By Sait Matty Jaw
On 1st December Gambians will head to the polls to elect a president. Most if not everyone agrees that this election will either shape or break Gambia. It is no longer doing business as usual. Gambians both at home and abroad have grown bolder and stronger over the course of Jammeh and APRC‘s 22 years rule. If the APRC was successful in any way, it was putting fear into Gambians for so long that Gambians are now resilient to fear. The evidence is in the number of people that have piled the roads since April 2016 to demand the state to arrest them or even use violence against them. It is also the number of people that rally and openly defect to the opposition political parties. Indeed the Gambia is changing and changing fast.
So, this election we have three presidential candidates: the incumbent dictator president Jammeh, Adama Barrow for the opposition coalition and Mama Kandeh of the GDC or aka the “new boy”. I have nothing to say about Jammeh. Everything I say will be repetition and I have neither the time nor the patience to indulge in such. I am happy that after 20 years, the traditional political parties are finally involved in politics and not radical activism. Politics is about compromise. It requires vision and foresight. To give away some and receive some at another time. Our parties have never been able to do this whilst knowing that the electoral system is not in their favor. So, we are grateful that they are finally able to put aside their so called differences and have decided to come together for Gambia and her people. The third candidate Mama Kandeh has received wide criticism mostly from diaspora Gambians. He has been seen as a spoiler. In fact, he seems to be the Donald Trump of Gambian politics at this stage. Only that he is way more sensible and better looking. He also has a great posture and proper message that he is able to sell to the real people that matter for his campaign – the voters. We’ve seen the crowd he is pulling and yet we are in denial, we continue to reject him, calling him names and accusing him of been funded by Jammeh. For me all these things are not new in Gambian politics. It has been the epicenter of our politics. I am not sure if it will ever change. However, I think when we engage in such deliberations we always miss the bigger picture.
Let me be clear. This is not an endorsement of Kandeh or his GDC party. I am all for coalition. I have voted coalition in 2011 and will vote it again and again. However, we must understand what is happening and accept the fact that GDC can upset the elections.
Mama Kandeh is real. We must wake up to that fact. He is here to stay and he has his own strategy and his ways of politicking should not be brushed aside. It is real and it is making head ways for him and the thousands of Gambians that rally around him. Kandeh understand the psyche of the ordinary Gambian and that’s the reason he continue to emphasize his peaceful message. He has painted his party as the non-violent peace loving party that only engages in politics. This is the message that every ordinary Gambian wants to hear even if they living in abject poverty. Is it true that his party is the only peaceful one? No. But is it selling? Yes.
See, there is a huge disparity between the Gambians at home and those abroad. For most of us outside, we either do not see the real picture or we have decided to ignore it. Most of the time we engage people that we share the same ideas with to feed us information from the ground and we sometimes take this to be the gospel truth. I am in denial at times even though I talk to people in every corner of Gambia to measure up what is happening. That is not sufficient, but has always given a different picture. How do we relate these two pictures in order to get one real picture that tells us what the reality is? I have no idea how to do that.
I will just say again that Kandeh’s crowd is real and it will undoubtedly upset both the APRC and the coalition. However, the APRC will suffer more as most of their sympathizers have crossed the carpet to join the GDC. Many accuse the GDC of APRC style politics, but they are totally different.
GDC’s approach is personal, home-to-home and grassroots. They seem to be culturally sensitive. For instance taking kola nuts to mosques, meeting elders to pray for them, Kandeh joining prayers with elders…etc. Honestly, GDC knows the terrain and at this point, it is working for them.
On the side of the coalition, they can lose votes to the GDC if they spread vulgar messages. Just on nomination day, I was talking to some people and they told me that the coalition militants were using foul messages. I remember during the convention all the opposition leaders emphasize how important language is, if one wants to win the support of others. Many or majority of Gambians will vote for a candidate they consider respectful and sensitive and not one that perceive otherwise. Adama Barrow should be the inspiration for the coalition militants. The minute we go out using unwarranted language, we are distancing him from the electorates and rendering the coalition vulnerable. A lot of work needs to be done on that side. I sometimes argue that the reason why UDP could not win many sympathizers before was the language that comes from some of the militants. I have seen the same trajectory since the 1996 elections. If we are to succeed in this process, language should be nice and welcoming. I know for a fact that we are angry and we want to see change, but the change we are seeking can only come about if we are able to mobilize others to join us. Let us use our heads and not hearts. If we fail to do so, let us be rest assured Kandeh is standing