Alagi Yorro Jallow
Mamudu: I hear daily in the Gambia: How did we get here, and where do we go from here? Each time I hear that, I ask myself: Who will answer that question for these people? Can anyone beg a normal person to come and become a slave? American literary and social critic Mark Caldwell, in January 2015, published his ‘A Short History of Rudeness.’ A reviewer describes the 302-page book as “a history of the demise of manners.” He says further that the book “charts the progress of an epidemic of rudeness.” There is a “death of civility” in power relations in the Gambia. A ceaseless rain of crude insults pours on from Krathong from the Koina – and the entire nation from the skies of Banjul.
However, the people have no coherent answer or answers to the downpour. The rain will not stop before the looming flood of armageddon. Caldwell insists his own society is a confused one; a country that does not know what it wants; a little hypocrisy here, some confusion there. He wrote: “We want to be free, but we long for restraint. We insist on openness – and cringe when we get it; we strain at trivial offences and swallow camels of iniquity.” Caldwell wrote as if the place he had in mind was the Gambia – a castrated colony of phlegm eaters
Mamudu: I am not a lawyer, and I do not aspire to be a lawyer. However, as a former court reporter as a budding reporter, I was always fascinated with the legal maxims used to show established principles or propositions. I liked maxims because I saw them as an instrument for positively applying the requirements of integrity and utmost good faith.
The essence of maxims such as, ‘equity looks to the intent rather than the form,’ ‘equity looks on that as done which ought to be done,’ ‘equity delights to do justice and not by halves,’ ‘Equity follows the law,’ ‘equity does not aid a party at fault and so many others, is to serve as a flexible principle aimed at achieving justice for both sides in every case. Nevertheless, my favorite maxim by far has got to be, ‘he who comes into equity must come with clean hands.’
What makes this particular maxim so interesting to me is that it bestows on a party a voluntary dictum that blocks the court of equity to one that has been soiled with bad faith regarding the matter in which one seeks relief. In other words, equity will not permit one party to profit by their wrong; therefore, one must behave and engage others in the same manner that one expects to be engaged by others. This guiding doctrine can be applied in any situation in life to further the cause of justice and fair play. Once applied, one can hardly go wrong.
A perfect scenario to benefit from the equitable duty imposed by this principle is how coalition and opposition politicians are currently playing out in the Gambia. As President Adama Barrow and his National People’s Party (NPP) embarks on putting its substantive foundation in place, the code of fairness and equity in its internal conduct and the way it responds to its members must be embraced. Every Gambian voter’s primary complaint has always had against some periphery political parties in every political season saved People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) other notably opposition political parties like the Alliance for Patriotism Reorientation and Construction (APRC ) and the United Democratic Party (UDP) that outlived its usefulness and continues showing signs of decay and lack of internal and external democracy. Apparently, by allegedly selecting a standard-bearer during its primary election process and rigging them into an office, and imposing them on Gambians during the general elections, it is widely believed such political parties should not be entitled to continue operating with this kind of impunity because the party should not be able to profit from the transgressions it commits. However, suppose that principle and standard is what the opposition parties expect from President Adama Barrow’s National People’s Party( NPP) in the December 4 elections. In that case, the NPP itself has to observe and uphold the very same tenet and standard.
Even with the existence of several periphery opposition parties in the Gambia, up until a section of the APRC and GDC and the UDP and, subsequently, the minor get-together parties merged to form the NPP last year, none of the parties had been able to gain much traction with the electorate to the extent where they are confident of winning at the presidential and Legislative level. Although granted, each party had its strength within certain regional zones religious and tribal identities, culminating in their positive and negative performance and control at the national level and legislature. However, capturing power at the center remained elusive.
A few years ago, when the hopes and efforts of the vast majority of Gambians, who were desperate for a viable alternative to the APRC and also to the UDP tactical alliance, crystallized into the NPP, it provided the best conduit for the change that people were so desperate for. Unfortunately, apart from the less than satisfactory performance over the last few years, another factor that disenfranchised an astounding number of the electorate against both APRC and the UDP was the vehement way they were thought to bulldoze its way into power as also in opposition at every general election since 1996. It seemed as if, with wanton abandon, the candidates of the NPP, validly or invalidly, would be hoisted upon us. No matter how much the opposition campaigned or the enthusiasm of its supporters, NPP always managed to be declared winners with seemingly little effort. The bottom line was that whatever choice the APRC presented to us was what Gambians got, and we had no choice but to like or lump it.
