Opinion Politics

Why Banjul Mayor Needs a Distance from Barrow

The author, Hatab Fadera

Reeling from a bruishing electoral defeat in the April National Assembly (NA) Polls, President Barrow and his National People’s Party (NPP) are looking forward to making up their loss in the 2023 Local Government Elections by all means necessary. In Barrow’s mind, there could not have been any justification why his party could only boast of one legislative seat from Banjul to Jarra given that only four months ago he won the presidential elections with 53 percent. The NA loss made his NPP one of the only two ruling parties to lose absolute parliamentary majority, the first being PS Njie’s UP loss to DK Jawara’s PPP in the 1962 general elections.

For next year’s election, the most important seats that the NPP will be hoping to fiercely contest and win are the two mayoral posts for KM and Banjul and the six regional chairmanships, all but one currently being held by the main opposition party, the UDP. Of these seats, Barrow will attempt to do everything possible to unseat Mayors Talib Ahmed Bensouda and Rohey Malick Lowe for two fundamental reasons. The first reason is the fact that these are the only mayoral seats managing the most important region of the country – Greater Banjul Area – the country’s economic lifeline. Politically, Mayors Bensouda and Lowe have widely appraised scorecards largely due to their achievements. Additionally, the two have shown great potentials of contesting in future presidential elections.

Taking these reasons into account and given the fact that the NPP failed to grab a single seat in the GBA during the NA polls, Rohey and Talib face a fierce all-out-battle.

While Talib is seemingly playing his cards well, Rohey seems to be taking things for granted. Let’s look at recent developments in Banjul concerning Rohey-Barrow relations. It is true that Rohey’s recent continental elevation as REFELA boss wouldn’t have been successful without the government massive support. While Rohey might have felt indebted, and rightly so, that should have a limit as to not undermine her re-election bid. After all this is politics. Rohey is an opposition mayor, who, by all indications, is expected to vie re-elections under the UDP ticket. That means Rohey must strike a fine balance in not overcompensating the government for her REFELA bid. Overcompensating the govt will only undermine her re-election. Losing the next election means a short-lived REFELA presidency for Rohey since one can only be president as an elected female official. During presentations of the REFELA presidency to Barrow in a courtesy call, Rohey showered the head of state with praises and declared she “dedicated” the honor to Barrow. At this ceremony, both sides of the political divide talked about working together for national development.

The irony, howerver, was that, while partnership for national development was being sang at that ceremony, a plan was being marshalled by the NPP to embark on a cleansing exercise in Banjul. As far as my recollections are concerned, this initiative was an all-out NPP exercise and didn’t fully involve the Banjul City Council. One begs the question why a political party would go on such a solo exercise when it could have allowed the council to lead an inclusive cleanup. My take on that is simple: Barrow was telling Rohey that, “while you are busy chasing international accolades, I am here cleaning after your dirth in Banjul.” For all intent and purposes, that clean up was politically charged, one conducted with a bad faith and an effort to ridicule an opposition mayor.

The most recent plot for Rohey was the so-called “reconciliation” between her and the infamous Banjul Project contractor, Hadim Gai. A widely circulated photo on social media showed Rohey, Barrow, Works Minister Ebrima Sillah, and Haddim Gai joint hands, demonstrating unity. While that photo was a good PR for the government, it was a bad PR for Rohey. That photo indicated a validation of the controversial $35M Banjul Project. What surprised many was that Rohey is a known critic of that project because of how the gov’t excluded her council in its design and implementation. Who wouldn’t remember how the mayor went ballistic on former Works Minister Jobe. It was perplexing to now see the mayor in a reconciliation bid even as thousands of her city dwellers soaked in an unprecedented inundation. The mayor should have distanced herself from a project that so far has failed to address the city’s drainage and sewage challenges. Consistency is a critical lifeblood for any political career. Rohey must be consistent at all times so that her followers are not confused regarding her allegiance and positions on critical national issues. There is no doubt that reconciliation photo will resurface in next year’s election and the NPP will attempt to spin it

With former key Jammeh aide, Action Man Bala Garba Jahumpa throwing his hat into the ring, the race couldn’t have been challenging. APRC and NPP are currently in an alliance given the appointment of former ruling party aides in senior government positions. With Bala’s bid, this means NPP/APRC alliance will likely have two candidates for the seat. This could both be an advantage and disadvantage for Rohey. On one side, the NPP/APRC votes could split in Rohey’s favor. But on the other side, the alliance’s candidates could encroach Rohey’s base and divide her votes among them.

To wrap up, the challenges before Rohey are daring but not insurmountable. If she remains consistent, keep her complete distance from the NPP and Barrow, harnest the potential of her growing popularity, and maintain her action-oriented leadership style, she could maintain both her mayoral seat and REFELA presidency. Anything sort of that is likely to doom her re-election bid.

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