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The Enigma Surrounding the National People’s Party

Fatoumatta: President Adama Barrow’s National People’s Party (NPP) can seem enigmatic. This party, whose candidate has triumphed in every general election since the 2021 presidential election, rose to power following a grand coalition that ended the 22-year reign of a dictator perceived as both benign and malevolent. The journey to power was a culmination of over two decades of arduous struggle by parties such as PDOIS, PPP, UDP, NCP, APRC and other legal entities like GMC, NRP, and Citizen Alliance.

Adama Barrow and his political party adopt a targeted approach that effectively concentrates on specific issues or caters to particular interest groups. Their strategy appeals to a segment of voters who feel neglected by larger parties. The NPP’s method of addressing specialized concerns draws in committed supporters who can make headway in local or regional elections by focusing their efforts in certain areas. They establish robust grassroots networks, engage with local communities, and become recognized figures. Such localized influence can lead to wins in smaller constituencies, particularly in rural and suburban regions. The NPP presents itself as a formidable alternative, offering change and challenging the status quo. They often rise in reaction to dissatisfaction with inefficiency or unfulfilled promises. A sentiment against the establishment can drive them to success. NPPs create alliances or coalitions with other parties that share their views, combining resources and votes to bolster their joint influence. These partnerships can result in collective victories and participation in government formation. Adama Barrow’s charm, articulateness, and approachability render him an attractive choice for voters. Figures like him can enhance a party’s profile and trustworthiness. Some voters deliberately select populist leaders to voice their opposition to conventional politics. By backing non-traditional candidates, voters articulate their discontent. Although protest votes might not always secure wins, they do communicate a message of dissatisfaction. The significance of strong local candidates is undeniable. Adama Barrow, with his community connections, integrity, and record of service, can capture hearts. Voters often value the individual above the party. Importantly, Adama Barrow’s influence goes beyond electoral success. He promotes diverse representation, invigorates discussions, and keeps major parties in check. His role in politics underscores the variety of political opinions and the possibility for transformation.

Regardless of their popularity, politicians’ success or failure hinges on the support of a well-structured political party. For example, in The Gambia, few politicians have garnered the level of following that President Adama Barrow has. Yet, his previous achievements were largely due to the backing of a political party with a national reach. Supporting local favorites for national positions on lesser-known political platforms may seem appealing, as their personal popularity is perceived to surpass the need for an extensive party network. However, this belief often results in their downfall at the polls. It’s a tactic some politicians employ to capitalize on voter trust and sway the political landscape to their advantage.

If the extent of these overt dealings among political hopefuls, party activists, and members is an indication of future events, then it is reasonable to warn Gambians to brace for grand-scale thefts post-inauguration. The indulged members, much like the voters anticipating their dividends during elections, fail to recognize that what they receive from politicians is not generosity but a forfeiture of their moral fortitude to hold elected officials accountable and, crucially, a profound disservice to the impartial voters they are supposed to represent. Any dalasi distributed for party member support or votes will inevitably be reclaimed from the public coffers once the candidates attain their political goals. Voters may think they are savvy, outsmarting the condescending politicians, yet they will be the ones at a loss when the inevitable costs are tallied.

The ascent of the NPP to power has created a significant gap in intellectual growth among its members. In a democracy, the governing party, particularly one with influence over all institutions, ought to be an active intellectual entity, molding the political scene with its ideologies. Yet, the NPP has not achieved intellectual supremacy or triumphed in the cultural struggle as per Gramsci’s theory. Its preoccupation with winning elections has overshadowed the need for innovation and ideation for democratic advancement. Consequently, the absence of a guiding principle from the NPP in our national politico-intellectual discourse is a worrying sign for the state of our democracy.

Conversely, the PDOIS political party has established a notable precedent with its proactive stance on intellectual advancement. Through a dedicated party school, it has enlightened its members and fostered organic intellectuals who have conceptualized the ‘historical compromise.’ This avant-garde approach has endowed the PDOIS with dual legitimacy. Faced with an electoral challenge in 1987, the party initiated an intellectual endeavor by creating a think tank that included academics, scholars, and public policy experts. The purpose of this think tank was to endow the party with a novel philosophical framework to steer its policy-making processes.

An ideological orientation in a political party serves as an intellectual foundation for its political actions. Following the 1981 coup attempt by Marxist-leaning Kukoi Samba Sagnia, some political parties engaged in introspection to determine the roots of the social and political crisis that had destabilized the government and the country, seeking to devise solutions. Joseph Mathias, in the preface to the Nation and Development Club’s manifesto, states: “The value of a crisis lies in stimulating intelligence and imagination to find solutions.” Times change, as do customs. Following the 2021 presidential elections—a time of considerable political and social change—the NPP held rallies, gathering thousands to praise the virtues of its leader, who, it is assumed, valued ideas over the sycophantic praise of courtiers known for their disdain for thought.

The NPP’s stance on the crisis of democracy involves addressing the mistrust of institutions, sovereignist discourse, and other challenges such as Senegalese fascism, the technological revolution, migration, youth employment, climate change, and terrorism in the Sahel. The party’s vision for Gambia in the next fifty to a hundred years includes continued prosperity and leadership transition within the party. However, there are concerns about the party’s ability to address the complex crises of our time and contribute to the political and social mores, as well as democratic innovations and intellectual discourse necessary for long-term political strategy and national development.

It belongs to its intellectual body. De Gaulle stated, “The true school of command is broad culture.” Ideas establish markers that form political identities, opposing one another, giving substance to democracy, and raising the national political awareness.

The overlooked and seldom-highlighted work of a few individuals elevates certain party members to the status of de facto organic intellectuals. Conversely, only a handful consider the impact of a party that has been at the forefront of political life for ten years.

The trivialization of ideas, indicative of anti-politics, entangles a political party in the minutiae of daily management, blending electoral activism, propaganda, and political strategizing. Forsaking intellectual engagement leads to the depoliticization of politics, transforming it from a realm of ideological debate to a shallow spectacle. In such a scenario, political decisions prioritize short-term popularity over a far-sighted approach and societal well-being. An electoral win holds little value if it fails to establish a cultural dominance that endures beyond terms of office and permeates the social fabric, reshaping collective imaginations and fostering a heightened sense of humanity among the populace.

Fatoumatta: The NPP has consistently won every election since 2021. However, there is a concern that the party’s complete electoral dominance, coupled with a deficiency in intellectual growth, could result in its disappearance from our national political consciousness, which may impede the advancement of our democracy.

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