By Dr Omar Janneh
On many platforms, Mr Ousainu Darboe was heard of making the point that President Adama Barrow should lead for five years because that is what the constitution says. Indeed that is what the constitution says, but I do not believe that the coalition partners were ignorant of the constitutional provision of five years during their discussions, but that after much discussion and thought, they chose to go for three years, presumably, for some good reasons. I suppose Mr Darboe made his position on the matter having considered the possibilities that a president is mortal, can be impeached and removed from office and may resign before his or her term ends. While Mr Barrow may believe that he has some choice in the third, that is to say, not to resign at end of the agreed term of thee years, I doubt if he has much choice in the first and second. But will the country and his coalition partners, some of whose support he may now lack because of sacking them, give him the chance to go on for five years instead of the agreed three?
Given Mr Darboe’s longstanding position on the issue that Mr Barrow should rule for five years, it seems doubtful to me if we would have been in the position we are in now – the “new” Gambia with a Barrow presidency and him as vice president – had Mr Darboe taken part in the discussions to form the coalition.
He may have insisted on the five-year term and no deal may have been struck, unless if the other partners were ready to budge. Thus Jammeh may still have been in power. And when Mr Darboe goes on to say that the electorate voted knowing that they were voting for the coalition presidential candidate to serve for five years, I think there is some sense that the truth is being massaged somewhat. As Mr Darboe was in prison at the time, he may not have known or realised that the coalition campaigned, up and down the country, to serve for three years and the people voted believing or knowing full well that the coalition government, if elected, would serve for three years, not five.
However, having got themselves so quickly drunk on power and thus unable to do anything of significance for the country for some 20 months, they (Mr Barrow and Mr Darboe) have changed their minds from three to five years. And please, let’s not buy into the idea that the coalition agreement that the coalition president should lead for three years was a gentlemen’s (informal) agreement and that they never meant it – what a lousy thing to say. Were they all deceiving the electorate and is politics therefore, tantamount to dishonesty? There is nothing gentlemanly in telling the electorate that you will rule for three years when you meant five, especially upon tasting honey and milk. Gentlemen mean their words. After 22 years of dictatorship, gross rights abuses and brutality, would it not be refreshing and wouldn’t the Barrow government leave a positive legacy if they did as agreed? Unfortunately as Mr Barrow is planning on not acting honestly to observe their so-called gentlemen’s agreement, I think for the sake of country, the coalition partners must unite and insist that he steps aside after the agreed three years.
With President Barrow at the centre of alleged corruption or bribery scandal, it seems that his presidency is continuing its journey towards the cliff edge. The administration’s spokesperson tried to deny the bribery scandal, but she muddied the waters even more and so the story won’t go away. Not knowing that a president must understand the need to serve all, not the few, and definitely not the National Assembly Members is the height of incompetence and cluelessness and a potential source for national humiliation. Furthermore, the infighting and indiscipline within the UDP, which seem to have escalated because of the recent meeting Mr Barrow held at State House while Mr Darboe was out of town, may (now) well have caused Mr Darboe to reconsider his position on whether Mr Barrow should stay for five years or step aside after three, as agreed with the coalition partners.
Having resigned from his party to contest the elections against Jammeh as a Coalition candidate, one wonder why Mr Barrow made the statement at State House that he is a UDP president. Is this not against the coalition agreement? When did he rejoin the UDP party and did he inform his coalition partners of his intention to rejoin UDP? I also wonder why he feels that it would be a betrayal for the UDP to put up a presidential candidate, while he is president, a UDP president. The upcoming UDP congress planned for December 2018 would be interesting to follow. If Mr Barrow dismissed some of his coalition partners (Mr Mai Ahmad Fatty, Mr Omar A Jallow, and Ms Fatoumatta CM Jallow-Tambajang) with the view to strengthening his position and deepen his grip on power, I think he may soon realise that he may have made his position rather difficult. This is because, if it came to a ballot, he would need the blessing of some of those sacked individuals to get his way, that is, stay as president for five years. Is he going to bribe them or anyone to support him? The argument against Mr Barrow, especially from some of the sacked coalition partners, may (now) be that Mr Barrow’s resignation from the UDP in order to be the flag bearer of the coalition disqualifies him from contesting as a presidential candidate under the UDP ticket in the next election.
