Gambia: Pact of the three pygmies: the joke that calls itself an opposition “united front”

Gambia: Pact of the three pygmies:  the joke that calls itself an opposition “united front”

By Hon. Lamin J. Darbo, J.D.

Opposition Gambia’s project of opposition unity against an over-powerful incumbent is one of never ending drama, of relentless and misleading propaganda, and through it all, the machinations of an electorally insignificant person and party.
In 2006, it was its flag bearer selection mechanism that guaranteed the collapse of NADD.
In a 2010 New Year message released December 2009, Agenda 2011 and its ridiculous presidential candidate selection mechanism of a “primary” hit the headlines. It got no traction and was abandoned as it lay dying in the very year it was supposed to come to fruition and work wonders for Halifa Sallah’s singular project to unseat His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya A J J Jammeh (the Professor).
As if there were not enough lessons from the self destructive flag bearer selection mechanisms of NADD, and Agenda 2011, a so-called Convention was floated in August with the purported objective of selecting a sole candidate for a “united opposition” against the incumbent this presidential election year.
In  so far as is objectively discernible, the common thread in all these alleged unity schemes were presidential candidate selection mechanisms calculated to drive the largest opposition party off the table by completely discounting its clear electoral supremacy. And without exception, all these schemes originated with Halifa!
Although that grand plan of pushing the UDP off the table appears to have ultimately succeeded in this crucial election year, its product represents a political joke of the first order. I call it the pact of the three electoral pygmies of the NRP, PDOIS, and GPDP. I refused to be detained by the perverse notion of NADD as an independent entity, and regard, as in bad taste, the attempt to hang on to the pretence that NADD, wholly subsumed in PDOIS, is an entity practically separable from the latter. NADD has no numbers distinct from PDOIS, and they incontestably share the same leadership. That NADD has separate legal personality is beside the point in light of the irrefutable reality that its numbers and structure are indistinguishable from those of PDOIS.
And it appears that message – that NADD and PDOIS are indistinguishable – rammed through by several commentators, finally got through. In an interview with Foroyaa only yesterday, Halifa refers exclusively to NRP, and GPDP, as PDOIS’ partners in what he dubbed the “united front” of opposition parties. Thank God the pretence of NADD as an independent entity is being surreptitiously dropped!
So in reality, the pact of October 29, 2011 (the October surprise) should be seen as between three political pygmies in light of the fact that on 24 November, UDP alone will easily trounce this disparate collection of midget parties pretending to the propagandistic title of the “united” opposition front. For a political opposition ostensibly united in the belief that the Professor represents utter bad news for our nation, it is difficult to appreciate what Halifa hopes to achieve with shenanigans clear for all to see in their vindictive calculus against the UDP. And such conduct by someone who regards himself as the conscience of The Gambia, as our very own Mandela, and Tutu!
As someone who follows Halifa’s every significant pronouncement in the public space, I was never in any doubt that opposition Gambia was heading to this very destination in 2011, the year that clearly offers an excellent opportunity for a peaceable end to tyranny in the only country of which we are native. In a conversation with Bailo over a Foroyaa editorial castigating Diaspora Gambia for criticising opposition parties, I argued: Foroyaa is affiliated with a political party, and in the circumstances, it may be reasonable to assume it is speaking for the leadership of that Party. Viewed in the round, the  implications of the editorial are explosive. If you want my instinctive view on a very clear editorial, I am incline to the conclusion that there is unlikely to be a united front against His Excellency SHEPAD Yahya A J J Jammeh (the Professor) in 2011.
With the UDP registering major inroads against the Professor’s APRC countrywide, this may yet be the year, but the job is needlessly complicated by the three pygmies and their joke of a “united front” of opposition parties.
How did opposition Gambia arrive at such a pathetic and disappointing destination?
Quite simply, the answer is Halifa, Halifa, and Halifa!
For starters, I refer to section 8 of the NADD Memorandum of Understanding on the Candidate nomination process: “The selection of the candidate of the Alliance for the presidential, National Assembly and council elections shall be done by consensus; provided that in the event of an impasse selection shall be done by holding a primary election restricted to party delegates  on the basis of equal number of delegates, comprising the chairman, chairwoman and youth leader of each party from each village/ward in a constituency”. Accepting some level of intellectual laziness from other constituent parties of NADD, the UDP especially, there was no question the pertinent clause represents a breach of trust on the part of Halifa in so far as the certainty of an impasse was factored into the clause!
