3 YEARS JOTNA: The Tactics Deployed By President Barrow To Use The 1997 Constitution To Insulate Himself Against The Agreement.
Have they forgotten so soon?
In 2016, seven Gambian political parties, a civil society group, and one independent candidate formed a coalition that was created to field and support a unity candidate for the opposition against the then president of the country, His Excellency Yahya AJJ Jammeh.
The person who was selected to run as an independent candidate and leader of a three-year transitional government is the current president, His Excellency Adama Barrow, who, at that time, was the deputy treasurer and presidential flag bearer of the UDP.
However, as of today, things seem to be taking a different turn from what was initially planned by the coalition. ‘At first, when he was elected into office in the disputed election that led to the stepping aside of president Yahya Jammeh, he was hailed as a hero. But the hope inspired by Adama Barrow’s ascent has long since faded,’ says Ruth Maclean of the Guardian. This is due to Barrow’s plan to say beyond the number of years the coalition agreed upon.
The Coalition, Pre-election, and Election
The Gambia Coalition 2016, brought in the third and current president of the country, Adama Barrow.
The coalition which comprises seven recognized opposition parties – UDP, PDOIS, NRP, GMC, NCP, PPP, and GPDP – together with a Civil Society group headed by Fatoumatta Tambajang, and independent female candidate, Dr. Isatou Touray.
The need for a coalition was brought about by the realization that, if any of the parties in the coalition decided to contest individually, none would have a chance against Yahya Jammeh. These parties managed to unite and endorse Barrow as their flag-bearer, overcoming the fragmentation that could have led to the winning of Jammeh through the plurality voting system.
Hence, all involved parties amassed their supporters’ votes and put it behind a single candidate.
Prior to the decision for a coalition, in anticipation for the December election, in April 2016, opposition activists held an unprecedented peaceful protest, advocating for electoral reform. The Guardian reported this incident as ‘the biggest act of public defiance against the president since he took power.’ Following the arrest and death of Solo Sandeng, a prominent party member, and also the arrest and jailing of UDP’s party leader and opposition candidate, Ousainou Darboe, because of the protest, citizens began to demonstrate in the streets demanding regime change. This might also have inspired the need for a coalition.
On Friday 14 October 2016, the members of the coalition launched their plan to select a National convention as a modus operandi in choosing a single candidate that will challenge the incumbent in the 1st December presidential election. However, before the National Convention, all the involved parties and person in the coalition signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) where it was clearly stated in paragraph 4 (Composition), Subparagraph III (the Tenure of Office and ethics of the Flag-bearer), numbers (1) & (5) [i.e Paragraph 4 (iii) (1)&(5)] , respectively that:
The flag-bearer will:
1- Head a transitional government for a period of three years.
2- Not seek for re-election until after the five years after the transition period.
The National Convention allows each of the parties and the independent candidate to choose 10 representatives from the available seven regions in the country to agree on a single unity candidate. The selected candidate was Adama Barrow, and this selection led to him leaving his party to stand as an independent party. Barrow, due to his affiliations to different ethnic groups and also with the support of the coalition, appeared to be the people’s hero. Adama won a 43.3% plurality, defeating Jammeh with a margin of 3.7% in the general elections.
The elections results were later disputed….but that’s another story.
It would be worthy to note that there are various instances where Barrow promised to abide by the dictates of the MoU. Jeffrey Smith, a journalist who covered the 2016 presidential polls reported from Barrow’s first press conference after winning that the decision to rule for the 3-year transition period was a
vital component of the MoU, which all coalition parties appended their signatures to, and thus, he will only serve for three years.
There’s a saying by Lord Action, which states that ‘’Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts.’’
Upon assuming power, it seems Barrow’s tunes have changed. First, some party leaders were sacked, dismissed, or sidelined. Probably, Barrow saw them as threats. Also, with the deadline for resignation creeping up, Barrow, through his actions and inactions, has revealed his plans to stay beyond the agreed three years. And with the coalition he led long dead, mainly due to infights and differences, he is planning to spend five years and then contest again for a second term, against the stipulations of the MoU.
According to Seedy Njie, Barrow’s close adviser, ‘He was misguided and misled into this (agreeing to serve for only three years).’ There’s no transitional president, and he’s not an interim president. When they made this agreement, there was a lot of politicians around him who were misguiding him. When he assumed office…he looked at the laws and realized that he was elected to serve a period of five years.
Plans are already being made for the creation of a new party
to contest for the second time by 2021. The ground strategies have already been put in place, and they include the setting-up of Barrow Youth Movement and Barrow Fans Club.
Everyone thinks Barrow is trying to hold on to power for long through the use of constitutional changes. A new constitution is being drafted, and it is feared Barrow might use it to his advantage. He is said to be using, such as spending off-budget, setting up branches of the Barrow Youth Movement, amongst others.
