Do We Need Political Parties In The Gambia?
Some may think this is a crazy question to ask, but that is alright because I believe that it is going to take asking the crazy questions to dismantle the foundations we subsist on. And no, I didn’t just dream up this question; there are states with no political parties at all. I’m not referring to one-party states like Eritrea, or monarchies like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, I’m referring to nonpartisan democracies like Palau and Nauru.
Nonpartisan democracy is a system where elections are conducted but candidates are not backed by political parties. For the most part, you contest elections on your own merit. Granted, Palau and Nauru are very tiny nations, and perhaps the nonpartisan democratic system they adopted will be hard to replicate in The Gambia, but what do we have to lose in thinking outside the colonial box we confine ourselves to? How has multiparty democracy enhanced our lives as Gambians? Kwame Nkrumah and his African contemporaries may have gotten it wrong with the one-party state ideology, but there was a reason they thought that was a palliative of sorts to deal with the various chasms colonialism accursed Africans with.
You will not meet too many Africans in any sort of power questioning these colonial structures because these very systems allow them to accumulate wealth and maintain power. If you ask me, I’d say that our refusal to question the utility of the political institutions and governance structures is indicative of how we accept to be trapped in this colonially-designed political abyss of governance. I’m all for “democracy”, and I’m all for political pluralism; but is “democracy” or “political pluralism” sustainable in the long run, given the multiparty political system and presidential system of government we remain mired to? Do we need political parties in The Gambia at all? Do we need this presidential system in The Gambia? Do we need this many political parties in The Gambia? If so, what do the political parties make possible that would otherwise be impossible in a nonpartisan democracy? How has this presidential system improved our lives as Gambians? Do we even ever take stock to determine where we are and where we want to be as a people?
Beyond the personalities, how many of us actually know the differences between the programs and policies of the multitude of political parties in the arena today? Are there really any significant ideological differences between the various political parties? Hasn’t forming a party and even belonging to one not come to be a hustle for opportunists? Isn’t it problematic that politics is seen to be a way out of poverty? Is that what we want our multiparty democracy to be? A hustle?
Who really thinks Barrow would have been president if it was simply based on his own merit when he went up against Halifa? Why are we married to the way we vote? There are various forms of Rank Choice Voting; why is it that we never thought of looking into any of those? Is the combination of our multiparty politics and the presidential system the best for our nation? Isn’t the hijacking of the constitution a sign of why we must dismantle this system?
I’m not saying a nonpartisan democracy is a solution to all our political issues, but many will agree that the way our politics is conducted hasn’t boded too well for us as a people. Why do we keep going in that direction? There is so much conflict all over Africa over politics and partisan politics because of the way politicians have ethnicized politics and politicized ethnic groups. The colonialists divided us into rigid ethnic groups and we continue to divide ourselves through meaningless political parties. Politicians in power, and those in their circle, continue to leech off the backs of the very people they supposedly serve while the people hope and pray for crumbs. Why should poor Gambian people pay people whose only job is to promote Barrow? Why should we continue to maintain that same system?
While I don’t know the exact mechanics of how the Gambia can adopt and adapt a nonpartisan system, I still think we should think outside the colonial box if we truly want a better Gambia. It doesn’t have to be a wholesale implementation, it can be piloted in ward elections where the people choose their representatives sans political parties. Again, what do we have to lose by trying out new systems when what we have hasn’t worked in over fifty years? Doing things the same way is not resilience; you can choose what to call it! I am not saying the nonpartisan system is a panacea, or that it should be adopted on its own, I am saying to question the utility of everything that obtains and see if it is benefiting us as a people. That includes the judicial system, security, education, etc. Democracy, as my brother Madi told me, is a journey, not a destination. When have we ever sat down as a nation to determine if we are headed in the right direction? It’s been 55 years since we supposedly started and no one can tell you where we are headed as a people! The various visions have been nightmares of poverty for our people; yet we march on.
For Badibu’s sake, we’ve been trying out whatever system we have in place since 1965, and our people are still destitute. We are as polarized today as we have ever been. Our multiparty political system is toxic, tribalized, divisive and is actually turning into fertile hustling grounds for the rapacious. What does it say about us that we still wish to continue that same system? Praying and hoping things will get better are not strategies; if they were, I know of no other people that pray so fervently and hope so loudly, than Africans! Africa, as a whole, and the Gambia, in particular, should be doing far better than we are. If one contends that we need political parties, it may not be farfetched that they also will contend that the benefit of political parties outweighs all the issues inherent in political partisanship.
For me, resigning ourselves to what obtains today indicates that we are unable to address our challenges as a people and come up with viable options to better our lot. I shudder at the thought of that proposition because I know we have too many smart and intelligent Gambians dotted across the globe with all types of experience. Some of them oversee/oversaw very complex institutions and can definitely help guide our country to higher heights. I guess the challenge will be weaning them off these cushy international appointments to come and build their motherland. I want to think the Gambia is worth more than occasional vacations and huge mansions to our smart brothers and sisters. I want to think they don’t only think of Gambia as a place to retire; no? The other challenge is some of these Gambians in high government positions who would do everything and anything to discourage anyone with different ideas. The other challenge is these political parties and their leaders who prefer things as they are because they are waiting in the wings to eat their share of the national cake as Hamat calls it. See why I asked if we need these parties? It is a hustle for many… and nothing else! You don’t have to take my word for it; go and listen to Henry Gomez… just don’t hejemal his cherreh for him!
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