By Mathew K Jallow
It’s a saga, much like a soap opera, with something of a fatalist plot. On the one hand, the cast of characters with loyalty to a cause, but who, time and again, have miserably failed the simple test of sound judgement and moral commitment. And on the other, an entrenched regime, whose sole purpose is to make democracy harder; not easier to exercise. The issues; ignorance, tribalism, intransigence, egoism, jealousy, selfishness, deception, incompetence and bluster, all come into play in the incessant effort for regime change. After twenty years, every effort in the struggle for political change has failed, and not for lack of trying, but for an irreverent attachment to personal or group interests, complicated by an alarming lack of rational depth. And as Gambians reject the brand of politics that reeks of ignorance and utter incompetence, the inability to abandon our retrogressive mindsets, continues to undermine our best hope for political change. Progress made in the perennial quest of overcoming the barriers to unity by rejecting the politics of divisions and narrow-minded self-interest, is minimal. And without pretending to inject psychology into the conversation, it is hard to not conclude that the conscious and subconscious awareness of our biases, have, as so often happens, pigeonholed us into corners of comfort and groups of cultural like-mindedness. Under these conditions, the stagnation of the struggle is assured to typify the archetypal politics of class, tribe and geographic divisions, so pervasive in Africa. This objective analysis applies as much to the Gambia’s diaspora civil society organizations, as it does to the political establishment at home. And despite the tremendous amount of progress in West Africa’s democratization project, the Gambia’s struggle for political change remains in a quandary, making coalescing around a common objective that much more challenging. The stumbling blocks to the struggle’s cohesiveness are varied, and each time these conversations on unity collapse, Gambian citizens, who are the most impacted, again become victims of our self-interests.
Today, twenty-one years on, as Gambians again count on a united effort working for regime change, the fratricidal nature of the relations among diaspora civil society groups may again resurface to dampen the collective efforts. And therein lies the fatalism of a struggle that is united by common objective, and divided by strategy. After another five years of mismanagement, state sanctioned murders, round of unfree and unfair elections, new round of negotiations may soon be underway towards unity as the common objective. The bone of contention, again, has never been more complicated. As elections draw closer, at issue, is how the struggle ought to approach the 2016 elections. One thing is certain, participating in the 2016 elections, without the regime first consenting to deep electoral reforms, is tantamount to unacceptable capitulation, particularly, after the combined opposition threatened boycott, if these reform demands are not met. Similarly, after four terms, calls for Yahya Jammeh to step down, under threat of civil unrest, are widespread and ubiquitous, and have never been as loud. What seems so apparent is how Yahya Jammeh is invested in creating roadblocks to opposition participation in elections, by among other things, imposing hefty and illegal election tariff that far exceeds the accepted standard of reasonableness, and by refusing to implement broad electoral reforms, as demanded by the united opposition. This uneven electoral platform makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the united opposition to navigate the labyrinth of harsh challenges and the vast array of impediments foisted on the opposition by a regime determined to destroy our democracy. The regime’s interest is to decisively win every electoral seat and turn the country into a de-facto one-party state. With the combined opposition holding a paltry three National Assembly seats, the total control of the legislature by the military regime, is not beyond the boundary of possibility. And in terms of a defined strategy for elections 2016, both the opposition and the diaspora still languish in a state of limbo, and their differences in opinion, ideas and strategy are many, varied and often starkly different.
But, recognizing that election without expectation of victory will only legitimize the unfree and unfair electoral process, regardless of who heads a united opposition, or monitors the elections, the need to take our last stand against tyranny is never more necessary than now. Opposing the military regime in elections makes absolutely no sense, whatsoever. Additionally, the regime has so far ignored every opposition reform demand, and regime civil servant Yankuba Colley, who doubles as the AFPRC chairman, has made that clear. As of today, the Independent Electoral Commission is an arm of the regime, Yahya Jammeh has imposed huge taxes on opposition candidates, and the voter registration is set to advantage the incumbent military party. In sum, and in light of the above, most diaspora dissidents support boycotting the 2016 elections, describing opposition participation, individually or as a block, an utter absurdity that serves only to legitimize the illegal regime. The sticking points for opponents of elections vary; the hefty fees on democracy imposed on opposition presidential candidates, the rejection of opposition electoral reform demands, and the loud calls for Yahya Jammeh to step down immediately, after twenty-one years of mayhem, death and destruction. Since 1994, the regime has secured its position to ensure its survival; but in contrast, security for Gambian citizens is non-existent, as many are murdered, forced to disappear, tortured, and incarcerated. And in a recent report to the ECOWAS, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the head of the United Nations Office for West Africa, UNOWA), demonstrated disingenuousness or total lack of foresight for failing to include regular electoral change of government as necessary in maintaining regional peace and security. In the UNOWA West Africa region, it is not terrorism that poses the gravest danger to peace and security, but the complete inability for citizens to regularly change their government through free and fair democratic elections. The impediments to regional peace and security lie with the immovable regimes. The civil wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the deadly uprisings in Senegal, Guinea-Conakry, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau and Mali, exemplify why regular of changes of government, enshrined as constitutional term-limits in each nation, are all the more necessary to maintain peace and avert the danger posed to regional peace and security by the intransigence of tyrannical regimes, such as the Gambia’s military dictatorship.