A message to the politicians

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the official campaign period starts tomorrow, Wednesday. 

The commission has issued the approved campaign itineraries of the three candidates for the 1st December 2016 presidential election. 

So for the next two weeks, starting tomorrow, all the candidates will be descending on different parts of The Gambia, based on their approved itineraries, to canvass for votes. 

But as they and their teams prepare their luggage and fuel their vehicles, we have a message for them:  be mindful of your words and do not play with people based on ethnic dimensions.

A major cause of African conflicts has been ethnicity, and it has continued to be so.  In view of this, one of the key things that our candidates should be mindful of is making utterance that could lead to tribal or ethnic segregation.  A mere utterance of a political leader can pit tribes against one another.

The Gambia is one of the few states in Africa that enjoy a high degree of homogeneity or, at least, a relatively inconsequential diversity.   Because of this, the country is known as a bastion of peace, which is underpinned by exemplary cohesiveness and unity among the different tribes.

Even though the Constitution outlawed parties organised on tribal or ethnic basis, of late empirical evidence seemed to suggest that Gambians are more divided on tribal lines than ever before when it comes to their choice of party.  The political leaders cannot be exonerated from this. 

Our leaders must not be oblivious of the fact that their support base is multi-ethnic, consisting of people from all the tribes in the country.  No single ethnic group in The Gambia is big enough to win a candidate in a presidential election without votes from other tribes.

So the candidates must be warned not to use statements that will first and foremost alienate their own supporters, and scare away members of other ethnic groups who could be potential supporters of their party.

Tribe is one of the most sensitive things but, sadly, it has been used by African politicians to promote their selfish ambitions.  The Rwandan civil conflict is always a good reference point when it comes to politicians and ethnicity. 

But apart from Rwanda, research has shown that almost every other conflict in Africa, even those that may appear to be free of ethnic concerns, involve factions and alliances built around ethnic loyalties. 

It can be best if we can campaign without invoking tribal utterances.  We want a situation where, for example, the opposition will say ‘I want to take the country from the incumbent because his policies are not good due to blah blah blah’. 

The incumbent can in turn say ‘don’t mind the oppositions their manifestoes are not implementable for they lack a clear sense of direction and purpose’.

This is a much better way of campaigning than say, “it is time for another tribe to lead because the other one has ruled for so long.” 

Or to say, “this particular tribe does not like this particular party because the leader of the party is from another tribe.”

All the parties should borrow a cue from Halifa Sallah in that regard.  Halifa always sells himself by attacking issues not personalities based on tribe.  He always says, for instance, the economic policy of the incumbent lacks merit.  This is a type of campaigning we need: a campaign based on issues!

So, in a nutshell, as you the presidential candidates embark on your campaign of vote canvassing, sell your messages based on issues not personalities and or the tribal dimension. 

We need you to fashion a system in which ethnic groups can play a constructive role in fostering cooperation and facilitate the process of nation-building, not to serve as a disintegrating tool.

“In a tribal organization, even in time of peace, service to tribe or state predominates over all self-seeking; in war, service for the tribe or state becomes supreme, and personal liberty is suspended”

Arthur Keith