It is my view that by publicly announcing that he (Mr Barrow) is a UDP president and that the UDP should have no cause to nominate a new presidential candidate against him, he may have inadvertently jolted the coalition partners to react and call a coalition partners’ meeting, to discuss the three-year transition agreement, to which Mr Barrow would be apparently invited to attend. As Mr Barrow’s statement at the State House appears contrary to our understanding of the coalition agreement, is there something that Mr Barrow, (we) or the coalition partners do not understand about the agreement they reached in 2016? Of course, depending on the wording of the coalition agreement, it may be possible for Mr Barrow to run under a political party separate from (for example, a new party of his own or otherwise) any of the parties that formed the coalition, but I doubt if any of the partners would have signed up to that. In any case, now that Barrow may have lost the support of the sacked coalition partners and there now seems an apparent tension between him and Mr Darboe (who wasn’t at the first meeting, but may be at the upcoming one; by the way do not be surprised if they fail to reach an agreement because Mr Darboe seems to prefer taking the win-all position in a negotiation), it will be interesting to know what outcome this meeting will produce.
Assuming that the planned coalition partners’ meeting to discuss the status of the coalition and the three-year transition period goes ahead and the partners fail to reach an agreement, it would be important for the partners to consider referring the matter to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and or consider asking the public in a referendum. In fact, is it unreasonable for the IEC to react to Mr. Barrow’s statement and demand an explanation from him for publicly stating that he is a UDP President? It can be argued that Mr Barrow’s statement is not only a departure from the coalition agreement, but also deceitful to the electorate, that is, he may have broken the coalition agreement on which he contested the elections and therefore, the election rules. If this notion is fanciful or lacks merit at the moment, I do not think it will be unreasonable to consider including something in the rule book (for example, the constitution – the CRC may perhaps need to take note) that will 1.) prevent a coalition president/any president from deviating from an agreed term limit and, 2.) ensure that the terms of any (coalition) agreement are legally binding: that an individual who agrees to resign from their party and lead as a coalition president on the understanding that s/he shall not be permitted to contest in the next elections, but shall step down after the agreed term limit; that s/he is not permitted to form a party, rejoin their former party or join any existing party during their term in office. I believe that such a provision may prevent a president from departing from an agreement and or making the kind of untrustworthy statements we have heard recently. In my view, Mr Barrow’s recent statements have caused much anxiety in the country and it has the potential to prematurely destabilise his government. Furthermore, our recent history teaches us that when a leader says one thing and does another, such action invariably entrenches the leader into power, which is a slippery road to a dictatorial regime. For now at least, I will maintain the view that should Mr Barrow’s explanation for saying what he said at the State House fail to satisfy his coalition partners (and the IEC), I think a referendum or an early presidential election should be called. We should seek to have such a referendum by June 2019 and a possible general election by the end of 2019.
At the very least, people ought to be asked if Mr Barrow should honour the coalition agreement and serve for three years or five. However, Mr Barrow and the coalition partners cannot and must not tell us that he (Mr Barrow) has not fulfilled the ambitions of the coalition agreement and that he should be allowed to stay as president for five years. If the coalition partners are really smart, they should know that Mr Barrow will not deliver on the coalition agreement even if they allowed him six years, twice the agreed time period. Indeed no such provision was never communicated to the electorate during the 2016 elections and that given Mr Barrow’s uninspired leadership and very poor performance, such a position is without merit and so Mr Barrow must go. Of course Mr Barrow and all those drinking honey and milk with him may have much to do, but they only have much to do for themselves and their families, and perhaps some few others, for example, the NAMs – the donated vehicles and the recently alleged cash gifts.
If Mr. Barrow insists on serving for 5 years, he will be deceiving his Coalition Partners and the whole country. Such blatant and unacceptable dishonesty would make the formation of another coalition government, which helped us remove a dictator and could in the future help us remove other dictators and clueless presidents, difficult in The Gambia. Clearly, the current leadership and all of the coalition partners must know that they will not be on the right side of history for supporting such deceitful action; such action will not serve the country well in the long term. Therefore, we must push for a general election in 2019 and remove this bunch of ineffectual people from power. We must not accept, coercively or reluctantly, that Mr Barrow should serve for five years. Mr Barrow and his administration are increasingly becoming a national humiliation. We must do away with our apparent affinity for mediocrity; we can do better, much better indeed.
Dr Omar Janneh, PhD, is a Senior Teaching Fellow at St George’s, University of London. He obtained a BSc and PhD in Pharmacology from the University of Liverpool (UK) in 1997 and 2000, respectively.