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The Gambia is a Democracy. Let the Majority Govern and the Opposition Oppose: Why A National Dialogue and What Makes or Breaks National Dialogues?

Fatoumatta: Ross Perot once said, “If you see a snake, just kill it. Do not appoint a committee on snakes”. Gambians are either setting up a committee or organizing a conference for everything. This is why we will be stuck in one spot for a long time and left behind by the world. The Gambia does not need these meaningless summits anymore. Our problem has always been a supply of ideas. It has consistently been implemented. Instead of mobilizing for these never-ending empty and yawn-inducing speeches, let us start pushing those in charge to deliver and stop making excuses on their behalf. Our “fresh” ideas should not be just wasting taxpayers’ money to host our friends for some glorified reunion party advertised as an economic or national conference. You do not need a committee to explain why you need stable electricity for industrial growth. The political environment for sustainable peace and stability, religious tolerance for social cohesion, ethnic diversity for national unity, securing sovereignty, safeguarding stability and well-being, media safeguarding the democratic space, and irregular migration and empowerment. And to catch up with even the countries that once admired you.

We all have ideas about the country we want ours to be. However, we have yet to gather to talk about our willed future. The link to the vision paper alluded to in a recent Twitter post is meant to spark a debate on that future.

Despite the quality of the people chosen to lead, the National Dialogue needs more time. It is a real weapon of mass distraction. Organizers are being asked to find solutions where there is no problem, namely the political situation. The Gambia has a political problem if political normalcy is a problem in Africa. We had a presidential election, Legislative and Local Government elections without any contests except the United Democratic Party’s election petition being thrown out of court; the National Assembly has been completing the budget marathon, judges are settling disputes, the majority governs, the opposition opposes, activists are on a crusade against the rise in the price of essential commodities and rising insecurity challenges. Democratically, the Gambia is too ordinary. It should be remembered that in a democracy, a political dialogue is permanent thanks to the National Assembly and the media. Unfortunately, the actors of the national dialogue will concentrate all their energies on the only sector where we are fine: politics. The wine is drawn; it must be drunk. We must ask the actors to focus on genuine issues to have a dialogue.

In the absence of a national consensus on the fight against insecurity and public sector corruption, let us demand answers from both the majority and the opposition on the following questions: how to save public schools from lack of quality education, how to win the war on public sector corruption, reform and restructuring of independent institutions and implementation of the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Commission(TRRC) recommendations and the execution and implementation of Government White Paper on the recommendations of Janneh Commission and execute the Audit reports of the Auditor General. In 2024, the Local Government Commission of Inquiry will have gone halfway there. Should it be continued, and the government accepts its recommendations? Otherwise, what will it be replaced by? These issues deserve to be debated. The Gambian people have the right to know the opinions and ideas of those who govern us and those who aspire to replace them. Our political elite must focus their energy on these essential issues. Still, as in the past, we will be locked into false political debates, such as producing a new homegrown draft constitution.

Suppose we manage to reverse the curve of the debate in the Gambia by demanding that the political elite put the weapon of mass distraction back in the sheath to focus on genuine issues. In that case, we will soon be like Malaysia or South Korea. Intellectually, we have a very high-quality political elite, but fake debates hack 99% of their brains. We like to be fascinated by fake debates, such as the podiums at the National Dialogue. Frankly, when you need podiums, you do not belong in the National Dialogue: if you cannot give your time for free for your country, you do not belong there. If you need the money, you must get a real job. Our country’s tragedy is that politics has become a profession, an income, whereas it is a commitment. The National Dialogue of the 1990s was necessary because it allowed the Gambia to find a political compromise by unblocking the situation of a country paralyzed by a political crisis. But today, when our democratic system is working so well that the system has become more vital than men, let us concentrate our energy on the real problems and economic and political compromises to get out of the crisis. Now that there is no crisis, no one can understand how a political party can invoke dialogue to go to government. A democracy also needs opposition.

It’s a good idea to ask why ordinary Gambians should concern themselves with a vision for the Gambia. What are our leaders for if not to produce a vision of a better, more humane, and more citizen-caring nation than we are ever used to? This is a pertinent question for me. But we should discuss a roadmap to a just, inclusive, and functioning Gambia.

