By Sana Sarr
In less than 5 days, Gambians head to the polls to elect the next president of the republic. From having well over 20 declared aspirants, the pool has been narrowed down to only 6 candidates on the ballot. Since Gambians not currently living in the country have been denied the right to vote, I decided to contribute by sharing my opinion on the different candidates we are presented with.
IEC, GMC and CA- The Referee and the Disqualified
Dr. Ismaila Ceesay (Citizens Alliance – CA) and Mai Ahmad Fatty (Gambia Moral Congress – GMC)
It’s refreshing to see these two candidates and their parties enter the political arena and put their names in contention for the presidency. Fatty has been active with his GMC for over a decade now but this is the first time his name is on the ballot for the presidency. Ceesay, the youngest candidate, is a political science lecturer at the University of The Gambia and leads the Citizens Alliance which has inspired a lot of young people to actively participate in the party politics. After much work by their respective parties to build political capital, the Independent Electoral Commission, IEC, disqualified both candidates and declared them ineligible to contest in the presidential elections. Both candidates sued the IEC and were vindicated by the courts. Judgement is that both men should be reinstated on the ballot. Unfortunately, there’s not much time. The IEC has done irreparable damage to their chances because there simply is not enough time for either candidate to prepare adequately for this election cycle.
Abdoulie Jammeh (National Unity Party – NUP)
Who??? – I’m sorry but I simply don’t know enough about this candidate or his party to comment on them. Therefore, call me biased but I hereby disqualify them from my commentary.
The Independent Electoral Commission – IEC
The Good – In 2016, the IEC, under the leadership of Alieu Momar Njie, did what many, including myself, thought nobody would dare. They risked their lives to uphold the will of the Gambian people by declaring that the dictator had lost the election. What could be more important in a democracy!
The Bad – Unfortunately, that heroic stance was quickly followed by an unforced error that could have led to a civil war and it almost did. The IEC announced that they made some counting errors in the initial results they announced. Sure enough, the dictator capitalized on the error, tried to reject the election results and had to be compelled by military forces to leave. We dodged a bullet – or bullets and bombs.
The IEC has also failed to facilitate diaspora voting. Despite being heavily invested in the country and sending remittances which feed many homes on the ground, Gambians living abroad are denied the opportunity to vote in elections. This is an injustice that the IEC should have corrected but refused to.
Most recently, a court in The Gambia found that the IEC wrongfully disqualified two candidates (Dr. Ismaila Ceesay and Mai Ahmad Fatty of Citizens Alliance(CA) and Gambia Moral Congress (GMC) respectively) from contesting in the upcoming elections.
The Concern – The foundation of our democracy is for people to have confidence in the integrity of the process. The errors in 2016 and the recent court rulings in favor of CA and GMC undermine that confidence and put the nation at risk of civil unrest. Like we saw in 2016, all it takes is for a losing party or candidate to reject election results and the country can go into flames. The IEC must do better and avoid such juvenile mistakes in order to maintain public trust. These errors also deprive voters of the opportunity to vote for their preferred candidates. Additionally, it can weaken our democracy by leading to voter apathy when the electorate, especially the youth, feel that they cannot trust the referee of our elections. Finally, a public institution losing court cases carries an expensive bill that will be passed on to the tax papers.
ELECTION REFLECTION – The Outsiders
Mama Kandeh (Gambia Democratic Congress – GDC)
The Good – Kandeh was a factor in the 2016 elections that got rid of the dictator. While some believe that his refusal to join the coalition back then took votes away from Coalition2016 and increased the dictator’s chances of winning, others argue that Kandeh in fact took votes away from the dictator. Either way, I give him credit for participating and continuing to engage communities since 2016.
The Bad – Sadly, Kandeh proved his lack of integrity by entering into some sort of partnership with the evil that is Jammeh. Lo and behold, all that rhetoric since 2016 of wanting to usher in change was hot air.
The Concern – Like many in the political arena, all he is interested in is a chance to loot like the dictator. Kandeh has never cared about Jammeh’s victims or our collective victimhood as a nation. His desperation for power is all that matters to him and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do to achieve it.
Essa Mbye Faal (Independent)
The Good – First of all, I am glad Faal ignored all the detractors who said he should not have entered the race. The argument that he used the TRRC to gain popularity is nonsense. So is the accusation that his presidential bid somehow undermines the credibility of the TRRC. Faal did not hire himself for that job. The National Assembly ordered for the commission. Faal felt he was qualified, applied and was deemed suitable to carry out the task. His job was to lead the witnesses in their testimony. He completed that task with excellence and then submitted his resignation before announcing his presidential bid. Completing and submitting the report is a job for others – Chairman Ceesay and the Commissioners. The decision to implement the recommendations or to reject them is for the executive, the national assembly and the Gambian people, and none of them need Faal to do their jobs, so all that noise was nothing but a distraction.
