A political rally in The Gambia (Photo credit Jason Florio)

In most democracies, scoundrels and unscrupulous political landlords and civic society leaders seem to make it through intellectual activism and populism platform of politics. 

The issue is not on being unscrupulous, but being a master schemer and play hardball when necessary. Intellectual activists and civil society leaders should not pour any vitriol and do not run on vengeance or petty emotions because they can be seen from afar. 

Intellectual activists, civil society leaders, and politicians need to be bold, assertive, and honest also speak truth to power at all times.

Intellectual activists and so-called civil society leaders should not be partisan and should always be neutral at all, but then again, they should not seem to stand for the wealthy’s cause or tap from their wells of financial support from influential foreign donors and local political patrons and Diaspora sponsorship. 

Note that establishing an activist’s nature is the first is to be a watchdog and not scary, telling the truth to power, particularly in a dictatorship. 

Intellectual activists fighting for a genuine cause, the nation’s mood, and the people’s hope and aspirations are always dependable on their courage, ideas, fiscal rectitude, and moral rectitude.

Almost twenty-two years during President Yahya Jammeh’s rule, apart from the Gambia Press Union (GPU) and from a few other independent-minded and courageous journalists and a select – religious leaders and some opposition political parties (PDOIS and UDP) mainly who took the fight on the kleptocratic rule and breaches of sovereignty and human rights violations of Yahya Jammeh.

Gambians have been waiting for the civil society and intellectual activists with bated breath; also our leading public intellectuals, the civil society organizations such as the Gambia bar association and the Association of Non-Governmental Organizations in the Gambia(TANGO), (today, TANGO, have turned to be proactive in issuing strongly-worded statements in defenses of good governance and Constitutionalism besides proactive in setting the agenda under  Adama Barrow’s administration.

They were submissive and unassertive during Yahya Jammeh’s rule accused of having denied the opposition to use its office and conference room to conduct political meetings only to avoid angering Yahya Jammeh).

However, Gambia’s prolific writers, public intellectuals, some religious leaders, and civil society activists failed to voice their opinions on the country’s political developments, but so far, they have all fallen short of our expectations during the second republic.

While some published analyses of individual politicians and political parties, there was almost no discussion on the Gambia Post-President Yahya Jammeh’s future after the 2016 elections. What had messed up, and the opportunistic civil society organisations offering a  deeply divided Gambians? 

What if the next Presidential election’s outcome leads to isolationist policies? How will this affect the Gambia’s future? What does our civil society activists, public intellectuals, and public policy influencers, university lecturers think about what is happening in this country? 

What about religious leaders? Is partisan politics impacting their Friday Khutba and  Sunday sermons? Do we have a civil society leadership — like Halifa Sallah’s leadership role during the 2016 political impasse who can bring sanity to the country if things fall apart? I think not.

Perhaps the reason there is hardly any commitment and sincerity among our intellectuals, civil society activists, and religious leaders about the rise of divisive politics and toxic political polarisation the Gambia may head her way is that civil society activism and the intellectual activists have lost their independence and integrity. 

Most of them cannot hold objective opinions because political parties or politicians have employed them to write speeches and manifestoes. They have become an integral part of the propaganda machinery of most political parties. 

Politicians have bought their silence and complicity for bad governance, and their views are shaped by the political parties that pay them.

It is also entirely possible that our intellectuals and activists have remained silent because, deep down, they are ethnic chauvinists and have formed their opinions about the forthcoming elections along ethnic lines. 

Those working for civil society organizations and NGOs are dependent on donors or foreign-based institutions, which often demand that these organizations remain non-partisan and apolitical. 

Donors like to believe that they are promoting civic education through these organisations and that an educated population will make the right choices.

They chant the mantra of “good governance and human rights,” yet this means nothing in a country like the Gambia where good governance is not predicated on shared core values, and where leadership is defined by short-term selfish or ethnic-based interests rather than by national interests based on a vision or ideology.

The reality is that short-lived, ideologically bankrupt political parties have defined the Gambia’s politics since independence. These political parties and their coalitions are nothing more than marriages of convenience set up to dupe ordinary citizens into believing, once again, that when “one of our own” is in power, the whole tribe will benefit.

In the Gambia today, the civil society activists of the 1970s and ’80s who took to the streets were different because they had unity of purpose and were willing to make personal sacrifices. 

Today’s civil society activists, on the other hand, “sit in offices wore Italian suits and others wore Malian’ Ganila Kaftans’ and enjoy foreign trips to present ‘research findings,’ write emails laced with titles, fall over each other to speak at press conferences, and have no recollection about when they worked for the less-fortunate without money in their own pockets.” 

Many of the yesteryear activists who are not donor-funded are now working for the government. Others not in government turned to be “Briefcase opposition politicians” The Adama Barrow administration absorbed many of those who agitated for the “second liberation.” 

Their voices are now muted.

However, one of the consequences of this development is that civil society has become weaker as the “co-option of civil society into the new institutions reduced the sector’s ability to play a watchdog role.”

Although a new Constitution and a cleansed Judiciary promise to protect the rights of every citizen, many of the candidates vying for political office have, by their candidature, already shown contempt for the Constitution that Gambians voted for in a referendum. 

Their integrity is questionable, and their leadership threatens to undermine the very essence of the Constitution. They cannot, therefore, be entrusted to protect it.

In Gambian politics, activists do not have to be overly puritanical and do not be incorrigible. Always make choices, and stand for the change that the people thirst for. Secondly, fear-mongering will give activism an advantage. 

Fear often trumps logic. However, please do not overdo it. For every fear that you tout, offer a potential or possible solution that is possible on the promise of speaking the truth and be impartial. Intellectual activists speak with conviction at all times, never seem unsure. 

Moreover, the best activists promise much, then once then the truth and justice are won, deliver what you promised as you start planning for the next cause. If you want unique.

Unfortunately, our writers, intellectuals, activists, and religious leaders have failed to show how forward in these turbulent times. Let us hope that ordinary Gambians will not pay the price of their silence in the forthcoming 2021 Presidential elections.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

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