The talk of the town since yesterday revolves around Mr. Momodou Sabally’s unexpected shift in loyalty from the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) to the ruling National People’s Party (NPP). Given his longstanding affiliation with the former and a history of bitter animosity with the latter spanning almost half a decade, the reasons behind his move have become a subject of intense speculation.

Various commentators, both in support and opposition, inundate the public with a myriad of possible motives for Sabally’s unprecedented decision.

In a WhatsApp audio interview where he explained his decision, Sabally’s assertion that he simply felt like changing political parties from UDP to another seemed vague and unconvincing.

Adding to the ambiguity, he denied allegations from critics that the Barrow government had rewarded him with additional perks while simultaneously admitting to receiving a brand new vehicle from an undisclosed source. The question arises: Was it an NPP vehicle, or was it from elsewhere?

Some critics are even suggesting the possibility of President Barrow granting Sabally total immunity or amnesty from previous recommendations made by commissions of inquiry, especially the Janneh commission, which had barred him from government employment for life.

While the truth of these claims remains uncertain, information has surfaced indicating that a recent bill empowering President Barrow to grant amnesty or immunity to anyone was passed in the national assembly. This, allegedly, is to accommodate Sabally and others who await opportunities for employment in top government positions.

Conversely, supporters of Sabally, primarily from the NPP coalition, sympathizers, and members of his family, are jubilant about his decision. They anticipate personal benefits arising from his shift. Symbolically, Sabally is expected to transition from being “Baba’s Commando” to “Manasi’s Sniper.” In addition to his new vehicle, there is optimism that he might secure a lucrative government job, despite being barred by the Janneh commission for about seven years now. This development is seen as a departure from the perceived lack of any progress in his former party, the UDP. 

Though the critical question revolves around whether Mr. Sabally will once again assume the fervent role he played for President Barrow, akin to his passionate dedication to Jammeh and Darbo, which ultimately left him regretful regarding both leaders.

Momodou Sabally

In other words, will Sabally continue to be the politically confrontational force for the NPP that he once was for the APRC and UDP? Is he prepared to advocate and fight for his new party, staunchly adhering to its principles, employing his political audacity, academic expertise and Islamic knowledge to advance his agenda without hesitation, regardless of its potential to be perceived as offensive? Now aligned with the government, it is evident that he will be spared from the arrests and detentions he endured while in the UDP. Only time will unveil the answer.

What might transpire if he adopts a more measured approach this time, aligning with the prevailing stance of politicians and technocrats who boast exceptional university degrees and leveraging them primarily to quietly perpetuate their positions? Could that translate into the NPP/government resort to seizing his newly acquired vehicle and relegating him to a tenuous existence with nothing left?

I am inclined to believe that the NPP and President Barrow’s exuberant reception of Sabally at the Statehouse yesterday, during official government hours, signifies more than mere anticipation of a new political heavyweight or technocrat defecting from their arch-rival party, the UDP. It seems unlikely that their intent is solely to remove or silence him as a nuisance within their main political adversary. Instead, I believe they anticipate Sabally, the seasoned political combatant, to arrive, arm himself metaphorically, and commence targeting any political opponent of Manasi, much as he did previously for Jammeh and Darbo, if not more aggressively.

That said, when Sabally initially joined the UDP, a party he had once criticized with various derogatory statements during the Jammeh era—remarks that were primarily politically motivated—many cautioned him about investing his time in such a venture. The warnings also starkly reminded him of the Janneh Commission, which had led to his punishment and setbacks. Obviously, this commission, implicated in his troubles, was orchestrated by the UDP. Mrs. Amie Bensouda, a key player in the prosecution team and a “prominent UDP member”, was a central figure. It was believed that she would ensure Sabally never found forgiveness, even under another UDP-led government.

Despite these warnings, Sabally seemed unfazed at the time, zealously dedicating his best efforts to the party and its principles, particularly to its leader, Lawyer Ousainou Darbo. “Baba la Commando!”

Additionally, although he claimed to part ways amicably with the UDP’s executive and leadership, rumors circulating suggest that Sabally’s exit may have been triggered by a perceived betrayal of his steadfast loyalty to Lawyer Ousainou Darbo. The speculation revolves around Darbo’s alleged intention to collaborate with Mother Amie Bensouda in passing the UDP leadership baton to her son, Mayor Talib Bensouda—an outcome vehemently opposed by Sabally.

However, the resounding silence from the UDP regarding the incident, especially at a time when public expectations demand a response regarding Sabally’s abrupt and unceremonious departure, has failed to provide the desired clarity.

However, if, as some suggest, Sabally’s decision to join the ruling party is solely driven by desperation to secure employment and personal benefits during a time when “nothing positive is working for him,” then the whole stunt underscores the theory that, despite the education level of many Gambians, without job opportunities provided by the government, their certificates often become mere pieces of paper with little practical value.

That is why I often find myself assigning greater significance to those who are politically effective and renowned for their mobilizing skills in winning elections for leaders, rather than academicians who leverage their qualifications to secure and monopolize political positions with minimal input within a system inherited from the colonial masters—a political-patronage system that remains unchanged in substance and form.

During the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government era, the enduring ministers who effectively maintained the status quo were ordinary high school graduates, individuals whom President Jawara shielded with unwavering support. Although Jammeh altered this dynamic somewhat, he too surrounded himself with educated college and university graduates, treating them as pawns to be manipulated at will. He knew that, without him and the jobs he provided, many of them were rendered virtually useless or compelled to leave the country. Jammeh’s arbitrary firings, hirings, and manipulative tactics to control his subordinates were evident throughout much of his twenty-two-year tenure in power.

It is challenging to articulate, but I believe Gambians should contemplate a radical departure from this unsustainable system, where individual success is primarily tied to government employment and mercy. The era of people’s livelihoods being intricately linked to government positions should come to an end.

While Sabally may finally seize the opportunity to enter the system and potentially enhance his life, one must ponder who else among the pool of jobless and seemingly hopeless certificate holders is poised to adopt the survival strategy and be absorbed into the political welfare system. Hmmm!

By (Ret) Lt. Colonel Samsudeen Sarr

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