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|T O P I C R E V I E W
||Posted - 01 Jan 2021 : 10:57:58
THE ROAD TO 2021: POLITICS OF PATRONAGE IN THE GAMBIA
“The Road To 2021” may sound like Cormac McCarthy’s 2009 post-apocalyptic film, “The Road” but it’s actually not. It’s UDP’s theme for its Congress this year. The party is repositioning itself as pro-women and pro-youth. It is also leveraging the perceived successes of its youngest mayor, Talib Bensouda to make an argument that UDP has something much better to offer than its opponents have.
Modou Ngum’s testimony to the TRRC gives a hint of the influence of diaspora financiers. Diaspora sponsorship has organized masses of young people to the streets. Several names of Gambians resident in the United Kingdom and the United States have been mentioned who have sent money directly to individuals apparently outside of normal Party arrangements to fund activities which are apparently often exclusively decided outside the Party decision making hierarchy.
But this is only a part of the Gambia’s larger problem of political culture of patronage. The lure of money and food. Community leaders are attracted by the lure of cash benefits, recognition and legitimacy. Women and the youth are attracted by the fanfare (food, music, attaya, and ashobis). Very little discussions are made on policy or what the party would do differently. This is partly why PDOIS rejects politics of patronage. People should join a group only after they are convinced by the facts and policy, not because of the food, money and the drumming. But PDOIS’ own system of politics is not without problems. Critics have long argued that the Party’s campaign style of impartial dissemination of objective information is too devoid of networking and community involvement so critical in Gambian cultural and political identity. The Party’s name itself PDOIS, which a Wolof word for ‘satisfied’ or ‘contented’ is the best reflection of its attitude to politics. PDOIS has been criticised for its adherence to socialist views on society and the economy. However, over the years the party has evolved significantly since its inception in the late 1980s. It has moved away from many of the rhetorics that characterized socialist discourse during the Cold War which ended in 1991 following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The Party today appears to be more aligned with the social democrats of Western Europe, particularly Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The Party appears to still adhere to a strong government involvement in the economy, and recently the Party’s most outspoken theorist, Halifa Sallah has talked about a “cooperative system” of managing the economy. It has to be noted however that PDOIS is unique in the Gambia in the sense that it is viewed as the only party that offers something different than the ruling party (government). In his 1995 article on the “Military Coup in the Gambia”, Dr. Saine has noted that “with the exception of PDOIS, all the opposition parties have no clear cut policy alternatives to the PPP government. They were all offshoots of the PPP”. This statement is no less true today than it was in 1995. UDP is equally an offshoot of the PPP, being derived from the remains of PPP, NCP, and GDP. Consequently, as Dr. Saine rightly observed in 1995, PDOIS is still the only party in the Gambia that has a clear alternative vision for developing this small West African nation heavily dependent on agriculture and tourism. In order to realize “system change” that an increasing number of Gambians are yearning for, restructure the economy, and reorder society for economic takeoff, Gambians have to give PDOIS a chance.
The recent UDP Congress between December 18 and December 20 at Buffer Zone in Serekunda took place against a backdrop of a major internal political upheaval. The Party has suffered major seismic events from the dramatic fallout with President Barrow, expulsion from government, attrition in the National Assembly due to “cross carpeting” of its members, to the standoff with Local Government Officials such as Sheriffo Sonko, the Chairperson of Brikama Area Council, and the backlash of those decisions by the Party’s executive which is increasingly showing paranoia and excessive control. Furthermore, there is increasing pressure from the national political environment itself. President Barrow has since formed his own political party (NPP), and in the process took away a large chunk of the UDP membership including eight of its national Assembly members. There are also a large number of new entrants in the political field competing in areas that are previous UDP strongholds such as Brikama and Badibu. The large number of smaller political parties also mean that there is a possibility of these small parties deciding the outcome of the presidential election by forming a coalition with one of the large parties such as NPP, APRC or GDC. Since UDP traditionally opposes a coalition with any party, preferring others to simply rally behind it, the new political environment will be a significant additional challenge for the success.
