The Gambia at Crossroads: Three Years or Five Years For President Barrow?

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It’s nearly three years since the December 2016 Presidential election in the Gambia which brought Jammeh’s 22-years of tyranny to an end and ushered in the beginning of President Adama Barrow’s coalition government. That election was a once in a generation or perhaps once in a lifetime, it was so important that even those you could term “they don’t care” about politics eventually ended up caring. Gambians at home praised the efforts of those in the diaspora and rightly so, but I think the people who deserved many credits were the politicians who at the time under very difficult circumstances sacrificed a lot to make the coalition a reality. Many people including myself were sceptical whether or not they will see the desideratum and the urgency needed for the change of status quo. And indeed they did even though it was hastily done with very little time and resources.

As we all know, the coalition’s principal agreement was that should the standard-bearer be elected as the president he will only serve 3 years of a constitutionally mandated 5-year term. After which he will coordinate an election between political parties and of which he will not be a party to but a referee of. Of course, this agreement was based on mutual trust and understanding. However, the agreement looks simple and straightforward but in reality, it’s technically complicated and maybe legally wrong and unenforceable.

In my view, even though the constitution allowed the president to resign if he wishes to do so at any given time, it would have been prudent and incontrovertible had the agreement been in line with the constitution of the country, so that no party will take advantage of the loophole the 3-year agreement has created.

We have seen in our sub-region as well as in the West how coalition governments end up disintegrating before the natural life cycle of those coalitions and in my view, with the calibre of the people who formed the 2016 coalition, they should have foreseen this problem. However, this is not to criticise them but just to point the deficiency we all have as humans.

Due to these inconsistencies between the coalition’s 3-year agreement and the 5-mandated by the constitution, this gave birth to and rise of the civil movement called “Operation 3-Years Jotna” who understandably wants President Barrow to honour the coalition’s agreement. They argued that should President Barrow reneged on his 2016 election promise it will contradict the democratic ethos and consultative spirit that made the 2016 coalition a success and also serves as a betrayal of his campaign promise. For them, this sets a dangerous precedent by which politicians can easily make and break promises to the electorate with impunity. In essence, the 3-years Jotna is a preemptive movement that wants to hold our current and future elected officials to account.

However, in principle, I agree with them and minded to believe that President Barrow should honour his election promises to the Gambian people and remember the sacrifices Gambians made to effect his presidency. Beside, it’s no secret that President Barrow is skimpy intellectually and elastic with the truth to lead the country. Most worryingly, his government is not fiscally transparent as confirmed by the US government’s 2019 Fiscal Transparency Report published in August. One could also argue that President Barrow is continuing much of Jammeh’s era style of governance hired and fired with impunity, wastage of public funds on trivial issues as well as hoarding information that is in public interest.

Nevertheless, how could it be democratic to force an elected president to resign and replace him with an unelected president just to fulfil an agreement between coalition members? It’s inconceivable to think that the coalition members have even come to such agreement in the first place. In a democracy, if people feels their government is incompetent and corrupt you use the legal instruments the laws of the land provided to deal with such matters. Typically example of such is the current impeachment of President Trump by the US Congress.

If people reflect and ponder for a moment without wearing their hearts on their sleeves, you will see great flaws in the coalition’s agreement that will render any argument for President Barrow to step down after 3-years futile. The constitution reign over any agreement hence why President Barrow has the bargaining power. Of course, morally it is abhorrent to spectacularly renegade on such an important agreement without any explanation or reason(s) given. However, this is the deficiency of democracy, you have to defend it even if it goes against your conviction, as a result, I cannot see any justifiable reason that should FORCE the president to step down after 3-years.

The Gambia is at crossroads, emotions are still very high and they get higher by every passing day the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Commission (TRRC) sits to hear the barbaric crimes committed during Jammeh’s 22 years in power. So as a consequence I believe and I urge every Gambia to safeguard the peace that holds us all together and let President Barrow see out his 5-years. After the 5-years in 2021, it’s up to us to teach him a lesson that he shall never forget at the ballot box. Perhaps that will be the best and the right outcome for our country and our democracy. For The Gambia EVER TRUE!!

Ansumana Ceesay

UK

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