At the end of the rally marking the conclusion of the United Democratic Party (UDP) congress, a lady that identified herself as representing UDP Wellingara women made a statement that is representative of and will resonate with most UDP supporters. She stated that what the UDP endured in 22 years of tyranny can never be replicated in The Gambia ever again. That if party supporters could endure in the face of unmatched brutality and emerge victorious alongside the country; what’s left now is to uphold dignity and not be swayed by want of money or positions. In essence admonishing fellow supporters to hold true to the bonds that bind them through tyranny.
President Barrow himself had repeatedly stated that one may not be able to prevent the death of one’s father, but if his household/family disintegrates in the wake of his death; that blame squarely rests on the shoulders of the son who is to assume the father’s role in his stead. This was a statement made to uplift the spirits of the party supporters whose entire leadership were arrested and jailed; that the struggle will continue and the party will carry on.
Fast forward to a short while after his ascendancy as President of the republic of The Gambia, an outfit dubbed Barrow Youth Movement (BYM) was launched later renamed Barrow Youth for National Development (BYND). That singular move, bearing all the hallmarks of a political outfit even though those who orchestrated and support the movement denied the group has any political objectives raised suspicions and set the President on a collision course with his former party when he endorsed and openly supported the movement. The launching of the movement was condemned by many across the country, but especially so from within the UDP; the party that nominated Adama Barrow as a candidate for the flag bearer of Coalition 2016 that would unseat the tyrant and install Barrow as the new President of The Gambia.
UDP, until now never voiced an official position on the movement but individual party supporters openly condemned the movement and were branded as feeling threatened by it’s launching. The initial reactions were subtle such as UDP mobilizing party supporters to come out and show their support and loyalty to the president draped in party colors as opposed to the neutral coalition colors. The party supporters show up in party colors where BYM colors are the chosen outfit. It moved on from subtleties to outright rejection and confrontation, the most prominent of which was in Njaba Kunda when the BYM emissaries sought to open a branch office and were vehemently opposed.
Those opposed to the UDP show this open resentment of the setting up of a rival political outfit to the UDP as division within the party; they rejoiced at the seemingly self-inflicted internal divisions within the party. In their view, it was a culmination of the emboldening of President Barrow in what they dub as a betrayal of the coalition agenda. To those people, President Barrow would have only served 3 years had Mr. Darboe, current Vice president and leader of the largest political party UDP not said that Barrow should serve the constitutionally mandated 5 years as opposed to the 3 years proposed by the coalition partners.
What Mr. Darboe in fact said was that any attempt at forcing the president to resign after three years in the name of a Memorandum of Understanding will be challenged in court. He further stated that the constitution mandates a five year term which he and his party are in support of. Legally speaking that is not to say Barrow should not resign; rather it is his prerogative to honor the agreement he went into or to shirk it but he cannot be forced to do so legally, ergo a legally unenforceable contract. That, to many, was what emboldened President Barrow to attempt to self-succeed after his mandate.
On the other side of that narrative are those currently in support of President Barrow self-succeeding and blaming the UDP and Darboe for trying to upstage that. Nothing could be further from the truth. Barrow’s quagmire is self-inflicted and he must take responsibility for that. Prominent among those who support a second term for President Barrow are people identified with the UDP, in fact some held executive positions up to the last congress. Their prominence is what led some observers to believe there is a rift within the UDP. With the recently concluded congress I believe such notions will be put to rest.
To those who are suddenly accusing UDP and her supporters of undermining President Barrow through internal party politics; here is the deal. If President Barrow is in fact willing to honor the agreement that brought about the Coalition 2016 and step down after 3 years, why should he, or anyone worry about what the UDP does or does not do as far as the internal politics of the party is concerned?
Secondly, if in fact President Barrow does not plan on honoring that agreement, it is a fair bet to say he has therefore already made up his mind to serve a full five year term at the end of which he will either resign or contest the elections due then. If he chooses to resign after five years, again why would his camp worry about UDP internal politics? But all indications point to him laying the ground work for self-succession.
In that case, to contest in the next general elections he will have to
1. Join forces with the UDP and be the UDP candidate; or
2. Go solo and try his chances opposing the UDP candidate; or
3. Join forces with other willing parties in a coalition against the UDP.
Again, in scenario 2 and 3 above, why would he then worry about UDP internal politics? From the evidence then it seems Barrow is split between option 1 and 2 and suspecting option 1 is unlikely, he wants to hijack the UDP base to form his own support base and steal the UDP nomination for flag bearer himself. Why any sane person would even contemplate that the UDP will sit idly and watch that unfold speaks to their poor judgement at best.
