Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: A colorful cast of presidential candidates in Saturday’s ballot for the next president of the Gambia or to retain incumbent president Adama Barrow for another five years. A good number of voters may be dealing with their expectations and disappointment after the polls, and the authority and choice of the will of the popular sovereignty of the people reverberate around the rest of the world.
There are elections, and there are elections, but the 2021 Gambia Presidential Election will be considered “The Presidebtial Election” for years. It is the election that will define the Gambian spirit. The political class has tried, pummeled, and abused a spirit from independence. December 4, 2021, presidential election had everything in it: campaigns rallies, Ashobi’s, permutations, supernatural mysticism, slanderous documentaries, timeless political anthems, jingles, hate speeches, and an iniquitous squander of funds—even the release of election results by the IEC collations officers may be froth with tension. Nevertheless, the suspense of knowing the Saturday winner is palpable.
Everyone will stay glued to their TV sets, computer screens, or clutched transistor radios close to their ears: A New Gambia is about to be born.
In 2021, the Presidential election is greeted as the breadth of fresh air in the political stratosphere. The winner is expected to be seen as liberating Gambians from hegemonic oligarchs and male chauvinist state captors.
In the Gambia, elections are “winners’ take all.” Usually, the candidate who wins cheers and jeers and does not recognize the citizenry who put them in power. However, this is like no other presidential election; it is the people’s election irrespective of class, age, ethnic cleavage, or religion.
Fatoumatta: More importantly, it is now time to pray for God to bring deep healing to the divide and schism in this beautiful nation.
It is not time to gloat on a recent victory.
It is not time to sulk on a recent loss.
It is time to move forward and heal this great divide.
I believe in the exceptional Gambia. However, I think we are more potent as a nation when united. Furthermore, as Gambians, we all have a unique responsibility to bring our country back together again—a responsibility all Gambians wholeheartedly embrace.
Fatoumatta: One of the most endearing and enduring qualities of Western-Style democracies is the civility exhibited towards each other after bitterly contested Intra-party or inter-party elections. Can this be reproduced in the Gambia because, as everyone knows, this presidential election campaign and its aftermath were bitter? The Gambia is more significant than any one party or individual. Robert Dole wrote that losing an election is a very bitter experience. It is like losing a heavyweight boxing crown that sent George Foreman into a 10-year spin of depression. Still, he came back and reclaimed the crown at age 45, the oldest heavyweight champion in history to ever do so.
However, let me get back to civility, which is the medicine that cures bitterness and divisions post-elections. The onus to demonstrate civility rests on the victors, no matter how they achieved that victory. The first prong of civility is for the victors not to gloat, boast and embarrass those who did not win. This is counter-intuitive. Humans tend to sneer and gloat and boast and mock those who did not make it. The Gambia is an unfortunate example of this. It is shocking for someone like me, who had been far away for a long time to find this regrettable behavior.
The second prong of civility is not to retaliate in any way against those who did not make it. Provable criminality on all persons regardless of their political affiliation is an exception. That must be left in the hands of professional police without any political tint or taint. The third prong of civility is controlling and preventing political and party operatives from committing prong one (gloating and boasting and insulting the opposition) and prong two (retaliation).
Fatoumatta: The losing party, its leaders, and cadres must also not create conditions for their victimization. Accept defeat civilly. Alternatively, take your matter to court if dissatisfied. I witnessed political civility in my adopted home in the US. I was living in Cambridge in New England. In the 2008 presidential elections, Barack Obama won a decisive victory over Mitt Romney, winning a majority of both the Electoral College and popular vote. Barack Obama never gloated, and Romney did not feel dread and political despair.
It is the same in the United States whether it is intra-party contests like Hillary Clinton losing to young Obama after a bitterly contested primary or it is inter-party like John McCain losing to Obama or more poignantly because the Supreme Court intervened in the decision or indecision that ratified the presidency of George W. Bush against Al Gore, there was no gloating or resentment respectively. Will this be the case in the Gambia? There was no gloating by the winners and no despair, no harassment and embarrassing name-calling from party cadres and operatives.
Fatoumatta: Kenyan founding father Jomo Kenyatta put it more dialectically when he referred to his experience of imprisonment as “suffering without bitterness,” indicating diplomatically that life goes on after these losses. The victor must be gracious in victory, and the one who did not make it must be gracious in defeat no matter what the beef maybe.
I know it is easier said than done from a distance. However, I also know that leaders lost power or elections when I lived in North America and Asia. These leaders showed each other great civility for the country’s greater good. (It is the same when you lose a court case. You do not throw temper tantrums. Instead, you prepare to appeal or fight another day. The victor does not gloat in public). They usually do make-up the same night the election results are announced. So I know it is what is expected in the Gambia, albeit not quite so civilly.
Fatoumatta: President Donald Trump was a different political beast whose refusal to accept political defeat resulted in an attempted insurrectional coup. He may be prosecuted after thorough investigations have been concluded. His foot soldier cadres have already been indicted. After a shock electoral defeat in December 2016, president Yahya Jammeh refused to cede power until he was forced out of the country into exile by a regional foreign military incursion. However, the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted President Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast for causing a civil war by refusing electoral defeat. History moves forward inexorably. Trump, Gbagbo, and Jammeh should never happen in the Gambia.
As I write today, I congratulate the Gambian voters and all presidential candidates and express my deep commitment to reuniting our country and our people after this tough election. It is my shared belief that we have an urgent need to restore faith in our vital economic and government institutions and to bolster the promise of The Gambia—to lift everyone and leave no one behind. Gambian families, businesses, and communities cannot prosper and reach their full potential in a divided and distrustful country.
Fatoumatta: The Gambian people should look for areas to agree on and work productively with the new administration. To be sure, we are aware that there will be times when we disagree on the specifics of essential policies, and we will respectfully make our voices heard when we do. However, I believe that we can be constructive—both when we agree and when we do not—if we can all approach challenging situations in good faith, guided by an unwavering commitment to a greater purpose.
The days after a hard-fought presidential election have traditionally been a time to mend the divisions in our country, with political parties and candidates moving beyond the harshness of the campaign season and putting our nation, and our democratic system, first before all else.
Now is not the time to stop praying for our religious community. Instead, we must “ramp it up!” The president and National Assembly members will have faced many significant challenges and need our prayers more than ever before. I believe we have been given an excellent opportunity to stand up and take our assigned places in the Kingdom, be “salt” and “light,” intercessors, active participants in doing all we can to promote godliness in our country communities and homes. The Gambia has lost her moral compass, the judiciary is broken, corruption is rampant, politicians have become intoxicated with power, and we are a grossly divided country. We need God to heal our brokenness. This presidential election will allow Gambians to heal and rebuild the foundations to make The Gambia a great nation. Now that the election campaign is over, the winner must pursue an approach to heal, reconcile and rebuild the division/detachment brought by this election. The Gambian people must reach out to ALL – both followers and opposition. The fractured friendships from this election would take time to heal, but not IMPOSSIBLE.
Fatoumatta: We are not as divided as our politics suggests; we are ONE NATION, ONE PEOPLE, ONE DESTINY, and UNITY in DIVERSITY. Hands must shake, not slap faces. The path to greatness has just begun, and I pray that our leaders and nation find peace and civility.
Alagi Yorro Jallow