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Gambia: Who is Kairaba?

Who is Kairaba?

By Alagi Yorro Jallow-MPA Harvard University-2008 

The prolonged survival of both multiparty democracy and the Jawara incumbency were closely linked. Whatever the criticisms being made of Jawara by the soldier who overthrew him (and realistically no political leader who is in power for 29 years in West Africa or elsewhere is likely to emerge with an entirely unblemished record), his personal commitment to multiparty democracy cannot be overlooked or denied(See detail  inside)

On many occasions, both in public and in private, other members of the PPP elite expressed strong support for the introduction of a single-party state in The Gambia, but such moves were always resisted by Jawara.

Since independence in 1965, The Gambia had maintained a competitive party system with regular free and relatively fair elections contested by a ranged of political parties. Although the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had emerged victorious in every general election since independence it had always faced, open contestation for political power.

More important than the relatively small amount of aid they were able to secure seems to have been an approving perception of The Gambia’s democratic system of government, with its high levels of political tolerance and respect for human rights and its liberal (that is ,non-socialist) economic ideology. Both features are attributable to, and have been widely promulgated since independence, by the president.

Sir Dawda is considered a great leader—for one thing, he steered his country away from aid dependency on Britain, while maintaining strong relations with former colonial power. “Multilateralizing” Gambian petitions for aid towards a larger number of external donors and supporters, including neighboring Senegal, was a realistic strategy given his country’s meager resources and desire to maximize foreign policy options.

In this context of effective leadership, Jawara’s conscious assertion of his country’s Islamic identity brought him personal standing in Islamic diplomatic circles and his country a significant amount of aid from conservative Arab states and financial institutions.

Aside from encouraging aid, the impact of The Gambia’s attachment to democratic norms on the adjustment process could be seen in another way: the perception of the international community of The Gambia as a democratic country meant it did not have to combine potentially destabilizing political reforms (political conditionalities) in tandem with economic measures.

Under Sir Dawda ‘s leadership, The Gambia not only succeeded in implementing reform measures during the Economic Recovery Progrogram (ERP) to the satisfaction of the International Financial Institutions, but it also managed to do so while avoiding widespread popular protest of the kind that accompanied attempts at implementing economic reforms in Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, Nigeria and Zambia. What is more, Jawara and the ruling People’s Progressive Party won a general elections two years after the initiation of the ERP. How was all this possible? Because Sir Dawda adopted administratively, politically straightforward, decisive leadership to direct the Gambian population. For one thing, political stability was ensured during the early years of ERP by the presence on Gambian soil of Senegalese security forces from 1981 to 1989, stationed there under the terms of the Senegambian Confederation.

The containment of political opposition must also be accounted for by positive as well as negative factors. The policy of political reconciliation adopted by President Jawara and the PPP from the time of independence succeeded in winning over much, if not all, potential opposition. The use of political patronage to persuade opposition elements to defect to the PPP and the ruling party’s need, as a party with its roots among the somewhat educationally deprived rural populace, to obtain the support of the urban elite, created a coalition of interest across a broad range of social and ethnic groups.

The Gambian leader had also established an internationally recognized reputation as a human rights campaigner. It is no coincidence that the Organization of African Unity’s (OAU) African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (also known as the Banjul Charter), which came into force in 1986, was drawn up in The Gambia. Nor is it a coincidence that the Africa Center for Democracy and Human Rights, which includes an international African membership, was established in The Gambia in 1989.

Jawara also made extensive use of the Commonwealth as a platform for human rights issues. Within The Gambia he was also personally responsible for the abolition of the death penalty.

Faith in one particular “icon,” President Jawara himself, remained particularly strong among the older generation, who had been invigorated since the 1970s by the “Meet the Farmers” tours, annual cavalcades which brought the president into contact with ordinary people up and down the country. To them, Jawara was synonymous with the country’s proudest achievement: the winning and sustaining of independence.

In Africa, only Botswana (which gained independence in 1966) and Mauritius (which gained independence in 1968) come close to this long record of constitutional political pluralism. With the death of President Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire in December 1993 and the peaceful ousting through the ballot box of President Hastings Kamuza Banda of Malawi in May 1994, President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara was Africa’s longest-serving national leader. For a short period he enjoyed the distinction of being the very last of that generation of African leaders who had led their countries to independence in the 1960s to remain in power. His overthrow marked the ending of an era not just for the Gambia but for the whole of Africa. In short, Sir Dawda is charming, a good political communicator and a very charismatic leader. He is a honest and sincere leader above all a God –fearing person.

Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara: The Man, the Politician

             His Politics, Leadership, and Legacy, 1962-1994

For more than a quarter of a century, The Gambia was one of sub-Saharan Africa’s longest-standing multi-party democracies. It was perceived (along with Botswana and Mauritius) as an “exception” on an African continent where authoritarianism and military regimes have been the norm. Apart from the aborted coup of 1981, The Gambia had enjoyed relative peace and stability since it attained independence from Britain in 1965. In 1994, The Gambia was perceived again as a deviant case when a military coup d’etat toppled Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara’s People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government, thereby bucking the post-1989 sub-Saharan African trend away from authoritarianism towards multiparty politics

Should the collapse of the PPP government have been expected? What prevented the consolidation of democracy in The Gambia? Consistent procedural exercise of elections and former President Jawara’s known commitment to human rights and democracy were not sufficient for the entrenchment of democracy in the society. Moreover, continued external praise for these positive attributes may have diverted attention from the serious underlying problems within the political economy. PPP came to power in 1962 (during the period of internal self-government preceding independence) and held on to power until 1994. There was no alternation between parties, as the government remained under the control of Sir Dawda Jawara and the PPP. A study of available opportunities for satisfying political, civil and economic rights revealed that conditions required for the entrenchment of democracy were lacking during Jawara’s years.



             The Evolution of Competitive Politics

The Gambia was granted independence in 1965 and thus became the last of Britain’s West African colonies to attain independence. A limited franchise existed from 1880 to 1960, and this allowed educated Africans in the “colony” (the urban area of Banjul, formerly known as Bathurst) to have representation on the Legislative Council. In 1960, Britain further conceded, with a new constitution allowing for the extension of the franchise to the “protectorate” (provinces outside the urban area). With universal adult suffrage, the protectorate formed its own party, the People’s Protectorate Party (PPP), which joined the former colony parties—the Democratic Party ethnic interests. Ideologically, there was little difference between the PPP and other parties; all were committed to capitalist development and liberal democracy, all favored a development strategy with heavy reliance on Western financing for development, and all supported government ownership of utilities and some productive enterprises (Wiseman, 1985). Competitive party politics was introduced in the context of the colony-protectorate geographical division, which coincided with a clear pattern of ethnic demography distribution. In 1963, the Gambian population was ethnically composed of Mandinka (42 percent), Fula (18 percent), Wollof (16 percent), Jola (10 percent), Sarahuli (9 percent), others (4 percent), and non-Gambians (1 percent) (Census of The Gambia, 1963). Islam has been the religion of over 85 percent of the population, and the remaining 15 percent are identified as Christians or practitioners of African religions.

In principle, competitive party politics existed in Jawara’s Gambia. A wide range of parties was permitted to participate in a relatively open competition for state power. Governments were selected by elections based on secret balloting and universal adult suffrage. Moreover, political rights in the competitive party system are protected by the legal system and enforced by constitutional guarantees which guard against their violation. Individual freedoms are protected under the law, and there are clear limits to the power the state is able to exercise over the individual. Thus, the majority of Gambians may have valued the institutions of competitive party politics in place since independence. However, there was a one-party monopoly of state power centered around the dominant personality of Dawda Jawara. Since the PPP was removed from power, commitment to those institutions has declined to a low level. Many citizens appeared to have lost faith in a government that was unwilling to try a system based on competitive party politics, which could have led to benefits for the majority of the society. There was much cynicism and distrust of political leaders by the end of PPP rule.

Dawda Kairaba Jawara: His Politics and Legacy:

Considered the “father of the nation,” Jawara distinguished himself as a modest and deeply religious man, an astute politician and one whose legacy is likely to lie in his commitment to democracy, human rights and rule of law. This would not have been remarkable were it not for the fact that at independence in 1965, the survival of this ex-colony as a nation was highly improbable (Rice, 1968). Modest government development plans supported initially by British grants, coupled with a pro-Western foreign policy underpinned by a free-market system, inspired international good will and financial support for this West African mini-state (Saine, 2000).

In time, The Gambia and Jawara became practically synonymous, the former enjoying international acclaim for stability and peace and the latter for his unflinching support of peace, human rights and democracy at home and abroad. The history and political culture of modern Gambia are inextricably tied to and influenced by the life, ideas and personality of Sir Dawda. That The Gambia today remains a sovereign entity owes much to the determination of a man who could have otherwise chosen to live life as a veterinary surgeon looking after the cattle he so adored. In fact, Jawara was quoted to have said, “There is not a cow in the country that does not know me” (Touray, 1995). Though he did do a great deal for the country, and while his judgment in both his public and personal life was generally sound, he had his faults, however, and is not above criticism. This paper will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of this father of The Gambia.

