By Mathew K Jallow
In Africa, the tendency for totalitarian rule is as pervasive as change is dynamic. The two forces are locked in a constant struggle that continues to plunge many African countries into conflicts, with devastating consequences. Incredibly, a little over two decades since the end of Liberia and Sierra Leone’s bloody civil wars, Gambia, more than any ECOWAS member nation, has become the epicenter of a persistent friction between political tyranny and the dynamics of change. Even discounting the natural course of change, an increasingly more civilized world is relentlessly seeking ways to ameliorate the crises that have plagued the human experience in many African nations. Over the centuries, the desire and drive to assure that human beings live in freedom from the burdens of political tyranny and vicissitudes of economic deprivation, has made significant inroads in redefining the modern concepts of social and political organization. Consequently, some political theories have gone through changes that offer striking social transformation from the conflict prone mediaeval bloodletting era, to the age of political enlightenment on how best to elevate to the quality of human life. And from the generation of imperial African rulers who assume deity roles, to foreign kings and queens with supreme authority, and the contemporary African dictators with absolute power, the one constant has always been the enduring human capacity to fight off the shackles of slavery, subjugation and political domination. The history of Africa, since the dawn of independence, is the story of an abiding quest to reach the state of total peace, both physically and mentally, nirvana if you will, as enshrined in the constitutions of each African nation. And in the past half century, politics on the continent have undergone profound changes, yet the end of colonialism was only the beginning of a paradigm shift spawned by new political perspectives that seek to move the center of power from greedy politicians to the people. Inevitably, change in Africa has come at a huge cost as political leaders revel in their positions long enough to want to usurp the protocols of power and take ownership of the leadership positions entrusted by the people.
The best case study of political intransigence that has caused tensions between people desirous of an end the bloodletting and carnage, and a regime dug in for fear ceding power, is the Gambia. The conflict between Gambian’s wishes, and an entrenched regime unwilling to cede power, is at the center of a regional effort to mandate term-limits, in compliance with Gambia’s constitution. Not unlike any other position in governance, many citizens aspire to the leadership position in the Gambia, making the domination of the position by one individual, unethical and selfish. It is human nature for Gambians to want and to demand change in order to infuse new ideas and visions in their country and help maximize its development potentials, but this is achievable only if the innate desire for new and fresh ideas to propel the engines of social and economic growth is embraced through regular and frequent change of government in compliance with the Gambian constitution. The total domination of Gambian society by a single individual, is unnatural leadership and antithetical to the nature of the human being’s constant quest for something new, different and empowering. But, even more importantly, the inability to effect political change in Gambia has created anger, frustration and dissension, which has led to five separate incidences of civil unrest and bloodbath since 1994. Senegal, Guinea-Conakry, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Mali, Burkina Faso and Liberia, with histories of bloody civil unrest and civil wars effectively demonstrate the feeling in Gambia, The multiple attempts to change the regime in the Gambia, resulting in much loss of lives, also demonstrates one of the major failures of electoral democracy, when intimidations, bribery, vote rigging and complete control of the electoral process, assures that the incumbent Gambian regime returns to power. In advanced democracies without electoral term-limits, provisions exist to change governments at the drop of a hat, in less cumbersome and inexpensive ways. And until the Gambia and the rest of Africa reach that high level of political consciousness, the need to legislate frequent changes of government and preempt mass civil unrest and bloodbath, will be both necessary and imperative.
In West Africa, the opening trial of former Ivory Coast leader, Laurent Gbagbo, in The Hague, this week, and the bloodbath his entrenchment and intransigence has caused, and the other eight ECOWAS member states where similar civil unrest has caused years of bloody civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, are indications that the infrequent change of government in West Africa is the greatest threat to national and regional security; and not terrorism, as the UN’s Mohamed Ibn Chambas recently opined in a report to ECOWAS. Apart from ensuring national and regional security across West Africa, the need for political change is an innate human nature, and human beings exceed in imagination and creativity under political environments where the ability to try new ideas and visions is not hindered by the calcification into comfortable routines, or the blinding incapacity to accommodate intellectual exploration. As elections 2016 draw near, in the Gambia, the glaring asymmetry between the military regime and the opposition is already making waves, as the regime declines to consider opposition demands for far-reaching electoral reforms. In addition, the regime recently passed a Bill that requires opposition presidential candidates pay $25,000 to qualify to contest in the coming elections. But, nothing crystallizes the effort to make voting and the democratic process extraordinarily difficult than the illegal poll tax requiring voters to pay $3.00 to replace lost or destroyed voter cards. In a country where most people live on a dollar or less a day, this creates undue burden on the exercise of constitutional civic rights. But, the in-your-face vote rigging, in the Gambia, does not stop there. Citizens of Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Conakry, but especially Senegal’s region of Casamance and Guinea-Bissau, are registering to vote in support of the regime. And if that is not bad enough, the number of Gambians who have left the country is staggering. In West Africa, the greatest loss of life in the Sahara Desert, Libya and the Mediterranean Sea, are young Gambians fleeing the tyranny and grueling poverty the military regime has brought on Gambians. A World Bank report recently estimated that nearly 70% of the Gambia’s university graduates have fled the country. But with the imposition of term-limits, this ongoing man-made Gambian tragedy could be reversed, and the Gambia put back on a path to true democratic development.