Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: Some people are into political careerism is mainly for power and positions; anything else is theoretical idealism. Furthermore, to borrow from a British journalist and author Michela’s Wrong book and its narrative is part of political thriller, part of the Gambian morality tale of politics “Its Our turn to Eat.”
Instead of that, Gambian politics is like politics anywhere else in the world, not an exotic aberration. Some Gambian careerist politicians entered into what French political scientist Jean Francois Bayart brilliantly coined as “a politics of the belly.” This expression refers to the necessities of survival and a complex array of cultural representations, notably those of the ‘invisible’ world of sorcery. The “politics of the belly” in the Gambia attests to a distinctively Gambian trajectory of power that we need to understand as part of long-term historical development.
Francois Bayart beautifully uses “politics of the belly” to describe politician-voters relations in African politics. Politicians distribute goods filling the bellies of voters in return for political loyalty, obviating the need for democracy and instituting alternative and sometimes moral forms of accountability. “It’s our time to chop” likewise captures the dynamic of exchanging votes for the chop. So when politicians hit the streets of Banjul and Sukuta to snap photos of campaign posters for the Presidential election campaign today, this menu caught our eyes:
Political scientists and pundits often refer to an extended qualified metaphor, “politics of the belly” (a goat will eat where he is tethered), another description of what “tangal cheeb politicians” do. This metaphorically served a menu of fare fit for party supporters or politicians bent on riffing on the available metaphors. They are not the only ones thinking about food and politics but also money, sex, and power. This plays look at the culture of a stinking corruption popularly known as the narrative of “Its Our Turn to ‘Eat.” Here is the bottom line of politics in electoral democracies in 21st-century capitalism, whether the Gambia or the South Side of Chicago. Whatever patronage politicians dispense, there is no free lunch.
Fatoumatta: Ship of Fools is the title of a 1962 novel by Katherine Anne Porter. I see the story – plot and characterization as speaking to where we are as a country. Imagine a ship of greedy, ambitious enemies, of “unsettled souls, angry lovers, lonely has-beens, ruined businessmen, rebellious children” and of persons who spend their lives “crossing the ocean back and forth” in search of a home they will never find. That is how a reviewer described the passenger list of Porter’s Ship of Fools. A mirror will be needed by Gambians who may be interested in the setting of that story. However, as gory as that spectacle is, Porter’s eerie creation is just an amplification of an old analogy from Athenian philosopher Plato for rancorous, incompetent political leaders and the decadent governmental system we cuddle and worship: Democracy as we have it. That emir and his traumatized people are not likely to say democracy does not kill. This system of ignorant votes imperils all whenever it kits wrong persons for leadership.
It was a mockery of a familiar scripture. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Finally, finally, people could sit together after the firestorm of laughter a few years ago. They now see themselves as sons of God because they sat together to fulfill their ancient ambition and pursue other leaders with a grudge. Both grudge and ambition embrace the enmity and hatred against president Adama Barrow, as Third President of The Gambia. They call him a sleeping president suffering from hypersomnia akin to a sophisticated moron who never graduated college. His arch-critics and haters calumniate maliciously false statements and charge him as an illiterate President without a Presidential pedigree. Where is God here but lousy blood, a coalescence of the sons of malice? So they said, they laughed, and the others lashed back with, and they laughed too. Politics is always punctuated with an exciting soundbite and hyperboles headline fair for newspapers and echo chambers.
However, when both foes launched their ambition to replace President Barrow at the number one Marina Parade, one thing is we get in the political season the benefits of therapeutic benefits of laughter in mental health were especially missing in the setting: laughter. Instead, both miens bowed in frowns as though it was no happy moment, with no exception few other presidential aspirants, whose faces kindled with a doubtful holy halo.
Fatoumatta: Some of these capitalist hegemonic elites and ‘tangal cheeb politicians’ had to capitulate and present themselves as acolytes of Godfathers of state capture ideology of few educated elites and other expiring politicians as fuddy-duddy, once called one of the political engineers and Godfathers a whited sepulcher. So, what a necromantic alliance they had with a nonagenarian, embracing the corpse?
The so-called educated elite’s conspiracy to the policy of state capture needed someone to save them from their self-spun scorn, from the disaster of their failed ideology of state capture and elite hegemony. Independent candidates prop up their first litmus test in a yawning wheeling jamboree show of the venerable versus the vulnerable. The chief architect of the state capture policy or ideology has collapsed into silence since he boasted he would craft an alliance into a political movement that would faze Adama Barrow out of the throne. He and his cabal needed a learned pseudo-intellectual as a prop so that they would not fall facedown. His face is already down. The chief protagonist of the state capture policy has crashed, his body parts all over the floor like glass shards. His ultimate goal is to help put misguided elites together for elite hegemony and fragmentation in his desires for state capture.
The chief architect of the elite hegemony lives on a crusade of snubbing and gaslighting President Barrow. Who is the Chief architect of the state capture and elite hegemony? The Godfather. In an air of remorseful royalty, he wrote his political obituary and demanded to be crowned. He campaigned and teamed up with Barrow’s enemies, including his nemesis, to earn a furry path to victory. However, Adama Barrow dared to toss him and him aside. That is the megalomania of a Mansa. They forget two things. One, Adama Barrow would have won without them. They will come on board when victory flashes on the horizon. They have little electoral value. They made Barrow a superfine passenger in the campaign, flattery they could not know. Two that their pedigree as kingmaker has always made Adam Barrow a little lower than an angel. Under Yahya Jammeh, they felt pooh-poohed. They have shown and played servile to Yahya Jammeh. A junior in the army forgot to inflate them with the deserved salute.
