By Basidia M Drammeh
Though many observers saw it coming, considering the swirling rumors, the official announcement by the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC)’s top brass of an alliance with the National People’s Party (NPP) has raffled nerves and sent shockwaves across the country and beyond, particularly among the victims of the two decades of Jammeh’s brutal dictatorship characterized by gross human rights violations, including murder, torture, forced disappearances, unlawful arrests, and detentions, suppression of independent media and restriction of protests.
Declaring the alliance on 4 September 2021 at Coco Ocean, in a jam-packed hall, the interim APRC leader Honourable Fabakary Tombong Jatta touted the decision as historic, insisting the Executive Council of the party acted in the supreme interest of APRC and the Gambia. Though Jatta was keen to depict a consensus on the issue, saying that the Party Executive had concluded a nationwide consultative tour to sound the opinions of militants with the majority blessing the alliance, a renegade group led by former Interior Minister MA Bah distanced itself from the deal. The rebellious camp opposed to the deal among party militants has been adamant that they cannot be part of an alliance devoid of the blessing of the Supreme Leader of the Party, Yahya AJJ Jammeh.
President Barrow’s dramatic win in the 2016 presidential elections has rekindled hopes that his government will usher in a new era of reforms to consolidate State institutions and ensure that the dark phase of the nation’s history never rears its ugly head. In the process, the then-new administration announced the setting up of a slew of commissions, including the Janneh Commission tasked with probing the financial malpractices of the former president and his cronies and the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, which was “established by an act of parliament to investigate and establish an impartial historical record of human right violations, but to also consider reparations for the victims of abuses, promote reconciliation and promote non-reoccurrence.” Other commissions include the Constitutional Review Commission, Land Reform Commission, Civil Service Reform Commission, Anti-Corruption Commission, and Security Sector Reform. Nonetheless, many Gambians are skeptical about the Government’s commitment to pushing these reforms through, citing the Janneh Commission and the Constitutional Review Commission, in particular, as a glaring testament. The Barrow administration has been accused of largely ignoring the recommendations of the Janneh Commission by retaining certain senior officials of the former regime indicted for aiding and abetting the former despot’s misappropriation of public funds. Meanwhile, the mostly pro-Barrow camp in Parliament is equally accused of killing the draft constitution at the behest of the Executive unhappy with certain provisions of the Constitution, including the retroactive term limit and the curtailing of the powers of the President in favor of the legislature. Though there have been allegations of unbridled corruption in government circles, nobody has ever been, thus far, prosecuted or indicted for involvement in graft.
Certain observers are of the view that the marriage between APRC and NPP will further undermine the TRRC which is due to submit its final report to the President later this month. In his press conference, Mr. Tombong Jatta said the TRRC report is best suited for a dustbin. Furious at the deal, The Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations in The Gambia issued a strong-worded statement in which it described the alliance as “the worst betrayal of public trust.” The Centre went on to state that “the victims find it quite disheartening and treacherous for Adama Barrow to abandon the Gambia’s Transitional Justice Process and her crying citizens to run back to that killer and rapist tyrant and his terrorist party for an Alliance to consolidate a desire for the self-perpetuating rule.”
NPP has decided to forge an alliance with NPP with its sight firmly set on the December presidential elections with the party convinced that APRC is a potential kingmaker, particularly that it has already secured parties such as PPP, NRP, NCP, and GPDP, which might grant NPP a landslide victory, as it hopes. Despite qualms over the controversial alliance, the NPP stalwarts and supporters have been buzzing with excitement, contending that the marriage makes the December 4 election a done deal for the President as it would corner and mount pressure on the party’s main rival: The United Democratic Party (UDP). They also argue that there are no permanent enemies in politics but permanent interests.
Questions have been raised as to whether the NPPLAPRC marriage could backfire against President Barrow by potentially facing a protest vote. A section of Gambians has expressed disappointment and resentment with the decision, arguing that it makes a mockery of the change that they had hoped for when they decisively voted for change in 2016. . As a matter of fact, it has been announced that the President’s Honorary Advisor on Strategic Communication, Development, and Emerging Social Issues, Fatou Jaw Manneh, tendered her resignation with immediate effect earlier today, in protest at the APRC/NPP Alliance. In her letter of resignation, she stated that the President’s decision to ally with APRC has many implications for governance and integrity associated with her roles and functions and that the move jeopardizes everything she stood for as a journalist, activist, politician, community leader, and educator.
The apparently stealthy MOU reached by the two sides is not yet in the public domain, raising fears that it might contain concessions in favor of APRC, which has been demanding the unconditional return of the former president and his seized properties as well as the unfreezing of the party’s assets. If done, the Janneh and TRRC commissions will be utterly meaningless. Furthermore, the APRC is likely to secure high-profile positions in Government should Barrow carry the day.
There could also be serious implications for the Gambia in terms of its relationship with development partners, such as the EU and the UNDP which have heavily invested in Gambia’s transitional program.
Everyone has to wait and see, until December 4, to determine whether the deal is a cunning and rewarding move or a disastrous political gamble on the part of the president and his party.