadership streak by reporting back to Gambians how it did its congress. It must therefore create various platforms, structures and processes to ensure transparency and accountability. These can be online platforms, press conferences, press releases and issuance of reports to the general public.
Once again kudos to UDP. Meantime the general public must continue to scrutinise UDP and all our political parties knowing that when our parties fail the nation fails.
For the Gambia Our Homeland.