Today, these capitalist elites and ‘tangal cheeb politicians’ foreswore in the name of the Almighty to never forgive Yahya Jammeh’s kleptomaniac rule, and they turned him into a tender soul. These are these born-again people indeed— who they never criticized and pilloried the horrors of Jammeh’s corruption and gross human rights violation in twenty-two years until he lost power and was exiled in Equatorial Guinea. Ask Deyda Hydras and Ousman Koro Ceesay in their graves. Ask Sankung about his disgrace. Ask Mamburry Njie, Mamadou Tangara, and Shiekh Omar Faye, who are back to grace as ministers in Adama Barrow’s government. Unfortunately, however, the same people who never criticize former President Yahya Jammeh’s malevolent dictatorship in 22 years are now rewarding complicit and enablers of President Jammeh in draconian laws and destructive policies that entrenched and perpetuate Yahya Jammeh’s dictatorship by promising him the biggest office in the land. They called to replace the President through mischievous methods considering heir apparent to the Presidency. This is malice as a desperado.
This is no patriotism. It is opportunism. The presence of some ‘tangal cheeb politicians’ most potent, rich, or talented people did not even give it the Gambian air of a divine blessing to the pro-democracy advocates during the 22 years of bitter struggle. Some of them were not there on behalf of the Ancient of Days but to settle ancient scores. Some come from an old, even atavistic warfare with the elites. So, cancel the love of the people from their so-called eradication of poverty and improving people’s standard of living and reconciliation of a divided nation. So did some of them today show hidden or open regret over their appointments, aiding and abetting and enabling their beloved Yahya Jammeh with draconian laws and destructive policies with their abhorrence of the probe of that era in July 1994. Some of them once asked Yahya Jammeh to “move on.”
Fatoumatta: On the other hand, they loved and shown trust and commitment and inspired loyalty to Yahya Jammeh. They hardly accused his regime even on the international stage of corruption and gross human rights violations while drumming up support for him and welcoming him to his excellent leadership and stability of the Gambia. They loved his time as the President of the Republic of the Gambia. There is no record of calling him out as a thief, rapist, liar, and illegitimate President of The Gambia.
There is a wistfulness to these holy presences. Holy men in scripture have never been known to be perfect. They have made mistakes from Abraham to Jonah, even Peter, and confessed to Paul. Hence Paul warned us not to heed even if they or an angel teaches what was not written. “Brethren, pray for us,” he once pleaded. So, in that gathering, we had the cleric, the money bag, and the politician. Where is the hope? I do not know how they want to manage the optics if they say to their faith that they are not partisan.
Hence, in his play Mother Courage, Bertolt Brecht wrote, “Here they sit, one with his faith and the other with his cash box. Dunno which is more dangerous.”
In launching his presidential bid on December 4, one of the independent candidates highlighted his virtue as the brightest, most competent, most brilliant Gambian with a track record of stellar accomplishment and, above all, as a successful person in business. Some say that he will do well there because he is a great businessman today in the land. I like more elaboration on this. I want those who make this claim to explain if he made his money the same way businessmen like Bill Gates, Mr. Muhammed Jah, Aliko Dangote, Mr. Mustapha Njie (Taf Construction) Mr. Amadou Samba made their money. We want to know if he doubled money with a cutting-edge imagination or by taking advantage of incorporating transactional lawyer’s footloose rules. Is he an opportunist, as some Gambian crowd calls him, or a manager? Or are they just tarring him as the candidate of state capture and elite hegemony fighting back? It will be instructive to hear Essa Mbyre Faal speak on how he will curb corruption, eradicate poverty and youth unemployment, and empower. Waiting!
Fatoumatta: This is election season, and we need to scrutinize and let no one bamboozle us. Many Gambian-educated and wealthy men are not classic geniuses of commerce and politic but carpet baggers and opportunists. Education is essential, but not only people blessed with credentialism and that paper qualification or parachuting consultancy cannot merely turn a developing country like the Gambia into a commercial behemoth.
Few people with business acumen have done not well as President anywhere. For example, former President Donald Trump rode on the steam of Barack Obama’s economy. However, even Trump has been exposed as a carpet bagger who defrauded his way into his billions by tax subterfuges. He is being investigated. Herbert Hoover, 31 President of the US, another businessman, presided over The Great Depression leaking jobs and joy. Franklin D. Roosevelt, 26th President of the US, a soldier, succeeded him and brought back the boom. Clearly, Adama Barrow has not shown himself to be a Roosevelt in turning the economy around. However, being a businessman is no sure-fire ticket to success. The US founding fathers ignored the wealthy man John Jay, who thought his wealth would win over his peers and make him the country’s pioneer president. Instead, they picked George Washington, the soldier-statesman.
Fatoumatta: President Essa Faal has also defined himself, probably partly in response, by saying he is one of the best, brightest, most brilliant, most competent, and most innovative, most intelligent presidential candidates while Adama Barrow is dull. Adama Barrow is a feeble and a narcolepsy president for sure, especially on camera. Nevertheless, in-camera, those who know him say he turns the ribs with his jokes. However, Essa is no better. In the Cold War era, his face was what Americans called their Soviet counterparts: doll within a doll. His face, even his gait, is like an ignited mannequin. However, like the character in Jerzy Kosinsky’s novel, he is There. Again, most capitalist elites and “tangal cheeb politicians” may not pray for victory on December 4 Presidential polls. Unless that is, an earthquake event tilts it for them. The Gambia does not have earthquakes, in any case. Just tremors. Furthermore, tremors do not bring down the house.
Alagi Yorro Jallow