Sunday, October 6, 2013

Do not fall into Yaya Jammeh's trap

In my recent blog post on the recent statement of Jammeh accusing the UDP and the leadership of being a tribal party that supports and promotes tribal politics, I found two problems wrong with his claims which are not borne by facts.  First, he's from the smallest tribe in The Gambia, and second the Opposition Party Leader's tribe form the single biggest voting block for the APRC.  I proceeded to say that "Gambians and opposition parties are too smart to take the bait", referring to the tribal reference by Jammeh which is provocative to say the least.  It is also a desperate attempt to reverse an unfavorable trend.  He has watched his political fortunes take a turn for the worse following his humiliating treatment he received at the hands of Gambian dissidents in New York and his failure to generate the type of international reaction he was hoping for following his irrational and unprovoked decision to abruptly withdraw Gambia's membership in the Commonwealth.

However, to ascribe Jammeh's political troubles to these recent developments alone is an error that might lead to future strategic blunders down the road for the opposition. It is true that the recent protests against the Gambian dictator in New York and his sudden withdrawal of Gambia's membership in the Commonwealth acted as impetus to were we are currently, Jammeh's problems started well before 2013. The economy is the bane of the Jammeh regime.  It is the economy that impacts the everyday lives of ordinary Gambians.  The population feels the pain the moment the economy fails to perform.

Rural Gambia can relate to the absence of agricultural support services such as extension services, lack of adequate and/or good quality fertilizer, and the total absence of a reliable outlet for their agricultural products.  Farmers have suffered under Jammeh.  They have seen their production decline because of poor policies from Banjul.  The marketing of agricultural produce has all but collapsed after the seizure of the Denton Bridge facilities belonging to Alimenta.  The government of Jammeh still owes money to farmers for their produce government 'bought on credit' from previous years.

The urban dwellers are not faring any better.  They have seen, in the last several years, a precipitous drop in the quality of life, their wages eroding because of inflation for those lucky enough to be employed while unemployment continues to wreak havoc to the rest of society, including APRC supporters.  Inflation is taking its toll, partially fuelled by the recent fray into the foreign exchange market by Jammeh.  For example, a price of ram for the up-coming Feast of Tabaski ranges from $ 7,000 to D 15,000. In short, the economy is the single biggest enemy of Jammeh.  Tribalism is the least of Gambia's problems.  It has not been a problem in the past, and a majority of Gambians are determined not to make it a problem in the future unless Gambians fall into Jammeh's trap.

How can tribalism be a problem when the majority tribe in the Gambia, based on official election results, voted for the presidential candidate from one of the the smallest, if not the smallest tribe, instead of voting for one of their own unless Jammeh knows in his heart of hearts that the election numbers are rigged, and that the biggest tribe actually voted for the UDP and not the APRC.  In the absence of hard evidence, we can only go by the official election results.  The inflammatory words that he employed have been used before. He has said previously that he will see to it that "a mandingo will never rule the Gambia again."  But these words were greeted with laughters even from mandingo members of his APRC party.  If a majority members of the tribe is not taking Jammeh seriously, why are others providing the backdrop and context for irrational behavior by discussing the topic, as if there is credence and validity to his false claim.

Jammeh could not have been elected without the mandingo vote which, one would have thought, is what Gambians should expect voters to behave i.e to vote for the candidate or party they believe reflects their values, hopes and aspirations and not because of tribe and or other parochial factors.  If the majority of mandingos support Yaya Jammeh for these reasons other than regional, tribal and other superficial reasons, it should be considered a plus for democracy.  What this pattern of voting tells me, with everything else being equal, is that people voted for Jammeh because they believed he will deliver on his many promises.  Now that he has failed to deliver, Gambians are ready to try another candidate.

Tribalism is the least of Gambia's problems.  Inflammatory statements from supporters of the opposition, be they in The Gambia but in the comfort of their adopted homes, will not advance the cause. The focus of the opposition should be on overhauling the electoral system to ensure a level playing field, work towards remedy the deplorable human rights environment and provide a better policy options in numerous areas, including but not limited to economic policy.  Prioritizing these elements of policy should be among the preoccupation of the opposition and not tribalism which I consider to be a red herring.