The Bad – Although his resume shows great success as a lawyer, we really don’t know too much about Faal as a politician. Personally, I drew a lot from his recent debate with Halifa Sallah, and I was not at all impressed by his grasp of governance or his policy chops, or maybe it was just his approach that let him down. From what I saw, whereas Citizens Alliance’s Ismaila Ceesay appeared to show too much reverence to Sallah, Faal came into that debate trying too hard to prove that he was not intimidated by the seasoned Sallah. He was overly and unnecessarily hostile and focused too much on attacking Sallah at the expense of selling his own agenda. For example, when Sallah spoke about making healthcare facilities more accessible around the country, Faal deliberately misrepresented Sallah’s statements with a strawman argument tactic, making it appear as if Sallah meant that he would build hospitals in every village in the country. He then ridiculed the idea. This move puts Faal’s intellectual honesty into question for me and suggests that he was not so comfortable discussing his own ideas. Additionally, Faal resorted to the old and extremely tired tactic to shout “socialism”, “communism” at the PDOIS – a gimmick that has been beaten to death by the PPP and APRC at every opportunity.
The Concern – In that debate, Faal gave the vibe that his ego and desire to prove his superiority undermines his intellect. I fear that should he be elected to the Presidency, there’s a big possibility that rather than acknowledge when he is wrong, he may have a tendency to dig in and try to “lawyer” his way out of situations. This can prove costly for the country. My second concern is whether Faal will be able to work with others. If he has been incapable of joining or forming a political party, and has shown little to no interest in any form of collaboration with anyone, what is to convince one that Essa will be able to lead a government. Yes, he can get Ministers to do what he wants because he can hire and fire them, but how effective can a President be in our form of democracy if he has no support in parliament?
ELECTION REFLECTION – The Son
President Adama Barrow (National People’s Party – NPP) – “When you’re campaigning you can say anything”
The Good – Say what you will about him, but there’s no denying that Barrow (eventually) agreed to be the name at the top of the coalition ticket to challenge the dictator. Gambians rallied behind the coalition and kicked out the dictator.
Since then, setting up commissions of inquiry like the Janneh commission and the TRRC are both notable achievements. I know he has not followed through with the recommendations of the Janneh Commission and there are doubts that he will honor the TRRC report, but at least the reports are both documented and subsequent administrations can go back to them. Gambians also learned the truth about the evil that was the 22 year rule of Jammeh.
The Barrow administration has also ushered in a new era of tolerance and freedom of expression. He deserves some credit for all of that.
The Bad – Unfortunately, Barrow has been the biggest disappointment to Gambians. Yes, a bigger disappointment than Jammeh. Jammeh forced himself on the nation and there were no expectations. The opposite is true for Barrow. Gambians all over the world pulled together their human and capital resources, and risked everything, to elect Barrow. After all the sacrifices, Adama Barrow has proven to be the most ungrateful individual in the history of the country. He fired his coalition partners, including his self-proclaimed political father, Darboe. Barrow then reneged on the coalition’s agreement for him to govern for only three years and not contest in the first elections after the transition period. He further proved that he lacks integrity , and should not be trusted when he stated in an interview that “…when you’re campaigning, you can say anything…” Finally, Barrow proved that no garbage is too filthy for him when he tried to form a coalition with the dictator that Gambians elected him to replace. To his shame, even the lowlife that is Yaya Jammeh refused to do business with Barrow and rejected his unholy advances. This betrayal of Gambians, especially victims of Jammeh, is unforgivable to me, not just for Barrow, but also for all those who continue to endorse or defend him.
The Concern – While I’m annoyed and disappointed by Barrow’s betrayals, I’m not in the camp that fears that Barrow will turn into a dictator. I know better than to trust Barrow, but I also would like to believe that Gambians will not stand by and watch Barrow grow horns. We endured dictatorship under Jammeh and refuse to revert to that era.. My biggest concern with Barrow is that the man is simply incompetent. While he has guidance from Makie and has been improving his political acumen, the man is grossly incompetent and lacks the intellectual curiosity to have a good enough grasp of governance. Currently, many -including domestic and international businessmen, his ministers and advisors, international governments – recognize his ineptitude and are rushing to grab as much as they can. My fear is that another 5 years with this dude at the helm will be too costly. National resources will be sold for peanuts and we will sign deals that will continue to cripple the nation for generations, if not forever!
ELECTION REFLECTION – The Father
Ousainou Darboe (United Democratic Party – UDP) – “Barrow is our Barrow, come rain, come shine…we will never abandon our Barrow”
The Good – There is no question that Darboe sacrificed a lot and worked very hard to fight against the dictatorship. His party, the UDP, was also instrumental in many watershed moments for the country, including the sacrifices by Solo Sandeng, Nogoi Njie and others.
The Bad – Unfortunately, as Darboe himself has told us time and time again, the UDP gave us Adama Barrow. Since Darboe took credit for Barrow when things were smooth between Father and Son, Darboe and the UDP must also shoulder a huge chunk of the blame for Barrow’s betrayals and failures. Barrow and Darboe told us that Darboe was Barrow’s political father. Darboe was Barrow’s Foreign Affairs Minister and later Vice President. He stood with Barrow when Barrow was firing members of the coalition like Mai Fatty and Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang. Even if you want to cry that Darboe should not be blamed for Barrow’s betrayal, I’ll tell you that even if we wanted to believe that, the UDP is still guilty of being a poor judge of character. Barrow was with them for over a decade. Not only did they fail to recognize his lack of integrity, they trusted him to be their treasurer hawma hayam, and later presented such a (insert all the criticism leveled at Barrow by Darboe and the UDP supporters now) to lead the coalition. Why should Gambians now trust in their judgement when they present another candidate for the presidency?
