Washington Post Motto: “Democracy Dies in Darkness”

“The most dangerous way to make decisions is to put them in the hands of those who pay no price for being wrong” — Abdalla Sheikh

Can the Gambia afford the unwieldy governance structures that the final draft constitution proposes? Is unity possible when dissident voices are coerced into submissive acceptance? Are supporters of President Adama Barrow’s interests about resuscitating the economy, or are the alliances, political defections, and cross carpeting in our political landscape about giving a new lease of life to evanescing political careers?

The last four years have exposed our political values to be built on quicksand despite the 2016 Coalition unity to chase former President Yahya Jammeh into exile. 

There is an escalation of political tensions between the two camps of the ruling camp and the main opposition United Democratic Party( UDP) following President Barrow’s two Cabinet reshuffles.

After the sacking of Baa Ousainou Darboe and section of the UDP leadership in  President Adama Barrow’s government and in the diplomatic mission, many struggled to outdo each other, claiming a close relationship with Baa Ousainou or Adama Barrow, never mind that while they were leaving power, the same characters vilified them. 

However, the pretended esprit de corps have lasted only the duration of sackings. The hostilities are back in full swing.

“Friends, Romans, and countrymen, lend me your ears; I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, these opening lines of a speech by Mark Antony had a hauntingly familiar ring recently in the Gambia. 

The main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) proceedings for the removal of Chairman Sheriffo Sonko and two other sitting Councilors from the Brikama Area Council, political party surrogates from the two political divide against and in support of beleaguered Chairman Sheriffo Sonko amid calls for his removal waxed poetic, quoting extensively from Shakespeare and verses from the Holy Quran.

After extolling his iniquity and virtues on social media, they buried Sheriffo Sonko, dispatching him from the lofty perch he has occupied from the start of his mandate as Chairman of Brikama Area Council.

Sheriff Sonko

Nevertheless, one may be grossly mistaken if they believe that these calls are based on deep-seated convictions of probity on the part of those making them. 

They could be nothing more than the quirks and quiddities of Gambian politics at play. For one, investigations are still on-going, and hitherto, the Chairman Sheriffo Sonko has not been fingered as being complicit in the scam. Calls for his resignation may, therefore, be premature. 

Then there are more pressing issues germane to the national conversation.

The law of unintended consequences has been to the advantage of the Sheriffo Sonko. Because of concerted attacks on his character, he has been in the headlines lately. The resultant publicity has not cast him in the notoriety intended but has elicited sympathy from a public unable to distinguish between truth, lies, and innuendo.

While Sheriffo Sonko’s career may have taken a turn for the worse, it is a democracy that was at risk of burial. Going by reports in the public domain, the Central Committee of the United Democratic Party (UDP) voted him out, not from conviction or conscientious desire to serve, but out of convenience borne of self-preservation. 

Among the reasons advanced was that Chairman Sheriffo Sonko had failed the loyalty test to the Secretary-General of the United Democratic Party, Baa Alhagie Ousainou Darboe, who is also party leader.

Things are no longer rosy between President Adama Barrow and his political Godfather, Baa Ousainou Darboe. The United Democratic Party (UDP), the party that baptized President Adama Barrow, and belonging to the UDP since its founding, is split in the middle with factions allied to both Baa Ousainou Darboe and Adama Barrow. 

Some have argued that President Adama Barrow has undermined Baa Ousainou Darboe’s leadership by campaigning relentlessly to overcome the UDP amid elections in 2021 as the leader and flag bearer of the UDP ticket. 

Others have averred that President Barrow has lost the goodwill of a significant number of his party members and since formed his political party, the National People’s Party ( NPP) divorcing with his political Godfather.

In advanced democracies, party members with ideological differences from the leader leave for other parties or start their own. In the same vein, when a party leader is unable to create consensus or support for a position they hold, they resign. 

Ascribing these standards to the United Democratic Party (UDP), one of three outcomes would have obtained: resignation from the party by disgruntled elements, the impeachment of the party leader, or dissolution of the entire party, having failed to live up to the causes for which it was formed.

Chairman Sheriff Sonko is expelled from the UDP because of his perceived fealty to the President Adama Barrow. His ouster was not on account of incompetence or inability to conduct Council business with impartiality. Those against him were at pains to belabour the fact that extraneous considerations constrained them. 

A section of the media has reported that the United Democratic Party Central Committee, governing political organ of the United Democratic Party, had “issued firm instructions to the senior administrative Secretary to sack Chairman Sheriff Sonko from the UDP.” 

There is talk that those who bucked this position were threatened by sanctions that included the withdrawal of sponsorship of those nominated by the party and the recall of those in elected positions. 

Another executive member of the UDP decried the expectation that Councilors  and National Assembly members belonging to the UDP should “unquestioningly endorse predetermined outcomes on matters that come up for debate and resolution before the Executive and Central Committee of the party.”

A widely shared view is that Chairman Sheriffo Sonko is a mere pawn in an intricate game of political chess. His ouster is a shot across the bows, a warning to United Democratic Party ( UDP) members. By extension, the National Assembly that dissent against Baa Ousainou Darboe and his constitutional agenda will not be tolerated and supporting President Barrow’s National Development  Plan(NDP)  agenda. 

In the words of a politician, an advisor to President Barrow, after a meeting with Adama  Barrow opined, “the coming weeks are crucial in constitutional reforms, and we must clean the house by removing all those who do not conform to this agenda.” 

A referendum is expected later in next year, which will expand the Executive to include more politicians at the helm. It is thought that Gambians are opposed to this expansion, whereas President Barrow and his Cabinet favour it.

Sheriffo Sonko is collateral damage. In the words of a political pundit, his ouster “is all about politics of power and not principles.” One wonders how many other innocent Gambians out there is collateral damage. One asks whether the electoral body IEC was truly independent or in the thrall of powerful but shadowy operatives going by the cockamamie of a recently noncommittal in electoral reform. 

It shows not plans for electoral reforms for Diaspora Gambians. One speculates about the corruption that saw senior civil servants, heads of parastatals, and politicians not charged; whether this was driven by principle or the political process.

However, most worrying is when the legislative arm of government is railroaded into obsequious support of an agenda it may not believe in; when the public begins to lose faith in the democratic credentials of those who have been threatened and cajoled into singularly deliberate decisions; when the august house is reduced to navel-gazing, beholden to the wielder of the stick and carrot. Democracy would then have been buried six feet deep!

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

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