Monday, September 23, 2013

UDP and PPP must now look inward

In anticipation of the inevitable, there has been a flurry of political activity from London to Raleigh to Stockholm and beyond, by men and women of good will but with mixed agendas which can be characterized as a melange of individual and national ambitions.  By national, I mean non-individual or -personal agenda. As the inevitability of a regime change becomes more visible in the rear view mirror, and the possibility of replacing Jammeh becomes less of a pipe dream and more of real possibility, it energizes the activists to ratchet up their agitation, and the pundits to pontificate all the more with varying degree of success.

The press has been proactive, and has also been the main driving force behind the new energy behind what is now commonly referred to "The Struggle."  With time, and as the cheerleading role of these journalists becomes more pronounced, their role has been transformed, and deliberately so, to being active players in 'The Struggle." Whether this is the proper role of a journalist in a developing country like The Gambia is worth debating. But for our purposes, we will take it as reality.  There is little doubt that some, if not most, of the online journalists see the opportunity to play a more prominent role, not necessarily a journalistic one, in a new political dispensation than they did in either the Jawara or the Jammeh regimes.  Given the possibility of charting a new professional life in a new Gambia, these journalists are ready to shed their traditional role of impartiality for partisanship.  In doing so they voluntarily abandon the vital and noble role of being the interpreters of events, and the channels through which information flows.

Fortunately, the role of the political parties has not been burred.  Their problem is structural in nature than their terms of reference or role expected of them in Gambian society.  It was in pursuit of their constituents' mandate that UDP, PPP and NRP leadership led them and/or their representatives to London, Raleigh and Stockholm.   The opposition leadership or their representatives were reportedly present at all three venues representing the interest of both their respective constituents 'on the ground', and their diaspora supporters. We must note that the official reports of these conclaves are presumably still in the stages of preparation or awaiting official public release, and given the historic nature of these consultative meetings and the context it provides as backdrop to a post-Jammeh renaissance, their release in the public domain is important - if not for politics, for history.

Raleigh demonstrated, immediately, the problem the Gambian politicians face in managing expectations from their respective diaspora supporters, a good number of whom have been absent from The Gambia for two decades or more.  In addition to the central issue of opposition party unity against the dictatorship in Banjul, the party leaders soon realized that in order to achieve  a coalition of opposition parties, there must first be internal re-alignment and consolidation of their respective parties, especially as it relates to the UDP and the PPP.  Both of these political parties, in my view, must deal with a common problem posed by the 1996 Constitution declaring both the Leader of the UDP and the Interim Party Leader of the PPP ineligible to stand as presidential candidate.  Do they select a new leader now that will undoubtedly be a transformational move that is likely to galvanize supporters or do they maintain the present status quo by staying put and run the risk of losing support of the younger voter looking for new faces.  What if, for whatever reason, the age-limit for presidential candidates is no longer applicable in time for the next presidials?  You see the dilemma the leaders face.  In addition to the leadership issue, the PPP is faced with an additional problem that must be resolved before committing the party to a long-term agreement that has implications far beyond the next Presidential elections.  There is need to revitalize the party after 19-years of relative dormancy.  The current Interim Leader must be credited with keeping what is left of the PPP.  It is now time to rehabilitate the party that led Gambia to Independence and provided Gambians with one of the most democratic environment, and economic progress in Africa for thirty years.

Whereas the online press has done an excellent job of advocating for change, it has done a poor job of diagnosing the incredibly difficult job the opposition is faced.   These challenges are in terms of the deficient intra-party structures that must be re-aligned to address both the constitutional restrictions posed by the 1996 Constitution.  The PPP must inevitably, and as a matter of great importance, re-activate the old membership, recruit new ones as part of its rehabilitation and revitalization exercise.  Because the press has become an active partisan, instead of simply disseminating news, its interest seems to be more directed singly at regime change, and not the prerequisites leading to that change in anticipation of a new role for them in a post-Jammeh Gambia.  The press, in my view, can still maintain its interest in a new role that it envisages for itself, and still delve into the harder part of their job of reporting and discussing the nuts-and-bolts of political transition, and the transformational requirements of all the opposition parties.  I am of the view that without the internal re-alignment necessary for both parties to respond to the internal demands of their respective electoral base within territorial Gambia, it will be extremely difficult to force a united front.  NADD doesn't seem to ring a bell still.  After all, the political parties are still Gambia-based and still very sensitive to local demands as they should be.  Otherwise, they will be operating outside the norm of what political parties are expected operate.  Until Gambians abroad are allowed to vote in Gambian elections, the current dynamics should be expected to remain unchanged.  That's how politics works.