They came, they saw and they failed in 2011 and again Gambian opposition is just some days away from repeating that not so popular a failure among their supporters.
The struggle for unity among Gambian opposition is as old as their fight to dethrone President Jammeh but their only success has been that they “tried but failed” admittedly.
In the previous analysis I have made on the possibilities of Gambian opposition forming a coalition before presidential elections in December, I looked at the long-winded complexities, hypocrisies, authoritarian and divisive opposition diaspora and offered what I thought could be a solution.
Since then I have been following the words of opposition leaders, from Halifa Sallah to Hamat Bah, Henry Gomez to Lamin Bojang and the rest of them.
The most likely conclusion? We are back at the 2011 scenario when opposition, apparently paper tigers, resort to pages of newspapers repeating the same words which will produce the same history of failure with so much similarity as if the clock had not moved since.
Socialist’s Halifa is still with his primary argument, which the NCP Lamin Bojang argued against as a “waste of time and resources” advocating for the selection of a neutral person without which, he threatened; they won’t be part of any coalition.
Hamat is back with his tactical politics that gets him his way while the GDC and the UDP still arrogantly sit on their words on what is to become of the opposition’s future—except that both of them said they are welcoming a coalition.
Don’t yell just yet and claim that I am jumping the gun in predicting how UDP and GDC will respond to the proposals already in the public space by the NRP, GPDP, PDOIS and NCP because UDP’s is likely going to be the same as it were 5 years ago.
The position of the GDC is also almost clear if you listen to their online advocates who are claiming that the party has the capacity to help Gambian opposition redeem their decades’ failed battle against President Jammeh.
The GDC online supporters are, in summary, advocating for other opposition parties to choose their leader to lead the coalition.
The following are the facts about each opposition party and leader that others refuse to see and that they must see and respect in order for them to get along:
Hamat is popular than GDC’s Kandeh based on available records though he might lead instead of NRP boss
UDP is still the majority party though that does not necessarily mean they must choose who the leader should be
Halifa and Hamat are currently the most experienced party leaders left after Darboe’s incarceration and they are charismatic and educated though that does not mean that they must lead the coalition.
GDC has come with wave and with it a renewed sense of optimism that makes them a subject of popular attention and thus made quite a political fortune within a short period
2011 cursed ground
Courtesy of Foroyaa newspaper’s Kebba Jeffang who have been having interviews with
Opposition leaders over the issue of unity, it has become apparent the opposition are back at their old 2011 cursed ground where they ruined their previous coalition talks.
In that Foroyaa interview, the leadership of the socialist PDOIS renewed his support for a primary to select a leader that apparently, “Jammeh will respect”.
“And you, I and everybody should bear in mind that, that candidate must be someone that Jammeh respects. It must be a personality that Jammeh himself will know that the opposition has actually selected a candidate and who, no matter what, he has to and will respect,” Sallah argued.
“It must also be a candidate that the international community will say “Yes, Gambia has an alternative”, because they must ask who the alternative is. Everybody is looking for an alternative. So, to us, the best way is by conducting a primary.”
After reading the following justifications that Sallah presented for his call for primary, one is compelled to ask, will a primary win opposition new supporters?
Will a primary unite already opposition supporters who, they claim, are not voting to vote for them in elections? Will primary end apathy that opposition claim affects their voter population?
And how will a primary command Jammeh’s respect for opposition candidates he has repeatedly beaten, hands down, for 2 decades; a defeat of which Sallah and Hamat are a party?
More importantly, isn’t it obvious that the leader of the already majority party will win again in that primary as it has happened in 2011 with United Front?
Hamat has won the primary for 2011 which was obviously because of the wider support he has had than other colleagues in that alliance at the time even though such fact might not keep pace with time in 2016?
So if it is obvious that the party with the majority will win as Hamat, Sallah and colleague’s 2011 political experiment has shown us, isn’t it then a waste of resource: finance and time?
Shouldn’t Sallah’s argument be that he should be the deserving leader—and campaign for that— since of all the prospective political candidates from all parties, he is the only one with a written contract offered to electorates for scrutiny?
Though given how Gambian politics works, most supporters are likely to vote for their own parties in that coalition primary as we have seen with the so-call opposition inter-party committee where each party bargain his or her interest, often unconsciously.
However, party leaders could reach a consensus amongst themselves and select someone of Sallah’s standing and campaign for him because people are likely to vote for who their own party endorses.
And while Sallah’s justification for choosing a “respectable leader” through a primary proved too weak an argument to end a negotiation, it actually did in 2011 because opponents did not agree with it.
However, even more reminiscent of the 2011 coalition collapse is found in the NRP’s leaders argument.
