Gambians, oppressed, hungry, witch-hunted, and persecuted, are going to the polls tomorrow to elect a president. Yet, the man at the centre of all these human-made miseries is touted the favorite over two so-called united opposition fronts. But politics can make strange bed-fellows. This race for State House, therefore, is not over until the last vote count. And even then, it is not all over, KISSYKISSYMANSA writes
Hamat ‘Tamit Magana’
The three presidential aspirants in the Nov.24 polls have since the endorsement of their candidature on Nov.10, girded their lions, campaigning hard to grab the country’s top job.
Ruling APRC’s Yahya Jammeh, main opposition UDP’s Ousainou Darboe and independent Hamat Bah are the men in the decisive show-down for the State House.
To many, the writing on the wall is clear that victory is a forgone conclusion for president Yahya Jammeh, who, come Nov.24, will have his 17-year incumbency renewed with another five-year mandate.
However, if Senegalese Mbalax king Yousou Ndure is a Gambian, he would have done a remixed song with a verse: ‘Jammeh akh Darboe amunyu morom, whayea Hamat tamidt’ Maghena’ – Jammeh and Darboe are supreme in Gambia’s political arena, but Hamat, too, is politically matured.
He and his NRP used to be the slapstick in Gambian politics. As The Standard newspaper’s managing editor says in his Essay last Friday that except for Dullo Bah, NRP secretary general, NRP seen as a bunch of ‘clowns.’
However, Hamat’s tactfulness in addressing issues during his campaigns points to the fact that he is no longer a political underdog.
Hamat Bah, 50, is a product of Gambia College, the highest learning institution in Gambia then before the establishment of Gambia University in 1998.
He became popular at the college thanks to his incredible sense of humor. He was an entertainment manager in a hotel before owning his own hotel business.
Mr Bah, is the founding leader of National Reconciliation Party. NRP was formed following the country’s return of multiparty politics in 1996 after a two-year transition from captain Yahya Jammeh headed military junta that seized power in 1994 from Gambia’s founding president, Dawda Jawara, who ruled for over 30 years.
In spite of the rush to the polls, Hamat emerged third in the contest. In 2001, his votes increased from over 21, 000 in 1996 to over 35, 000.00 out of over 400, 000 votes cast.
Following the split of the alliance of all non-ruling party aligned parties over the selection of standard bearer, he threw weight behind opposition heavyweight UDP in the 2006 polls. But the UDP/NRP alliance lost more heavily to Jammeh though there was a massive voter apathy.
Hamat has now coalesced with the people he had abandoned in 2006 after opposing the proposal for a UDP led alliance during the latest talks for opposition unity ahead of the polls.
He convincingly triumphed over Henry Gomez and Assan Martin in a convention to emerge as presidential candidate of the four parties - NADD, GPDP, NRP and PDOIS – that supported the convention proposal.
He then accepted the condition to resign from his party to stand independent in order to have the backing of the four parties.
Aside Hamat’s charisma and outspokenness, the backing of prominent personalities like Sidia Jatta of all people, outspoken Halifa Sallah and rabble-rouser Henry Gomez with his brand new inspiring slogan “mo be ye baalu,’ (let all live), Hamat will no doubt boost his chances of doing something ‘great.’
He may also have a reasonable percentage of votes from Gambian youth for his bold and liveliness.
‘Neesee koto… hmm hmm’
If electing a president in Gambia is based on merit, it would have instead been Ousainou Darboe, who would have vowed that it is time for them to pay him back for the good he has been doing.
Darboe’s UDP’s emergence as the biggest Gambian opposition party is by no means an accident.
Bred by one of Gambia’s finest lawyers cum leader of United Party, late P.S Njie, Darboe, 62, has for the past three decades been utilising his knowledge and wisdom in law to put back smiles in the faces of tearful Gambians, especially those victimised by the powers that be. He was a household name in The Gambia prior to his involvement into politics.
Like NRP, his party UDP, was formed in the rush to 1996 elections, yet he polled over 141, 000 votes – 35 percent. In 2001, his votes increased to over 149 – 32 percent – prompting Jammeh, whose percentage declined to 53, to butcher to constitution.
UDP would have strengthened its strength had it not committed a ‘political suicide’ by boycotting the 2002 parliamentary elections, putting the party in the wilderness for a whole five years and the party is yet recover fully. This was manifested in 2006 elections when his party quit NADD to form alliance with NRP, yet its votes declined further to 29 percent.
But as the local Mankinka saying goes, “Neesi Koto Beekanyamo teenya (an old cow does not destroy grass) Darboe could still has a large following and could pull more than ever.
The campaign period is no doubt short, but if the party’s assurances are anything to go by, they may not be caught off guard. For the party is said to have done a lot of underground work or better still grassroots outreaches ahead of the polls.
In infact, the coming of GMC leader, Mai Fatty, the answer to people’s wish – a fresh face, younger, intelligent and even strong enough to take on Jammeh physically, has lend Darboe more political credit than he could alone bag. What of the independence veterans – the PPP diehards?
Jammeh, 45, had peeled off his military uniform to contest as a civilian politician in the 1996 elections in which he bagged 55 percent of votes. His support declined by 3 percent in 2001. Thanks to his rubber-stamp parliament, he succeeded in introducing simple majority system instead of the second round of voting.
With his quasi security group, Green Youth, that imbued terror and fear in Gambians, Jammeh succeeded in cowing Gambians to sympathise with him.
In this election, Jammeh is campaigning on the full view of the deliverables - the airport, roads, bridges, schools, health centres, a university etc – he achieved in 17 years.
He also has a monopoly over the public media, the support of state security apparatus and civil service.
These, combined with Jammeh’s charisma, his crown pulling power and his patronage appear to be more appealing to ordinary voters than opposition’s highlighting of his government’s high debt profile, skyrocketing of prices, low income levels, lack of transparency, health centres with no medicine, schools in abundance with declining standards, disregard for human rights and good governance, among others.
Besides, it was only a few months back when he embarked on a meet the people tour in order to have first hand information about the plight of the governed, especially the farmers, but typically transformed the whole exercise into a full blown political campaign.
The worst still was his condition any region that do no vote for him will not benefit from his government’s development projects.
Even though he has not manifested it in this election campaign, his threats are still fresh in the minds of Gambians and could influence this election and a few more in the future.
Therefore, with a fragmented opposition camp, combined with the first-past the post system, it will be an uphill climb, if not impossible, for the opposition to dislodge Jammeh come Nov.24.
However, lots of waters have passed under the bridge in the past five years. Jammeh’s biggest opposition is neither UDP’s Darboe nor United Front backed independent candidate, Hamat Bah.
It is the rising poverty and the skyrocketing of prices of basic commodities his government could not arrest. This, combined with low income levels will work against him.
Moreover, in 2009 President Jammeh authorised the infamous witch-hunting of close to thousand elderly Gambians, who were detained against their will, forced to drink concoctions, stripped naked, some women reportedly raped and about three died shortly after the saga. This is a bitter pill for Gambians to swallow and they would never forgive Jammeh for it.
Jammeh has no doubt also made many enemies in his own camp by elbowing those who have put in all they had in his party and who were almost equally powerful and deep-pocketed. The death of Baba Jobe will back fire and if the mood in Jarra is anything to go by, Jammeh should brace for their wrath for betraying Jarra Mansa. The sentencing of so-called treason convicts, including Tamba will as well backfire.
On the countdown to Nov. 24, Gambians, especially the youth and sugar daddies have every reason to make a date for APRC’s traditional victory party at the beach, but they should also anticipate something like ‘wheew’ Darboe or even ‘wheew’ Hamat.