Dr. Ousman Gajigo
This question is not being posed for the sake of just being provocative. It is a real question that we must seriously ask ourselves for it has implications for the future of democracy in our country. When Gambians went to the polls in December 2016, they faced three choices for presidential candidates: Yahya Jammeh of the APRC, Mama Kandeh of the GDC and Adama Barrow of the Coalition. Given these choices, the Gambian people voted for the coalition led by Adama Barrow.
For that coalition to come into existence, the 7 opposition parties and one individual came to an agreement. Without dwelling on the details of that agreement, suffice it is to say that there would have been no coalition without an agreement of some sort among the parties.
An understanding of that agreement is that the parties would form and be part of the government. It is hard to fathom that any party would have agreed to form a coalition had there been an understanding or even a hint that Barrow would unilaterally dismiss any of them from the government.
Everyone knows that the reason Adama Barrow ‘resigned’ from the UDP was because that was one of the decisions made when the coalition was being formed. That is, the flag bearer of the coalition would not be representing any single party but symbolically representing everyone by belonging to no party. Other than this reason, there was no other explanation for Barrow resignation from the UDP where he was a deputy treasurer and had unsuccessfully contested a national assembly position under the party.
It is also important to note that a critical member of that coalition is the UDP. It is safe to say that had UDP not joined the coalition, it is highly unlikely that a much smaller coalition composed of only NRP, NCP, PPP, PDOIS and GMC would have won the election. In other words, the size of UDP as a party is highly pertinent to the success of the coalition. For instance, it is highly unlikely that the participation of Mai Fatty or the Isatou Touray (the independent) were as decisive in the victory of the coalition over the APRC. While it would be against the spirit of the coalition to remove any of those two from the government against their will, the reality is that the political strength and the size of the average support for the coalition government would only be minimally affected if that were to happen.
Why is it important for us to be concerned about Barrow’s lack of respect for the agreement that led to the coalition formation? Recall that it took years of fruitless attempts by various Gambian groups to bring the opposition parties together. Many of us witnessed the painful experience of NADD. Whatever the details of the agreement that brought the parties together in 2016, there must have been conditions in this last coalition negotiation that convinced the parties to put aside their reservations and finally form a coalition strong enough to defeat Yahya Jammeh. Given that Barrow has decided to treat the articles of those coalition agreement as toilet paper, what are the implications for future of coalition formation should we face another autocracy?
In 2016, Gambians voted for the coalition – a coalition that selected Adama Barrow. Adama Barrow did not form a party, nor did his charisma, such as it is, propelled the opposition to victory. Any other leader of the parties that formed the coalition would have ended up as the president of the country for the simple reason that the Gambian electorate had decided that the time was up for Jammeh.
Having decided to unilaterally kick out of government other key members of the coalition, there is a strong case to be made that Barrow’s government no longer has moral legitimacy. I have no doubt that his government can legally serve out the rest of the term legally. But a man who cannot respect an agreement that was instrumental to achieving the position he now holds is an individual with no integrity. And such a man should not be trusted.
This lack of integrity is also evident by the types of individuals Barrow has now surrounded himself with. As we begin to count the billions of dalasis squandered by Jammeh, the dictator’s key enablers such as the minister of finance continue to be the key advisers of Barrow. Individuals such as Seedy Njie, who were willing to plunge the country into a civil war and supported Jammeh to the very end are now among the key officials and advisers of Barrow and his youth movement. In other words, Barrow hungers for power so much so that he does not mind whom he associates with. One is left with little doubt that were Yahya Jammeh to return today and offer his support, he would be embraced just as key members of administration have been welcomed by President Barrow.
Adama Barrow appears to have grown a convenient amnesia about the events that led to the ouster of dictator Jammeh. Lately, he has taken to falsely and unashamedly announcing that he singlehandedly removed Jammeh. Witness his recent claim to Kombo East supporters that while other opposition parties and figures have tried unsuccessfully to unseat Jammeh for 22 years, he succeeded in just a matter of months. Within a matter of just few years, this man has managed to convinced himself that it was all about him.
Such delusions of grandeur are some of the defining features of budding autocrats. We should be aware that not all autocracies come into being in dramatic fashion like a coup d’état. Elected individuals can and have morphed into autocracies.
Given that Barrow has shown no scruples to go against the agreement that the transitional president should only rule for 3 years, should we be confident that he would honor restrictions on his length of rule? Do we have reasons to even believe he would respect term limits when the time arrives? We would be fools to take him at his words but he has already demonstrated that an agreement with him is not worth the paper it is signed on.
Ousman Gajigo is an economist. He has held positions with the African Development Bank, the UN, the World Bank and Columbia University. He holds a PhD in development economics. He is currently an international consultant and also runs a farm in The Gambia.