The Congress also showcased its youngest mayor, Talib Bensouda’s. achievements in the Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC). Improvements in waste management and cold storage facilities for fresh produce are specifically cited and are in fact quite laudable. However, the cold storage was a British project through the British High Commissioner, and KMC under Bensouda is not totally free of controversies. Some of the sources of funding and awarding of contracts recently came under intense scrutiny by critics. Concerns were also raised about his mother, a veteran lawyer Amie Bensouda’s role in the Janneh commission and the scandals that followed in the sale of confiscated properties, and the conflict of interest. It appears that Bensouda as a young person, has a bright future in the party, but it is not clear if Bensouda can appeal to the wider UDP base outside of the Kanifing urban core. His new role as UDP’s Organizing Secretary has the potential to expose him more to the party supporters across the country.
Showcasing Mayor Bensouda appears to be part of the Party’s strategy to elevate the younger members (the youth) in the party ranks. Alhaji Darboe, a first time National Assembly member, also quite a promising young man was elected the Administrative Secretary of the Party. However, the Party largely remains controlled by older members such as Ousainou Darboe (often just referred to as Lawyer Darboe), Aji Yam Seck, and Aji Yamundow Yabo as Party Leader, Deputy Party Leader, and National President, respectively. The elevation of women is a great step, however, in this case it appears to also shield the Party Leader from any potential leadership challenger. These appointments are largely symbolic because these women have no political ambition or potential to succeed Darboe. They are pretty much like Yahya Jallow, the former Deputy Party Leader who for 22 years hardly ever appeared on the national stage. Lawyer Darboe essentially continues to hold a tight grip on the Party, and this is not unique to the UDP. Gambian political parties generally need to give way to new blood and new thinking.
The Congress has been quite a fanfare, typical of Gambian political events. Attendants were bussed in from across every part of the country to the three-day event graced by the country’s greatest musician, Jaliba Kuyateh who played a special song (Jula Darboe) paying tribute to the “Party Leader and Secretary General”, Lawyer Ousainou Darboe. The event has been criticized for being a “super spreader” because of the lack of precautions to prevent or mitigate the spread of the Covid 19 virus at a time when the pandemic is still affecting the country. The budget of the event was also questioned, especially with regards to the Party’s criticism of President Barrow’s alleged lavish State House expenses and the expenditure on his recent “Meet The People Tour”. When the party’s Spokesperson, Almami Fanding Taal was quizzed by the media about the cost of the Congress, he brushed it off without giving any numbers. He only said that the funds were contributed by the members, and that no foreign money was involved. Recently foreign money (dark money) in Gambian politics has been an increasing concern prompting the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to propose a campaign financing law that will mandate all political parties and candidates to disclose their sources of funding. This measure is strongly opposed by many parties. Considering its scale, elegance, and choreography, the Congress was also a show of strength for the UDP against its opponents particularly Barrow’s NPP. It is extremely important for the ‘Yellows’ to prove to the Gambian voters that the party is strong and defeat the advancing army of President Barrow’s NPP. I think the Congress went to an extreme length to give this impression.
The diaspora representative, a young lady believed to have flown in from her residence in New York also raised controversy by diverting into a diatribe about the Manding empire (the liberation of Mandinkas by Sunjatta Keita from the tyranny of Sumanguru Kanteh) and comparing that to Darboe as a liberator. This has not only extremely stretched the Mandela claim but also bothered on insensitivity considering the current ethnic tensions in the country, and the open disagreements about the sources of the Gambia’s recent democratic change.
The Party must be commended however, for its courage to talk about policy (what it will do differently) perhaps for the first time in its history. In his acceptance speech, following his much anticipated re-election as Party Leader, ‘Lawyer Darboe’ outlined seven key policy points as the focus of his government, “when I am sworn in 2021”, as he puts it. Below are the seven points he outlined:
•Implement the Maputo Declaration of 10% budgetary allocation to agriculture and food security instead of the current 1.8% of Barrow’s budget.
•Eliminate waste and fraud
•Invest in commercial horticulture, livestock and poultry
• Rice self-sufficiency in 5 years
•Invest in value chain infrastructure to link agriculture to the private sector
2.Youth employment and empowerment scheme:
•Skills training for the youth
•Create 10 specialized skills centers across the country
•Set up a youth entrepreneurship fund
•Create trade hubs throughout the country
•Mandatory 25% government contracts allocated to qualified youth enterprises
•Mandatory youth service scheme
•2 years free and compulsory early childhood education
•9 years of free and compulsory basic education
•3 years of free and compulsory tertiary education
•Investment in modern school infrastructure and equipment
•Professional development of teachers
•Revise the curricula to reflect modern needs and standards
•Explore public/private partnerships in the education sector
•Double budgetary allocation from 12.7% to 25%
•Upgrade healthcare facilities
•Ensure reliable supply of water, electricity, and medicine
•Reduce bureaucracy and decentralize healthcare management
•Invest and improve maternal healthcare to reduce infant morbidity and mortality.
