October 4, 2023

Godfather and Godson Politics in the Gambia and The Thai Story of The Hungry Tiger

Godfather and Godson Politics

Alagi Yorro Jallow.

Fatoumatta: Far be it from me to dabble into definitions of Abubacarr Baa Ousainou Darboe, leader of the main opposition party and flag bearer the United Democratic Party (UDP), as a short man driven by his monstrous ego or his cool calculations run for president. How many times has Abubacarr Darboe run for president? His first attempt was 24 years.

I will not denigrate his presidential ambition with “briefness” as his critics and political opponents did where they ran the man down with rhetoric of contempt. I will not compare Mr. Abubacarr Darboe to Oscar, the dwarf in Gunter Grass’ novel Tin Drum. He crashed everything in sight by screaming. A public desperado was banging his shoes to gain attention.

There is always this intriguing thing about small men: they almost always love big fights. They fish for giants to wrestle and subdue. Every Goliath that falls at their feet adds to the inches of their petite heights. That is why they will not stop going to war. Furthermore, when they come with big brains, they present as bombs, very lethal. Mr. Abubakar Darboe has brawn and brain in tumultuous excess. He recently launched grassroots tout average and small and significant campaign contributions and crowdfunding in the Gambia and the Gambian Diaspora community. He embraces grassroots fundraising to prepare for the presidential election’s December 4, 2022. That is what the Gambian gnomes would need to bring out hundreds of thousands of voters to defeat his estranged Godson Adama Barrow since his Godson vowed to retire his Godfather come December 4 presidential polls.

Fatoumatta: Wise sailors heed and prepare for the unpleasant when the sky is red in the morning. Abubakar Darboe was in the trenches 27 years ago. So, why seek your estranged Godfather’s retirement so soon after a hard-won battle? Wisdom does hurt the smart sometimes. Was there no other option, or they felt their choice could provide the shortest route to the bosom of power? There are lessons here for anyone who takes Godfather and Godson’s politics as the model. When you bring ant-infested woods into your mother’s kitchen, impudent lizards would follow the lead and piss in the family soup pot.

The current political season in the Gambia, we hear all sorts of stories in our politics here, the Godfather and godson politics, overriding consideration for power; personal survival rather than politics for national development and patriotism: The Godfather and godson politics of ambition and power: this has frayed nerves and subjected the people to fear and trepidation. Power, greed, and the get-rich-quick syndrome have been identified as significant factors of Godfatherism politics in the Gambia.

Today in the Gambia, we witness Godson desperately seeking to force his estranged Godfather to political retirement. Godfather and Godson engage in bitter politics. It is not just at one level. They are everywhere. They operate at all levels of political engagement. In politics, as in kingship, Godfathers are always difficult to please. They are insatiable. Some are good men, but they see themselves as laborer’s who must get their wages. In most climes, the reward they get is ejection from the palace.

Moreover, in Africa, kings almost always use the Godfather’s blood to water the way to the throne. Godsons are always ambitious. They are good students of William Shakespeare: “Lowliness is young ambition’s ladder….” Thus, they listen and rarely ask questions. Like dogs they are, they fawn on the Godfather, lick his arse, almost literally. However, their stooping is to conquer, and wily godfathers are aware of this. Both sides try to be innovative. That is why we hear of oath-taking in the dreary depths of shrines supported by all sorts of IOUs or MoUs — and including postdated cheques.

Fatoumatta: In today’s political season, this soul-searching has revealed, importantly, that the United Democratic Party(UDP), headed by Abubacarr Darboe, there are two kinds of UDP. The first kind regards the Adama Barrow presidency as anathema. For those UDP, opposing president Barrow and his administration is a moral obligation, branding Adama Barrow as a kind of uncompromising unrealistic betrayer and unproductive. This UDP is happy to ignore distractions like the president’s ponderous economic, political and cultural incitement. They are laser-focused on an economic message designed to appeal to crossover voters. Abubakar Darboe owns a shrinking and muddles United Democratic Party. Loyalty to Abubacarr Ousainou among the UDP base looks so strong but obfuscates that it led to critics. It is becoming a cultish personality thing.

Interestingly, the premise of the UDP that supports and shows loyalty to Adama Barrow — that Barrow’s support is buoyed by his economic and infrastructural development message alone and can thus be undone by one — is not mistaken; the Barrow Youth Movement for Development metamorphize to National People’s Party! What distinguishes Barrow’s economic message from his UDP political rivals and counterparts is the culturally revanchist packaging. Barrow’s message is bundled economic development. President Barrow’s economic and development philosophy and vision in governance reform agenda and changing perspectives on sustainable human development in The Gambia.

