the centre of economic activities in the Lower River Region, LRR is popular for
its heterogeneous make-up hosting people of the ‘Senegambia’. It has rich integrating
substances between Senegal and the Gambia. On the trans-gambia highway, the
Soma Garage maintains a busy transport system between the Bamba Tenda ferry
crossing and Misera village which borders with Poste’ Senoba in the Cassamance
region of Senegal. People in the surrounding villages such as Jenoi and
Pakalinding have a strong financial niche on the ferry terminal which welcomes
all fashions of travellers to and from Senegal. Sale of snacks, water,
detergents, fruits and other basic commodities links youth and women with
travellers. Experienced petty traders lure customers through speaking their
languages and accepting the CFA currency without having it go through exchange
bureaus or banks. These traders have got the CFA to create professional networks
with financial institutions within the region, thus, increasing the traffic of
foreign exchange business at the local level.
The convergence of travellers across the country attracts increasing solid infrastructure along the trans-gambia highway. Restaurants offer meals of different sub-regional flavours on fairly organised dinning platforms. Shop structures near the terminal improve trust of young entrepreneurs on the permanence of the market. Sellers in these shops forward major customer demands to stalls in the Soma Market. The Soma market has additional popularity thanks to the main car garage which serves as transit for travellers between northern and southern Senegal, and those of Basse to Banjul via the national bus depot. Observably, few youth but men and women are key players in the chain of buying and selling of commodities. Other nationalities including Senegalese and Guineans contribute to the area council’s income of rates and duties.
The villages of Misera and Senoba are good example of the phenomenon of artificial border system. In such village of same people in every aspect, individual nationalities are decided base on the location of one’s house on the land. Those who are found within the Gambia as per the 1889 French and British boundary agreement of Senegal and The Gambia are said to be in Misera, while the others are in Senoba. Interestingly, it is arguable that certain residents deserve automatic dual nationalities since one part of their homes may be found in Senoba and the other in Misera. Business on this border post is both booming and complicated. Individuals buy and sell goods on the areas they prefer at a time and deal with the currency, either the Dalasi or CFA base on their need of it. Government income from the mobile businesses is dependent on the loyalty of the sellers and collectors capacity in market monitoring.
The Towns And Villages
In the political aspect, the Lower River Region is divided into the core and the periphery. The core being the Mansakonko and its surroundings and the periphery being the kiangs and may be the far east of the Jarra. The appointment of governor who is otherwise the regional president is a political assignment and automatic from the ruling party. The APRC legacy in handpicking leaders had affected the title of chairman of the area council. The occupant of the seat in the council is chosen exactly the same way a majority leader of the house of parliament is offered the title. An elected ward counsellor mainly from the governing party is automatically task to lead the council. With that offer, the leader is expected to express total loyalty to his party and serve as campaign agent for the president and his party candidates. This trend went past district chiefs who are historically identified according to clans and traditions down to village heads especially in the second decade of the twenty-two year rule under Yahya AJJ Jammeh.
Was it because the Kiang was adamant to show up in new political identity? When the era of the first republic was inverted, the people felt their closer affinity was the then leading opposition United Democratic Party, UDP. This was a taboo under the APRC regime as the philosophy was, ‘development was base on party loyalty’. In either way, the Jarra earned better recognition of the government than their kiang opposition stronghold counterparts. This sycophant political behaviour set the two parts of the region and sometimes among districts far apart. In other to change this trend, individual villages in kiang began to surrender to the tunes of the APRC but their efforts were somewhat insufficient to earn the trust of the leader. So there was to be no major infrastructural development such as roads and hospitals in Kiang. Although, the outgoing chairman is of kiang central ward, the mentality was not over from the fact that leadership in the region is connected to the core rather than the periphery.