Also in an interview with the Foroyaa newspaper, Hamat Bah argued they “will not submit ourselves to somebody that our candidate is more saleable, more experienced and more credible”.
By that benchmark, we now know that the NRP will be looking for either their own candidate or another who is more “saleable, more experienced and more credible”.
These are very subjective words as all adjectives are. Who is more sealable other than who one believes? Who is more credible other than who one believes? And who is one likely to believe other than himself or herself?
Finally, who is more experienced than the leader of the second largest opposition party who has rub shoulders against Jammeh for two decades?
By this, we now know that Hamat’s benchmark for selecting a leader for the coalition is too high for Mamma Kandeh because he is inexperienced.
We also know it is too high for Sallah because apparently, he is more popular than him based on available electoral records since we don’t do opinion polling in Gambia.
And I would dare to also say it is even higher for the prospective UDP candidate because he is equal—whoever that person is— far less experienced than Hamat.
“Our party’s position is absolutely very clear about the issue of alliance or coalition or tactical unity or whatever nomenclature you may use to describe the coming together of opposition political parties. Our party has always demonstrated the desire of people of coming together and we have acted on this in 2006 and 2011. We are willing and ready to make the necessary sacrifice to make it happen,” he said.
And according to Foroyaa, Hamat said he will make the necessary sacrifice recalling that “in 2006, the NRP had supported the United Democratic Party (UDP), being the majority party at the time, as they believed that Ousainou Darboe (UDP candidate) has more support than Hamat Bah (NRP leader) then.”
That justification that Hamat advanced for following UDP in 2006 based off their “popularity”, as Foroyaa reported, would be very funny for any analyst since that same “popularity” which was still there even in 2011 could not convince him to fall for their (UDP’s) proposal of leading a coalition.
It would appear that Hamat has thought he was more popular than Darboe or his equal when he refused UDP’s proposal to lead a coalition in 2011.
Foroyaa continued: “He (Hamat) said because of this (referring to UDP’s popularity in 2006) they have asked him (Darboe) to lead and that they supported him” in 2006 but not in 2011.
He added that again in 2011, he “resigned from his party (NRP) to make a supreme sacrifice of contesting as an Independent Candidate for the United Front Coalition comprising three opposition parties namely PDOIS, NRP and GPDP. He said they are therefore ready to make such a necessary sacrifice again.”
After probing Hamat’s statements, one must then asked what is the “necessary sacrifice”?
Because what is apparent is opposition leaders proposing a discussion but all with a pre-talks position that no one wants to compromise.
It is encouraging to opposition supporters who are advocating for a coalition that all the leaders claim they are ready to receive others’ proposals but do their positions support their claims?
I don’t think so and if you doubt my accuracy maybe I should tell you that already the NCP’s Dr. Bojang has threatened that they won’t be part of “any alliance that is not led by a neutral person— not from any party and that there should be equality in that power-sharing government should they win”.
Such a position by Dr. Bojang, though NCP is quite insignificant in Gambian politics now, runs contrary to majority view in the opposition camp.
And who will that candidate be? How will you choose that neutral person that has no relations to any of the opposition parties and wants to run for the presidency as an opposition candidate? How educated and experienced will such person be and how known among the opposition supporters?
I think after answering all the above questions, one will likely argue that of all the proposals so far advanced by various leaders for a coalition, that has got to be the most preposterous.
And though I find some sense in it, I can only think of it as a last resort when all others have collapsed.
Similar defensive positions with conditions attached were taken by the GPDP leader.
What ruin a negotiation if not of pre-conditions, position bargaining and less patience for compromise as you have seen demonstrated by opposition leaders?
UDP and GDC’s silence
Though the GDC has selected its leader but they are yet to make a written or open declaration with suggestions on how they think a coalition should be made by opposition parties.
However, the UDP that is yet to select it leader hasn’t said much either, other than that they are ready to enter coalition talks with any party— same words that every party said.
And everything in the UDP, based on what their party leaders are saying, suggest that they must have a much bigger say in how a coalition should be formed and who should lead, given their “majority” position, if they were to be part of one.
Such a pre-talks position will equally ruin any discussion as it would the positions taken by other party leaders.
So too would the position of the GDC supporters that Kandeh should lead.
After reading all the views of Gambian opposition on the issue of unity, you can’t help but conclude that they have more to hide from each other, in terms of their positions on coalition and who should lead, than they care to admit.
Uniting Gambian opposition is an analysis series by Mustapha Darboe, an award-winning Gambian journalist – a former news editor at Today News and senior reporter at the Standard Newspaper.
This article was first published on Torch on Gambia with permission to republish from the blog and the author.