1.  The Political Economy of Successful Reform

A key constituent of the political success of a state is the attainment of a liberal economy and this economic advantage could only be possible through an economic and political reform. In a political context, the attainment of such a successful economic amelioration is always difficult and sometimes heartbreaking. Precisely, for the reformer, reform will always come with cost, including accruing grey hairs, but this must be addressed with boldness, perseverance and tactfulness. A point worthy to note is that reform is not a subject of entirely effacing a system, but adding to that system. Though change is fundamental to political success, the progress however goes with some hindering factors, and these, I belief, the new leadership must honestly face.

One possible hindrance is a difference in political ideologies of contending politicians or actors. The mending would mainly call for a shift in the perspectives of an already existing ideology (ideologies), which could possibly pose a challenge to the reformer. A major reason is that there will be opposition to this adjustment in ideology (ideologies) by a conservative group; and for the reform to be successful, the gap of misunderstanding between the contending entities must be filled. To be precise, the various political contenders must be willing to sacrifice parts or a part of their tenets for the benefit of the state and not for their individual (political party) boon.

However, a challenging question is, how could this gap be filled especially within a coalition government? The latter is the very nature of the Third Republic…a coalition government led by a ‘blurry’, independent president. How could a concoction of different political ideologies be fully married in order to yield the best days of the country, which according to the President, “are yet to come”? Moreover, as we usher our energies to attain the best days, I would like the leadership of the Third Republic to remember and abide by their very promise to the electorates and the Gambians at large: that the “Coalition 2016 Government will usher The Gambia into a new dawn of democracy, peace, freedom, and prosperity. By investing our time and resources in rebuilding our nation, The Gambia can once again be declared the smiling coast of Africa”.

In order to fill the gaps, the principal reformer (herein, the Government of The Gambia) must be bold enough to take a radical action, which even includes the very decision of making that reform. The whole idea of the modification must be clearly outlined and explained to all the stakeholders to clear the dust surrounding it. Emphasis, to this regard, must be on the interest of the state as primary to any other interest. Thus, political parties must be willing to surrender conflicting political ideologies for the interest of the state, which they are representing. In terms of the reformation, it must be gradually implemented and should have some flexibilities, especially where it fails to work well.

A second factor that can possibly affect a reform is patronage. In a system where politicians compensate the votes of electorates, the donations of political donors during campaigns, etc. with jobs in the civil service and state owned enterprises, or exemptions from fees and taxes and subsidized credits, it will be very difficult but not impossible to change such a system. Unless a leadership takes to a change in direction through a reform, corruption will only be the order of the day, thus a difficulty of attaining economic leeway for the state. I am not concluding or refuting that this is the case in the Third Republic, but by the very nature of how certain appointments were made in the previous republics, history could spur a pundit to question the perspicuity of some appointments in the current republic. To this, a wise word for the president of the Third Republic is that he should be one of the connoisseurs of the reform process as per the dictates of the Constitution of The Gambia. He should be mindful of his principal duty as he “shall uphold and defend this Constitution as the supreme law of The Gambia”. Like all sages, I belief that any person who should enter the civil or public service in any capacity should do so in line with either Chapter 2, Section 1 of the General Orders for the Public Service of the Gambia or as per the exceptions listed in the Constitution of The Gambia. A lack of proper handing-over of power marred by the past political impasse or any other factor should not be an excuse to or warrant any illegal appointment into the civil service or any public office.

A third factor that could retard the progress of a reform could be a lack of political support in the party or government. This is usually the case if the party or government opting for a reform lacks enough representatives at the legislature. In the context of the Third Republic of The Gambia, the nature of the Coalition Government and the outcome of the 2017 National Assembly elections put at stake the ability of the Barrow-led government to gain eminent political support for the reforms.

Let us look at the both, in order to understand the complexities. The first is the candidacy of the The Gambia Coalition 2016. It was a coalition of seven political parties and one independent candidate created to field and support a unity candidate for the Gambian opposition in the 2016 presidential election. The coalition selected the then chairperson of the United Democratic Party (UDP), Adama Barrow as their candidate. Thus, he officially left the UDP to allow him to run as an independent candidate, and he won the presidential election. With Barrow in power, one might ask his actual loyalty especially in terms of his political ideologies (if he has any at all by virtue of his candidacy). For the sake of the state, I have no doubt that he might, and is expected by the coalition members and the general populace to lean to the ideals of the coalition. However, to the UDP supporters, members of the former ruling APRC party, and some political pundits, he is still a UDP member, hence, a UDP President. Thus, whom should Barrow actually referee? This is left to the readers and the government of the Third Republic to answer.

The second complexity is the composite of the National Assembly and the factors that led to such a composition. The parties awarded seats in the National Assembly are as follows: UDP (31), GDC (5), APRC (5), PDOIS (4), NRP (5), PPP (2) and Independent (1). However, as a coalition government, most of the people expected the coalition government to have its candidates for the past National Assembly election, which could not materialize due to some disagreements within the coalition members, and each party finally went its way. Did we, as Gambians asked ourselves of the following: If the parties to the coalition government agreed to their former decision and had their candidates, would they have contested as independent candidates like the candidacy of Adama Barrow or what? If they contested as independent candidates and in the event of a collapse of the coalition membership, how would each National Assembly member of the defunct coalition government identify him/herself and would such an identification be fair to the electorates who awarded them such seats?

As per the discussed complexities in the previous paragraphs, where does the coalition President lean in order to garner the needed support for the aspired reformations? To tackle such a case, the leadership, I belief, should be in the position to furnish the actors with the relevant information regarding the need for that change or reform. The masses, in this case, should not be left in limbo. The politicians of the Third Republic should know that they owe much to the Gambians than to their individual parties.

Another factor could be the influence of bureaucracy in a governance system. Naturally, human beings are not normally ready to accept sudden change in status, especially if the change is perceived as negative. In order to maintain jobs or to continue enjoying easy life or the pleasure of exercising bureaucratic powers, public administrators are normally resistant to such changes. To curb such, reformers need to take firm stance to see that their reform policies work in that respect, else, it could lead them to failure.

In conclusion, both economic and political reforms, being it in an autocratic or democratic politics, must always be tackled with a boldface and smart decision-making processes. Without such approach, the cost will always be high and the pain to be inflicted on the reformer and the citizens will be tremendous. This is so because it could even cost the life of the party or government opting for such a reform.

(To be continued)