#Opinion

United Democratic Party. What’s going on?

May 7, 2020, 12:31 PM | Article By: Alhassan Darboe

With the latest U-turn and public relations disaster concerning the sacking of BAC chairman Sheriffo Sonko, two other councilors for their alleged disloyalty to party and the bastardization of the same sacking by the same party that fired them weeks ago; I am forced to ask what’s going on with UDP?

I wonder, how a party with so many learned lawyers, intellectuals and even with a lawyer spokesperson like Almamy Taal make such constitutional and public relations blunder. Believe it or not, this U-turn by UDP and the badly written letter that followed it, is causing credibility and communication crisis for UDP. Communication and public relations crisis is any event that has the potential to be injurious to the reputation of an organization. According to Coombs and Holladay, (2002), the overall reputation of an organization is very important and maintaining or remedying it in a moment of crisis is very important.Coombs and Holladay argued that  coming up with an organizational response strategy in a moment of crisis is imperative as it is strategic. (p.165).

For a party that is as big and enduring as UDP, for a party that is touted as the government in waiting, for a party that boasts of educated personalities like Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, Lawyer Lamin J. Darboe, Amadou Scattered Janneh, Talib Ahmed Bensouda and Momodou Sabally,how can it make such an unforgivable political, public relations and strategic mistake? Was the party executive and decision-making body consulted when the decision was made to fire Chairman sheriff Sonko and two other councilors? Who did they get their legal advice from? Did they foresee the obstacles ahead that may hinder their well-planned coup?

Tactical but Not So Strategic Militants

If the hotheaded and tactical militants that fired Sheriffo Sonko and two other councilors were avid readers, they would have learnt from Robert Green’s 48 laws of power about the importance of strategic planning. In his seminal book 48 laws of power he said “the ending is everything. Plan all the way to it, considering all the possible consequences, obstacles, and twists of fortune that might reverse your hard work. By planning to the end, you will not be overwhelmed by circumstances”. One thing was clear here for sure, the Western region UDP stalwarts who orchestrated the sacking of Sheriffo, and two other councilors were seething with so much anger about their alleged betrayal of the party they failed to plan strategically. They failed to understand that tactics take you only so far and only strategies can help you navigate around the obstacles that may pop out of nowhere in the course of a political coup d’état.

UDP’s Response to Sheriffo Sonko Debacle

According to Veil, Sellnow and Petrun, (2011), Organizations when faced with crisis can be torn between proactive and paradoxical communication styles. In majority of instances, organizations are forced to communicate paradoxically in a rather seemingly “self-contradictory manner” (p.9). Lamin Dibba in a bid to handle the crisis issued a letter to the dismissed councilors and BAC chairman rescinding their expulsion until a determination before a UDP central committee. This letter from Mr. Dibba raises more questions than answers. How can a peripheral branch of a party as big as UDP flout party processes and rules to successfully sack elected members without any intervention from the center? What does the party leader Lawyer Ousainou had to say about what was going on before and what is going on now?

Where is Almamy Taal, UDP spokesperson?

Proactive management is a risk management theory that strives to limit the incidence of liability by proactively working hard and smart to reduce the risks and liabilities an organization may face in a moment of crisis. The proponents of this theory believe that this risk management style can cushion an organization against any negative backlash in the event of a crisis.( Coombs and Holladay,2006,p.125).UDP is at the very early stages of a communication crisis but alas the lawyer spokesperson of UDP has gone into hibernation. The desire for the sun to rise they say, does not cause it to rise. Duty calls him to action, but he misses the deeper significance of the crisis UDP has at hand. When he speaks, he misspeaks. Boyd, 2000 (as cited in veil et al,2011), argued that organizations must as a matter of urgency and proactivity show efficient “corporate responsiveness” that will enable it to rebuild and maintain its legitimacy (p.6).So far, so badly, the spokesperson has failed to live up to the occasion and even expectations.

UDP Needs a New Spokesperson or It Risks Giving Barrow an Easy Second Term

Almamy’s incompetence as a spokesperson is a symbolism of his life. Of power, of freedom and duty, of instinct and reason. He failed as a judge, lawyer and now as a spokesperson. The man has gone through a lot under both Jammeh and Barrow. Under Barrow, he lost his well-paid job at OIC. I feel terribly sorry for him. When Jammeh was ousted he reached for the heights by aligning himself with UDP. At the top as a UDP spokesperson, he falls into a mere. He cannot quite shake off the old incompetence as both a judge and a lawyer. Power and influence does not bring peace. Does it? The gentle giant’s old limitations are worse than ever before. He was a bad judge and a lawyer, now he is the worst spokesperson of the biggest party in The Gambia. The task is impossible for him to accomplish. The human and other forces that are stacked against him are too great for him to succeed. He is strong but not strong enough, called but not chosen. He is not a natural communicator and a spokesperson. UDP needs a new, respectable and seasoned communicator for a spokesperson, the gentle giant is too distracted to do what is required of him.

Robust Communication, Coalitions and Strategies Will Win 2021, Not Just Party Base

If anyone tells you that UDP will win the 2021elections and it’s the government in waiting, believe them.Conversely,if anyone tells you, Barrow despite his gross incompetence will win a second term in office, believe them and this is why you should my dear friend.UDP’s position as the biggest party in The Gambia is not in doubt but this is isn’t just enough for it to pull an easy victory in 2021.

With the proliferation of so many parties now a days, only two other opposition parties APRC and GDC have the base and  a collaboration with them will deliver the presidency to any party.Barrow,liberal as he is in hiring former Jammeh goons, is not beyond going into a coalition with GDC and APRC in his desperation to stay in power. With these coalitions Barrow is guaranteed victory in 2021.

UDP on the other hand believes it is the biggest political party in The Gambia and without any coalitions, it can easily make it to the state house. I think this thinking and optimism is fundamentally flawed. Facing the power of Barrow’s incumbency UDP should understand better that most Gambians don’t vote based on policies but based on tribal, regional, family and religious lines. UDP as a matter of urgency should shun solo politics as usual and commence strategic coalition talks with APRC, GDC and even the newly registered Citizens Alliance. Even though it may be a young party, citizens Alliance brings to the table well connected, strategic, young and educated urbane elite that has the backing of most university students and young people thanks to its affiliation with Dr. Ismaila Ceesay of The Gambia University.

References

Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. J. (2002). Helping crisis managers protect reputational assets.      Management Communication Quarterly, 16(2), 165-186. doi:10.1177/089331802237233

Veil, S. R., Sellnow, T. L., & Petrun, E. L. (2011). Hoaxes and the paradoxical challenges of   restoring legitimacy. Management Communication Quarterly, 26(2), 322-345.           https://doi.org/10.1177/0893318911426685

Alhassan Darboe is a Gambian Communication scholar, consultant, and Real Estate businessman. He writes in from his base in U.S.A. He is currently a graduate student at Arizona State University’s Hugh Down School of Human Communication.