By Baba Galleh Jallow
It is election year in The Gambia, and yes, as we speak, voter registration is ongoing across the country. Social media is awash with fervor, as Gambians urge each other to go register and vote come December 4, and with pictures of proud citizens brandishing their voter’s cards. It is pleasant to see Gambian individuals, civil society organizations, music groups and various community organizations engaged in voter registration sensitization exercises across the country. This spirit of interest and engagement with our electoral process bodes well for Gambian democracy. Never Again to the monopolization of the political space by governments and strictly political entities! Deka bi nyeppa ko mome!!
I was not in The Gambia during the voter registration period for the December 2016 elections. But I am pretty sure the voter registration mood was not this lively, for obvious reasons. We had a dictatorship then and dictators do not like elections at all because they represent an affront to their self-arrogated political supremacy and ownership of both the country and the people. It does appear in hindsight that during that fateful registration period, Gambians just quietly went to get their voters cards, and when the time came, they showed the dictator who really owned the country. Gambians had decided that never again shall they be denied their rightful ownership of the land, and their legitimate supremacy over their public servants, especially their president.
Then came the impasse – a brief but nerve-racking period when Gambia tottered on the brink of disaster and many Gambians even fled into exile – and eventually, the unceremonious flight into exile of the dictator because Gambians calmly refused to budge and because ECOMIG jets were beginning to fly too close to State House, and ECOMIG boots and guns had entered Gambian territory without any resistance from Gambian security forces. And then came the three-year transition period that never was and with it, the collapse of the political coalition that served as a vanguard for the votes of the people. Much water has passed under the proverbial bridge since the collapse of the coalition and today, Gambians are getting ready to head back to the polls again with an unprecedented number of parties and independent candidates poised to contest the December 4 elections.
In recent days, social media has also been awash with rumors that I plan to run for president. One rumor, obviously unfounded, is that a colleague and I are planning on jointly forming a political party. But there is an element of truth to the rumor that I might be considering running for president this year. Some of my good Facebook friends have even posed the question directly to me and of course, I could only admit that there is some truth to the suggestion that I have thought of running for president this year. Over the past year or so, the idea has been suggested to me several times by friends and acquaintances. And it is true that I have given it some serious consideration. One of the reasons I gave the Government early notice that I will be leaving the TRRC Secretariat at the end of July when the Commission’s final report would have been submitted to the President is yes, to give myself space to search and apply for jobs, which I am doing, but yes to also give some serious thought to the possibility of contesting the December 4 elections as an independent candidate.
As at the time of writing these lines, however, it does not appear that I will run for president in 2021 due a number of constraining circumstances beyond my control. Notwithstanding these constraining circumstances that make me an unlikely candidate for December 2021, I do have some very strong views on what I think the next president and the next government of The Gambia should focus on, and what I think is some reasonably good insight into the nature of the many chronic and growing challenges facing us as a nation and a society. I also think I have some reasonably feasible ideas on how we can manage and overcome some of the most acute of these challenges.
I happen to share the view, with many Gambians that our country needs some serious waking up to do. The current socio-political and economic trajectories of the country are not promising and it is only a matter of time, if things do not improve for Gambian society, before they get out of hand. The troubling levels of poverty, crime, indiscipline, inefficiency, and general chaos we currently encounter in our urban areas do not bode well for the emergence of a healthy and a happy society. Increasingly, the seeds of discontent and therefore social conflict are being sown everywhere around us and the problems we have faced as a nation for decades continue to fester and to increase in severity. I share the view with many Gambians that it is high time that we do better for ourselves, our country and for our children and future generations. And I believe that YES WE CAN do it!
And so while I’m not sure circumstances will allow me to run for president this year, I still think it is useful that I share with the Gambian people the issues I would have advocated were I to run for president. I think many Gambians will find much that resonates with their own concerns, their wishes and their visions for our dear little country in these issues, which I propose to share in “Never Again: The Manifesto of an Unlikely candidate”.
I argue in this manifesto of an unlikely candidate that yes, Gambians are saying Never Again to dictatorship and human rights violations and abuses. But they are also saying Never Again to a plethora of chronic and nationally and personally debilitating problems and challenges that for decades on end have plagued their lives and stunted their growth as a nation, and that seem, until now, to defy solution by their governments.
I argue in this manifesto of an unlikely candidate that Gambians are saying Never Again to the non-implementation of important commission recommendations by government, including those of the Faraba Commission, the Janneh Commission, the Constitutional Review Commission, and the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission. Gambians are also saying Never Again to the chronic lack of decent living wages by large segments of our public servants; Never Again to chronic youth unemployment and frustration and the resultant rising crime levels in our society; Never Again to dismally poor public utility services; Never Again to dismally poor health services and facilities; Never Again to inadequate roads and messy streets; Never Again to an unwieldy and inefficient state apparatus that is more of a creaking resource guzzling behemoth than a functional institution serving the welfare of its citizens; Never Again to chronic food shortages in the face of our abundant land and water resources; Never Again to a poor and inadequate education system that fails to prepare our children for the challenges of the future; Never Again to a business and investment climate that is as confused as it encourages corruption in all places.
I argue in this manifesto of an unlikely candidate that Gambians are saying Never Again to the politics of hostility, insults and exclusion that make our beautiful society so ugly, that put our beautiful culture and traditions to shame, that make a mockery of our beautiful religions, that degrade our human decency, and that stultify our collective national intelligence; And Never Again to a politics that marginalizes and excludes our women and disenfranchises our Diaspora from our national electoral processes.
I argue in this manifesto of an unlikely candidate that yes, Gambians CAN intelligently deal with and resolve all of the above problems and challenges. That while they loom large in our social consciousness and seem rather forbidden in their enormity, their solutions lie at our finger tips, if only we put our minds to solving them.
In this manifesto of an unlikely candidate, I propose to argue why WE MUST and how WE CAN tackle these challenges and take our country to the next level!
God bless The Gambia, God bless all Gambians and God bless all friends of The Gambia!