As election season creeps upon us, we are interested in finding out what folks think of how the Gambian Diaspora voting process has been handled so far. 

The last we remember was a tepid mapping process carried out by the government, Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), and some Diaspora groups making noise about the process itself. Eight months is not a long time, and it is hard to see how IEC will implement Diaspora voting.

We sense that there is a lot of talk from the political class about how they value the Gambian Diaspora community but not enough credible and competent action to involve folks in the political process. 

We are pretty sure that we are about to be flooded with politicians coming to seek the support, financial or otherwise, from the Diaspora for this or that political office. They will surely come bearing gifts and all manner of lofty promises, but we have been here before.

There are many Gambians in the Diaspora that represent a large part of our population). In 2020 they remitted $ 578.5 million, representing 48 percent of GDP according to the first deputy governor of the Central Bank of the Gambia (CBG), Dr. Seeku Jaabi, who revealed that the Gambia’s remittances figure had hit an all-time high in 2020 despite the Coronavirus pandemic. 

The Gambia government vision recognises Diaspora Gambians community as a significant contributor to our economy.

However, the Gambia government has not adequately harnessed this “Diaspora remittance” goldmine due to several challenges: high costs associated with remitting money to The Gambia, lack of an integrated diaspora database, and untapped skills and expertise. Inadequate consular services and poor communication structures from the consulates (this is a serious one).

With the elections of President Adama Barrow and his coalition partners of the December 2016 election, the realisation of the hopes, dreams, fears, and expectations of  Gambian Diaspora gained more hope without clarity of enfranchising Gambians living abroad. 

There is just something about the country’s brand of politics that makes electioneering feel like a matter of life or death. Some would argue that it is, especially considering what political aspirants have to gain or lose.

Ask most Gambians what perception they have of our politics. They will probably tell you are getting into elected office is the most straightforward “get rich quick” scheme in the country. 

It is the place to be if you want to “eat” and do business as a tenderpreneur. Our brand of politics is a legacy of a regressive patronage and clientelism system. 

A system where the political and business elite acquires power and access to resources primarily for personal gain and self-preservation. The people they supposedly represent are beholden to them, notwithstanding that they are constitutional duty bearers who are public servants.

Hundreds of thousands of Gambians want to change this. They want our politics to serve the people equitably without fear or favour. They maintain the great hope that our new dispensation will anchor a new brand of democracy and promote our ideals and values as a nation. 

They hope that we have voted in leaders with integrity and respect for public service. They hope that our historical, social injustices will be addressed. People all up and down the country will be hoping that the choices they made during this election will work for us to move things closer to our ideals as a collective.

It was interesting to note that four years ago, the President declared the Diaspora community as the 6th region/ tribe of the Gambia. If we are handing over regional classifications, then there is an argument that the Gambian Diaspora should be the 6th region. 

Hundreds of Gambians in the Diaspora have held hope that the space for civic and political participation will be opened. 

There is a lot of frustration and disappointment with the government and the Independent Electoral  Commission (IEC) for the failure to make Diaspora voting a reality.

After the 2016 elections, much noise was made about Diaspora voting for the next election cycle. We call it noise because nothing tangible has happened since. 

The government has also made some lofty proclamations about how they value the Diaspora, even launching a Diaspora engagement strategy with pomp and ceremony. That strategy has taken its place on the dusty shelves.

Again, take a random Gambian in the Diaspora in Europe or North American street and ask them if they know the government’s Diaspora strategy or policy. 

They will give you a bemused look that suggests you have stepped out of your mind. For most, the frustration and disappointment are because the government and IEC are not severe. 

It is one thing waxing lyrical to anyone who will listen, telling them the GambianDiaspora’s value. However, actions speak louder than words with many things in life.

Gambians in the Diaspora want to keep engaged with politics, cultural and socio-economic development back home. They live in a globalised world where interests and family ties transcend international borders. 

More importantly, it is also their constitutional right to participate in civic duty and express their political views. As with the Gambians registered voters within the country, it is their right to cast a ballot to choose their leaders. 

It is their right to influence the choice and quality of leaders who are elected. It is their right to participate if they so wish by standing for elective positions. 

Like all the Gambians who desire change, who have hopes and dreams, fears and expectations, they too have a right to choose the ballot. It is a great injustice for this right to be denied by the inaction of the government and the IEC. 

Consider this also. Gambians in the Diaspora play a significant and undeniable role in the socio-economic development of the country. 

Through remittances, businesses have been started and grown; children have gone to school; farms have been plowed and communities fed; homes have been built and boreholes sunk; parents and older relatives have had their health and care needs to be addressed; jobs have been created. 

Gambians in the Diaspora have contributed to most, if not all, sectors in the country through their remittances. They have affected lives for the better in every corner of the country. 

Hundreds of Gambians in the Diaspora hope that the government and IEC finally take this issue seriously. This government of President Adama Barrow has five years to prepare for it. 

It is the constitutional right of every Gambian who wishes to vote to do so. If Gambians abroad are voting, then all of them must have that chance, not just the ones who are nearby.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

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