Childhood and Early Education

Dawda Jawara was born in 1924 to Almammi Jawara and Mamma Fatty in the village of Barajally Tenda in the central region of The Gambia, approximately 150 miles from the capital, Bathurst. One of six sons, Dawda is lastborn on his mother’s side and a younger brother to sister Na Ceesay and brothers Basaddi and Sheriffo Jawara. Their father Almammi, who had several wives, was a well-to-do trader who commuted from Barajally Tenda to his trading post in Wally Kunda. Dawda from an early age attended the local Arabic schools to memorize the Quran, a rite of passage for many a Gambian child. Needless to say, there were no primary schools in Barajally Tenda; the nearest was in Georgetown, the provincial capital, but this boarding school was reserved for the sons of the chiefs.

Yet, as fate would have it, around 1933, young Jawara’s formal education was sponsored by a friend trader of his father’s, Ebrima Youma Jallow, whose trading post was across the street from Alammi’s in Wally-Kunda. Dawda was enrolled at Mohammedan primary school. After graduation from Mohammedan, Jawara won a scholarship to Boys High School, where he enjoyed all his classes, but showed the greatest aptitude in science and math. Upon matriculation in 1945, he worked as a nurse until 1947 at the Victoria Hospital in colonial Bathurst. Limited career and educational opportunities in colonial Gambia led to a year’s stint at Achimota College in Ghana, where he studied science. While at Achimota Jawara showed little interest in politics, even when Ghana and many colonies in Africa at the time were beginning to become restless for political independence or internal self-government. While he was happy to have met Ghana’s founding father, Kwame N’Krumah, the impact did not prove significant at the time.

After attending Achimota, Jawara won a scholarship to Scotland’s Glasgow University to study veterinary medicine. This was indeed a remarkable accomplishment for two reasons. Firstly, it was noteworthy because at the time, colonial education was intended to train Africans for the most menial of clerical tasks in the civil service. And secondly, it was rare for Gambians to be awarded scholarships in the sciences. It was at Glasgow University in the late 1940s that Jawara’s interest in politics began. In 1948 he joined the African Students Association and was later elected secretary-general and president, respectively. Also, while at Glasgow, Jawara honed his political interests and skills by joining the Student Labour Party Organization, Forward Group, and became active in labor politics of the time. Though never a “leftist,” Jawara immersed himself in the Labour Party’s socialist politics and ideology. At Glasgow Jawara met Cheddi Jeggan, Guyana’s future “leftist” prime minister, and classified this period in his life “as very interesting politically” (Saine2000). It was a moment of rising Pan-Africanist fervor and personal growth politically. Yet, still a political career was furthest from Jawara’s mind upon completing his studies in 1953.

Return to The Gambia

When Jawara returned home in 1953 after completing his studies as a veterinary surgeon, he served first as a veterinary officer. He became a Christian, and now, as “David,” in 1955 married Augusta Mahoney, daughter of Sir John Mahoney, a prominent Aku in Bathurst. The Aku, a small and relatively educated group, are descendants of freed slaves who settled in The Gambia after manumission. Despite their relatively small size, they came to dominate both the social, political and economic life of the colony. It was this class that young David Jawara married into. Many opponents claim that it was a pragmatic, albeit an unusual, fulfillment of Jawara’s wish to marry a well-to-do Anglican woman.

As a veterinary officer, Jawara traveled the length and breadth of the Gambia for months vaccinating cattle. In the process, he established valuable social contacts and relationships with the relatively well-to-do cattle owners in the protectorate. Indeed, it is this group, together with the district chiefs and village heads, who in later years formed the bulk of his initial political support. As indicated previously, British colonial policy at that time divided The Gambia into two sections—the colony and the protectorate. Adults in the colony area, which included Bathurst and the Kombo St. Mary sub-regions, were franchised, while their counterparts in the protectorate were not. What this meant in effect was that political activity and representation at the Legislative Council were limited to the Colony. At the time of his return to The Gambia, politics in the colony were dominated by a group of urban elites from Bathurst and the Kombo St. Mary’s areas. Needless to say, at a meeting in 1959 at Basse, a major commercial town almost at the end of the Gambia River, the leadership of the People’s Progressive Society decided on a name change, designed to challenge the urban-based parties and their leaders. Thus was born the Protectorate People’s Party.

In that same year, a delegation headed by Sanjally Bojang, a well-off patron and founding member of the new party, together with Bokarr Fofanah and Madiba Janneh, arrived at Abuko to inform Jawara of his nomination as secretary of the party. Jawara resigned his position as chief veterinary officer in order to contest the 1960 election. In that same year, the Protectorate People’s Party was renamed the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). The name change could not be more timely and appropriate, for it, in principle if not in practice, made the party inclusive as opposed to the generally held perception of it being a Mandinka-based party. Over time, the PPP and Jawara would supersede the urban-based parties and their leaders. This change is what Arnold Hughes termed a “Green Revolution,” a political process in which a rural elite emerges to challenge and ultimately defeat an urban-based political petty-bourgeoisie. Jawara’s political ascendance to the head of the party was hardly contested. As one of the few university graduates from the protectorate, the only other possible alternative candidate was Dr. Lamin Marena from Kudang (Saine, 2000). In fact, some sources indicated that Marena was the first choice for the post of secretary general, which he declined. Jawara’s origin as a member of the cobbler caste was not looked upon favorably by some within the party and the electorate who claimed to, and in many cases actually did, come from royal background. In time, however, the issue of caste became less important, as the 1960 election results would demonstrate.

