|Barrow and Darboe|
A blog post first published October 8th, 2018.
The coalition of opposition parties that contested the December 2016 presidential elections against the regime of Jammeh, although it ended up victorious, was wittingly or unwittingly made to fracture. Halfway into the three-year transition government of Adama Barrow, discernible cracks, deep enough to prove irreparable, emerged, confirming the temporary nature of what can now be characterized as a political alliance of convenience – an admission that would have invited the wrath of the partisan supporters of the coalition.
Presidential candidate Adama Barrow was the by-product of the political realities of the time when the leader of the single largest opposition party, Ousainou Darboe, leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) was imprisoned for leading a demonstration to demand the release of the body of Solo Sandeng, a member of his party’s executive and youth leader killed by paramilitary police. In addition to facing a leadership deficit, the unification of a plethora of opposition parties into a coercive and unified force to contest the December 2016 presidential elections, will again, prove to be a special challenge after failures in three successive times in 2001, 2006 and 2011.
The coalition of opposition parties was finally realized but not before it became a precondition of the electorate who demanded it. Days into the campaign, it became clear that the electorate will not tolerate another fragmented opposition to fail at the hands of a well-financed and state-subsidized incumbent candidate with all the state machinery behind him. Only a coalition of all of the opposition parties can defeat Jammeh. In response to this demand, a convention of opposition parties was convened, literally days before the December 1st 2016 elections, that produced an obscure UDP party treasurer of unknown quantity to many named Adama Barrow, the UDP party treasurer, as the coalition’s candidate for the presidency.
Recognizing his lack of experience in governance with low public profile, presidential candidate Barrow pleaded for patience for his lack of experience and solicited support and assistance from coalition members in his quest for the presidency. After his surprise win, followed by a political impasse that lasted several tense weeks of negotiations, Jammeh finally decided to vacate State House under threat of the ECOMIG forces. He went into involuntary exile to Equatorial Guinea and President-elect Barrow assumed office in January 2017,
Few days after he won the presidential elections, Ousainou Darboe, the leader of the UDP was released on bail from Mile II prisons and subsequently pardoned together with other senior members of his political party. The man the incoming president refers to as his political ‘father’ swiftly assumed a central figure in the kitchen cabinet of the incoming administration and helped shaped the cabinet. He assumed the post of Foreign Minister, a strategic error in the eyes of some astute observers of the political scene. By insisting on being a member of the cabinet, the UDP leader voluntarily subordinated himself to his political ‘son’, The President.
Mr. Darboe’s subsequent promotion to his current position of Vice President notwithstanding, the prevailing view is that he should have opted to stay away from assuming a cabinet post in a transition government that would have allowed time to take care of his after his health after his imprisoned at the notorious Mile II before embarking on the task of preparing his party for the next presidential elections. This option would have also made it possible for him to act as adviser to the Barrow government while concurrently strengthening the UDP into a formidable political machine in time for the 2021 presidential elections.
It can be argued that by joining the transition government, Darboe inadvertently introduced an element of competition between the boss (Barrow) and his subordinate (Darboe), a role reversal that is manifesting itself in a very complex relationship between the two gentlemen.
Conversely, Adama Barrow’s performance as president only adds to the imbriglio the transition is turning out to be. The results of the first eighteen months of the Barrow has been anything but encouraging. On the economic management front, the economic is still anemic with high youth unemployment. Little or nothing has happened on the restructuring front which was a top priority of the coalition because the institutions were seriously seriously weakened under Jammeh. Lack of fiscal discipline is still pervasive despite promises to control the recurrent budget.
The scourge of corruption has come to be associated with the Barrow government with a series of recent scandals involving over US$750,000 deposited into and transferred from the First Lady’s Foundation, SEMLEX, the 57 vehicles gifted to parliamentarians and the latest being the alleged D10,000 per month stipend offered to some parliamentarians by President Barrow which was reported by a sitting member of the National Assembly.
Barrow’s record has caused him to lose political support by increasing doubts about his ability and competence to manage The Gambia as president, further making his political position untenable. Thus his recent move to organize a Youth Movement to rival a similar movement in the party he calls home – the United Democratic Party led by Ousainou Darboe.
Tensions are already high as a result of competing camps within the same political party, with allegations of huge sums of money being handed out to UDP leaders in the length and breadth of the country by the Barrow camp as a means of encouraging them to switch allegiance from Darboe too Barrow. In fact, social media is awash with rumors including a claim that Barrow dispatched a delegation to Darboe encouraging him to step down from the leadership of the UDP that will permit him to be nominated the presidential candidate of the UDP in the 2021 presidential elections.
The political maneuverings have taken its toll with Barrow spending more time politicking at the expense of his main task of governing a country whose economy and security are both in a fragile state as a result of 22 years of bad governance. Popular dissatisfaction with Barrow style of governance is growing with every new scandal that has cost him dear, further dimming his chances of securing an extended term of five instead of the current three stipulated in the Memorandum of Understanding – the document outlining both his Manifesto and his term of office as a non-party affiliated candidate of the coalition of the unified opposition parties.
The peace and security implications of an uncertain alliance between President Barrow and Vice President Barrow are great and may have played a part in the Gambian president, inappropriately and publicly requesting through the AU Chairperson the extension of the ECOMIG Mission in The Gambia to 2021, instead of through ECOWAS as dictated by and in accordance with AU’s principle of subsidiarity. This is a move that signals to donors, investors, tourists and Gambians that the peace and security of the country cannot be guaranteed by the transition government, even after eighteen months at the helm, thus sending a message that is anything but reassuring.