•Provide training of healthcare workers
•Improve pay and working conditions of healthcare workers
•Promote medical research through partnerships with medical institutions and the private sector
5.Energy and digital infrastructure:
•Address key issues of reliable and affordable energy generation, transmission, and distribution
•Gradual transition from dependence on fossil fuels to renewable energy sources
•Restructure the management and operations of NAWEC
•Expand affordable broadband internet throughout the country
•Utilize contactless (electronic) payment systems to promote accountability and transparency
•Construct community information centers with free broadband services throughout the country
•Diversify the products offered by the tourism sector
•Infrastructure and accommodation that meets international standards
•Promotion and preservation of culture and heritage
•Promote eco tourism
•Preserve indigenous fauna and flora
•Expand the tourist market beyond Europe into Asia, America, Africa., and within the country (local visits).
7.Envt and resource mgt policy:
•Pursue a science based environmental and resource management policy
•Mitigation strategies such as reforestation, fragile ecosystem protection, improvement in farming practices, regulation of the extractive industries
•Sustainable fishing and extraction of marine resources.
Secretary General Darboe also talked about creating a sovereign wealth fund similar to what PDOIS has always suggested. This is quite a leap for the UDP. It was easy to run against Jammeh. All you needed to do was to run on his human rights records. The post Jammeh election cycle requires each party to come up with economic policies that will make a difference in people’s lives. That’s what UDP tried to do, perhaps for the first time in its history, during its recent Congress.
It’s quite commendable that the Party came with comprehensive and impressive policy proposals that it would like to implement “when I am sworn in come 2021”, Darboe said in his acceptance speech as the Party’s presidential candidate. However, I believe Darboe’s “seven point policy outline” has borrowed heavily from PDOIS, the only party that has always been very clear on policy. Also Darboe’s commitment to a balanced budget is likely unattainable, at least in the near future. The experience in the United States is instructive in this respect. While the “balanced budget commitment” could result in financial discipline, it is almost certainly likely to increase economic hardship and further depress GDP growth in the Gambia. A “balanced budget” cannot be effected without massive cuts in government spending. Sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, and education are likely to suffer. The “seven point policy outline” proposed by the UDP itself suggests a big government initiative requiring massive government spending. Yet it is not clear how these programs will be funded. The Party suggested reforms at NAWEC in the areas of management and operation, but did not say anything about the rest of the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) such as GAMTEL/GAMCEL, Ports Authority, and Social Security, Gambia Produce Marketing Board, and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC). Traditionally, these SOEs are managed very inefficiently and are a huge burden on taxpayers. Both NAWEC and GAMTEL are known to be operating at huge losses that are absorbed by the Government annually. Any incoming government should review its relationship with these enterprises with a view to making them more efficient and competitive. Financial sector reform is another area that is not explicitly addressed in the UDP’s proposal. For a vibrant economy driven by innovation and entrepreneurship, access to credit and funding should be less cumbersome. But beyond all these, the greatest challenge that the UDP government will face in following through on this proposal is the political will, considering that there are tough choices to make here and that some of the decisions will no doubt have serious negative implications on the lives of the people. UDP and Darboe’s tendency to turn any and all disagreements into a matter of legal arguments (like we have seen in the 3-year/5-year debate) will only exacerbate discontent. Politics provides a different kind of mediation that is compromising, face-saving, and win-win than the adversarial system of the law.
|1 L A T E S T R E P L I E S (Newest First)
||Posted - 02 Jan 2021 : 00:27:34
Great to see you back posting kayjatta long time away,your posting was a great read,I do not like politics because MOST of the time it is promises promises, projects that in very many cases fail to be completed or just kicked into te long grass.
Thanks for posting and evaluating many topics
I look forward to reading many other posts from members of Momodou's Bantba in cyberspace.
There is plenty in your post above for them to join the topic and POST
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