Gambia’s Election: The Coalition Lesson For Liberia’s Opposition


Monrovia – A new wave of transitional politics is building up in Africa – at least for countries with serious opposition political parties who believe a change in government will definitely mean an improvement in the lives of the people.

Report by Lennart Dodoo – [email protected]

These opposition parties, irrespective of their personal differences and ambition to ascend to power and recognizing the insurmountable of the incumbent, put above all else, creating the opportunity for the citizens’ desire for change to be met through coalition.

Such collaboration among opposition parties has yielded results in at least four West African states including Nigeria, Senegal, and then Sierra Leone and in most recent The Gambia.

The Nigerian Scenario

President Mohamdu Buhari’s journey back to power began late 2002 when he reneged on his earlier promise not to participate in the nation’s politics. He picked the Presidential ticket of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, then Nigeria’s main opposition party.

He was, however, defeated by Mr.Olusegun Obasanjo, then the incumbent President on the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) platform.

In the 2007 Presidential election, Mr. Buhari contested again on the ticket of the same party, but was beaten by PDP’s Umaru Yar’Adua.

Again, in the 2011 Presidential poll, he was beaten to the second place by Mr. Goodluck Jonathan who flew the PDP ticket.

Although the 72-year-old Mr. Buhari assured after that election that he would not contest, he was soon to change his mind following the successful alliance of some opposition parties in the country into All Progressives Congress (APC).

The parties were Mr. Buhari’s Congress for Progressives Change, Action Congress of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party and a section of the All Progressives Grand Alliance.

In a letter to some eminent Nigerians sometime in 2014, he attributed the change of mind to the need to fix Nigeria.

He explained that he was concerned about the nation’s deteriorating economy and security situation, hence his plan to contest again.

On October 15, 2014, when he formally declared his intention to run for President for the fourth time, Mr. Buhari noted that in the last 16 years of PDP government witnessed decline in all critical sectors of the nation’s life.

In May 2015, Buhari was elected President with the help of the coalition.

The Lesson From Senegal

In the 2012 Presidential election in Senegal, Macky Sall ran as the candidate of the “Macky 2012” coalition, with the slogan, “The Path of Real Development” (“Yoonu Yookuté” in Wolof). He campaigned across the country, without cutting off ties with the “23 Juin” (M23) opposition movement, which protested against Abdoulaye Wade in Dakar calling for him to be barred from running for a third term.

The initial result of the 26 February 2012 election saw Sall obtain 26.5% of the vote against Wade’s 34.8%, forcing a runoff.

In the runoff, Sall convinced all the eliminated candidates and disqualified candidate Youssou N’Dour to support him, forming a coalition named “Benno Bokk Yakkar” (Wolof for “United in the Same Hope”).

He achieved this by promising to return to five-year Presidential terms from the previous seven-year term that Wade controversially restored; he also said he would ensure that no leader could serve for more than two terms.

The runoff took place on 25 March 2012, and Wade phoned Sall at 21:30 GMT to concede the race with congratulations, before the Constitutional Council made the official proclamation that Sall had won with 65.8% of the vote.

The Coalition That Broke Jammeh’s Rule

Adama Barrow, the man that broke the iron first of The Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh and ended his 22-year rule last Friday, resigned from the country’s main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) to lead a coalition of seven opposition parties ahead of the elections.

He was elected at an opposition convention held at a hotel in Kololi and attended by 490 delegates, most of them old men and women and largely not academically literate.

Each of the seven parties in the convention – National Reconciliation Party, National Convention Party, People’s Progressive Party, Gambia Moral Congress, People’s Democratic Party for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), Gambia Party for Democracy and Progress, and United Democratic Party – brought in 70 delegates. 

The party delegates were from the regions, 10 delegates from each of the seven administrative regions of The Gambia.

Barrow was born in 1965 in a small village near the market town of Bassa, eastern Gambia. He moved to London in the 2000s. He worked as a security guard at Argos department store in north London while he completed his studies.

He returned to Gambia in 2006 to set up his own property company.

He critiqued the lack of a two-term limit on the presidency and condemned the jailing of opposition politicians.

Jammeh, who came to power in 1994 as a 29-year-old army officer following a military coup, had won four previous polls.

Liberia’s Continuous Mistakes

1997 should have a marked a turning point for Liberia after a decade of civil crisis. The election was set to be the first true democratic election as the country tested a true multi-party democracy for the first time in its history.

Thirteen candidates were in the race, but formidable among them was the former war lord, Charles Taylor, who was infamously known for the revolution that ended Samuel K. Doe’s presidency and the beginning of Liberia’s civil crisis.

The likes of Gabriel Baccus Matthews, Togbah-Nah Tipoteh, Henry Fahnbulleh, and Cletus Wotorson, who pride themselves as the Progressives aborted a plan to form a coalition that would have stopped the rebel leader from entering the Execution Mansion.

The decision as to who would have led the coalition could not be reached by the Progressives – each wanting to get hold of power at the highest level.

The result of such failure resulted to the shocking “You killed my ma, you killed my pa, but I’ll vote for you” slogan which led to Taylor’s overwhelming victory.