Fatoumatta: Despite his socio-economic development optimism, Barrow’s presidency has so far failed to deliver on its promises when it comes to policy and institutional reforms. His supporters and the NPP party sold President Barrow as a no-nonsense transformative leader with little tolerance for distractions or excuse-making. However, from igniting winnable infrastructural developments to establishing projects, the Barrow presidency has been all but consumed by distractions and promises.

The other kind of UDP National Assembly members loyal to the Godson Adama Barrow may seek a repeat of their position or even time to enjoy in the vault of State House. Most of those ‘other’ NAM’s who profess their devotion and loyalty to the Godfather Abubacarr Darboe do so only in pragmatism, believe and steadily in “Baa Ousainou” as the most generally useful of all UDP 1996 militants. This UDP family may be too nostalgic and traditional to form the vanguard of the old politics and traditions in the new Gambia paradoxically. Certain National Assembly members all have their party identity, tickets already without their conscience, either loyal to their Godfather or the prodigal son. That was not a problem.

Moreover, we hear that professional Godfathers are waiting for some of these guys at the general elections. This is because they sinned and must pay for their transgressions. They did not perform as expected, were stale in the godfathers’ eyes, or violated other agreements. You are not the only person who has seen this happening. They abound across the political landscape — Godfathers who feel cheated always wait for the day of reckoning. That day is here. Godfathers do not read ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ so they do not forgive anyone who sins against them. That is why godsons who are wise always sleep with two eyes open, especially when elections are at the doorpost.

Really, what options are open to an injured Godfather? I have an old friend from whose political philosophy is hegemonic. My friend tells anyone that cultural hegemony and its benefits are inviolable. However, if you were the jilted Godfather, what would you do? My friend laughed then referred me to an old Asian story. Like all folktales, his Thailand story has local versions:

Fatoumatta: There was once a tiny village that a fearsome tiger was plaguing. The attacks became so bad that the villagers were too scared to leave their houses, even in the daytime. Finally, the village elders got together to work out what to do because something had to be done.

After a night of discussion, argument, and disagreement, they finally came to a decision. They would set traps for the tiger by digging deep holes around the village’s perimeter, filling each hole with a bit of red meat, and covering them up with branches and leaves.

The whole village set to work, each family is providing whatever red meat they could spare. Then they waited in their houses. They waited for the tiger to come lurking.

The following day, the nephew of the village chief, who had come from the city, arrived on foot. As he approached the village, he heard an almighty roar. Cautiously, he approached, and at the bottom of a pit was a miserable tiger.

“Oh, please please help me get out of here. I’m trapped, and I’ll die if you don’t help me. If you help me, I would be eternally in your debt. Forever…”

The young man was confused. “You promise you won’t eat me?”

“Promise, cross my heart!”

The young man looked around and found a long branch sturdy enough for the tiger to grip onto. He lowered it into the pit, and the tiger hauled himself up.

The tiger breathed a sigh of relief, then licked his lips,

“You will be great for breakfast.”

“But, but, but you said you’d be eternally grateful! Forever! You promised not to eat me!”

“Everyone knows that you can’t trust the promise of a hungry tiger. And tigers are ALWAYS hungry.”

Just as he was about to pounce, the young man yelled, “WAIT! Let’s ask that cow over there if you should keep your promise and NOT eat me.”

The tiger liked games, and it made his kill so much more interesting, so he agreed to ask the cow.

The glum-looking cow yawned. “Man makes me work hard in the field, then, when I’m too old to work, they make food and shoes out of me. Tiger, go ahead and eat him.”

The tiger prepared to attack. “STOOOOP!” yelled the young man. “I think we need a second opinion, let’s ask Tortoise over there.”

“This is your last chance, juicy young man….”

The young man anxiously explained the situation to the Tortoise.

Tortoise took a deep breath, then said. “Before I make my decision, I need to see exactly what happened.”

When they arrived at the bottomless pit, Tortoise said, “Now, show me exactly where you were when this young man passed by.”

The hungry tiger, impatient for his meal, leaped into the pit. “Well, I was in this deep pit, and I started roaring, because I was stuck. I was stuck….in this deep, deep pit. I’m stuck! Again!” The tiger began roaring with rage.

Wily Tortoise quickly told the young man to go on his way and to think next time before deciding to rescue a hungry tiger. End of Story!

Fatoumatta: All politicians seeking election or re-election to the presidency are this tiger. If they have injured any benefactor or they are just unfortunate to have insatiable Godfathers and godsons, let them not sleep at all until the coming elections are over. In the darkness of the coming days, I have the feeling that surprises lurk. They should watch out. Someone might bite his fingers after December 4, 2021 elections.