Diaspora Voter Inclusion Imperative: Part 2
Alagi Yorro Jallow
The realization of the hopes, dreams, fears and expectations of hundreds of thousands of Diaspora Gambians want more clarity to address the issue of Diaspora enfranchisement, a significant portion of the Diaspora population want to participate in future electoral processes from the Independent Electoral Commission and Gambia Government. There’s 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, all about political opportunism.
Ask most Gambians what perception they have of Gambian politics, and the silent majority will probably tell you getting into elected office is the most straight forward “get rich quick” scheme in the country. It’s the place to be if you want to “eat” and do business as an entrepreneur. The Gambia’s brand of politics is a legacy of a regressive patronage and clientelism system. A system where the political and business elite acquire power and access to resources mostly for personal gain and the self-preservation of the same. The people they supposedly represent are beholden to them, notwithstanding that they are constitutional duty bearers who are public servants.
Thousands of Gambians in the Diaspora want to change this. They want their politics to serve the people equitably without fear or favor. They maintain the great hope that their new constitution will anchor a new brand of democracy and promote their ideals and values as a nation. They hope that they have voted in leaders with integrity and respect for public service. They hope that their 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 them to move things closer to their ideals as a collective.
It was interesting to note that a few months ago the President declared the Diaspora community as the 6thregion of the Gambia. If they’re handing over Regional classifications, then there’s an argument that the Gambian Diaspora should be the 6th Region. Hundreds of thousands 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 December 2016 elections, a lot of noise was made about Diaspora voting for the next election cycle. You call it noise because nothing tangible has happened since.
Again, take a random Gambian in a European and North American street and ask them if they know what the government’s Diaspora strategy or policy is. They’ll give you a bemused look that suggests you’ve stepped out of your mind. For most, the frustration and disappointment are because the government and Independent Electoral Commission are not serious. It’s one thing waxing lyrical to anyone who will listen telling them the value of the Gambian Diaspora, but as with many things in life, actions speak louder than words.
Gambians in the Diaspora want to keep engaged with politics, cultural and socio-economic development back home. They live in a globalized 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. It is their right as with the near thousands of registered voters within the country, 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 make a choice through the ballot. It is a great injustice for this right to be denied by the inaction of government and the Independent Electoral Commission.
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 ploughed and communities fed; homes have been built and boreholes sunk; parents and older relatives have had their health and care needs addressed; jobs have been created. Gambians in the Diaspora have contributed to the growth of most, if not all sectors in the country through their remittances. They have affected lives for the better in every corner of their country.
In 2017, Gambians in the Diaspora through remittance have contributed US$ 187 million to the Gambian economy according to the World Bank.
The economic power of Gambians in the Diaspora far exceeds the total foreign assistance from donors. It’s a larger revenue than most foreign assistance get every year.
For this reason alone, it’s an absolute injustice that Gambians in the Diaspora were not able to live and interests, as well as the lives of their family, relations and friends closest to them are being influenced by the choices of fellow Gambians. For what they contribute to the development of the country, they can only press their noses on the window as they watch the election pass by.
It is the hope of hundreds of thousands of Gambians in the Diaspora that the IEC and government, should finally take this issue seriously. They have few years to prepare for it. They know it can be done. 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.