The people who will influence 2021 and the years beyond
Every society has its list of people who, by design, default, or providence, have been placed in the vantage positions where their normal everyday actions and activities impact the lives of thousands or millions of others, sometimes in ways never actually intended or contemplated.
Here, AbdulHamid Adiamoh essays a list of some of the people he thinks hold the cards that may influence what trajectories The Gambia might take; this year and in the next five.
As with every such endeavour, this list is subjective, by no means exhaustive and in no particular order.
President Adama Barrow
The Gambia’s incumbent leader might have been a child of providence, who many still choose to underestimate. However, the powers conferred on him by the 1997 Constitution, which is extant, makes Adama Barrow one of the most powerful men in the whole world.
The other person that wielded as much power here in The Gambia routinely and egregiously abused it; and while President Barrow has shown no such proclivities, the steps he takes as he seeks to retain his position in the upcoming elections will determine so much more than many will love to admit.
There are key decisions ahead with plenty potential to rock the Gambian boat; among them being the fate of the recommendations that will soon be submitted by the TRRC. The temptations may be powerful for the president to seek to win over whatever remains of the APRC voter base, but everyone is watching with bated breath to see what price President Barrow will be willing to pay his notorious predecessor for those votes.
Indeed, any alliance with the APRC or dalliance with Yahya Jammeh that may involve disregarding the findings and recommendations of the TRRC would have come at the very expensive cost of The Gambia’s very honour and could trigger a new era of impunity and disregard for due process in the country.
Lawyer Ousainou Darboe
As the undisputed leader of what is currently the biggest political party in The Gambia, the United Democratic Party (UDP), Mr. Darboe is veritably a Gambian leader of immense stature.
His followership is largely loyal almost to the point of religiosity and his candidature
in the upcoming polls certainly poses not a minor threat to the prospects of the incumbent.
The UDP has a majority in the National Assembly and controls area councils in the country bar one; the ‘Yellow Nation’ rules in swathes of provinces and remains the choice of those who swear by the man they regard as The Gambia’s own Nelson Mandela.
Having being at the forefront of opposition politics in the many years of Yahya Jammeh’s long reign, many of his supporters believe it is time to now reward him with the country’s leadership.
However, Mr Darboe has fervent critics too, with many believing that his party derives strength mostly from ethnic allegiances and that the accomplished lawyer is nothing but an entitled, “old Pa” who should let the younger minds in his fold take the lead.
How well Lawyer Darboe can handle and douse the anger and disappointment of his supporters in the event that the party loses the forthcoming presidential polls also remains to be seen. The UDP tends to have a reputation for militaristic attitudes and many Gambians are apprehensive that there may be some chaos if Darboe fails to unseat Barrow in December.
Alieu Momarr Njai
The personality and track record of the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission should
inspire sufficient quantities of confidence in anyone interested or invested in the forthcoming elections, given his proven integrity handling the last presidential polls that saw strongman Yahya Jammeh lose
It must have taken some uncommon bravery to announce, in Yahya Jammeh’s
Gambia that Yahya Jammeh has lost the presidency, and to do so without immediately running away. Apparently, Mr Njai has not forgotton the values of courage, integrity and readiness he must have learnt
and taught during his Boys’ Scout days.
While the 2016 elections was epochal, the forthcoming polls will likely be the most keenly contested of all Gambian elections so far, and it must be soothing that a man like Momarr Njai, in whom every participant and observer has tremendous confidence, is the umpire.
The Gambian Diaspora
The Gambian Diaspora has emerged as a major political and economic constituency that is actively
shaping the national discourse and trajectory.
According to recent data from the Central Bank of The Gambia, migrant remittances
was roughly 48% of the country’s GDP in 2020, solidifying the status of Gambians abroad as the single largest source of financing into the country, surpassing receipts from tourism, foreign aid or any other sector of the national economy.
The Gambian diaspora remit money to families back home for food, clothing, school fees, medical bills, establishing small businesses and supporting hometown and village-led development initiatives.
The Diaspora is also politically active and played a major role in the dethronement of former president Jammeh with whom it had an adversarial relationship.
After a brief honeymoon with the Barrow-led government, it does seem that the diaspora is beginning to exert pressure on the current government to perform, getting largely skeptical about its ability and intentions to efficaciously implement necessary development ideas.
