Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why the opposition should welcome criticism

Criticism usually comes in two forms, the helpful and the unhelpful.  We like to think of ourselves as belonging to the category of critics that serve the helpful kind of criticism, not driven by malice or a personal political agenda as some folks are quick to accuse critics of, but guided by the desire to assess the style and not the substance of current and existing leadership.  To delve into the substance will inevitably lead us to consider factors such as personal attributes, and other human qualities that determine 'good' leadership.  In short, we are more interested in the instrumental aspect of leadership rather than the moral aspect because we are limited by time and space.  We expect that future political leaders will have to pass a much more stringent test if they are to enjoy the support of a large portion of Gambian society, especially after what Gambians have experienced and continue to endure under the poor leadership of Jammeh.

We have taken the leadership stock as is, and suggest ways to effectively deal with a dictatorial and repressive regime.  We are not alone in adopting this approach which is borne out of necessity.   Recognizing Gambia's immediate political problem is to rid Gambia of the dictatorship in the short-term, there appears to be little time to groom the up and coming emerging leadership to fill the vacuum created by the deliberate policy of the military regime that sent many politicians into involuntary exile and/or premature retirement.   The current leadership deficit is a long-term problem that must be addressed separately but concurrently so that hopefully a younger and more dynamic crop of leaders will emerge in time to replace the present leaders.

Criticism of the helpful kind (or constructive criticism) is always preferred because it is generally not personal in nature, and it is always accompanied by prescribed solutions, some form of a road map or a set of guidelines to achieving better results.  Success resulting from these prescriptions are measured in votes that translate into election victories, that lead to political power which, in turn, makes it possible for the leadership to provide a better governance environment without which peace, stability, democracy, prosperity and the rule of law will be elusive, and to achieve sustained growth and development, the quality of political leadership must improve as well.   We cannot achieve this level of development without critically evaluating the performance of politicians who are the leaders and drivers of the process.  They are the ones who signed up for being politicians, therefore they must not only step up to the plate but they must take the heat that comes with the territory.  Fortunately, with the exception of the very few, most of the leadership have been less sensitive to criticism. The most vehement reaction to criticism comes from the political operative class and the rank and file which stifles debate.    

There is general consensus that the Jammeh regime is bad for The Gambia.  He has failed to lead the country through the democracy path which has hindered progress in all other spheres of life, and must, therefore, be replaced.  The debate now centers on the form that political change will take, and under whose leadership the transformation should take place.  There is not much consensus on the next steps - post-Jammeh - not because for lack of solutions but because of the inappropriate framing of the question in a way that will allow us to look at all other possible outcomes.

Let us look as some of the scenarios we are faced with.  If Jammeh is removed involuntarily, the political vacuum will be filled by either by another military officer or a civilian transitional leader.  If it is a military leader, he will either come from the officer corp or the rank and file.  From what we know of the current security set up, and the level of discontentment within the military, the chances are the leadership will come from the rank and file which will only spell disaster.  We don't need to be reminded of the Jammeh-led Armed Forces provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC).  Conversely, if the leadership is drawn from civic society, the leadership will, necessarily, not belong to any political party. If, however, the change is through another coup d'etat, history dictates that Gambia will undergo yet another nightmarish transition from military to civilian because putschists will not voluntarily hand over to civilian rule; not immediate, at least. The transitional leadership under the military scenario has not received much attention and yet it is a likely outcome.

The debate has largely centered on the election scenario where the opposition contests the next elections under a unified leadership.  This has been the operational model since the 2001 presidential elections and it has failed at each attempt.  Consequently, this has led some to suggest that the biggest vote getter in all of the presidential elections should automatically lead a unified opposition against the current regime.  Without reigniting the debate about the Raleigh Process, the acceptance of the biggest vote getter as the automatic leader of a unified opposition should have been the central theme at Raleigh to get the conferees to endorse the UDP, and its current leader to lead or to select a leader (because of the constitutional constraints) from within or without the party structure.

The need to settle the unified opposition leadership question is paramount because the Jammeh regime must fulfill all of the conditions necessary for the opposition to participate in the next elections, barring which the opposition will not take part in any elections.  The Chairmanship of the Independent Electoral Commission must be removed because he's serving unconstitutionally.  Other electoral laws, rules and procedures need to be revamped.  In short, the playing field must be leveled including unlimited access to state media, bar the security forces and civil servants from taking part in political activity.  A unified opposition must take place now or else the political parties will fail again in the current cycle because the problems to be addressed are too numerous, and difficult to negotiate with a hostile regime.  Even pointing out these obvious non-brainers draws the wrath of political party operatives and supporters instead of welcoming them.  Well, we the critics are willing to take the risk of being disparaged, even unfairly,  if it will advance the cause of effective political leadership.