Self-Government in The Gambia

In 1962, Jawara became Prime Minister, which laid the foundation for PPP and Jawara domination of The Gambia’s political landscape. With Jawara’s rise to power after the 1962 elections, the colonial administration began a gradual withdrawal from The Gambia, with self-government granted in 1963. Jawara was appointed Prime Minister in the same year, and independence came on February 18, 1965. This completed The Gambia’s peaceful transition from colonial rule. Yet, independence had its many challenges, as years of colonial neglect left The Gambia with only two government-owned hospitals and high schools and a poor infrastructure. Unfortunately, The Gambia also faced limited natural resources, a mono-crop export sector and poor social services. At independence, almost all African countries had evolved economies that were extremely vulnerable and heavily dependent on colonial markets and former colonial powers. Thus, Jawara and his cabinet inherited serious problems that were to influence the subsequent course of politics in The Gambia. With a small civil service, staffed mostly by the Aku and urban Wollofs, Jawara and the PPP sought to build a nation and develop an economy to sustain both farmers and urban dwellers. Many in the rural areas hoped that political independence would bring with it immediate improvement in their life circumstances. These high expectations, as in other newly independent ex-colonies, stemmed partly from the extravagant promises made by some political leaders. In time, however, a measure of disappointment set in as the people quickly discovered that their leaders could not deliver on all their promises.



The 1981 Aborted Coup

The greatest challenge to Sir Dawda’s rule (other than the coup that ended his power in 1994) was a putsch in 1981, headed by a disgruntled ex-politician turned Marxist, Kukoi Samba Sanyang, and some members of the Field Force (Saine, 1989). The attempted coup reflected the desire for change, at least on the part of some civilians and their allies in the Field Force. Despite Kukoi’s failure to assume power permanently, the attempted coup revealed major weaknesses within the ruling PPP and society at large. The hegemony of the PPP, contraction of intra-party competition and growing social inequalities were factors that could not be discounted. Also crucial to the causes of the aborted coup was a deteriorating economy whose major victims were the urban youth in particular. In his 1981 New Year message, Jawara explained The Gambia’s economic problems thus:

                   “We live in a world saddled with massive economic problems. The economic situation

                   has generally been characterized by rampant inflation, periods of excessive monetary

                   instability and credit squeeze . . . soaring oil prices and commodity speculation. These

                   worldwide problems have imposed extreme limitations on the economies like

                   The Gambia” (Sallah, 1990).

The most striking consequence of the aborted coup was the intervention of the Senegalese troops at the request of Jawara, as a result of the defense treaty signed between the two countries in 1965. At the time of the aborted coup Jawara was attending the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in London and flew immediately to Dakar to consult with President Abdou Diouf. While Senegal’s intervention was ostensibly to rescue President Jawara’s regime, it had the effect of undermining The Gambia’s sovereignty, which was something that had been jealously guarded by Gambians and Jawara in particular. Yet it was relinquished expediently. The presence of Senegalese troops in Banjul was testimony to Jawara’s growing reliance on Senegal, which consequently was a source of much resentment against him and his government.

The Senegambian Confederation

Just three weeks after the aborted coup and the successful restoration of Jawara by Senegalese troops, Presidents Diouf and Jawara, at a joint press conference, announced plans for the establishment of the Senegambian Confederation. In December 1981, five months after the foiled coup, the treaties of confederation were signed in Kaur. The speed with which the treaties were signed and the lack of input from the bulk of the Gambian population suggested to many that the arrangement was an exercise in political expedience. Clearly, President Jawara was under great pressure because of the repercussions of the aborted coup and from the Senegalese government. Under the agreements with Senegal, President Diouf served as president and Sir Dawda as his vice. A confederal parliament and cabinet were set up with several ministerial positions going to The Gambia. Additionally, a new Gambian army was created as part of a newly confederate army.

The creation of a new Gambian army was cause for concern for many observers. Such an institution, it was felt, would by no means diminish the reoccurrence of the events of July, 30, 1981, nor would it guarantee the regime’s stability. By agreeing to the creation of an army, Jawara had unwittingly planted the very seeds of his eventual political demise. The army would in time become a serious contender for political office, different from political parties only in its control over the instruments of violence. Therefore, it seems likely that Jawara had few if any other option but to create a new Gambia army. Such an atmosphere, however, as the events of 1994 would show, was fertile ground for coups and counter coups. Perhaps more important, the creation of a new army diverted limited resources that could have otherwise been used to enhanced the strong rural development programs of the PPP government. The Confederation eventually collapsed in 1989.

