What happened to Coalition 2016 and when is the much-talked about wrestling match?

Monday, December 31, 2018

After democratically unseating one of Africa’s most brutal tyrants, Yahya Jammeh; a sick man who consolidated power, ruled the poor, peanut-dependent West African state of The Gambia for two decades and still vowed to rule it for ‘a billion years’, the 2016 grand coalition that unfurled its political miracle, is in tatters. Or so it seems!

If the political posturing and unceasing partisan bickering being bandied by the major political actors is anything to go by, then the 2016 grand coalition that brought Adama Barrow to power, is in a critical turning point and probably, faces its most toxic existential challenge ever.

Like all coalition governments, the 2016 coalition was riddled with so many problems from the onset but a combination of positive factors more so, the unrelenting support and encouragement of the Gambian diaspora community, the charisma and discipline of candidate Adama Barrow and the often-unrecognised courageousness of our voters, helped synthesize the chords of a formidable yet, noisy group of strange political bedfellows.

Thus under very grim circumstances that saw major opposition elements tortured, some murdered, some maimed and party leaders and their lieutenants incarcerated in a climate of fear, inducement and intimidation that most jurists call ‘a travesty of justice’, the grand coalition tenaciously toured the entire country in a politically choreographed campaign that remains an envy of the international community most of whose experts, had hitherto predicted another landslide victory for Yahya Jammeh. Little wonder, when the verdict of history was declared -  “President-elect Adama Barrow”! Immediately followed by the eye-catching slogan: “The Gambia Has Decided”, most political pundits, Western diplomats and the doomed tyrant and his followers were all hit by a lesson in African politics whose power is comparable to the Asian tsunami of recent memory. In sum, the Gambian people have democratically removed Yahya Jammeh from power without a single drop of blood contrary to the predictions of many pundits. And so, people who were exiled for the two decades of Jammeh’s rule went into an emotional frenzy, with joys of emotional tears welling their once traumatized faces. Back home and elsewhere, the victorious coalition stole the limelight, amid drumming and dancing.The combined euphoria and political razzmatazz hit fever pitch as Gambians declared a democratic polity with unfettered freedoms and rights forever and forever.

Even before the drums went silent and the dust settled, the tyrant was exiled to obscurity, his empire obliterated, his perceived supernatural prowess shattered and his disillusioned followers were quickly seen fighting for recognition by a master whose power has since eluded him leaving behind a misty landscape of political uncertainty and a commission of enquiry that has since,unmasked all his ill-gotten wealth once attributed to an imaginary bank that lo and behold, was our own Central Bank that he and his much-feared General, had shamelessly pillaged.

Wasting no time, the grand coalition, led by a political novice yet one who exudes greater discipline and a temperament to accommodate diversity, Adama Barrow, one who because of the looming political uncertainty had the distinction of a dual swearing-in ceremony, first in Dakar and later in Banjul, announced a cabinet whose membership excluded PDOIS, a party whose senior official, Halifa Sallah is credited for the coalition’s success story.

Two years later, there exists a troubling schism among the protagonists who designed that miraculous coalition and it widens daily. Some prominent members of the coalition government’s first batch of cabinet ministers have since been sacked and from the unrelenting exchanges among those who remain in office, one can predict that the probability of another reshuffle is more probable than otherwise.

In the run up to the much-talked about constitutionally-sanctioned UDP - United Democratic Party biennial Congress that saw the re-election of veteran Gambian barrister, Ousainou Darboe as party leader, social media was blustering with toxic messages that more than anything else, poisoned an already toxic political environment. Curiously, the UDP Congress added both colour and confusion to the toxicity with various speakers talking in parables. Some stopped short of predicting an impending political apocalypse. If anybody was still in doubt about the squabbles, the election of party executives and their subordinates clarified everything beyond a shadow of doubt. The anger, resentment and frustration expressed by all and sundry were palpable and when the Congress ended, the punditry of a shattered UDP and eternally fractured coalition government dominated Gambian social media as self-ordained cyber warriors vociferously pressed on with their antics. “Is there a 2016 UDP or a 1996 UDP?” became the central argument of Congress-goers. UDP chief Darboe, wasted no time in debunking the UDP 2016 platform as mere myth? Speaking in Mandinka and English, the UDP leader expressed in very strong and unpretentious language, his determination to wrestle with any contestant who wanted to unseat him as party leader all this while the 2016 coalition leader, now President Adama Barrow was in Cairo, Egypt.

Crucially, when President Barrow returned home only a few days later, he was more precise than ever. When a journalist at the Banjul Airport asked if relations with his VP were cordial? He said their “relationship was very, very normal” and that he was a coalition candidate, elected to work for the Gambian people; that his reelection or otherwise, was contingent on his development programme and achievements while in office. Mr. Barrow also unveiled his agenda for the coming weeks and within days, he was upcountry laying the foundation stones of major infrastructural projects - bridges, roads, and a college campus among others. He also announced the opening of the Farafenni Bridge in January; a major artery that connects the North and South Banks of The River Gambia and an important commercial route with neighbouring Senegal that has the potential to improve so many things.

Instructively, while in The Upper River Region unveiling his development programmes much to the appreciations of residents, Mr. Barrow also alluded to instances where parables were bandied around while he was away. A visibly charged President Barrow, invoked several wrestling metaphors and vowed to wrestle down any potential political contestant in a spell that even the biggest cynics cannot successfully deny. Referencing a Mandinka joke, he promised to drop his potential contestants in a field of hot ashes that will clearly paint them as losers. The President also cautioned his ministers, mostly elements from the grand coalition, that if sabotaging his government were their agenda, they better resign before he sacks them.

Since President Barrow’s airport interview laced in semantic precision and his provincial tour speeches, Gambian social media is yet again, flooded with a barrage of politically vitriolic exchanges that have certainly exacerbated a very suspicious situation.

Curiously, UDP’s own party leader, Ousainou Darboe has recently upped the ante by invoking more and more caustic parables and metaphors about a potential wrestling match leaving Gambians to speculate who is going to wrestle with whom and when is the contest, real or imagined? For now, though, Gambians anxiously await where exactly we are headed as the giants brace for their country’s wrestling match, real or imagined.  

Author: Wandifa Kamala Conateh, Fairfax, Virginia, USA