Why /How Democracy Fails In Gambia-Commentary

By Sarjo Bayang

Africa’s dictators and military regimes are quick at inviting international observers to witness elections that are designed to call it a transformation / transition to democracy. They know what they do and how they manage clinging to power.
Those of you who believe peaceful voting is all democracy is need to rethink. While there may be several factors impeding the growth of democracy in Gambia, lack of a democratic environment can be key factor. It is not the absence of a democratic culture. Gambian people in their majority do recognise and prefer democratic values. Failure of democracy in Gambia surely has a history perhaps not very long in the past. It all started with the coup that imposed Yaya Jammeh as a type of dictator back in July 1994. Since coups are never democratic, any government coming into power by means of coup is undemocratic. The only way to restore genuine democracy in a country whose legally constituted government has been toppled by coup is to terminate a coup- made regime and everything part of it. So long as a government by coup continues there will be no genuine democracy in years to come.

Gambia is one of those countries ruled by military dictatorship that still prefers to be seen and accepted as being democratic. The only instrument of democracy coup makers subsequently play around with is the ballot box. Use of the ballot box as a child’s toy to keep dictators in power is no secret. To legitimise their grip to stolen power, military rulers and other branded dictators call on the world’s super witnesses. They call it international observers. Sadly, the Commonwealth is a ready partner in standing by dictatorial and military regimes during false transformation to democracy. In real fact, there is never going to be a transformation. No dictator likes to surrender power through legitimate due process of democracy. Yet all dictators prefer to be seen as being democratic. Dictators create an environment and establish platforms that only ensure the dictator remains in power. It requires no critical intelligence to discover how this game is played. Those who come to power by means of coups or other illegal means get their hands dirty up from start. They get soaked up so bad.

In Gambia, the military ruler Yaya Jammeh had no idea what he exactly wanted being head of state. It was clear from start that he held dreams to personally conquer poverty inherited from generations of his ancestry. Access to state coffers is one fast track. Another avenue open to massive exploitation is state contacts. Jammeh as former presidential guard was already clear about how presidents and state envoys share privilege contacts and how best they can be exploited. In twelve years, Jammeh and those playing the game with him continue to get the best for themselves. A desire to stay in power for life is dangerous thinking. Gambians deserve change of good hands to run a decent government. It is serious concern that once another voting is over, Yaya Jammeh is no longer seeing the instruments of democracy anything to respect. It appears as though he is made king and will use his throne to dictate where he chooses to mislead the nation. State ministers are appointed and dismissed with such disrespect. He dictates how they think and how they associate.  Our president simply wants to stay in power and not bothered about the upkeep of our long cherished democratic values. Gambia’s failing democracy is mainly due to the July 1994 coup and the lethal political environment that emerged with it. Talks about restoration of democracy produce undesirable results for what genuine democrats expect. A total breakdown in the orderly processes of democracy is simply what Gambia is experiencing. The military regime is not bothered what the world thinks about failure of democracy in Gambia. Once international organisations like the Commonwealth gives credence to what they call free and fair elections, which other authority will people of Gambia bank on for salvation to a just and sane rule?

As to why and how democracy fails in Gambia, the reasons relate so much. Toppling a government by coup is not compatible with the fabrics of democracy. It takes an incredible amount of work to utilise the instruments of democracy sustaining a government coming to power by coup. Lot of time is required to get things right. During transitional stages, military dictators on the surface quickly embark on projects in order to produce material proof of their ability and readiness to produce. That is what happened in post coup Gambia when coup makers embarked on projects like building a new airport terminal and several school buildings. To communities where the local primary school struggles for recognition, it is like ascending to the moon when government builds classrooms for a secondary school. It goes the same way when Gambia’s military regime bundled flocks of Cuban primary health carers that local people see as Cuban doctors.

The process by which white elephant projects are initiated with a view to win political gains can be baffling. Public resources have been committed to schemes with no indication of immediate feasibility or long term viability. It was all done for one and the same purpose of selling a hidden agenda. That by itself defeats the purpose of genuine democracy. While embarking on those projects, the military regime already disbanded genuine political parties. The constitution as primary instrument of democracy was also butchered down. In place of the true constitution that Gambian democracy already thrived on, an adulterated version of a militarised constitution came into force in the name of military decrees. Some of these notorious decrees are still in force. Therefore, Gambia’s military leaders are not serious about restoring true democracy. A more sinister part of the military decreed constitution is the indemnification clause which holds that all crimes committed by our current ruler and his aides are not punishable.

The reason(s) why our military rulers prefer to slice good parts of the constitution for self perpetration remain the same reason how they continue to play every other instrument of deception to stay in power. To declare his lofty intention of clinging unto power for another forty years president Jammeh is once more a threat to democracy in Gambia. It is not reasonable that one person keeps such a critically demanding position far too long. If anyone of you believe that Yaya Jammeh is quite a competent person to ever serve as president of Gambia that is still not a good enough reason to have him keep the job for forty years. Over the period lot of things will surely change and Yaya may not fit properly into the changing shape of things within infinite time. In the look of how Yaya Jammeh behaves as president of Gambia, it appears he is reluctant to allow even his young daughter inherit that position. If president Jammeh falls out of power by vote or by being toppled like he did, Gambians will suffer the greatest loss of political capital and time. Lack of smooth handover of power constitutes loss of political capital. Having very competent persons who now simply sit on their positions without being allowed to perform by a dictating president is counterproductive. All that can be part of a failing democracy in Gambia. A lost paradise that Gambians cry over is simply the fatal demise of democracy where it was once best known to be.   

Posted on Monday, November 06, 2006 (Archive on Monday, November 13, 2006)
Posted by PNMBAI  Contributed by PNMBAI
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