Jawara did not resort to the authoritarian and often punitive backlash that follows coups in most of Africa. Instead, he made overtures of reconciliation, with judicious and speedy trial and subsequent release of well over 800 detainees. Individuals who received death sentence convictions were committed to life in prison instead, and many prisoners were released for lack of sufficient evidence. The trial of more serious offenders by an impartial panel of judges drawn from Anglophone Commonwealth countries is testimony to Jawara’s democratic impulses, sense of fair play and respect for human rights. International goodwill toward the regime was immediate and generous and before long Jawara had begun a process of political and economic reconstruction of the country. Thus, it would have been premature to dismiss democracy in The Gambia at that time.

The Politics of Economic Reform

One of the most marginal nations in the capitalist periphery at the time of independence, The Gambia was incorporated into the world capitalist system as a supplier of agricultural exports (largely groundnuts) and tourism. Since independence, there has been little change in the structure of the economy, which remains very heavily dependent on groundnut production. Agriculture and tourism are the dominant sectors and also the main sources of foreign exchange, employment, and income for the country. Thanks to the growing economy, the government introduced in the 1970s the policy of Gambianization, which led to an expansion of the state’s role in the economy. There was a 75 percent increase in total government employment over the period from 1975 to 1980.

In mid-1985, The Gambia under Jawara initiated the Economic Recovery Program (ERP) (McPherson, 1995), one of the most comprehensive economic adjustment programs devised by any country in sub-Saharan Africa. With the aid of a team of economists from the Harvard Institute for International Development and the International Monetary Fund, The Gambia greatly reformed the economic structure of the country. Under ERP, in 1985-86, the deficit was 72 million Dalasis, and it increased to 169 million Dalasis in 1990-91 (Budget Speech, June 15, 1990). However, by mid-1986, just a year after the ERP was established, the revival of The Gambian economy had begun. The government reduced its budget deficit, increased it foreign exchange reserves, and eliminated it debt service arrears.

Under the ERP, money-seeking opportunities became more abundant, and, unfortunately, many private businessmen and public officials turned to illegal means to make profit. Corruption created a serious legitimacy crisis for PPP. Several cases of corruption were revealed and these seriously indicted the PPP regime. The Gambia Commercial Development Bank collapsed, largely due to its failure to collect loans. An Asset Management and Recovery Corporation (AMRC) was set up under an act of parliament in 1992, but the PPP government was not willing to use its influence to assist AMRC in its recovery exercise. This was particularly embarrassing because of the fact that the people and organizations with the highest loans were close to PPP. In an embezzlement scheme at the Gambia Cooperative Union (GCU), fraud was revealed in Customs (McNamara and McPherson 1995), and through the process of privatization, it was discovered that many dummy loans had been given to well-connected individuals at GCDB (McPherson and Radelet, 1995). A group of parastatal heads and big businessmen closely associated with the PPP (nicknamed the Banjul Mafia) were seen as most responsible for corruption in the public sector (Sallah, 1990). Driven to make profit, many elites did not refrain from manipulating state power to maintain a lifestyle of wealth and privilege. Corruption had become a serious problem in The Gambia, especially during the last two years of the PPP rule.

By 1992, The Gambia was one of the poorest countries in Africa and the world, with a 45-year life expectancy at birth, an infant mortality rate of 130 per 1000 live births, a child mortality rate of 292 per 1000, and an under-five mortality rate of 227 per 1000. At that time, 120 out of every 1000 live births died of malaria. The Gambia also had a 75 percent illiteracy rate, only 40 percent of the population had access to potable water supply, and over 75 percent of the population were living in absolute poverty (ECA, 1993).

Structural adjustment programs implemented in response to the economic crisis resulted in government fragmentation, privatization, less patronage in co-opting various groups and growing corruption. The 30-year PPP regime operated with diminished resources and therefore could no longer rule as it always had. The credibility of the competitive party system was severely challenged as Jawara’s PPP was unable to show that good economic management could lead to benefits for the majority of society.

To combat the myriad threats to political survival, a leader needs resources. Despite the existence of both state- and time-specific variations, it is possible to identify a range of resources leaders may employ to prolong their rule. African leaders have access to two types of resources: domestic (by virtue of their access to the state) and external (foreign aid, loans, and so forth). Given states’ widely disparate levels of domestic resources, with some possessing valuable mineral deposits and others confined to agricultural production, generalizations are unwise, although an accurate case-by-case assessment of a leader’s domestic resource base is clearly an important factor when explaining political survival.