Given the current state of affairs, the Diaspora is unlikely to earn the vote this December. However, there is little doubt that once is becomes fully enfranchised, the Gambian diaspora, which according to a 2019 data by Omar C Kebbeh, stands at over 140,000, will become one of the voting blocs that decide who leads the country.
Mama Kandeh does not seem to have been well credited enough as the man who, by default,
actually dethroned President Yahya Jammeh in 2016. There has been so much written about the coming together of the coalition and of the tenacity of voters who ultimately delivered the death blow to what was essentially a military junta masquerading for years as a democratic government.
While all of these are valid, it is also important to acknowledge the fact that the bulk of the 90,000 votes that Mama Kandeh pulled at his first try in 2016 were mostly the votes of APRC members like Kandeh himself who had become disgruntled with the then ruling party and who voted with their feet. It
It is therefore statistically unlikely in this context, that the coalition could have defeated the former president without Kandeh first throwing water at Jammeh’s throne of wet clay.
With President Barrow’s NPP currently eating away at his political base, making the path to the presidency even more unlikely for Kandeh, it would be interesting to see how he fights back.
Fact is, if Kandeh’s participation in the December polls could undermine the chances of any other Gambian politician; the most affected would be President Barrow; both men share a constituency and similar ethnic loyalties and both men should have been working together in an ideal, well-calculated setting. So, will Mama Kandeh dethrone a second president by default? The answers will come in by December.
President Macky Sall
It only takes one look at the map to see The Gambia ensconced inside Senegal like a tongue, sitting comfortably guarded by flanks that look like the human palate.
In fact, since the demise of the short-lived Senegal-Gambian Confederation, one of Senegal’s most pressing geo-political preoccupation has been that it has had no direct control over the vitally strategic piece
of its body that’s also not its own. And since that time, Senegal has never shied from the fact that it wants a first-person notice of whatever happens in The Gambia.
Senegal’s desire to “playing a hand” in what happens here in The Gambia is undeniable and the approaches if has employed in the past includes diplomatic, bilateral and even underhand methods (such as when it seems to unleash trade unions to force The Gambia’s hands on certain issues).
Given this history, and the fact that relations was a bit more difficult under former President Jammeh , it is understandable that Senegal does take a major interest in the choice of who occupies the State House in Banjul, as a way to “proactively” engage The Gambia.
With his current and last term in office ending in 2024, President Macky Sall is sure to have enough interest, especially as he played a very influential role in resolving the political impasse that ultimately saw Yahya Jammeh removed into exile.
Ex. President Yahya Jammeh
Having ruled the country for 22 long years, it is unlikely that former president Yahya Jammeh will have no more influence in the country; and he does; just not in the exaggerated measures his followers would love to claim. If anything, revelations from the TRRC have done him in, unmasking the pure evil and
unadulterated terror that the wily narcissist unleashed on the nation for two dark decades.
Many analysts think the 200,000 plus votes he earned in the last presidential
elections could tilt the balance of polls in anyone’s favour, and this is probably why members of his APRC are seeking to sell the pie in the sky that is an alliance with their party for the next elections.
The twin reality negating this postulation however is that one; voters are not zombies and many have moved on to new allegiances, and two; Yahya Jammeh has since been stripped naked in the market
square that is the TRRC.
It is important to remember that Jammeh ruled majorly using the instrumentality of fear and that voter intimidation was a real issue under his leadership. A good percentage of those who vote for him (especially civil servants) did so out of fear, not choice and without the fear factor, it is highly unlikely that Yahya Jammeh himself will get 30,000 votes even if he were to return to vie for office. In any case, he makes this list, because no one should ever underestimate the wily old fox; he likely has more tricks to play than he has breaths to take.
Entrepreneurs and The Gambia’s business community hardly ever get any credit for moving the nation forward; yet, this is the class of patriots who provide the jobs that ensure national livelihoods as well as pay the taxes that ensure the glide of the country’s socio-economy.
Post COVID-19, as The Gambia requires new investments to compensate for lost productivity and help push the agenda for economic growth, it is the nation’s class of entrepreneurs that will be saddled with that responsibility as they take risks with their resources to ensure the country’s smooth sail.
In this light, the trio of Mr. Mustapha Njie of Taf Holdings International, Muhammed Jah of QGroup and Hamidou Jah of Jah Oil Company certainly honour this list.
