It was a vigorous back to back manifestation of new breath of political life. First, PDOIS held its annual Congress in Bansang and produced an ambitious 17-point plan of action. This was soon followed by the UDP’s nationwide tour, which commenced on a rather rough foot; entangled with the regime over what is clearly the party’s most fundamental right. As, elections, 2016 draw near, the political atmosphere seems shrouded in new found giddiness, which has on occasions burst out into seemingly uncontrollable euphoria.
The undeniable success of the UDP’s tour is reverberating across the length and breadth of the country, as Gambians rediscover the freedom to participate in the electoral process without fear. The political developments back home have had similar effects on the diaspora, who embrace the determination and the path the political parties are taking towards complete freedom from political underhandedness. It is a new day. Gambia is changing; not by the will of the regime, but in spite of it, and by the force of nature. For what is still new to the military regime, is now old to the rest of the population; the fear, terror, intimidation. Yahya Jammeh cannot stop progress, and he has no option but relent to the dynamic forces of time, and its invisible control of the natural course of change. At the start of this season’s political campaign, the UDP slogan, “No Fear”, became a fitting encapsulation of the two decades of opposition straight-jacketing and self-censorship, which often resulted in the unorthodox and ineffective campaign messaging. This year, the political turnaround is both visible and profound, and once again, Gambians across the land are taking their solemn political duties with patriotic urgency as crowds welcome UDP at various campaign stops. It was almost like reliving a past that almost died under the weight of a regime whose core belief systems is underpinned by a burning desire to alter the character of Gambian life through social engineering based on tribal preferences and ethnic bigotry.
This political season has become a perfect storm, either by design or the accident of nature, as the new rediscovery of opposition rights is complemented by the promise of profound political change from the broader international and regional communities. The creeping death of political tyranny and perennial presidencies across the continent of Africa are exemplified by ECOWAS’s recent efforts to twist the arms of the region’s imperial leaders by instituting term-limits. The self-serving opposition to the term-limits proposal; Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh and Togo’s Faure Gnassingbé, have succeeded in stalling the term-limit measure, “but it is far from dead,” said Gambia’s renowned technocrat and former Foreign Minister, Sidi Moro Sanneh. The term-limits issue in ECOWAS will rise again to help limit the powers of ECOWAS’s imperial monarchs, bring Africa to modernize its political systems, and stretch the frontiers of democracy to its very limits. The unrecognizable human skeletons in deep, dry wells, the hidden graves disturbed by hungry, wild animals, the fragile skeletons of small children, the hunger and emaciated bodies in Mile Two Prison; Gambia is a political disaster waiting to happen. There is acknowledgement by both Gambians and the international community of the necessity for political change, and even with the imposition of the tyranny of the Jola minority, cast aside, Gambians and non-Gambians have paid dearly with their lives in Yahya Jammeh’s perpetual quest of instilling fear and terror in the hearts of citizens, for the sole purpose of preempting internal dissent and the likelihood of orchestrating the military regime’s forcible removal. Today, the choice is clear, and so are the objectives; the removal of Yahya Jammeh’s pernicious and dangerously factious military regime. What is not very clear, however, is the strategy to untangle citizens from the mythical appeal of tyranny and ways to liberate a segment of society consumed by the allure and the trappings of power, privilege and tribal affinity. The rationales for political change are abundant and easily definable; not so the strategies for achieving them. The ideas floated by Gambians occupy both ends of the spectrum; from the forcible restoration of democracy and the rule of law, to democratic elections. In between the two extremes on opposite ends of the spectrum, lies a range of other options. What is clear is that political change through the democratic electoral process is not possible; not now; not as long as Yahya Jammeh is in complete control of the levers of power.
The Gambia’s hostile political climate makes barring Yahya Jammeh from contesting elections in 2016 a viable and realistic option. This requires the creation of a transitional government of unity that fuses the political establishment and civil society working in tandem to replicate a Burkina Faso type political uprising that returns power back to the people. With Senegal, Guinea-Conakry and Burkina Faso, acting as frames of reference, Gambians have the capacity to force change, and end the Gambia’s long-running carnage. There is nothing more primeval than the desire to live in peace, and with this as a motivating factor, Gambians are obliged to coalesce around a cause that has the promise of removing the threat to their very existence. At this stage, it is imperative that political parties continue to educate the population, with the objective of awakening citizens from political apathy and infusing them with the courage to make choices that speak to their collective needs. More crucially, it is imperative to broaden the scope of this campaign season by not limiting the political narrative to simple democratic elections. Gambia is a country in crisis, and at the crossroads of five more years of death and destruction or forcible end to the tragedy that has consumed the Gambia for two decades. The political establishment must respond to citizens’ calls with the urgency commensurate with the political disaster that has continued to devastate the country, in more ways than one. It behooves party leaders to transform the campaign season from its narrow party attitude, to a broader national character that reaches citizens at a much deeper level of political consciousness. And as diaspora organizations seek to forge a common-ground, there are expectations that the political establishment too will commit to unity, and working with civil society, no force on earth can stop the united march to freedom. The executions, political killings, mass incarcerations, fleeing of Gambian citizens, the expulsion of international diplomats, the high cost of living; there are sufficient reasons for Gambians to engage in mass popular unrest that forces political change. The stars are aligned for this to happen, and Gambians cannot wait. Mass popular protests are within Gambians’ Constitutional rights to changing their government, and as ECOWAS and the free-world awaits to see political change, Gambians are obliged to do what is relevant, necessary and inevitable to bring about change to their pitiful political circumstance.