When the clause unexpectedly put OJ in temporary lead to become flag bearer, there was at least one press report quoting Sam Sarr of PDOIS as saying that outcome was unacceptable. Perverse as that outcome might be, OJ was clearly representing a bona fide party and PDOIS had no cause for complaint if it was truly committed to a transparent and democratic process. For present purposes, the crucial point to note was that UDP’s legitimate expectation of being offered the presidential flag bearer position was frustrated by Halifa’s scheming. Against his better judgement, he ended up as flag bearer on the fragmentation of NADD. And so I caution commentators like D A Jawo whose view remains that Ousainu, and Hamat walked away from NADD to view the process critically, and with the benefit of hindsight, to accept that the reality was far more complicated. Nothing better exemplified this state of affairs than that subsequent attempts by Halifa to replicate the NADD process were rejected in the period between 2010 and now.
Following the pattern of the NADD flag bearer selection mechanism, opposition Gambia was treated to the bizarre notion of a “primary” in Halifa’s purported blue print for The Gambia that was Agenda 2011. According to the document, Agenda 2011 is a fast track initiative in creating a voting bloc irrespective of party affiliation, based on a consensual programme aimed at reflecting and addressing most of the diverse and relevant concerns of the Gambian people in particular and the international community at large. It proposes for all those who endorse the programme to participate in a primary   to ensure the democratic selection of opposition Presidential candidate for the 2011 Presidential elections and each opposition National Assembly Candidate for the 2011 National Assembly elections.” If Halifa is to be believed, “many people have endorsed this proposal especially when they came to realise that it is the people who will do the selection of a candidate from a pool of persons recommended for candidature from political parties or civil societies.”
Again, like NADD before it, Agenda 2011 was calculated to devalue the electoral supremacy of the UDP, a strategy that ensured the failure of the project from birth. Clearly, governance even in what are termed “mature democracies” is a process, and deficiencies are therefore rectifiable over time. Why then is Halifa ostensibly insisting on prior perfection for the opposition going into government? Even as an interim measure, Halifa supported the adoption of the 1997 Constitution on the grounds that notwithstanding the climate then prevalent, that incremental step to ultimate democracy represented the best way forward. Why then was the incrementalist philosophy rejected out of hand in the presuppositions underpinning Agenda 2011 by Halifa’s unreasonable insistence on a primary as an exclusive mechanism to selecting a united opposition candidate.
In my view, the whole premise of Agenda 2011 was flawed, and was brought in either as a vehicle to afford undue leverage to an electorally insignificant entity like PDOIS, or out of spite for UDP. Even where the aspirational spirit enunciated in Agenda 2011 is embodied in the general principles of opposition to the government of the APRC, Halifa acted as though the principles therein were unique to PDOIS for merely committing them to paper. The only significant aspect of Agenda 2011 was the divisive “primary” question, and the document may therefore be regarded as having stood squarely in the way of a united front in the sense its architecture not only appears to rig the outcome in favour of Halifa, but embodied a rigid strategy to again push the UDP off the table.
In a Foroyaa interview after a “freelance” meeting with Ousainu, Sidia is properly regarded as elaborating the foregoing contention when he stated he was “not sure which political leader in the opposition could take voters away from the ruling party and motivate those who abstained in 2006 to cast their vote. Hence I subscribe to the idea of holding a primary for the people to select the candidate of their choice in line with Agenda 2011. I told him that this is why I endorse Agenda 2011″. This effectively rejects the fragmentation argument against opposition failures in trying to unseat the Professor, and instead reduced the inability to effectively tackle the Professor as one embedded in personality. Stated differently, Halifa, Sidia, and PDOIS, continue to insinuate, nay, assert, without even passable justification, the nonsense that voters reject the opposition because of Ousainu. Riding to power on the back of the UDP is only feasible if the largest opposition party is amenable to such an outcome.
If as contended by Sidia, the ultimate objective is to is to “take voters away from the ruling party and motivate those who abstained in 2006 to cast their vote” in sufficient numbers to defeat the APRC, then the answer is none of the opposition leaders individually. That will only come about under a united front, and unquestionably, the UDP has a far larger support base and therefore a more competent claim to leadership than the electoral midget that is PDOIS. Realising it was not going anywhere without dropping the unnecessary conditionality of a ‘primary’ no one was subscribing to, Agenda 2011 died quietly notwithstanding PDOIS May 2010 Congress “that all members of PDOIS shall endorse and promote Agenda 2011 and shall undertake to play effective role in sensitising, mobilising and organising party and non party members to ensure its realisation; that all members of political parties which aim to bring about change shall be encouraged to motivate their parties to hold congresses to endorse Agenda 2011 so as to bring about unity among all forces for change. It was nevertheless attempted to reincarnate Agenda 2011 in the phony proposal of a Convention.