Test Of Local Laws
With the introduction of mayoral and chairmanship election, the Gambia is in the process of putting the law to test this month for the first time. Initial preparations have shown that party interest has an age over the rule of proximity. With the rule of proximity, people vote for candidates who are closer to them. This is also considered a legacy of the APRC government in the case of the Kiang versus Jarra. Had it been the same song today, the outgone regional governor, council chairman, and current chiefs of districts would have dominated decisions in the maiden nominations of candidates for the post of the chairman.
From many indications, the preliminary elections by the United Democratic Party, UDP ahead of the election for chairmanship in LRR has signalled stronger unity among the people of the region. It was said at the UDP bureau in Soma that the candidate, Landing B Sanneh was not presented as a man from Jattaba in Kiang West, but as a native of the region. He secured an outright victory over eight other challengers among who are highly experienced men in the political field and from both districts.
The nomination resulted to the endorsement of Phoday Lang Sarr under the GDC ticket and Landing B Sanneh for the UDP by the Regional Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in Mansakonko. From the recent elections of ward councillors, only 24 percent (that is 18, 627 of 49, 198) of the voter turned up with GDC securing four seats and eight seats to the UDP. For some political analysts, voter turnout in the country is according to the importance of the position being contested. This means that presidential election is expected to register higher voter turnout than parliamentary election. With this popular analogy, the participation of the people in the chairmanship election is expected to exceed that of the recent election of ward councillors.
What About The Silent Majority
The portrayal of giant GDC flag above the Soma market may mean that the party is shocked with the distribution of councillors in the region. Having a half of what the major party in the region, UDP secured, the GDC seems to have more work in putting choice into the silent voters. How much will that cost? It is significant to note that the former APRC Member of Parliament who is currently GDC candidate for the chairmanship has a popular endorsement of the people at the regional capital towns. As a native of Jappineh in Jarra Central, his candidature will give people in the Jarra serious assignment as to the basis which they will vote. The next aspect regards to the state of relationship between the candidate and his former party supporters. In the absence of APRC candidate, to who will the party supporters substitute their votes, if they still exist?
Politically, any way that brings votes is considered the best. One does not need to remind the president that rural areas need a taste of the existence of electricity supply and portable drinkable water before power system is stable in the Greater Banjul Areas. The respond as in typical cases will be, the over flow of urban water tanks and the excess of power from the urban generators is catered for rural development. This is what let the top senior civil servant continue to appear on the television as boss of bosses.
As far as the sitting government has influence in the introduction of divide and rule system on the people, the minority and opposition groups are capable of causing some shocks as well. On the same token, the UDP has a though time to avoid upset in the fragile scramble for power between the two parts of the region. Unless, the faith of the silent majority is established, two options in the political game are most likely. The commonest is as traditional leaders would put it, ‘follow the party of the sitting president’ rather than the opposition parties. The new dispensation being a coalition system, it is predictable that the majority consider UDP as choice because the current president hailed from the party. Campaigners in this line will face counter campaign of activists who advocate for equal representation to avoid any chance of one party system in the country. This group is of the view that leaders work harder with respect for collective interest by knowing that the margin of victory is narrow and temporal.
Political maturity in the lower river is not to an extend where one can rule out the play of proximity rule, that is, people voting base on their close relationship with the candidate. Campaign is like investment for supporters, they expect compensation for their loyalty as soon as their candidate is victorious. Judging by the majority status of the UDP as exhibited in the April Councillors elections, the campaign team of the party is been reinforced by new forces. The candidature of Mr Sanneh is backed by some former strong APRC holds led by youth leaders and council of elders across the region. These new supporters of the UDP candidate do not however admit that they have switched party allegiance, they instead lay trust on the candidate rather than on the party. To them, it is a consensus that Mr Sanneh is a right choice irrespective of his party ticket. “He is development practitioner and a unifier who has done a lot for the region”, they would say, hoping for the best from him.
As to who will attract the remaining 76 percent of voters and what impact can they do on ‘the choice of the people’, only May 12 polls can tell.
Author: Ebrima Bah, Former Rural Correspondent