Madi Jobarteh

Introduction

‘The Gambia We Want’ is a nationwide campaign that TANGO has launched as a self-conscious realization that unless citizens take ownership and leadership in the affairs of the nation, the dream of a democratic and developed Gambia shall be nothing but a fleeting dream; to be pursued but never attained.

This realization is founded on the political history of the Gambia where informed popular participation has been so limited that after half a century of nationhood, the Gambia remains a highly indebted and impoverished country.

The idea of ‘The Gambia We Want’ is to encourage Gambians to express their opinions as to the kind of society they desire and deserve. ‘The Gambia We Want’ is a conversation that will be held through open forums in the community, in the media as well as at work places and homes. It encourages citizens to debate local and national policy and development issues with a view to ensure efficient, transparent and accountable leadership and good governance in the country. ‘The Gambia We Want’ campaign is informed and inspired by the fact that it is citizens, and not politicians who produce and nurture democracy in any society.

Given the historic December 2016 presidential election that completely changed the political landscape of the country, which was further cemented by the April 2017 parliamentary election, TANGO aims to consolidate these gains by promoting civic engagement and participation. Through various platforms TANGO also wishes to organize and empower CSOs and citizens in order to strengthen engagement with the National Assembly. These forums will seek to particularly promote participatory budgeting, budget tracking and strengthening parliamentary oversight of the Executive as well as influence other law and policymaking processes.

Rational For ‘The Gambia We Want’

Eleven years after becoming a republic, the Gambia faced its first armed insurrection in 1981 by a group of citizens who claimed dissatisfaction with the status quo. That rebellion was quickly quelled by Senegalese forces leading to the creation of a confederation between the two countries from 1982 to 1989 when it collapsed.

Following the containment of hostilities a series of commissions and prosecutions were conducted to determine the participation of various individuals. However, just as on the attainment of Independence, the Gambia never sat down to have a national conversation as to how could a group of citizens decide to use armed violence to change the society? Rather the country forged on as scores of people were sent to jail, others pardoned while some went into exile. We did not ask what is fundamentally wrong with the character of the Gambia and the Gambian.

The increasing levels of poverty, inequality and deprivation coupled with high level of corruption under Jawara gave birth to the military coup of 1994. Yet within six months of taking power, the new junta began to show its true colors through arbitrary arrests, executions and acts of corruption – even when the junta had described itself as ‘soldiers with a difference’. It did not take long for Gambians to realize that in fact these soldiers were indeed more of the same as seen across Africa. For the next two decades a reign of terror, characterized by high level patronage and corruption was unleashed on the country that came to attract both local and international attention.

Once again 1994 saw the emergence of commissions of enquiry among other measures of ‘rectification’ by the junta, but the country never had a conversation with itself to better understand itself. A new constitution as well as new institutions and laws were created while the basic structure of the state and society were left intact as at the dawn of Independence and after 1981. Once again the country forged on.

It did not therefore take long when dire socioeconomic conditions and shrinking political space, not only made the Gambia became a pariah state, but these conditions further generated the deadly irregular migration locally known as ‘Backway’ phenomenon as well as brain drain. Furthermore, as dictatorship intensified with Pres. Jammeh effectively personalizing state institutions and resources, the country came to witness various violent armed attacks in Farafeni 1996, Kartong in 1997 and Banjul in 2015.

Following a protest for electoral reforms led by a UDP youth leader Solo Sandeng in April 2016 who was subsequently arrested and murdered the political landscape was poised for change forever. This event produced a series of cascading events leading to the December 2016 presidential election in which Jammeh lost. As typical of dictators, Jammeh was however not prepared to peacefully hand over power hence it had to take the international community with a threat of military intervention to force him to concede and leave the country.

Today, the Gambia is in the Year 2018, forty-eight years after becoming an independent republic. The United Nations estimates that more than half of the country lives in poverty while the incidence of infant and maternal mortality are high. Youth unemployment amidst limited opportunities is widespread as cost of living is increasingly unaffordable and delivery of basic social services to majority of the people is overwhelmingly limited.

What kind of Gambia do we want? Is the Gambia going to forge on again as it did after Independence or after 1981 or after 1994 or will the country this time take a break to ask ourselves fundamental questions? Can we avoid another crisis and build a just, equal, prosperous and stable society and state that uphold the highest standards of democracy and deliver sustainable development to all? Is another Gambia possible that is different and better than the Gambia under Colonialism or the Jawara and Jammeh administrations? Who will create the New Gambia? What values and standards would underpin this New Gambia in its leadership, institutions, governance systems and the development of our society? This is the rationale for this campaign, The Gambia We Want!

The Gambia We Want

If there is any lesson to learn from the political history of the country it is the fact that it has always been politicians and public officers that have largely dominated the narrative in the Gambia. To a large extent citizens remained dormant at best and mere pawns in the hands of political parties and leaders at worst. Consequently, the governance and development institutions and processes of the country became hijacked and weakened by a minority of individuals in positions of power and trust thus effectively marginalizing the majority.

‘The Gambia We Want’ is therefore a response to that lethargic attitude of Gambians; to awaken the people to realize that when the constitution states that sovereignty of the Gambia resides in the people it requires the people to stand up for the republic. ‘The Gambia We Want’ is a civic awareness building and an advocacy strategy meant to engage and empower Gambians through the realization that indeed power belongs to the people. It is an effort to make the Gambian understand that a citizen is a person who has rights and duties that must be upheld and demonstrated if there is going to be democratic governance and sustainable development in a country. It comes against the backdrop that the failure or indifference of the people to take their destiny into their own hands was what led to the self-perpetuation of both Jawara and Jammeh in power and the eventual emergence of dictatorship in the past 22 years. In other words, due to weak popular participation there emerged such weak political leadership and poor governance environment that have resulted to growing and excruciating poverty, gross violations of human rights and widespread deprivation.

‘The Gambia We Want’ is therefore aimed at building a New Gambian Citizen who will ensure accountable leadership, open and transparent government and efficient delivery of social services in protection and fulfillment of human rights. Through conversations in open forums, it is envisaged that Gambians, as citizens and public trustees will epitomize a new citizen who is dedicated to service to the nation. The Gambia We Want means another Gambia is possible – A Better Gambia.

Objectives Of ‘The Gambia We Want’

1. To nurture democratic governance through informed popular participation in national affairs;
2. To ensure an efficient and responsive National Assembly that plays its oversight functions effectively;
3. To promote good governance with strong and efficient institutions that deliver quality and affordable public services to most Gambians;
4. To combat corruption, abuse of power and misuse of public resources;
5. To promote the values of tolerance, equality and social justice in the Gambia.

Methodology

TANGO will mobilize state and non-state actors as well as citizens and communities to converge in various regions, districts, towns and villages to have open conversations. The forums will seek to hear more from ordinary everyday folks to share their experiences and perspectives about the kind of Gambia they desire. These voices and ideas will be compiled in each and every forum into resolutions that TANGO seeks to present to national and local institutions, leaders and other stakeholders. Various other experts will also be engaged to provide analysis and guidance to the discussions for the sole purpose of enabling citizens to more effectively participate and lead.

The End