By: Madi Jobarteh
Let me say upfront that I fully and wholeheartedly endorse the candidature of Dr. Isatou Touray for President of the Republic of the Gambia in the presidential election on 1st December 2016. Dr. Touray has the capacity in every sense of the word – education, expertise, experience and values to lead the Gambia particularly at this most crucial juncture never experienced by our people since independence. The Gambia faces an existential threat of violent disintegration like many other African nations under tyranny before us. Therefore at this very moment as the nation bleeds and seeks to salvage itself, it needs a person of compassion and commitment and with a clear track record of selfless service and dedicated involvement in the protection of the human rights of Gambians to lead that process. By standing as an independent and a non-partisan candidate, Dr. Touray therefore towers above partisan and individual power struggles that have been the major obstacle preventing the opposition parties and leaders from uniting since 1996 to end this military misrule couched in a semblance of democracy. By this endorsement, in the name of national salvation, I call on the leaders of the opposition parties to rally their full support behind Dr. Isatou Touray to be the only single and unifying opposition candidate in this most important election. Her candidature and personality therefore are both a symbol and a tool for unity and liberation that all Gambians and political parties and leaders must seize upon.
What is at stake?
What is at stake is our very lives, individually and collectively and the future of the nation. Going by the 1997 constitution and all its amendments and the laws of this country vis-a-vis the decisions and actions of the government, it is clear that the leading violator of the constitution and the rule of law in the Gambia is the Government of the Gambia itself. The spirit and intention of the 1997 constitution is to produce a democratic dispensation in the Gambia, by law and practice. Yet since 1997, the Executive arm of the State has not only interfered with the rule of law and the separation of powers principle as laid out in the constitution, but the Executive went even further to undermine that very constitution as a whole by butchering it so as to seize all powers from the people and hand it over to a single individual as president. The president in turn continues to disrespect the constitution, subvert our sovereignty and personalise public wealth as well as state institutions and processes which are being used to kill the rights and lives of citizens according to his whims and caprices.
What is at stake therefore is the very existence of the Gambia as a unified and harmonious nation, and the sovereignty of the people to live in freedom and dignity as intentioned by the constitution. Gambians face the historic task and a national duty to therefore salvage our motherland from the clutches of tyranny and live up to the creed of our nation and the dreams of our forefathers led by His Excellency Edward Francis Small when they fought for the independence of this nation from colonialism since 1920.
What is to be Done
At this juncture, Dr. Isatou Touray must set up a broad-based campaign team to engage with all sections of the Gambian population. At the top of this engagement is for herself to lead direct and personal engagement with the leaders of the various parties to seek their support to rally behind her. Isatou needs to absolutely understand that by standing alone no amount of qualification and experience guarantees her victory in a two-decade long infested environment under a regime and an incumbent that have distinguished themselves by their utter disregard of the legal and political obligations placed on them by the laws of the land. Therefore Isatou needs to do urgent rapprochement towards these parties to discuss the terms of the coalition behind her and the composition of the unity government that is to emerge and the objectives of that government within a specified duration and work plan.
At the same time, the leaders of the opposition parties must come face to face with reality and to accept the fact that the emergence of Isatou is a golden opportunity for them to finally contribute to a process that will salvage our country. For two decades our opposition had several opportunities, and the conditions have always been ripe and the cause never more justified to come together for the sole interest of the freedom, unity and development of the Gambia. Yet they proved unable to seize the moment and the opportunities to respond to the deep yearnings of our masses to save them as Moses saved his people from the clutches of the Pharaoh. Where Moses succeeded to take his people through the Red Sea, our opposition faltered uncountable times to take us across Denton Bridge. The time for hard truth telling is now. The fact is that the opposition will never unite because they will continue to bicker and fight one another. PDOIS, GDC and NRP will not allow a UDP led coalition and UDP, GDC and NRP will not allow the idea of primaries proposed by PDOIS and none of them will rally behind Mama Kandeh who has also not shown any intention to go behind any party or coalition. So we are in a stalemate as far as these parties are concerned. Thus the only and best option is for the parties be urged to rally around Isatou while maintaining their own parties.