The vision paper or Blueprint of the National Development Plan is no doubt lengthy. It is decidedly so. No complex challenge can be managed offhand. The Gambia’s challenge is complicated, in fact, seemingly intractable. The challenge can only be fully understood if explained in an extended essay. I’d like to ask each of us to find time to read and reflect on the paper. If we cannot read and digest the contents, we should at least browse through them, paying particular attention to the pull-out quotes.

The National Dialogue, to which the Head of State invites political and social actors to exchange and build “lasting consensus on major issues relating to national life,” will be launched on February 12. Subject to disapproval, divisions, fantasies, and various forms of blackmail, but a date nevertheless desired by a large part of the body politic and civil society, the dialogue will unite organizations relentlessly fighting for years around political issues.

There is no speculation about the outcome of this series of meetings, which will see frontal oppositions, proposals and counterproposals, unrealistic demands, and offers on the altar of the interests of one or the other. But what has remained constant from the beginning, and which is essential from my point of view, is that the dialogue, if it succeeds in reconciling the currently opposing positions of the political parties concerned, will bring about a turning point after seven years of President Adama Barrow’s exercise of power to have strained the political climate and made any legal action against a member of the opposition or a particular civil society, in reality, a bunch of opportunistic politicians, suspect.

Also, the execrable relations between President Adama Barrow, civil society, and the opposition have been a thorn in the side of leading actors of Gambian democracy. Fortunately, the presidential election of candidates within the opposition, social democracy, and liberalism was not conducive to a serene and peaceful debate, nor was there a plurality of alternative severe offers. This situation and subsequent developments, notably with the entryism of defective opposition members and former critics of Adama Barrow’s government and party, have allowed the emergence of a far-right force as the opposition’s focal point, with a character as burlesque as it is dangerous as the leader of the government’s opponents.

Fatoumatta: I have always been opposed to political dialogue in principle, considering that in a democracy, the majority governs by the trust conferred on it by the vote, and the opposition opposes by proposing an alternative project in the hope of coming to power. Democratic vitality is thus a debate between divergent projects in peace. But given the context, the severe threats to our country, the threats of populism politics and cultural and ethnic chauvinism attempts that emerge from certain political parties and their affiliates, and the cracks in our social body, it would be appropriate to allow exchanges between political currents. In any case, if nothing is done in the long term, the country is heading towards a significant risk of action based on socio-cultural factors.

However, it is undeniable that the Gambia is no longer a normal country because of the collapse of public debate, the tyranny that barbaric hordes want to impose on citizens, the attempts to destabilize institutions, and the end of moderation, nuance, and restraint. From now on, political discourse is wrapped in insults and insanity in the hope of gaining an aura and listening. The republican homeland no longer makes sense to many, who should make it their breviary. Thought has left politicians, and we are moving towards a devitalization of the very nature of politics.

Fatoumatta: How can we recover the meaning of a nation? How can we rebuild a common purpose? How can we repair what we have collectively damaged? How can a new viscerally republican project emerge? These are issues that should be raised in a political dialogue beyond simple electoral concerns or the aftermath of one or the other’s legal vicissitudes.

My conviction is that we only dialogue with democrats and those who believe in republican ideals; the others are to be excluded from any discussion on the present and future of our country, which they only seek to disintegrate. Because of my stubbornness on the Republic, I am opposed to any form of compromise with populism politics and religious zealotry given its anti-republican nature and its fetid values, oriented towards exaggeration and violence, in the hope of carrying civil war. The Republic has been built in history on the hatred of tyrants. Moreover, the maxim is old on the left: you do not argue with the far right; you fight it.

Political leaders in a great country like ours must cherish the temptation of history. This temptation transcends and surpasses egos and calculations to sanctify what is sacred, which remains when all is lost.

Fatoumatta: I pray that the foundations of a new republican narrative will be laid during this dialogue to think about a future of the Gambia in civil peace, social progress, and justice to rebuild a reconciled country concerned with a desirable future.

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