People are complaining about the lack of improvement in the country. People’s living conditions are still adverse, and essential services are not any better. It is being said that there has been an abuse of resources and abuse of power.
Lots of citizens have been protesting, calling for better services, with the protests likely to explode and get bloodier, particularly with the government trying to ban and limit them.
Budget meant to be spent on education and provision of basic amenities to develop the country is mostly spent on security and fostering of international relations. The people’s welfare has become secondary, while the perception of others about the government has become paramount.
All these events and turnout led to the formation of ”Three Years Jotna.” TYJ is a progressive movement consisting of politically sagacious individuals, youths, and Gambians in the diaspora. They are going to stage wave-rocking protest in December, which will force Adama Barrow to resign from his position and organize a proper election as agreed in the MoU.
The movement, which consists of Gambians at home and abroad, said in a statement that they ‘’petition to prevent another dictatorship or self-perpetuation in The Gambia by President Adama Barrow.’’
The group argued that the 1997 constitution of the Gambia, makes provisions for the right to speech, assembly, movement, and association. Besides, this is backed by several Gambia-member international organizations, which promote human, civil, and political freedom of speech and association. For example, the ICCPR.
The movement, therefore, met and made a unified decision to stage a protest by December. The aim of the peaceful protest is to ask Barrow to tender his resignation with respect to the signed coalition agreement in 2016.
Now, I would like to start with a question. Is Barrow a kid to have been ‘misguided’ and controlled? No. Was Barrow blind to the agreement in the MoU prior to signing it? No. His ‘close’ advisor Seedy Njie saying he was ‘misled’ is just blatant nonsense, if you ask me. It only shows the nature of both the president and his advisor. Nothing will make you renege an agreement that its rules were clearly stated except lack of personal conviction and principled leadership.
First, paragraph 4 in the MoU has no relation to the constitution. It was and still is, a personal contract between its signatories, totally independent of the law.
And these signatories gave their consent to its effectiveness by appending their signatures. All members of the coalition, including Barrow, knew of the existence of the constitution before making the MoU. Barrow was very much aware of the constitutional provision for a five-year term, even before he contested for president, when his party signed the MoU, and he agreed to lead a transitional government for three years after which he will oversee a fresh election for a new president, and he will not seek re-election until after five years of the transition period. Why then is he now crying wolf of being misguided? This only portrays how flawed he is on a character.
I see no reason for his ‘misguidance.’ All member parties and persons only formed a coalition for the good of all. They hoped that during the transition period, Gambia would have been able to lay the foundations for a fairer political activity, which would avail all stakeholders the opportunity to run for the post of president. The parties decided to put in a few measures to ensure the attainment of this goal.
The first was to establish a transitional government, which will provide a new constitutional framework for a more democratic Gambia. The second was to make the interim president ineligible to vie for the post of president in the next post-transition election, in order to be a neutral middleman (this saw reason accounts for his withdrawal from any political party). The third was to make him serve for just a period of three years, instead of the usual five. All these, Barrow knew and gave consented to the terms. So, why go back on his word if not that he lacks principle and is being controlled by his greed? If not, that he intends to hold on to power?
All party leaders in the coalition waived aside their opportunities to become president. They all put their trust, struggle, and votes behind one person hoping that he will bring about the desired change. Instead, he betrays them.
And this goes beyond Barrow betraying the coalition. The people have lost total confidence in someone who they saw as the messiah who came to “save them from Jammeh”, just for the knight to start acting monstrous. The people gave massive mobilization and support to the coalition with the hope that removing Jammeh through the coalition’s plan would lead to the establishment of an impartial government that will be spearheaded by a president who will not partake in the next election.
If Barrow refuses to honor his promise and step down after the completion of his tenure, it would have dire implications.
First, this could possibly plunge the country into a state of carnage. Protests are already being staged since he made his decision known.
What would happen if he actually follows through? Mayhem. Destruction of lives and properties. The people of Gambia would not sit back and beheld hostages anymore. They will exercise their rights and will be justified in doing so.
Second, most people will inevitably become apathetic when it comes to politics. They will lose hope in anything related to government and will likely start equating any claim of democracy to tyranny and dictatorship. Gambians will lose confidence in their leaders and only see them as a group of selfish individuals driven by their greed for power and wealth, rather than the good of the people.
The Gambia’s reputation will be dented, and the people’s hope for change will be crushed.
In the interest of Barrow, the coalition, and the general populace, he should stick to the MoU’s terms by stepping aside at the end of his tenure and facilitating an orderly handover after the December presidential election. This will not only restore peace and progress in the country, but it will also seal the people’s hope in the meaning of democracy, as known by many and as defined by Abraham Lincoln ‘ Government of the people, by the people, for the people’.