by Alagi Yorro Jallow.
Fatoumatta: In today’s Gambia, party politics and adultery have the same engagement rule: no commitment to fidelity and conjugal permanence. We are in this thing for a reason, and it is for a season. It is not till-death-do-us-part. We respect political seminaries abroad, thinking they are homes of decency, but they are also suspects in perverse acts. The difference is that they are discreet about their evil ways of doing ‘great things. Some ‘Sosalaso’ political parties here do not switch off the light to do evil. They go to the market square to subvert faith and faithfulness; they teach law and loyalty reverse meanings. Here you watch in horror as upstart crows beautified with the feathers of the king of birds defecate on the palace with impunity. You watch in shock as crows flap their vaunted wings in the face of the angels who supplied them their flight. You also see moths and butterflies seeking a race with the eagle.
Fatoumatta: Since the end of military rule, the historic sixth quinquennial presidential election will witness teeming Gambians voting for “change or continuity” on December 4, 2021, presidential election. The fever-pitched atmosphere, apprehension, and trepidation that characterized the polity of the 2016 presidential election will finally come to an end with the election of President Adama Barrow and his Grand Coalition partners victory by an overwhelming majority in favor of the United Democratic Party (UDP) with more seats in National Assembly representative and easily held on the Local Government election with more Chairmen and Mayors/Mayoress nationwide.
Fatoumatta: On December 4, 2021, presidential polls and the prime focus must hinge on solving the present problems. Our country is already besieged with a myriad of problems, and Gambians on December 4 will vote for change or retain the incumbent in proffering effective solutions to them. It is about time that we realize that the unity and overall benefit and interest of the country prevail over any interest or aspiration of any individual, in power or out-of-power. Suppose all the game playing is about 2021 and beyond. In that case, we must appreciate that the presidential election is only a few weeks, and we should not allow any individual aspiration hedged on the future to continue tainting and informing the decisions of the present.
Fatoumatta: Ahead of December 4, 2021, presidential elections, the political space is predictably charged. The pre-election euphoria began with the clarion call from concerned Gambians across the nation to every Gambian of voting age. “Get your PVC ( personal voters card)!” became the rallying cry, and many Gambians have heeded the call and are ready to vote or be voted for. As a prelude to the presidential elections, we have seen the tight psychology of electoral mobilization of voters in crowd experiments in social influence and political lobbying in every region, such as in Basse Niumi Wuli and, Suduwol, Banjul, and Sukuta. We have also seen the rise of new faces in the political space challenging the status quo and demanding a seat at the table. We have seen presidential aspirants hotly contesting for the presidential elections. Some political parties have revisited the politics of Godfatherism and the Godson building alliances and coalitions and decided the candidates to be fielded as standard-bearers. These are indications that Gambians are bracing up for this once-in-a-national-lifetime opportunity to shape our future.
Fatoumatta: As excellent and desirable, popularity in the mass media and social media does not translate to a majority of votes. For instance, my grandmother, my driver, my security guard, the lady who sells me watermelon, the petrol station attendant, and my aunties and uncles in the village of Bwiam in Foni do not decide whom to vote for based on what they read in newspapers or on social media. I know this will get me some dirty slaps – political ideology is not a motivation among the majority of Gambian voters. If you doubt me, do a random survey of the actual voters. How many of us are influenced by ideological thought? I suspect we are in the minority. I am convinced that sentiments move the majority of voters. Personal and group sentiments. Emotions such as: Who do our influencers and local leaders want us to vote for? Who will better serve our ethnic, religious, political, or economic interests? That is their understanding of ideology – not capitalism, socialism, or centrism. They do not even as much believe in campaign promises anymore.
Fatoumatta: Moreover, I have realized that even the best-conducted elections are not decided based on better policies and programs. It has never really been about the better ideologies. Yes, these things help with a minority of voters, like my-not-so-humble-self. However, the real deal with the masses is the vote-winning political machinery on the ground: the influence of local leaders and the effective mobilization of the people’s sentiments – not excluding material inducement. Call me a liar.
Meanwhile, millions and millions of dalasis have been budgeted for the December 4, 2021, presidential elections. However, we have not stopped to ask why our nation continues to suffer a staggering leadership deficit despite the cycle of expensive elections. Unquestionably, we have experienced bouts of outstanding leadership in the last twenty-seven years, mainly by appointment. We have also seen good intentions and laudable development agendas. However, neither the five presidential and general elections nor the excellent choices have improved living conditions for most Gambians.
Fatoumatta: Five presidential and general elections, yet around 2.5 million Gambians are extremely poor, earning our country the title “Poverty Capital of the World”; five elections, yet more lives have been claimed by the menace of corruption and poverty in the Gambia and hundred of thousands of youth have died taking the Mediterranean sea migration route every year, hundreds of more youths are refugees and migrants from the coast of Libya are reported dead or missing, thousands of us have no access to clean drinking water, and regular supply of electricity and thousands of us require urgent humanitarian assistance. Five elections, yet thousands of us still go to bed hungry, and hundreds of thousands of our infants suffer malnutrition. Five elections, yet hundreds of thousands of children under the age of five and hundreds of women of childbearing age, died yesterday and will die today due to little or no access to healthcare. Five elections, yet hundreds of thousands of our children are still out of school, hundreds of hundreds and thousands of us, half of our entire population, have no access to electricity supply, and many of us are homeless. Five elections, yet our country has one of the worst infrastructural deficits in the world; needless to say, our roads are lavishly decorated with potholes, and our airports are among the worst of the worst. Five elections and most of our people have remained economic vegetables relying on diaspora remittances for life support, unable to generate sufficient internal revenue. Indeed, five elections and our paradoxical underdevelopment continue to confound the world.
Although our economy has grown significantly since 2017, what is the essence of economic growth if it does not reflect on the tables of Gambians? What is economic growth if it only enriches a few and leaves the rest in abject poverty? In twenty-four years, like prodigal sons, we earned billion of dalasi and squandered it. We have incurred $ 1.56 billion worth of debt, barely decades after a debt burden was lifted off our shoulders. However, there is no commensurate development to show for the debts we are piling up for future generations of Gambians. Five presidential and general elections, and ours is a tale of increasing poverty and indebtedness!
Fatoumatta: We are better than this! We are better than the retrogressive pace of one step forward, two steps back. We are better than this sorry state of national poverty. We are better than this beggarly nation that we have become. This is not who we are! This is not what God endowed us to be! We are not beggars, and we are not failures. We are not a burden to the world; we are a blessed nation; we are the hope of Africa. We are destined to give the world a civilization that will astonish humanity. We are Gambians!
Therefore, as we head towards another election, we must be ready to reject who we are not and reaffirm who we are. To do so, we must interrogate the process, ponder our progress so far, tell ourselves some home truths as to the defects in our system, and commence the work of correcting the deficiencies. And so I ask, great Gambian patriots: What time is it?
Fatoumatta: It is time to say no to a flawed system that stifles our potential as a people; it is time to say no to a flawed system that throws up the worst of us for leadership and brings out the worst in the best of us when they find themselves in leadership; it is time to say no to a flawed system that only breeds defectors! Instead, it is time to build systems that serve the common good, structures that work for every Gambian, and a nation caters to all Gambians. It is time to make the right choices.