By Madi Jobarteh*
The Gambia is a Republic hence it must be clear to all and sundry that each and every citizen is equal in sovereignty, rights and dignity. There are no first and second class citizens or majority and minority citizens. All are equal before the law. Hence no single individual should be allowed to toy with the Republic just to suit one’s whims and caprices.
The creation of the National Peoples Party (NPP) by Pres. Adama Barrow cannot and must not be taken as the formation of any political party in this country. This is because the circumstances of the Republic since 2016 leading to his presidency were not ordinary. It was the creation of a Grand Coalition of all seven political parties and an Independent Presidential Candidate in response to a generation of dictatorship that brought Adama Barrow as President. In fact, in the December 1 polls the electorates did not primarily vote for Candidate Adama Barrow. His election was a response to oust the Tyrant Yaya Jammeh such that anyone in Barrow’s position would have won that election.
The striking objectives of that Coalition was to end self-perpetuating rule, reform the State and transform the polity into a true democracy that will usher in an era of good governance in the country. Hence the Coalition Agreement was to institute a transitional government of three years to do a set of constitutional, legal and institutional reforms. The president of that transitional government was to conduct elections in which he or she will not seek re-election but to ensure there is a level playing field. In fact, that candidate was to resign from his or her party just to stand as an independent presidential candidate. This is why and how Adama Barrow became the third president of the Republic of the Gambia.
The mandate and the position that Adama Barrow acquires is the property of the people. In other words, the Presidency belongs to the Republic, i.e. the People of the Gambia who are the only legitimate power and source to deliver that Presidency to whoever they so wish. Therefore, whosoever intends to acquire that Presidency must do so through means that are both legitimate and legal.
Hence by creating the NPP it means Adama Barrow intends to flout the Coalition Agreement by holding onto power beyond three years. NPP means Mr. Barrow is usurping the 2016 mandate of the people to use as a means to further stay onto to power beyond five years. This further means that Barrow was not honest to Gambians when he claimed to accept the terms of the Coalition and to serve as their presidential candidate in 2016. Now that he won that election and assumed the presidency only to abandon that Agreement therefore means Adama Barrow wishes to acquire and keep people’s mandate through illegitimate means. Indeed, if Gambians had known that this would be the outcome of electing Adama Barrow as President there would have been lot of apprehension to vote for him back then.
The creation of NPP therefore is the final thread on the cloak of betrayal with which Mr. Barrow has wrapped himself since he took public office. Yes, Adama Barrow like any other citizen has a right to seek election into public office. But no Gambian has a right to use subterfuge to acquire and stay on in public office. That will tantamount to theft which is inimical to the norms of democracy. As a Republic, citizens must not allow any individual to toy with the mandate of the people expressed in elections.
What the creation of the NPP also demonstrates is the disgraceful failure of leadership of the parties and their leaders who created the Coalition. Political parties are primary governance structures whose mandate is to hold the Government and each other accountable. Hence the political parties must not stay as bystanders or flip-flopping on issues that carry the destiny of the country. Unfortunately, this is what the Coalition parties did exactly.
For example, just as Adama Barrow reneged on his own word we saw how UDPs’ Ousainou Darboe and his entire party also flip-flopped on the Agreement by standing with Barrow for five years until they fell out. It was utterly wrong for Mr. Darboe to dismiss that Agreement on the basis that it was not signed when in fact he knows that it was on the basis of that Coalition Agreement that Adama Barrow campaigned and got elected. As the largest party in the Coalition as well as the biggest beneficiary of the regime change brought about by the Coalition UDP had both moral and political obligation to ensure that the Coalition Agreement stands to the letter!