The victory, however, became a curse to the nation – World War 1, 2, & 3 began.

In 2005, prior to the election, former football star George Manneh Weah was considered by many to be the favorite, due at least partially to widespread dissatisfaction with Liberia’s politicians.

Weah, who had been the subject of a petition published in September 2004 urging him to run, announced his candidacy in mid-November 2004 and received a hero’s welcome when he arrived in Monrovia later in the month.

Weah won the first round of voting but lost in the November 8, 2005 run-off and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won the confidence of majority of the parties who threw their support behind her in the run-off election.

He initially filed formal fraud charges, but subsequently dropped his allegations, citing the interests of peace.

2011 – The Opposition Shock

In 2011, 16 candidates rose against the presidency of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – each wanting to replace her through the election. In their campaign messages, they all cited widespread corruption, and her perceived failure to reduce poverty and reconcile the country.

However, after the Sirleaf’s inability to accumulate the constitutional 50 per cent plus one vote in the first round, parties in the opposition who criticized her, campaigned against her and wanted her out, flanged her in a run-off election against the Winston Tubman-George Weah ticket.

Five years on, Liberia is preparing for another election; a little over half dozen candidates have surfaced so far for the presidency. Their aim – they say – is to prevent a Unity Party third them. However, collective commitment by the opposition in this process has not been able to gain the mainstay it needs to withstand the financial and logistical strength of the ruling party.

Initially, what was believed was going to be the mighty force to reckon with was being formed with the signing of the Ganta Declaration in September 2016.

Twenty opposition political parties signed up to the agreement with the single aim of defeating the candidate of the ruling Unity Party.

However, the Ganta Declaration lost its relevance less than two months after its formation – all boiling down to the inability of leaders in the opposition to put country’s interest above self-ambitious ego which would have enable them to elect one formidable candidate against the ruling establishment.

Despite signing up to the Ganta Declaration, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), the National Patriotic Party (NPP) and the Liberian People Democratic Party (LPDP) in October formed the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC). While this coalition remains a strong bone to crack, it has come under public scrutiny and yet to the confidence of the voting public.

The leader of the LPDP, J. Alex Tyler, is an alleged economic criminal and is currently webbed in an alleged bribery scandal unveiled by Global Witness in a 2015 report.

Tyler was subsequently removed as Speaker by his colleagues in the House of Representatives who believed he was not morally fit to lead the august body.

Also, creating more holes in the coalition was the recent revelation of an allegation by Allan White, former chief of investigation of the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The leader of the newly formed coalition, Weah, had been in communication with former President Taylor to have his former wife (Jewel Howard Taylor of the NPP) second on the ticket.

This aim of this coalition, according to White, is to ensure that there is no Special Court for Sierra Leone and Liberia, White alleged.

While this allegation is yet to be proven by White, members of the CDC have not been able to give a uniformed statement on it.

The party’s strategist, Wilson Tarpeh, told Voice of America that he couldn’t confirm nor deny the allegation, and challenged White to prove his allegation.

But former Secretary General of the party, Moses Acarous Gray, told FrontPageAfria that White was a paid agent and his allegation had no iota of proof.

UP Will Rule Unless There’s A Coalition

A cross section of Liberians is of the opinion that unless opposition political parties come together under one umbrella, defeating the Unity Party would be almost impossible.

In an interview with residents of Monrovia after The Gambia’s election, this is what many interviewees said:

Mary Karngar, a resident of Paynesville: “We have a small country with a population of close to 4 million people.

This is a very small country, why should we be having more than 10 Presidential candidates.

For me, it suggests one thing – they all want to come, grab and go. I say so because if they were serious, they will come together as one to unseat this government that we’re already tired with.”

Francis Dougbah, a resident of Matadi: “Barrow of The Gambia won the presidency because of the coalition. He could not have won it on his own. Jammeh is a powerful man and he was the incumbent.

But what I admire about the opposition parties in The Gambia is that they were able to give Barrow the chance to lead them to victory; every election year, we complain about the ruling government, why can’t our opposition come together and give the Liberian people a better option?”

Musu Kamara, a resident of S.D. Cooper Road: “If we want to make progress as a nation, we first of all have to look at what is obtaining around us and we what lessons we can learn from it.

Ordinarily, one would not have thought that Yahya Jammeh would have lost the election, despite his attempt to sabotage the process. Personally, what I learned from this is ‘United we stand, divided we fall’.

It was the coalition that ended Jammeh’s grip on Gambia, not the President-elect. For Liberia, if the opposition parties really want to come close to power they have to first of all form a coalition. Second, they have to be real to the coalition; third, they have to be strategic of who they select as standard bearer. We need a President whose name is free of corruption and atrocities. One that is developmentally oriented and is capable of fighting corruption.”

Alieu Kanneh, a resident of Sinkor: “When I first heard of the Ganta Declaration, I thought we were making progress in our political maturity. But from the way things are going now, it is glaring that we are heading nowhere.

Those in the opposition parties don’t have confidence in each other, how then can we have confidence in them? Everybody is greedy for power; that is our problem in this country.”