Ok, let’s put aside blaming Darboe and the UDP for Barrow’s failures. Let’s judge him only on his own merit, shall we?
Before Barrow, Darboe was the first one to betray the coalition. When others called for coalition members to put up coalition candidates for the National Assembly, he flatly refused, choosing instead to present UDP candidates because he prioritized the UDP over national interest. Coalition 2016 was practically dead and the term “Tactical Alliance” was born. As he predicted, UDP swept the national assembly seats and had an overwhelming majority capable of making the laws we so desperately yearned for including the electoral reforms Solo Sandeng died for. Unfortunately, they were not interested in any of that, and the only law that changed was the one extending the age for the presidency. This was self-serving because it allowed Darboe to become the Vice President. And when it came to the coalition agreement for Barrow to step down after 3 years, Darboe, not Barrow, was the first one to threaten to sue anyone who demanded for Barrow to step down after 3 years. He insisted that Barrow should stay on and govern for 5 years. I may have sympathized with his position if only I believed that it was true, unadulterated belief as the right thing. Unfortunately, that position was replaced first by excuses, stories and long-winded explanations soon after Darboe fell out with his adopted political son. Sure enough, he quickly fell on the other side of the argument, calling for Barrow to step aside after 3 years. The 180 degree turn on that and other positions proved to anyone with doubts that it was only about political expediency and never about national interest or justice. It is no better than Barrow’s inconsistency (wakh-wakhet), and it’s a disqualifier for me any day.
The Concern – Of equal concern to the questionable integrity of the leadership is the unchecked hostility and intolerance often displayed by many UDP supporters. It is worrying that so many party supporters are quick to attack, insult, or try to intimidate anyone who dares to disagree with the party or its leadership. One recent example is the calls to boycott The Fatu Network, QTV and GRTS! Seriously, if the party is not yet in power but is trying to intimidate these media houses, it’s scary to imagine the level of hostility if they were to be in power??? Although most of this is not coming from the recognized leaders, their failure to outright condemn it makes them complicit in the hostility. I cannot help reminding you that not too long ago, the UDP number 2 leader, Aji Yam Secka, proudly stoked tribal politics when she declared, knowingly and unapologetically, that “nying mu baadingyaa fasaa leh ti” – a demagogic cry appealing to the people’s basest instincts.
ELECTION REFLECTION – The Promise
Halifa Sallah – (People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism – PDOIS) – “There is no system change”
The Good – Although it’s the oldest political party in the country still in existence, the PDOIS has been the most consistent in its ideas, methods and approach. Whether or not that’s a good thing may be debatable, but they are who they are and have never wavered to gain popularity or economic opportunities. They have called out government excesses by the PPP, APRC and now the NPP, and never bowed to pressure or intimidation. They have also never been tempted by economic gains or positions of power.
Over the years, they have been engaged in several meaningful community service projects that many Gambians are not aware of, including civic education and adult literacy at the village level.
Finally, during the impasse in 2016, when civil unrest seemed imminent, Gambians fled across the border to become refugees in Senegal. The nation seemed to be at the most vulnerable point it has ever been in and Halifa Sallah was the voice that we heard. He stepped to the plate and provided a firm but reassuring voice and steady hands in just the perfect dose that we needed to ride that wave. His experience and grasp of the issues affecting Gambians is on par with any expert. His love for the country is unquestioned and his integrity is beyond reproach.
The Bad – Ironically, PDOIS’ “consistency” is perhaps also its greatest political weakness. The party’s uncompromising attitude on their convictions makes it extremely difficult to bring “outsiders” into the party. They refuse to play the politics that we know works in a society like ours. Additionally, the leadership, especially Halifa Sallah, often comes across as a “know it all”, which tends to rub many the wrong way. I cannot understand why, despite the deep pool of talents within their ranks, it seems like only Halifa runs to speak and appear on everything PDOIS! After having existed since the 1980s, one would expect the party to have groomed some “mini-Halifas” and empowered them into leadership positions by now. Maybe they exist but I certainly have not seen them. The fact that Halifa could also be dragged into a political debate by one of the PDOIS followers bickering with someone on Twitter was rather disappointing and supported the notion that he is incapable of accepting criticism.
The Concern – With everything said, I have no doubt that Halifa Sallah of PDOIS is the best candidate for the job, and the others are not even close. However, I have heard too many people tell me that they’re voting for Barrow because they’re afraid of a UDP government, and many others tell me that they’ll vote for Darboe because Barrow is clueless. It’s sad when many Gambians tell me that they believe Halifa Sallah would make the best president but that they’ll vote for another candidate because they don’t think Halifa can win. Of course he can win if enough of you vote for him! I hope Gambians vote their conscience based solely on who they sincerely believe will make the best president to usher in the changes we all claim to desire for our country.