Thus the coming of Isatou serves to solve the incessant infighting over the methodology for coalition. The parties and their leaders as well as their surrogates especially in the Diaspora must be reminded that the Gambia is at its most critical historic moment. For that matter, these parties and leaders, more than anyone else must place themselves on the right side of history and not on the wrong side. The right side of history is that Isatou represents the deep aspirations of the masses of the people who have suffered untold crimes and atrocities for 22 years and they want to be free, now. The opposition parties themselves have been major victims of these crimes and atrocities as there is no opposition party or leader who has not borne the brunt of the tyranny that is enslaving us. No party is in any position of strength or armed with any options with which it can generate change on its own or in small groups. We need 100% opposition unity behind a single candidate: Dr. Isatou Touray.
All Gambians and particularly supporters and surrogates of these opposition leaders must put pressure on them to look towards Isatou with the view to work out an arrangement to rally behind her and salvage this nation. These leaders must be told that Gambians are no more interested in vain technicalities and rationalizations only to seek to stifle once again another golden opportunity for national salvation. Our human rights and lives are being destroyed daily thus we do not have the luxury of politics as usual.
Special Appeal to UDP
In this endorsement I wish to make a special appeal to the UDP because it is the biggest opposition party and the party that has suffered most in the past 22 years in the Gambia. Currently the very top leadership of the party is in jail led by its Secretary General Ousainou Darboe and scores of other leaders and members. Many have been tortured and the two blessed Solo had already passed away. The very experience of this party and the circumstances that characterized this most dastardly experience is the single major factor why UDP, more than at any time in its history, should demonstrate leadership and strategy today. By its experience especially since the April Protests, UDP has gained lot of sympathy and support from diverse people some of who would not have supported the party otherwise. One of such people is my humble self. But we have reached a situation where UDP must not be driven by emotions but to look at the facts in the face and act accordingly. Fundamentally it must ask itself how do we ensure that Ousainou and the other political prisoners are freed and their lives saved? What power and options does the party have to ensure that? The fact remains that UDP and in fact no political party has such powers and options in the Gambia. The only source of power and option available is incontestably a coalition as a means to effect regime change. Since at least 2003 when the first-past-the-post or simply majority rule was introduced in our elections, the drums for a coalition started beating because it dawned on everyone that without a coalition there is very little, if any chance to unseat the incumbent. Yet a coalition continues to
elude the opposition fantastically.
My appeal to the UDP therefore is to throw their backing onto Dr. Isatou Touray. The party would do that because it does not wish to allow the opportunity for a coalition to slip through our fingers again as it has always happened for the past decade and at great cost to the UDP in particular. By supporting Isatou, by default UDP and all Gambians will also put pressure on the major parties, NRP, PDOIS, NCP and GDC to also rally behind her. I am sure they would positively respond because they would want to be seen on the right side of history. Secondly by coming to support Isatou, UDP would have helped to solve the longstanding impasse in the opposition camp over the formation of a coalition. But failure to also back Isatou means potentially there will be multiple opposition candidates from two up to 6 or more. In such a situation, not only will the opposition allow the re-election of Pres. Jammeh, but they would as well guarantee the continued incarceration of Ousainou and his colleagues. These are old men and women with health conditions and faced with the appalling conditions in prison, the unfortunate possibility of some of them succumbing becomes high. Furthermore, failure to coalesce and defeat the incumbent, the opposition would have therefore easily facilitated the further oppression and violent disintegration of the country.
In light of the above, I wish to call on the UDP leadership at home and in prison to rally behind Isatou which would demonstrate their leadership and wisdom that can only serve to gain the party much more support. We must realize that leadership can be provided from the top or from behind or from within. In this case, I am calling on the UDP to serve from within and from behind.