Similarly, we also saw how PPP’s OJ Jallow jumped back and forth between the three and five years’ agenda only for his entire party to finally side with Barrow in disregard of the Coalition Agreement. As a leading senior political figure who had earned the respect and admiration of many Gambians for his consistent and brave stance against tyranny, OJ should have remained as that voice of conscience to defend the Coalition Agreement and not to betray it. The rest of the Coalition members – GPDP, NRP and NCP – remained indifferent therefore betraying the Coalition Agreement just because they hold positions in the Government. Meantime GMC only came to reject Barrow because their party leader ‘left’ the Government. Until then they knew very well that Barrow has already betrayed the Agreement but never said anything. While PDOIS leaders spared no opportunity to eloquently explain the rationale and processes of the Coalition yet they also washed off their hands thus leaving Adama to decide as he wishes. For Mrs. Fatoumatta Tambajang and Dr. Isatou Touray, one wonders whether they ever knew if there exists something called ‘Conscience’?
The Coalition MoU and Manifesto have clear objectives and actions to execute. These are mainly constitutional and legal reforms. Yet since assuming power at both the Executive and Legislature, neither Barrow nor the Coalition parties embarked on these necessary reforms. The only time Barrow proposed constitutional changes was to enable him to appoint Tambajang the Vice President. The other constitutional reform was to protect NAMs from losing their seat through a private member’s bill put forward by NRP’s Samba Jallow. The only legal reform was the Elections Act to reduce nomination costs. Why did they fail to amend the Public Order Act and many others which were stated in the MoU and the Manifesto?
Why should these parties and leaders behave this way? Why is it that none of them stood up vigorously from the very beginning to demand that the President honours the Agreement in practice? Why is it that none of them stood up to loudly put it to Adama Barrow that he was diverting from the Coalition Agreement from the first day he took office? The way and manner Barrow formed his Cabinet was against the terms of the MoU yet no party or leader came out publicly to put it to him that he was betraying the MoU? Even when Darboe said the Agreement or MoU was not signed how come no other Coalition leader produced the signed copy to provide him wrong? Who is keeping the signed copy and refusing to show it to the people? Indeed, these parties have more than enough means and resources to make sure that Pres. Barrow respect the Agreement.
In the first place these parties are in control of the National Assembly where they could have passed various laws or amend the Constitution to ensure that system change indeed takes place that will make Barrow honour his word. But none ever put up a proposal to that effect before the parliament! Secondly these parties could ask their supporters and citizens in general to get ready to demonstrate against any illegitimate aims of the President. They failed to do that too. They could as well go back to the international community to re-engage given the role ECOWAS, AU and UN played in the change we have now. They failed on that score as well. Rather all of the parties said either of two things; first, at best they can only remind the President to honour his word and leave it there or second, at worst to prepare for 2021 elections to challenge him at the polls. That is indeed a very unfortunate positon for political parties to take in the circumstances.
Clearly the response from the Coalition parties is nothing but an abdication of duty, i.e. to merely claim that the choice is with Barrow to respect the Agreement or go along with the Constitution. Indeed, these parties including Adama Barrow were well aware of the presidential term in the Constitution but they opted for three years. Therefore, they bear responsibility for the election of Adama Barrow and therefore they cannot just wash off their hands at the very end by claiming it is a matter of choice for the President to take. No. Rather the political parties have a duty to defend their Agreement to ensure that it stands. By so doing they would have been defending the sanctity and the dignity of the Republic that no one will assume people’s power through illegitimate means by subverting the mandate of the people.
The parties should have stayed resolved that they will not allow any betrayal of the people. We saw in 1996 how Yaya Jammeh also reneged on the agreement to serve only two years and then go back to the barracks. But just like Yaya back then, Barrow also claims today that he would rather stay on in response to popular demand! I wish to put it to the Coalition leaders that the issue of the Coalition Agreement is not an individual matter that could be left with only the President or any single party leader. Rather it is the individual and collective responsibility of each and every political party to make sure that this Agreement stands. Otherwise what the formation of NPP manifests is the gross failure of leadership by the political parties as they stand by to allow the bastardization of the Republic by one person just because that person is the President. Public office must not be left in the hands of one person to play with anyhow.
For the Gambia Our Homeland
* Madi Jobarteh, is a human rights actvist and outspoken political commentator former program manager of Gambia’s Association of Non Governmental Organisations. He is currently the country Representative of Westminster Foundation for Democracy in Gambia. The views are his.