First of all, the eventual selection of Mr. Adama Barrow of UDP to lead the coalition of seven political parties (PDOIS, UDP, GPDP, NRP, NCP, GMC, and PPP) has been no easy feat and is highly commendable. I had to admit that initially I had misgivings and doubted the ability of these seven political parties uniting under one candidate to unseat the tyrannical and murderous regime of Yaya Jammeh, the deranged leader of The Gambia.
As a political pundit, I have observed that elections alone have never unseated entrenched, paranoid and criminal dictators like Yaya Jammeh who have everything to lose and nothing to gain by yielding power. However, an all-opposition coalition would provide a single voice to enforce the will of the people by engaging and coordinating mass protests to root out the dictator who would most likely try to cling to power no matter what.
Gambians should learn from these two lessons: In Burkina Faso in 2014, mass protests chased Blaise Campaore, another despotic and criminal president, out of office when he was hell bent on extending his stay in power. In contrast, in August 2016, Ali Bongo of Gabon managed to hold on to power by fraudulently “winning” with a razor-thin margin over his coalition-backed opponent, Jean Ping. Protests ensued but was poorly coordinated and fragmented, while the opposition was busy trying to seek legal redress to no avail.
Having said that, why did Dr. Touray, an independent candidate and Mamma Kandeh of GDC, both of whom claimed to be vying for the presidency in the “interest of the country” pulled out of the coalition talks? I am disappointed, but not surprised. Both were only interested in being selected as flag bearer. The moment they realized the odds were not in their favor, they each resorted to some nonsensical technicalities, mostly pertaining to faulty operational procedures instead of convincing their colleagues and other parties’ delegates to support their candidature.
Dr. Touray announced her candidacy sometime in August 2016, at a time when the coalition of eight parties (including GDC) were working feverishly to find a common ground to come together. Her argument for coming out, albeit disingenuous, was to offer herself as an independent candidate since the opposition have failed to come together in prior elections. Her entering in the field was at best premature and further complicated the coalition talks (more negotiating parties is never better for consensus-seeking negotiations). She should have offered herself as an alternative candidate only if the opposition failed to come together this time and she should have done it in close doors instead of bad mouthing the opposition and displaying great deal of arrogance and contempt. Nonetheless, the opposition parties gave her due consideration and included her and her team in all their deliberations.
After several meetings and negotiations that included Dr. Touray or her representatives, the parties agreed to the modalities of selecting a flag bearer, a document that Dr. Touray signed on October 14, 2016. Few days later, she came out with an incoherent letter of a press release criticizing harshly and hauling insults to the opposition calling their document “at best too broad, pre-mature and incoherent and at worse inadequate.” Who signs a document and then disagree? This is political immaturity, poor judgment and bad negotiation skills that is not expected of our learned doctor and future president. The ramifications of such types of action may be catastrophic for a government.
Without the courtesy of notifying the convention organizers, Dr. Touray also failed to show up at the convention with her 70 party delegates after she was included in the ballot. I was flabbergasted and thought something might have happened. The doctor issued a statement saying that she “deeply regrets her absence” and that she will “stand in solidarity with the opposition.” Two days later in a press conference, she was belligerent and disrespectful to journalists who posed some uncomfortable questions to her. She made several contradictory remarks such as “I do not pull out.” She stated that she will go back to the people to see if she will put up her candidature for the presidency and retorted shortly after a question was posed to her that she is “going ahead with the nominations.” Which is which? Again, Dr. Touray has displayed political immaturity, inability to work well with others, and lack of tact and basic decorum to lead Gambia forward.
As for Mama Kandeh and the GDC, I have to admit that I was initially an unofficial supporter of GDC and its leader based on their ability to rejuvenate some sectors of the electorate and to pull large crowds. Kandeh is also very charismatic, eloquent and looked presidential. However, as time goes on, it was evident to me that he was interested only to lead the coalition. His party joined the coalition talks but refused to sign the document when they got wind that the odds were stacked against Kandeh to lead the coalition.
GDC’s primary reasoning for not signing the document was that they were never included in the document as a party as the document was between Gambia Opposition for Electoral Reforms (GOFER) and the independent candidate, Dr. Isatou Touray. GDC, as alluded by one Mr. Kah, a party executive who doubled as a spokesperson in this matter, was not in existence when GOFER was formed and thus the agreement was not binding since they never formally joined GOFER. Is GDC not an opposition party and not for electoral reforms? How hard is it to reach out to the GOFER members to solicit official inclusion? How difficult was it to pick up the phone or send a person, or write a letter to resolve these matters? Not at all.
Also, Kandeh’s camp rallied for an open convention (while not part of GOFER, so they say) which is impractical, resource intensive and would lead to voter fatigue. In my opinion, the moment GDC realized that UDP candidate would likely be nominated, they used technicality of not being part of GOFER to excuse themselves from the coalition. Why were they actively involved in the coalition talks for weeks if they were not part of GOFER? Did they not know then?
I strongly urge both GDC and Dr. Isatou Touray to revisit their stance and rally behind the coalition-led candidate, Mr. Adama Barrow, else they lose their credibility and ensure another term for Jammeh. They should quickly jump on the coalition’s bandwagon or risk being relegated to the bad actors of Gambia’s political history.
By Diallo Jallow