Who is Isatou Touray
Isatou Touray is the most qualified individual among all the current politicians in the Gambia. She has a PhD. There are some who seek to downplay education and experience in this election. While it is true that the world has produced many terrible tyrants with high educational degrees, yet education offers us the single most important and tangible guarantee that an individual is not ignorant even if he or she turns out to be a dictator. After all the fact of intellectual dishonesty or intellectuals without conscience is a reality of life. A Masters degree to a PhD exposes the mind of a human being, by theory and practice to multiple and divergent and even conflicting ideas and sources of information to go beyond common sense, dogma and faith in understanding phenomena. A Masters degree, much more a PhD builds one’s ability to engage in objective observation and critical analysis of raw data, phenomenon and evidence in order to arrive at and develop a body of knowledge therefrom. Higher education trains and equips the degree holder with the tools of research and analysis that are always useful in every aspect of one’s life. Thus when a Masters/PhD holder is imbued with the values of honesty and justice, these ideas, skills and exposure created in the process of getting these advanced degrees enable this person to make not only informed decisions but also to be amenable to divergent and dissenting opinions. When such a person is further inspired and guided by universal human values of humility, honesty and a sense of justice it is such individuals that become high achievers in any endeavour they are engaged with. Thus the value of education cannot be downplayed in anyway, rather it must be promoted and demanded as a first test of political leadership.
In light of the above, Isatou is the most qualified candidate because she has a PhD and this is extremely important. Having worked with her, I found her to epitomize the most passionate professional who believes in the correctness of her work and cause. I found Isatou to be also highly charismatic and humble with a strong personality and as well as highly committed to her vision and mission. Above all, Isatou is close to, and empathetic to the issues and concerns of the masses of Gambians. While we have politicians engage their constituencies and tour the country mainly during elections, but here is a woman who is constantly and continuously engaged all year round across the country. Every week Isatou is going around communities in this country and has such close and passionate connection with the masses that her name is a household commodity in every part of the country. The evidence of this connection can be noticed during her persecution in 2010 during which the State brought various witnesses to court from even the farthest points of this country yet these witnesses, regardless of everything stood up to vindicate Isatou Touray and her colleague Amie Bojang in broad daylight.
Isatou is a hard working person. Within the NGO community, she is among a very few NGO leaders who have worked tirelessly to lead her organization with such consistency and strength against all the challenges confronting her and her cause. Isatou’s involvement in development work is directly inspired by her conscience to stand against injustice in all its forms. Through her work for the liberation of Gambian women, she confronts head on diehard feudalists and Islamists on the hard and sensitive issue of harmful traditional practices which demonstrates the fearlessness and resoluteness of this woman. How many individuals would have the courage of their convictions to stand in the midst of their community, as conservative as Gambia to speak out directly and bluntly against deep-seated cultural practices such as female circumcision, wife inheritance, early and forced marriage and wife battering? For more than two decades Isatou stood her ground as she faced jeers, doubts and threats from the State itself as well as from colleagues, imams and traditional leaders, public officials, feudalists and conservatives because of her determined stand against the very foundations of her culture and society. Yet the woman never relented and she never ran away. The abolition of FGM in 2015 had already found Isatou and her team on the path of making the Gambia an FGM-free nation by 2020. Which better Gambian is there to therefore lead this country out of the lion’s den than Dr. Isatou Touray?
As a human rights defender, Isatou’s work on women’s rights speaks directly to the very core of the political malaise confronting the nation and she has been heavily involved in the democratization process of the Gambia. I have engaged and worked with Isatou in various processes and activities with various national and international stakeholders for the protection of human rights and the good governance of the Gambia. This women has not only worked to promote her cause and defend our mothers, sisters and daughters and as well as the boys and men of this country, but she is one of the few NGOs who have constructed a massive office complex as the headquarters of her organization, Gamcotrap. She has provided mentorship to numerous Gambian men and women, inspiring and encouraging our young women to build their self esteem and confidence to become dignified leaders of their society.
Detractors and Distractions
The candidature of Isatou Touray will face challenges from opponents and those who are not so clear about issues and the significance of this moment in our history. There will be those who are apprehensive as to whether the masses of voters will support a female candidate. Some will seek to drag her name into the mud as they disingenuously highlight her personal weaknesses or family setup and the mistakes she must have experienced in her career. I recognise that each and every human being inherently has biases, weaknesses and will commit mistakes in the course of time and career. However I am also aware of the fact that a human being is not defined only by the sum total of personal weaknesses and mistakes. I found in Isatou that this woman is not a person of vanity and greed interested basically to satisfy her ego and desires.