Regime Survival in The Gambia

In The Gambia the PPP regime’s prolonged survival owed much to its leader. There existed an intimate, almost inextricable link between the survival of Dawda Jawara and the survival of the regime, Jawara’s apparent indispensability reflected his uncommon ability to maintain subordinate’s loyalty without forfeiting popular support. Jawara’s rule created and sustained a predominant position within the PPP.

With Jawara’s precarious hold on power at independence, his low caste status constituted a grave handicap and one which threatened to overshadow his strengths (most notably, a university education). The two pre-independence challenges to Jawara’s position demonstrated his vulnerability and illustrated the fact that he could not rely upon the undivided loyalty of the party’s founding members. At independence Jawara’s lieutenants regarded him as their representative, almost a nominal leader, and clearly intended him to promote their personal advancement.

Given these circumstances, Jawara’s task was to overcome his low caste status, assert his authority over the party and secure control over its political direction. In doing this, he did not use coercion. Politically inspired “disappearances” were never an element of PPP rule; neither opponents nor supporters suffered harassment or periods of detention on fabricated charges. That Jawara was able to eschew coercive techniques and still survive reflected an element of good fortune, and yet his skillful political leadership was also crucial. Within his own party Jawara was fortunate to be surrounded by individuals willing to refrain from violence to achieve their goals, and yet much of the credit for this restraint must go to Jawara—his skilful manipulation of patronage resources, cultivation of affective ties and shrewd balancing of factions within the PPP. Lacking the coercive option, and given that affective ties, which had to be earned, were a medium- to long-term resource, Jawara initially relied heavily on instrumental ties and distribution of patronage. His limited resource base posed an obvious, though not insurmountable, problem. Within the ruling group, ministerial positions—which provided a generous salary, perks and for some, access to illicit wealth—constituted the most sought after form of patronage and yet, before 1970, the number of ministerial posts did not exceed seven. By 1992 the number remained a comparatively modest fourteen. Despite these limits, Jawara skillfully used all the various permutations of patronage distribution (appointment, promotion, termination, demotion and rehabilitation) to dramatize his power over subordinates’ political futures and entrench himself as leader.

After independence, in response to the pre-1965 challenges to his authority, Jawara moved to reduce the size, cohesion and authority of the founding members as a group. Many of the party’s earliest adherents (even those who showed no outward sign of disloyalty) lost ministerial posts during the early years of PPP rule. Jawara may not have used force, but neither was he hampered by sentiment; his pragmatism and willingness to demote, or even drop, former supporters in order to strengthen his personal political position was apparent. Jawara further strengthened his political position with the incorporation of new sources of support within the ruling group. His enthusiasm for political accommodation stemmed from the closely related imperatives of weakening the influence of the PPP’s original members and avoiding political isolation. The original group resented the fact that newcomers had not participated in the early struggle for power and yet were now enjoying the fruits of their labor. The secondary factor of ethno-regional considerations compounded this resentment; those who were co-opted came from all ethnic groups in the former colony and protectorate.

Jawara’s popular support and cultivation of effective ties were crucial for easing the pressure on scarce patronage resources. Although the skilful distribution of patronage and associated tolerance of corruption (to be discussed later) played an important role in the PPP’s survival, Jawara did not rely on elite-level resource distribution as heavily as some of his counterparts.

The Role of Corruption in Political Survival

For many years observers viewed corruption in The Gambia as significantly less prevalent than in many other African states. In retrospect this view appears overstated though it is true that corruption did not reach the heights seen elsewhere. Jawara himself refrained from excessive self-enrichment and many of his lieutenants followed suit. Conflicting survival imperatives—in particular, the need for foreign aid and popular support, both of which were unlikely to be forthcoming under a thoroughly corrupt regime—persuaded Jawara to set some limits to “allowable” corruption. The possibility of exposure in parliament or by the press provided a further constraint.

Nevertheless, events during the closing years of PPP rule together with post-coup revelations and inquiries suggest that corruption was both a significant phenomenon and one which played an important role in the PPP’s survival. Jawara understood the political advantages of corruption. Fundamentally, corruption formed an important component of the patronage network, facilitating elite accumulation. It provided a means of creating and sustaining mutually beneficial and supportive relationships between PPP politicians (headed by Jawara), senior civil servants and Gambian businessmen.