As already highlighted, the UDP has never wavered in its support and defense of President Barrow until the BYM showed up, and all evidence points to BYM as a political launching pad which will show discord within the UDP, a party that has hitherto never been divided or wavered in its support for President Barrow. If those same BYM members and supporters of Barrow self-succeeding are today accusing the UDP of undermining Barrow, then I say they are being dishonest. Barrow had the UDP rock solid behind him, there was nothing he could have asked of the UDP that he would not get as far as supporting his national development agenda and transition programs were concerned. There was absolutely nothing he’d ask and not get. The party leadership had made that clear on several occasions.
Prudence then will dictate that he concentrate on delivering the National Development Plan (NDP) agenda and leave the politics to UDP. If close to the end of his term he wants to run, he can canvass support from the national executive and see if the party would be willing to support his bid. If they choose to or refuse to do so, there will be a good enough reason for that decision. Then he can bring it out to the general membership of the UDP at congress for a vote on selecting him as party candidate. If he is rejected at that national congress, prudence would dictate again that he step down, but if he still chooses to run, that would be a good time to go solo or join forces with other parties. At that time, his record would have spoken for itself and he would have been more marketable as a candidate. That is the time to blame the UDP for putting up a nominee “against an incumbent” Doing so now is premature and divisive
President Barrow knows, and all who support his self-succession bid know that the UDP holds congresses every two years, in fact the law mandates them to. UDP 2018 congress was to select leaders as the steering committee for the party’s affairs until 2020 when the next congress will be held. Barrow saying if anyone challenges him that will be considered a coup was very unfortunate on his part. UDP was not selecting a flag bearer, and if barrow wanted to maintain his position in the UDP, how can he actively contribute to the UDP in the next two years and claim to be an independent coalition backed president? When he became the UDP nominee for flag bearer he was not the party Secretary General or party leader, he qualified simply because he was an executive member. So anyone in the executive of the UDP can be a flag bearer; why did he set his eyes on the party leader as a potential rival is not to sow discord within the party?
Last time UDP held a national congress, names like Femi Peters, Shyngle Nyassi, Solo Krumah, Lang Marong, Solo Sandeng et al were not merely mentioned, they were present (except Shyngle Nyassi – God rest his and their souls) and most were elected to national executive positions. Their terms technically expired on Sunday December 9th, 2018 when the new executive was sworn in. To think that so soon after their tragic exit from the UDP, anyone would seek to usurp the long held tradition of the party for expediency is unimaginable. And that got a lot of people uneasy and angry.
President Barrow and his team of ‘Barrow 2021’ needed to let the UDP internal democracy take its course and worry about the 2020 congress at which time they can present their choice for flag bearer for nomination under the UDP ticket (Barrow). In the meantime, they can use this time to seek approval from within the party to solidify and strengthen his candidature. The fatal mistake was to attempt to hijack the internal democratic process and pit Barrow against Darboe citing incumbency of the former as the reason. That was open rebellion and the people, as we saw did not take well to it. It is divisive and projects an aura of greed. Worse, it is insulting when the likes of Seedy Njie are projected back into the national political spotlight, right next to the presidency so soon after his role in openly supporting Jammeh’s bid to cling to power.
UDP has not rejected President Barrow, UDP does not dislike President Barrow and it is not too late for President Barrow to change course. But the fault lies squarely at President Barrow’s feet for letting himself be used to cause divisions within the UDP. The UDP is not a pushover party and even if they fail to secure the executive arm of the government, the party is a political force that no executive can ignore or exclude if they truly want to succeed. President Barrow can take on the UDP and he may prevail over the party, but he will emerge on the other side very badly bruised and having to still contend with a UDP controlled National Assembly and local councils.
The whole project of BYM and President Barrow’s attempts at self-succeeding was grossly miscalculated, the timing was completely flawed and very ill-advised. If I were to give him an advise, I’d tell him to shelf his political maneuverings and concentrate on the NDP agenda for the next two years. If he still wants to run then (which I will advise against), he can take the necessary steps but for now, in the interest of national development, put politics aside, remove all detractors from your side and focus on delivering the reforms you were mandated to deliver on.
Barrow is still our Barrow and our CDL hats have not been burnt, we just took them off and will gladly put them on again, but only for good cause. Sustaining BYM and conoodling with the likes of Seedy Njie and the financial indiscipline pervading the executive is not among those good causes. We have never been sycophants and will call out what we disagree with, if that makes us Barrow haters then, oh well…