In a Point Newspaper interview last August, Halifa had this to say in transitioning from Agenda 2011 and its primary concept to a so-called National Conference or Convention. “The subject of establishing a united front is not a new idea. We started our campaign for a United Front three years ago. There is no doubt that many people support the holding of a cross-party primary which is the surest way of guaranteeing cross-party voting for a candidate. However to accommodate the views of others we are of the view that a nationwide primary could be replaced by a National Conference or Convention which would form the basis of a non partisan Selection Committee that would elect the Candidate”.
Undoubtedly, the methodology harks to flag bearer mechanisms of NADD, and Agenda 2011. Again, the crux of this proposal is nothing if not an attempt to devalue the clear electoral supremacy of the UDP. In his own words, “Participating parties could select equal delegates, male and female from the seven administrative areas and then agree to a list of participants who are non-partisan from all over the country and mandate them to elect a winnable candidate who could best facilitate a successful transition to a third Republic that would guarantee a genuine multi-party system and limited executive powers and tenure of office. Once the will is there, the way will not be difficult to find.” Indeed!
If, as we now know, Halifa himself is not running because he aspires to the rarefied role of our nation’s conscience ala Mandela, and Tutu, what makes him think that Hamat, Sidia, Henry, or Assan Martin, are more electorally appealable than Ousainu, the leader of the largest opposition party in the country. Only yesterday, a new twist was added to the “voter apathy” theory when Halifa asserted: Those who use foul language against opposition leaders are the promoters of voter apathy. They are the ones dashing the hopes of the Gambian people and should be identified as indecent citizens who cannot even engage in healthy and respectful debates to shape public opinion for the common good” (see Foroyaa, 02/11/11). This unsustainable contention makes a complete nonsense of Halifa’s position and projects him as a vindictive and sour grapes politician. Unless the UDP voluntarily buys into the logic of ceding leadership to minor parties, no number of shenanigans are likely to work. Some Mandela, and, or, Tutu!
In my view, UDP was right to walk away from the charade of NADD, as well as  rejecting the farce of Agenda 2011, and its successor National Convention which culminates today!
Analysing material coming out of PDOIS through Foroyaa and other media, there appears consistent streams of thought emanating from the leadership. Telling us about his only formal meeting with Ousainu, Sidia  asserts that “those who want to support the opposition should take their sides and promote dialogue while not undermining each other’s positions. This is the way forward”. Halifa asserts similarly in a interview, and as recently as yesterday, on Foroyaa, states: “The time has come to isolate all those who claim to oppose the government but are constantly trying to belittle opposition initiatives. Each should be part of the solution by supporting one opposition party or the other. All those who are neutral and would not support one opposition party or the other are allied with the regime. These so called neutral people who oppose all opposition parties are responsible for what happens in Gambian society today”. Unbelievable if you ask me!
On the Diaspora, Halifa again: “The Convention has rules and they are stated in black and white. No party candidate or Independent Candidate is excluded. If people who consider themselves competent refuse to assume their national responsibility then they should not caricature the so-called lesser endowed persons who stand up to be counted. The people who are failing Gambian society are those Gambians in the Diaspora who pen their days and nights to attack those who are making the supreme sacrifice to combat impunity at home. They do not come home to establish political parties to uproot the regime but do not reward the little others are doing even if it is not enough.”
If the foregoing is intended to stop difficult dialogue, it is unlikely to succeed, and more pertinently, no independent and fair minded Gambian can fail to appreciate that PDOIS, in the person of Halifa, represents the major stumbling block to the creation of a united front in so far as the incessant attempts to devalue UDP’s electoral strength in any unity talks is concerned. For those in any doubt, I refer to the primary documents of the NADD MOU, to Agenda 2011, and their latest reincarnation in the so-called Convention.  We are well aware of the “concrete realities on the ground”, and such dismissive statements from PDOIS’ in the persons of Halifa, and Sidia, will not deter “sovereign” Gambians in the Diaspora from speaking on issues affecting the direction of our country.
Happy Convention to the three pygmies of NRP, PDOIS, and GPDP!
Lamin J Darbo

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