Initially, then, corruption played a significant part in the survival of the PPP, uniting political, bureaucratic and business interests in a series of mutually beneficial and supportive relationships. In the longer term, however, it served to undermine the regime. Perhaps the first indication of this occurred in 1981 when, during the coup attempt of that year, Kukoi Samba Sanyang cited “corruption and the squandering of public funds” as a primary motive of intervention. No doubt there was a strong element of opportunism in Sanyang’s actions, yet the fact that he seized upon corruption as a suitable justification for his actions reflected increasing public awareness of the problem. Just a month prior to the coup, Reverend Ian Roach had spoken out publicly against corruption, the local press reported numerous instances of low-level bureaucratic theft, and higher up, Jawara’s leniency towards the ministers and civil servants towards the end of the 1970s was widely resented. The increased public awareness of corruption weakened the PPP regime and furnished the 1994 conspirators with a suitable pretext for intervention. Since many soldiers reportedly regarded their unsatisfactory living conditions as a manifestation of corruption, it also gave them a motive. Sir Dawda may have underestimated the real risk a new army would pose to himself and the country, and in fact, may have dragged his feet in dealing accordingly with corruption. To this accusation he responded:

                   “I believe in the rule of law and democracy. We are a poor country where

                   petty jealousies exist. One buys a car or builds a house, so he must be corrupt,

                   and Jawara did not do anything. I am expected to serve as a judge and policeman

                   at the same time. At the Cooperative Union it was agreed that a Presidential Commission 

                   be established to investigate alleged corruption. Action was taken, then the coup occurred.

 We must let the law take its course. We were serious to run a government according to the

                   rule of law and for this we were highly rated and respected” (Jallow, 1999).

Of course, many African leaders are aware of the positive relationship between popular support and elite acquiescence. However, resource shortages had more likely than not persuaded leaders to priorities in favor of elites. In The Gambia two additional factors persuaded Jawara to pursue a somewhat different route to political survival. On the one hand, the PPP needed to win successive multi-party elections. On the other, Jawara’s rejection of coercion as a survival technique meant that overt public challenges could not simply be suppressed; it was vital the latent threat posed by specific societal groups remain dormant. Fortunately, Jawara did have a great deal of public support.

Personal Rule and Public Support

Given Jawara’s prolonged political survival under difficult circumstances, one might expect the Gambian leader to have possessed exceptional political qualities. Jawara did possess three advantages—the same advantages which had prompted his selection as party leader in 1959. First was his protectorate birth and Mandinka ethnic identity—Jawara personified the PPP’s early electoral appeal to protectorate, and specifically Mandinka, sensibilities. His personal connections in the rural areas cultivated during travels as a senior veterinary officer during the second half of the 1950s were seen as an additional electoral asset. Eclipsing both these attributes, however, was Jawara’s graduate status. Whereas most PPP members shared the same ethnic background, few could claim to have been educated beyond high school. Jawara’s university education both distinguished him from his colleagues and outweighed the fact that it was others who had initiated political activities within the protectorate.

In contrast to these advantages, however, Jawara possessed the decided disadvantage of low caste. As a member of the leather workers’ caste, Jawara’s social standing was much lower than many of his colleagues, which provoked doubt as to his suitability for the position of leader. Some regarded caste as a more important consideration than education and lobbied for the selection of the chief’s son, instead.

It is assumed that long-surviving political leaders do think in strategic terms, that they have some sort of “game plan” for pre-empting and countering threats to their position. That is not to downplay the importance of less tangible factors—intuition, for example—but simply to say that, on some level, successful leaders consider how they might prolong their rule, and respond accordingly. Secondly, it is assumed that leaders possess sufficient authority to implement their chosen strategies and that degree of skill they bring to bear on a situation will influence the outcome. Accounting for the importance of leadership, scholars typically point to the absence of established constitutional rules, effective political institutions or widely shared values, all of which, to varying degrees, characterized African states. The impact of these characteristics has been analyzed in a study by Jackson and Rosberg. Adopting the classical concept of a political institution as “an impersonal system of rules and offices that effectively binds the conduct of individuals involved in them,” they suggest that, in most African states, non-institutionalized government—“where persons take precedence over rules”—prevails. Conceptualizing African politics in this way caused Jackson and Rosberg to identify a distinctive type of political system which they labeled “personal rule.” Subject to certain modifications, the theory of personal rule provides a useful framework for study of leadership and survival, not only explaining why leaders frequently play such a key role in the elite political sphere but also identifying the specific threats that they might expect to confront.

Without the backing of effective institutional rules, a personal ruler is undoubtedly vulnerable. Nevertheless, if elites generally are unrestrained by rules, the same is equally true of leaders. Constrained only by the power of other “big men,” the political liberation supplied by a system of personal rule enables a leader to utilize strategies (designed to strengthen his grip) that would be unthinkable in institutional systems. Moreover, the political rules may be changed—as in the establishment of a single-party state to suit a leader’s personal political convenience. He may also utilize constituent components of the system of personal rule—including clientelism, patronage and purges—to perpetuate his rule. Adopting these strategies, a leader attempts to prevent politics from deteriorating into a violent fight—a fight he may well lose. Whether or not he succeeds is primarily dependent upon political skill. Jackson and Rosberg’s theory addresses threats to a regime’s survival, possible strategies to deal with threats, as well as the defining factor, or skill, which determines a leader’s success or failure. Somewhat surprisingly, this theory’s does not truly describe the state of Jawara’s leadership in The Gambia. Whereas systems of personal rule generally lack effective institutions and are “inherently authoritarian,” in The Gambia Jawara’s adherence to democratic norms was responsible for both a non-authoritarian approach to power retention and a degree of institutionalization.

