Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: A more robust democracy is about the freedom to make informed choices with knowledge and compassion and build only in return for massive inducements for voters. One of the benefits of living in a democracy is developing the kinds of norms and behaviors that make our society healthier and more robust. It is antithetical to attack or buy the conscience of voters to vote through coercion, and the law prohibits coercion and voter intimidation. Political leaders and parties have the constitutional right to campaign, lobby, and impress voters to support them. However, no one should force or compel others to support their cause. Furthermore, none should be made to feel that they are entitled to any political position. Political offices are competitive and open to all Gambians.
We are getting concerned about the growing calls by some groups that insist that their man must be supported for the presidency. In the first place, elections are a few weeks away. The focus should be on executing promises made at the last presidential election. It is not too early to start every day and every week election campaigns.
It is very tiring and irritating to see some politicians and their supporters crisscrossing the country primarily to woo voters under the disguise of initiating or supervising development projects. We cannot have a situation where we jump on everyday deplorable advancing their false election fraud and misleading claims campaign. Ascension to political office is not an end; what one does in a national office counts.
However, experience has shown that political parties or coalitions are mere vehicles for seeking political office — most of our parties and leaders are never ideological, which is regrettable. Of course, deals are struck and broken all the time. However, at no time can the political deals be used as collateral to demand support. Politicians cannot hang onto a gentleman’s agreement to exact demands and, worse, make the entire population believe that so and so is entitled to this or that. That sort of brinkmanship has no place in a democracy.
At any rate, when a group demands and seeks to pulp everyone to submit to the fact that it is their person who should become the President, what does that mean for others? How do we achieve national unity and equity when some positions are ring-fenced and reserved for some people?
Fatoumatta: It is electioneering and politicking again, and we are back at the same crossroads as we were in the last election, except that this is more precarious and ominous than the former. As expected, many discourses and conversations are about the elections. The print and social media are not left out as headlines about the upcoming elections continue to grace the pages of newspapers, make the front burner of media outlets and illume chat rooms on social media. Never in the history of our nascent democracy has the political arena been this competitive, tense, and dire with the election verbatim of political party leaders and aspirants as being a “do or die affair”; with the ever-increasing threats from “glorified regional thugs” branding themselves as statesmen, that the country would break-up if their favored candidates do not win the upcoming elections; with the ongoing mass cross-carpeting of politicians from one political party to another in the quest for position and power, it is no surprise that we find ourselves in this current state of apprehension and fraught over the elections.
As election campaigns inadvertently overheat the polity, in a seemingly pre-election day the Gambian fashion, political anthems are increasingly becoming the order of the day. The Gambia’s politics has changed diametrically since the collapse of the 2016 Grand Coalition and the sour divorce between President Adama Barrow, his estranged Godfather Abubacarr Darboe and the United Democratic Party (UDP) Barrow’s biological and political orientation. The accent has shifted to burning bridges and souring relations after the flames that followed the sacking of other prominent members of the 2016 Grand Coalition in the cabinet and the civil and foreign service. Therefore, the drive is to bring communities together and narrow the gulf borne out of political contests. For, division and perennial combat cannot take us anywhere.
Fatoumatta: We must end this obsession with elections and premature campaigns. Instead, let those in national leadership execute their duties. Importantly, we should desist from creating a siege mentality based on a sense of entitlement. Nobody owes anyone anything. The only debt the leaders owe is to Gambians to implement policies and programs they committed to execute in their campaign promises. Indeed, we do not need rocket science to foresee this probable prediction. However, this should not be the case. There is also a belief that there are movements out there, African and non-African alike, which could not mean well for the Gambia, and who may wish for our beloved country to dissolve into a theater of bloodshed, gore, and instability. If there are such interests out there, they will succeed if we continue this politics of violence and mayhem, this do-or-die politics, and making enemies of ourselves and friends of our enemies.
Similarly, our clime’s ever-present religious and ethnic sentiment is increasingly being exploited by some ethnic and religious jingoists for political gains, fuelling the pre-election violence currently being witnessed. Hence, leaders of political parties and candidates should publicly and categorically condemn, denounce and disassociate themselves from such supporters who use violence as a means of expressing themselves or showing solidarity for a political party or candidate. All of our politicians must comport themselves, be warned, and be penalized if and when they make unguarded statements, which incite their supporters to commit violence or inflict mayhem. Politicians must be cautioned to act with decorum, respect, and fair play, instead of peddling in unnecessary mudslinging and character assassination. Political aspirants must be urged to conduct civil and peaceful campaigns devoid of threats and a commitment to preach peaceful elections to their supporters.
Fatoumatta: Another salient issue I am finding difficult to wrap my brain around is the involvement of religious leaders in politics. It is a fact, in this election especially, that religion has been intertwined with political activities. We have seen this before where some political office holders misuse religion as a tool to get to power, while religious leaders are mishandling it to get personal gain from those who hold public office. While religion has contributed to nation-building, the positive impact of religion on the Gambia’s democracy has remained evidently negligible. The manipulation of religion by some influential individuals who hide under the guise of religion to pursue selfish interests remains one of the adverse effects of religion in our polity. Religious leaders are openly celebrating and singing the praises of some political bigwigs and furthering their agenda, all in the name of religion. The pulpit, in most cases, has been transformed into a podium for electioneering. Undoubtedly, a significant amount of religious leaders are endemically involved in partisan politics.
Ideally, religious leaders are meant to be apolitical. They should focus and engage more in peace-building instead of actively involved in politics, making public utterances that many devout followers, unfortunately, believe to be divinely inspired. The roles of religious leaders should be in nation-building. They should not stand or clamor for any political aspirant or party.
Fatoumatta: Religious leaders and their institutions should stand for values, morals and set standards necessary for a stable, peaceful, and prosperous nation. Their congregations are certainly of diverse political leanings. It is not prudent to divide or cajole them because of personal political opinion. The Muslim Ulema and Christian Clergy must altogether remove themselves from the political arena, preach for peace and be ready to calm the atmosphere in the aftermath of the elections, should there be a violent fallout. Pastors, Arfangs, Oustazz, Imams, Reverend Fathers, Emirs, and other traditional and religious leaders should all be engaged in building a culture of peace, national unity, and integration.
These religious and traditional leaders undoubtedly play essential roles in building social cohesion in the Gambia. Therefore, all efforts must be made to bring together such leaders on a neutral and apolitical platform to speak in one voice, preaching violence-free electioneering and politicking and exploring collaborative approaches to peace in times of crisis.
Based on a common commitment to shared values and their moral authority, religious leaders and traditional rulers can serve as the conscience of this great nation of ours, working together to strengthen and build consensus around those shared values.
Fatoumatta: As we approach the presidential election, the choice the electorate needs to make without violence or mayhem is simply between “continuity and change” via the ballot box. However, in making that choice, we as a people should emphatically say “NO” to election violence and anything that does not stand for the peaceful unity that the Gambia so desperately needs. Whether it is a vote for change or continuity, the Gambia needs peace and dialogue to move forward. If we do not want this country to go into pieces, we must go into the December 4, 2021 presidential peace election.
Alagi Yorro Jallow