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Barrow-Jammeh alliance: a pact made in heaven?

Gambians are still struggling to make sense of the most unlikely of political alliances in their country's contemporary politics but…

Gambians are still struggling to make sense of the most unlikely of political alliances in their country’s contemporary politics but a coalition between President Adama Barrow and Yahya Jammeh, the man he ousted in the 2016 presidential election is well and truly underway.With the presidential election obviously in mind, the deal between Barrow’s National People’s Party (NPP) and Jammeh’s former ruling Alliance for the Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) officially pronounces them as allies going into the next election cycle which begins in December.

Gambians go to the polls on December 4 2021 to elect a new president who will lead the country for the next five years and already it feels like a campaign atmosphere ahead of schedule.

The  NPP-APRC MoU speaks of “a swift and successful end to the 2016-2021  transition timetable, which many Gambians have come to view as a failure of devastating consequences to the dashed hopes and aspirations of voters.

While there is a tepid excitement in some quarters about this new NPP-APRC entente cordiale, recriminations have followed.

Over the past few days an overwhelming backlash against the alliance has been bubbling to the surface especially from those feeling aggrieved by 22 years of hurt.

The alliance is generally not seen as a pact made in heaven especially for Gambians convinced that it will stand in the way of justice for so-called victims of Jammeh-era rights violations which took two years to be heard by a truth commission.

The Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) wrapped up its hearings from purported victims months ago, but the litmus test is whether its recommendations for possible prosecution of alleged perpetrators would be given the attention they may require by an NPP government “dining with the violators”.  

With the APRC as a partner in power, there are obvious misgivings that an NPP government under Barrow would develop cold feet, and consequently steer clear of its agenda of bringing transitional justice processes already begun to a successful conclusion.  

Some unpalatable facts of history are still fresh in the mind.

Five years is too short for memories to fade from the collective Gambian psyche.

There are disturbing facts of recent Gambian history which pitted these two unlikeliest of political allies at cross-purposes in the past.  

Barrow (at the head of an opposition coalition) and Jammeh as a losing incumbent were at opposing ends of a nail-biting political impasse after the latter made a dramatic U-turn from conceding poll defeat to casting doubt about the 2016 election results and challenging the outcome.

This had plunged the country into a month-long political crisis which eventually ended with Jammeh fleeing into exile, leaving his APRC under the stewardship of a coterie of close confidantes led by Fabakary Tombong Jatta.

It was Jatta who first broke the news of an alliance with Barrow’s NPP, sending shockwaves all over the country, causing shock and consternation. 

A memorandum of understanding seen by APA seems to suggest that the NPP, APRC and four other parties will “henceforth operate as an alliance for the forthcoming presidential election”.

Although the leadership of both parties have been sending mixed messages about becoming political allies, sources tell APA that the building blocks for the alliance have been in the works for the best part of a year.

There were unconfirmed reports of an earlier deal which culminated in seized assets belonging to Jammeh and his APRC being returned and a tacit consideration for the former president ending his life in exile in Equatorial Guinea and beginning a new one at home in The Gambia. 

To an incredulous Gambian public at the time, all these were the stuff of fiction.

However, fitting into a jigsaw, suddenly they all begin to make sense to some observers.

Just over a month ago, Dudu Jah, a key figure within the APRC declared that although he was still a staunch member of Jammeh’s party, he was going to work his socks off to get Barrow reelected.

The jigsaw may be clearer now but Gambians are at their wits’ end struggling to conjure up images of Barrow and Jammeh cozying up to each other politically.

There are distraught rebels in both camps now tearing their hair about this.

Fatou Jaw Manneh, Barrow’s straight-talking communication strategist who served in an honorary advisory capacity has since tendered her resignation.

Writing to her former boss, she does not mince her words: “Your decision to ally with the APRC has many implications for governance and integrity associated with my roles and functions. I can’t entirely agree with the conceptual framework of the alliance and it is my firm belief that this particular alliance undermines the integrity of your government and jeopardizes everything I stood for as a journalist, activist, politician, community worker, learner and educator”.

She adds: “I was excited at the opportunity accorded to me and willing ot help to usher in democracy for a new Gambia. I would instead support you on that trajectory and lose elections than you win elections with a formal alliance with a dictator on these fraudulent terms that not only undermines our quest for democracy but shows an outright abuse of power and your weak leadership”.

On the other side of the argument, Lamin Tamba announces he was quitting as spokesman of the APRC’s UK branch over his inability to sell “damaged goods”.

He says by “this dodgy alliance”, the APRC was signing its own death warrant, leaving the party at the mercy of its political nemesis Adama Barrow who will go for the kill once reelected into office.  

Demba Ali Jawo, a former Information minister under Barrow weighs in on the issue, describing the alliance as “quite distasteful after all the human rights violations associated with the APRC”.

He tells APA from his holiday in the US that it was quite hard to comprehend why President Barrow would even contemplate “such an alliance made in hell” with no guarantees that it will hold beyond the first few months after an election victory fanfare.

He warns that like the one in 2016 coalitions in most cases stutter and sputter but never get started.

“How can Barrow betray Gambians especially victims of APRC’s 22 years of misrule in this manner” asks one politician who says he’d sacrificed his time, money and effort to see off Mr. Jammeh in December 2016, only for him to creep back through the backdoor with Barrow’s help. 

However, it has been Jammeh’s alleged victims who are being heard above this din of distraught voices. 

They have never shied away from crying foul at every opportunity presented them but they are slowly turning this burning anger at the former leader to a feeling of angst and frustration at his successor.

Will Barrow listen to their plaintive cries? 

The Gambian leader seems unfazed by the volley of criticism going in his direction. 

At a rally near his home village of Mankamang Kunda, some 370km east of Banjul, he sets out his bait for other opposition parties outside his alliance.

He says the alliance is on the march to poll victory and other parties would be doing a great disservice to themselves by opting out of it.  

Will this come to pass or will his detractors finally get their revenge at the polls on December 4th – only time will offer answers.

   

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