As Driver-in-chief of Bus Gambia – to use your transport metaphor – the twist and turn you make, at crucial stages of the journey to destination prosperity, will determine the fate of our country. Faced with a potential protest in December by the bandwagon of ‘3 Years Jotna’, your government has reached a critical cross-road: you either have to make up, or risk driving the bus towards a crash. That is the stark choice in front of you.
In politics, as in life, you mark yourself out on where you stand in moments of conflict and crisis, not during times of comfort and calm – to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr. These are not ordinary times in Gambia. The air is thick with a sense of a looming crisis, following the cast-iron determination of the ‘3 Years Jotna’ movement to take to the street to protest against your refusal to hand over power.
I have argued in these pages before that it is constitutionally wrong, verging on dishonesty, to force you to step down in three years. Such a move should be sanctioned by our law-making body, the National Assembly, to change our statue book, which mandates an elected president to serve for five years, if the protesters were to stand on legitimate rocket boosters to terminate your contract with Gambians. That you all agreed on three years, but refused to enact it into law, let alone your own MoU, is a collective failure of all involved.
Our NAMs didn’t do the deed. But that doesn’t render their case to be without merit. That is why now, more than ever, is the time to sit back, take a pause, and make moves to outmaneuver and outflank your political opponents by standing up for the national interest. Not escalate already fraught tensions, as some of your cabinet ministers are hell-bent on doing.
When the political journey is strewn with rough-edges, your ability as the lead-driver to navigate your way to smooth terrain would distinguish your mettle as a leader, your skills as a stress-tested operator and your foresight as a team captain. Because under pressure, the virtues and vices of a man manifest itself. It is how your deploy them, at the right time for the right cause that makes a crisis solved, bestow honor and endear you to people. Harold Macmillan, former British Prime Minister, was famously asked what he feared most. He droned on: “ Events, dear boy, events.” And “events” are about to sweep your government, shoving your bus to a juddering halt. You need to act far and fast before being at the mercy of “events”. “What to do?” What on earth can I do to defuse this crisis”, I hear you ask.
First, and most importantly, call for a meeting, inviting all the protest leaders, political party leaders, civil society representatives and religious leaders for a dialogue on national unity at state house.
Secondly, no less important, enlist the optic public service of GRTS to broadcast the event live prime-time – preferable immediately after the evening news. During the meeting, be more of a listener than an active speaker. Stick to your opening remarks, and your closing statements. Let the religious leaders lecture in chapter and verses the importance of unity to all present, as interlocutor of the meeting. Make sure leaders of all religious shades and colors are invited.
Thirdly, give a fair hearing to the points protest leaders and political party leaders are going to put forward. They deserve to be heard, and respected. Some personal comments may hurt. But suck it up. You call the meeting to serve as a human shield against a far worse catastrophe. In political terms, it is called the sadomasochism strategy, which means as a leader, when people are angry with you all what you have to do is appear in front of them. They can empty the anguish they had against you. That will make them both satisfied and relaxed that you have the guts to engage them.
In your closing statement, make a point of striking a message of unity, that you recognize and respect the contribution each and every member made from dictatorship to democracy, that in you they have a servant who listens and leads, that as a democrat you will respect the constitution and serve for five years, that beyond that anyone with ambition to be president can stand for president to be decided by the sovereign people of The Gambia. Lock them in a binding commitment there and then to pledge, as democrats, that they will respect the constitution and desist from the politics of protest.
That is the way to hem the crisis back into its sealed box. You must be able to communicate in clear terms, and show some gumption whiles delivery you message in a way that the public will not misunderstand, and the media and those present will not misrepresent. This is not the time for weak and wobbly leadership. It is time to stand up and be counted. You are attempting to ward off a criss, and deny your opponents a propaganda gift. Remember that who controls the streets controls power. The protest, if not head off, could mutate into a deep crisis. You have to do something practical. Merely counting on the blessings of Allah to wish away the protest from happening is phantasm. Politics is an art. Not a science. Nothing is chiseled in stone. As Machiavelli shrewdly observed: power could be attained by principles, but it is retained by pragmatism.
It is time to jaw-jaw with Gambians to bring the stand-off to an end. Follow the wisdom of one of the founding fathers of US Benjamin Franklin on the need to extend an olive branch to friends and foes alike during times of tension when he sarcastically quipped : “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately”? Hang out with them at state house.
It is in your gift, Mr president. Hit a different gear in a new direction of conciliation and camaraderie. And, whiles you are at it, swerve the bus from the looming criss to landscape of sunny uplands of tranquility, not tiff!
The writer Amadou Camara studied political science at University of The Gambia and is currently based in the US