The argument that Gambian voters are not ready for a woman leader is akin to the baseless argument that colonialised African nations in the 1960s were not yet ready for independence. Was the Gambia not labelled an improbable nation? Aside from unjust socio-cultural and misconceived Islamic ideas, there is nothing inherent in a woman that incapacitates her to lead especially a woman as well educated and experienced like Dr. Isatou Touray. Thus instead of one seeking to re-echo and highlight such chauvinistic views, all must rather be prepared to continue to educate and dispel feudalistic ideas that women cannot be leaders.
There are some who argue that Isatou is late to show up and the other opposition leaders have been there longer and will not support her. Yet others will claim that she has no political experience. What we need to highlight is that so long as the nomination is not closed, no candidate is late in declaring his or her interest particularly someone of Isatou’s calibre. With already a clean and strong track record, Isatou is a household name who is fully connected with the people. Thus if she has a good two months of effective campaigning with the formidable force of the opposition parties and leaders fully and actively behind her, one will realize that she is not late indeed. After all the Gambia is just a space of 11000 square miles divided on both sides of a river with a voting population of less than one million.
Secondly we must not view issues from the point of political parties and individual leaders and their interests including Isatou herself. Rather we must view issues from the point of what is at stake if we fail to rally around Isatou as a single candidate from the opposition. As I said, our very lives and future are what is at stake. Already the country has witnessed several acts of insurgency – the armed attacks on Farafeni in 1996, and against Kartong Barracks in 1997 as well as on State House in 2014, and also the recent firebombing of the APRC headquarters and the increasing war rhetoric by various Gambians calling for a violent overthrow of the regime are major cause for concern. On the other hand, the ever-growing violent and deadly repression by the regime as well point to the fact that this country has already lost its democratic trajectory and is now fast on the path of losing its innocence. From the point of conflict analysis and early warning, no one should be in doubt that any further prolongation of the APRC regime is certainly leading the country into a bloody violent crisis. Thus anyone who speaks of the opposition not going to support Isatou must be reminded of the stakes, as well as the fact that these very opposition parties have already failed to unite among themselves before. Why then should they find it difficult to unite behind a non-partisan and credible person?
Finally, the argument that Isatou does not have political experience is an empty rhetoric because there is not yet any school anywhere in the world where one can go to learn about how to run for president. All the great democratically elected presidents of the world where mere individuals like Isatou, and for most of them, Isatou is even far more qualified and well experienced than them. For all of them, it was mere circumstances that compelled them to step up and assume their historic national duty knowing the critical juncture in which their people were. Yet they proved to be great leaders eventually. It is those same circumstances that have also produced Dr. Isatou Touray in our lifetime.
Having worked out proper arrangements with the opposition parties, the Isatou Campaign must be set in motion without delay. A robust campaign strategy must be developed. The strategy should be able to identify which parties and leaders will cover which regions and towns and villages so that there is multipronged campaigning. There must be a communications strategy anchored on the campaign manifesto and the state of affairs in the country. All forms of media must be utilised while media packages such as audio and video drama skits are produced and disseminated. Leaflets, brochures, posters and billboards must be produced carrying various forms of message such as 10 reasons why one must vote for Candidate Isatou and change. There must be routine planning, monitoring and reporting mechanisms to oversee the use of resources and methods of the campaign in line with strategic planning processes and analysis. These analysis should look at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within the environment in order to further strengthen the campaign. These are not normal times and the opponents are not normal citizens. Given the profile of the population, all forms of media must be utilised to reach each and every individual voter with a message.
Dr. Isatou Touray has sworn to serve for only one five-year term during which she will embark on constitutional, legal and institutional reviews amidst reshaping our social and economic environment in order to bring back smiles to our faces. All Gambians must therefore hail her. Each and every one of us must make our contribution to this crusade to restore the Gambia where there is justice, freedom and peace. We must not allow our beautiful country to drift into the abyss of misery, but to stand up to salvage ourselves. This is not a campaign by Isatou. This should a crusade by all Gambians.
I hereby endorse Dr. Isatou Touray. Forward with the Gambia.