Outgoing Gambia President Yahya Jammeh inspects guard of honour. Image; Okayafrica.com
By Faridah Lule.
On Thursday 1st December 2016, the people of the smallest country in West Africa went out to cast their vote; little did they envision the power of their vote in attaining what President Obama once phrased as “Yes we can.” President Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year reign must have arrived with shockwaves to a man who once said he would rule for “one billion years if Allah willed it”.
Even most shocking was witnessing an African Incumbent concede defeat. Now we know, there is no doubt about the power of the Vote, especially after we’ve organized early and appropriate. Let’s briefly revisit how it worked in Gambia – where, quite notably, an Electoral Commission was also appointed up by the long-serving Incumbent.
The opposition fronted one candidate to lead an opposition coalition of seven parties, the largest alliance of its kind since independence; they nominated 51-year-old Adama Barrow who has never held any public office in his life. He won the presidential elections by 263,515 votes representing 45.5% against the incumbent who lost by 36.7%, and as we already know, unseating an African Incumbent is not the usual way politics goes in this part of the world, yet it’s now getting popular in West Africa, with Nigeria having taken lead.
Adama worked as a security guard at an Agos catalogue store, he returned to Gambia to start up his own estate company, which he’s been running until Thursday when he started. Smelling the highest office in the tiny West African nation. Gambia, which has not had a smooth transfer of power since independence from Britain in 1965 now has a coalition that will govern for three years with Barrow, after which elections will be held and he will step down in line with a memorandum signed by all parties.
“My party will continue but I’m not part of the process,” Barrow pledged to media Saturday when asked about the three-year commitment. “I’m a businessman; I’ll continue my business,” Wouldn’t we all appreciate if the opposition in Uganda became similarly serious and organized early too, in a bid to unseat our own incumbent? Rather than wait for 2021 to have Ugandans believe that the problem is President Museveni “who is not letting the opposition have free and fair elections.”
Grass root work and strategizing for 2021 should start now, classifying the parties that wish to join the coalition and drafting a proper agenda for the country should get on our opposition agenda fast. And guess this time around, everybody would find it worthy to rally around the opposition cause. Now that the President has already nominated candidates to head the commission, the campaign for an independent commission should no longer be priority, instead, opposition should evaluate themselves and develop strategies on how to work with the newly appointed Electoral commission towards public accountability.
The Typical opposition public stunts we witness almost weekly are hardly going to elicit sympathy from Ugandans, It’s high time our people witnessed a systematic alternative government on display. Need we repeat that dear Ugandan opposition? Weekly street run-ins with Police say little or nothing about the leadership this country deeply craves for.
Any serious opposition should have a group of technical persons who can respond, present reactive alternatives to policies and laws presented by government. For all these years for example, we have had the Ugandan opposition unable to front candidates in more than 20 constituencies, relentlessly leaving the ruling party unopposed In the new districts of Kagadi, Kibaale, Rubanda, Omoro and Kakumiro for example, NRM literally swept everything.
Now with examples of Nigeria and Gambia, Ugandan opposition are left with no excuse rather than exhibit their readiness to deliver change to a country that has long relied on a polarized opposition to deliver real change. Constitutionally speaking, the President will not be legible to stand again, which means NRM will have to present a new candidate, and so, the opposition better prepare an equal match.
I am now beginning to personally refrain from all discourse focusing on President Museveni, and I suggest that all political discussion today endeavor to refer to him in the past. As we all, alongside opposition, watch Gambia smile, let’s begin evaluating a suitable joint presidential candidate for 2021. Shall we, dear Ugandan opposition?
The writer is a Project Associate at Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy.