Ode on Politics and Politicians
By Capt. Ebou Jallo
21 January, 2021
Something is polysemous about politics: us and them; factions, fragmentations; presence and absence- the panoply of binary oppositions. A tension of meanings that forces one to assemble the parts into a whole. The meaning of a politician cannot be divorced from a citizen. Politics is full of coterminous concepts in juxtapositions before the altar of truth. The late Isaiah Berlin once asked: ‘What does it mean to have good judgment in politics?” This question requires a serious reflection on both sides of the political coin: citizen-Caesar; and the play of soulcraft in statecraft.
Since the early 1980s there have always been three broad factions vying for state power in Gambian politics: the system upholders, the system breakers and the system gamers. The upholders are naturally the incumbency who have a vested interest in remaining in power by any means. The more resistance they perceive from their distractors the more ruthless they become in stifling dissent. And they always end up being autocratic as the trajectory from 1994 to 2016 clearly demonstrated. History is also beginning to repeat itself with President Barrow. He too may soon end up being surrounded by sycophants and enablers just like his predecessor. The system breakers hearken back to the Kent Street Vous of the 1970s through MOJA (Movement of Justice in Africa) years, the pamphleteering of the Voices of the Future, and culminating into an ultra-leftist political party, the PDOIS. The PDOIS has always been obsessive trouble makers trying to break the system since its registration as a political party in the early 1980s. The party’s publications, Foroya, was the political manifesto that inspired the 1994 military coup and not surprisingly both Halifa Sallah and Sidia Jatta were among the first politicians in the first republic to embrace the “boys”. However, that bromance was short lived and PDOIS has ever since been pioneering political programs to upending Babili’s government through tactical coalitions in the guise of “regime change” until 2016. When they fell out with the Coalition government they embarked on another trouble making venture under the rubric of “system change.” System breakers like the PDOIS are doctrinaire- they have a utopian vision which they want to impose on everyone else: blind optimism binds them to obsessive attempts of fitting facts to fantasies. And finally, the system gamers whose only vision reflects what they see in the mirror every morning: themselves. Gamers want power to further their own selfish interests. They strive through chaos and crisis since 1994 when Lawyer Darboe as president of the Gambian Bar Association walked into the State House with an unsolicited ultimatum for Yaya Jammeh to hand over power to civil society. System gamers politick with mendacity, subterfuge, double-talk, traducement and ultimately state capture with dark money as manifest between 2017 to 2019 during the UDP led Coalition government.
Statecraft goes hand in hand with soulcraft in politics–moral continence and integrity amalgam that commits one to a life of truth-telling-till death. Statecraft is measured through rule of law, institutions and not through regimes of lies. Mendacity empowers those with charisma or wealth to replace the truth with spectacle. A society can defend a state only if armed with the truth about basic facts provided by the media that does its work with integrity. And social media is insufficient and destructive to rational discourse: it stimulates cognitive bias, provides comfort for lackadaisical and irresponsible mental habits that cost lives on 30 December, 2014…a lot of Gambians lost the capacity to make the distinction between what feels right and what is actually right. Lies, and yes big lies works best only with isolated minds with a smartphone or a computer; their cogency through repetition substitutes for experience and camaraderie by the number of likes on FaceBook.
Why should I, living thousands of miles away, care about Gambian politics or politicians? I care because politics is a crucial subject to human existence and the future of that enamored space we all call home -The Gambia. Loving and caring are the primordial foundation of our finite beings as humans. And as a citizen I shall not criticize to tear up our social fabric into smithereens leaving us all more impoverished and bitter with unabated rage. Every Gambian citizen who has a stake in our republic must critique and jazz the political discourse with parrhesia- a brutally honest relationship with the truth-till-death based on freedom and duty. Drugs, mendacity, trouble-making, subterfuge, graft and greed have no place in our beloved space.