Moreover, right up until the recent formation of the new National People’s Party (NPP), there has always been the understanding that the NPP is always the underdogs with the arduous task of succeeding in taking power at the center. NPP’s formation laid that main fear to rest. It precipitously galvanized all those who feared that the political landscape of the Gambia had morphed into a dominant party. As one watches the party grow, one can see that the NPP brings to the table an essentially distinctive and, in every respect, most potent challenge to the opposition political party’s notably the APRC, GDC, and the UDP we have seen yet. With the presidential election less than six months away, the NPP is, in theory, well-positioned to become the most important political force over the coming year.
The greatest challenge of the NPP is moving closer! One main factor that can potentially deter its success on December 4 presidential and 2022 general elections is now upon it. The importance of how NPP conducts its affairs internally cannot be over-emphasized here. Indeed NPP builds and reinforces its nationwide party structure around democratic norms. In that case, the NPP may undoubtedly become the definite favorites at all levels going into the presidential election on December 4 and the general elections next year. However, suppose the party does not practice internal democracy. In that case, it will be on the same collision course as all the other prior opposition parties when they went up against the APRC in 2016 presidential and 2017 general elections reducing the APRC to a toothless dragon.
Moreover, suppose the December 4 presidential elections, the NPP uses its might and incumbency to employ iniquitous tactics to retain power. In that case, no opposition party is not morally entitled to the benefit of accusing NPP of subterfuge in elections when it conducted itself in the same way during its internal formation. See, hence the maxim, “He who comes to equity must come with clean hands!”
As the NPP embarks on building coalition talks and begins the journey that will determine its future, one can bet that all eyes will be on its internal conduct. The party will be acutely scrutinized to see whether it upholds its inner democratic tendencies and principles. Will it provide a level playing ground to its members and consolidate its strength to be well-positioned to give the political shove capable of uprooting decades against identity politics and political domination?
Any potential triumph for the NPP coalition negotiations will essentially rest on the combination of electoral factors Adama Barrow eventually presents, the strategies it adopts in gaining the electorate’s trust, and, most importantly, in being internally democratic. There has got to be internal democracy in the NPP! The process of honestly and impartially building coalition negotiations with other periphery political parties is presently taking place. In the upcoming political dialogues of the political party’s, the NPP will present its policies programs. Nothing short of this should be accepted.
Another major hurdle of political parties in the Gambia, of which political parties and all the former legacy parties have fallen victim, are party leaders who suffer from a syndrome that makes it very difficult for them to rein in their ambitions. Leaders who have recycled their aspirations, election after election, year after year, and those in power since the creation of man continue failing to recognize that their constant and inordinate ambition has been the most significant factor in obstructing the opposition. Such leaders and those who double as rulers and go all-out in the art of imposition of candidates have got to be discouraged. It is imperative that the NPP unmistakably and loudly disassociates itself from this ugly culture where leaders behave as if contesting for elections and ruling the Gambia is their own personal birthright and individual inheritance. There is not one person in this country with the greater right, above and beyond everyone else, to be the uncontested, sole aspirant to present themselves as the only leader and a party in the presidential election or any other position. Of this, the NPP must take notice very seriously!
Suppose the NPP makes the dire mistake of entertaining political rhetoric and its relationship to the context from dishonest people, cyber lobbyists, solicited and unsolicited political hackers, and demagogues at every level, especially at the Diaspora and executive-level and social media republic. In that case, it will be in grave danger of losing its credibility and diminishing any advantage it may presently have. Furthermore, most of its members, especially the true progressives independents, have already begun clamoring and protesting against the whimsical declaration of predetermined coalition negotiations with the APRC and other “Sosalasso and Taf yengal political parties.” Let us make no mistake; the necessary sacrifices of preceding particular ambitions of specific polarizing party members and genuine tactical coalition partners in government must be made, albeit in a democratic manner. The focus must be on the overall success of the party and the preservation of democratic norms rather than on mere individual ambition. Ultimately, venal and un-strategic personal ambitions have got to be pretty and reasonably checked.