Mr. Mustapha Njie through Taf Holdings is currently investing in a multi-million Dollar public-private partnership named the GIETAF Special Economic Zone; a 160- hectare mixed-use business park billed as The Gambia’s biggest infrastructure project.
On his part, Mr. Jah of the ubiquitous QGroup continues to invest in new businesses around the country, including in a massive new facility located around the Atlantic Boulevard in Fajara.
Hamidou Jah of Jah Oil is also building fuel stations wherever possible, and while the desirability of doing so remains a matter for debate, the point being acknowledged here is that jobs will be created and taxes will be paid.
These investments, and those of others, are expected to create thousands of jobs and contribute to the Gambia’s journey to economic growth.
The Young Turks
With their near-celebrity statuses and polished looks, the trio of Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, Talib Ahmed Bensouda and Mr. Essa Mbye Faal certainly make this list, especially as the debonair gentlemen have been regarded at different times by various people as being capable of leading the country.
Dr. Ceesay, a political science lecturer at the University of The Gambia and the Secretary General of the newly-formed Citizens Alliance has already thrown his hat into the political ring, but the jury is
still out on whether he has not pitched his tent too hastily and on whether his Citizens Alliance is not headed to join the PDOIS as the next unelectable party with a portfolio of shiny paper policies.
Talib Bensouda, currently mayor of the Kanifing Municipality, is touted by many as the future of the UDP where he is an executive member. Talib does seem to have some momentum behind him and a
number of his policies at the KMC, if sustained, could serve his future interests. However, interests and alliances shift very quickly in the quicksand that is partisan politics, and Talib would need a lot more than vibes and In Shaa Allah to truly matter on the national scene.
Mr Faal is a career lawyer currently busy with his task as lead counsel at the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), where he has gained popularity, and for the performance at which many people believe he has a decent chance at the Gambian presidency if he tries someday.
Fixing bones and healing a sector
As The Gambia’s first consultant specialist in trauma and orthopaedic surgery, Dr Kebba Marenah’s story is well punctuated with patriotism and service for country. Having trained and practiced as an orthopaedic surgeon at Imperial College in the UK over 12 years, Kebba’s decision to return to serve in the Gambian civil service meant he chose humanity over personal comfort. But beyond that enormous sacrifice, Dr Marenah has also been teaching, mentoring and inspiring a new generation of medical doctors to contribute towards national development; in the process healing one of the main challenges ailing the country’s health sector.
Kebba’s vision to increase the number of national surgeons, attract
more orthopedic residents and improve trauma care in The Gambia is yielding fruit with more residents and young doctors wanting to specialize in that field. Patients, who hitherto had to travel out of the country have also reported new-found confidence in the local capacity, while there are indications that inward medical tourism could indeed be a reality under the light that The Gambia’s Good Doctor shines.
Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang
There are high hopes and expectations that the forthcoming presidential elections slated for this December will be smooth and incident-free. However, given how high the stakes already are, and
watching the rhetoric from the two main contenders and their supporters; it might just be wise to begin a contingency plan to contain and manage any fallouts after the final results are announced.
While there are admittedly many Gambians who can play this part, Mrs. Tambajang certainly tops the list. She is believed to be close enough to and have earned the respect of both President Adama Barrow
and Lawyer Ousainou Darboe that she would make a good negotiator or mediator between both sides if that role ever becomes necessary. The former vice-president also played a frontline role in the
disrobing of former president, the Babili Mansa.
Omar Amadou Jallow (OJ)
There are not a lot of people who truly know Gambian politics like they do the back of their hands; yet if you had space for only five; OJ must certainly be one of them. The charismatic veteran politician has been a regular staple, serving Sir Dawda Jawara as minister and then staying back home, while many
fled, to criticize and be punished during Yahya Jammeh’s reign of terror. Recently, OJ seemed to have gotten into the wrong column after he reportedly told audiences up country that “opposing Barrow is like going against Allah”.
However, the shrewd old-timer was simply pulling a trusted ace that may ultimately work to ensure that Adama Barrow, who he now supports, gets comfortably reelected in December. Religion will be a major influence in people’s choices at the polls and whoever can convince the people up-country of what “Allah has already decided” will surely pull the strings.
We certainly expect to hear more of OJ as the campaign gets into top
gear later in the year.
Published on May 17, 2021