At this point, 21st century Gambians are craving for the credible elections of capable individuals, believable political movements, and holistic organizations into political offices at all levels. Gambians want to see that their votes are counted. The people choose the not interested in populist candidates who will be imposed on them by Godfatherrism or “kingmakers.” This rule applies to every other party. Therefore, all the strong personalities and egos within the positions of authority in NPP must ensure that their actions and decisions in any coalition negotiations with the APRC and others and beyond are transparent and do not sacrifice long-term gains for the mere impression the short term, of accountability.
President Barrow and his NPP must take all its members and trusted political allies and other coalition partners. However, cracks have already started forming in the party’s relationship with members who do not feel that they have been carried along. Therefore, NPP is expected to apply a zoning formula to its executive structure to reflect our national character from its formation. In anticipation of the blueprint, party members and allies, with the aspiration of defending the party positions, must brace themselves for the impending grand coalition preparing for the December 4 elections. However, the much-anticipated great coalition formula is not announced until literally before nominations.
Now leaders of the NPP party should do all it takes to acknowledge and accommodate genuine allies, dedicated and sincere opposition political party leaders who are unfortunate to miss out on an opportunity to be of service to other parties to join the coalition formula NPP.
Party Leaders should also ensure that coalition-building is not a replica of the 2016 grand coalition of opposition and independent against an incumbent malevolent dictator. In many instances in the Gambia, mergers were fraught with irregularities and imposition of candidates and conditions. That ‘do-or-die’ behemoth that has always corroded the integrity of our political aspirations in the Gambia took possession of a good number of stakeholders nationwide. They say that to do better, and one has got to expect more. Therefore, if Adma Barrow and the NPP want to do better, they must be candid, and they must expect more from their internal structures. Furthermore, this duty begins with political dialogue.
For other peripheries, Sosalasso and Taf yengal parties, the immediate task is to unite behind Adama Barrow and his party to do right by it. Much will depend on what happens in the next few weeks and the party’s ability to manage a frantic, passionate, almost desperate, and yet potentially unwieldy collection of allies, supporters, and partners. The victory and success of Adama Barrow and the NPP in the December 4 presidential and next year’s general election largely depends on the conduct of this very political dialogue.
For NPP, when the story of its outing in the 2021 election is eventually told, five vital elements will likely stand out: the combination of nationally acceptable minorities unconditionally and unequivocally support the Adama Barrow presidential’s coalition, the strategy, and intelligence, bar sentiment, used to employ Adama Barrow, the validity of the process exercised to the neutral platform provided for the emergence of a party at every level and the extent that the party is prepared to go to ensure that there is internal democracy in its entire conduct. Upon these five scenarios, Adama Barrow and the NPP coalition will make it or break it come December 4 Presidential and Legislative elections in 2022.
Will NPP do the incredible and displace GDC, UDP, and other Sosalasso and Taf yengal parties at all levels in the next election? It is anyone’s guess. However, as history continues to be written, much will depend on the NPP party’s ability to turn tub-thumping into constructive engagement, prejudice into objectivity, sentiment into reality, and inequity into justice in this political dialogue and through to its presidential elections.
The coming months will be crucial for Adama Barrow and his NPP to prove to Gambians that the party is a viable alternative to the APRC, GDC, UDP, and other hosts of periphery parties. As long as the party lives, eats, and breaths justice; As long as party decisions are not made in the interest of unfairly erecting structures of patronage around preselected candidates; As long as the party can exhibit practice of internal democracy at the highest level, then it has a real fighting chance of success come December 4. However, anything short of that, any conduct that compromises the integrity of internal democracy will perhaps be the cause for the formidable forming wall of the NPP to come tumbling down. Furthermore, it certainly may just be the prompt for those of us who, for over a decade, have toiled tirelessly to ensure a higher standard in our political landscape and who sincerely believe in NPP to begin a journey of disbelief!
Mamudu: I am always very fascinated with legal maxims. I see them, essentially, as the benevolent and fair face of the law. Of all the equitable maxims, my favorite is one that I see as far more than a mere banality; “He who comes to equity must come with clean hands.” I apply a principle in my own life and expect all political parties to use it in their internal conduct. If the NPP and other parties fail to do so and are confronted with other party’s that challenge it with their usual brand of soiled hands on December 4 presidential elections and next year’s general elections, then their members and supporters have no right to complain or protest by virtue to natural reason…; Fact will be, we cannot go to equity if we do not go with a clean hand.