Although the theory of personal rule cannot be applied wholesale to the study of Gambian politics, subject to certain modifications it remains a useful model. The first general point, for example, is Jackson and Rosberg’s depiction of African politics as an “institutionless” arena. Although this perspective illuminates central features of the African political process, it is important not to lose sight of the variations between states. States other than The Gambia have, at different times, exhibited varying degrees of institutionalization—some have undoubtedly enjoyed a “purer” form of personal rule than others, and in this sense it is possible to envisage an abstract scale of personal rule. The Gambia—though occupying a low ranking—would not, during the years of PPP rule, have been off the scale altogether. President Jawara was, in many ways, a typical personal ruler—the pivotal political role he occupied, the threats he faced and the strategies he used attest to this.

One strategy or approach Jawara failed to adopt was authoritarianism. Jackson and Rosberg, noting the “widespread removal of constitutional rights and protection from political opponents, the elimination of institutional checks and balances, the termination of open party politics and the regulation and confinement of political participation—usually within the framework of a “single party,” describe systems of personal rule as “inherently authoritarian.” Jawara, on the other hand, retained a multi-party system (at least in theory), a choice which can be likely explained in one of two ways. First, it may have reflected Jawara’s perception of the political advantages of a multi-party system. If so, the theory of personal rule retains its utility. Thus, Jackson and Rosberg argue that personal rulers only follow rules when they “have been changed . . . to suit his . . . personal political convenience” (Jackson, Rosberg, 1982). In Jawara’s case the rules were already “convenient”—there was no need to change them.

Conversely, it is possible to speculate that, had the rules become a hindrance (had an opposition party won a general election; for example), Jawara’s commitment to a multi-party system was such that he would have agreed to step down. Though hardly the action of a typical leader practicing personal rule, this would nevertheless have been a personal decision. Nevertheless, although Jawara may have adhered to the rules which as a result of his personal skill as a leader had been retained, there was little to prevent him following the same route as other African leaders and instituting a series of authoritarian reforms. Indeed, many of his subordinates would have welcomed such a move. The element of restraint Jawara demonstrated with regard to political opposition was not dictated by fully established institutional rules. Rather, he chose a non-authoritarian approach. Jawara’s choice held important implications for the PPP’s survival. Perhaps most significantly, it compelled the cultivation of popular support, a feature not incorporated into Jackson and Rosberg’s theory of personal rule, which suggests that mass support is of negligible importance to a personal ruler’s survival. Though popular support may not be a necessary component of survival, at least according to Jackson and Rosberg, it may be a significant factor in the longevity of both single-party and multi-party regimes.

The public support enjoyed by the PPP stemmed, in part, from Jawara’s personal popularity. A fundamentally pragmatic and flexible individual, Jawara was no ideologue and did not posses a charismatic hold on the populace. However, he did possess the ability to inspire trust. An important aspect of this was Jawara’s accessibility (assisted by the small size of The Gambia). He undertook annual “meet the farmers” tours—during which he listened to people’s problems and explained government policy—as well as periodic meetings with sections of the Banjul Community. Despite the increased security surrounding the State House after the 1981 coup attempt, Jawara remained available to individuals or delegations seeking audience. In addition to being fairly accessible, Jawara remained “in touch” with his people. His lifestyle, though obviously comfortable, did not feature the insensitive extravagance of some African leaders. Whether distributing gifts or inspecting projects, he demonstrated a seemingly genuine concern for his people. As time passed Jawara’s longevity and seeming invincibility also worked to his advantage. Many Gambians simply could not imagine life without him.

The Press

Jawara’s non-authoritarian approach to political survival extended to his treatment of the press, as evidenced by the fact that he eschewed the tactics favored by many other African leaders. He allowed newspapers to operate free of coercive legislation, police harassment or frequent court appearances. Jawara’s tolerance reflected his readiness to risk legitimacy-deflating exposes in order to sustain his legitimacy-inducing reputation (both at home and abroad) as a peaceable democrat  The risk was lessened, too, by Jawara’s ability to keep corruption within limits, mass illiteracy and newspaper’s perennial lack of resources for investigative journalism or even producing issues on a regular basis. Almost certainly some ministers wished to see what one local observer described as a more “respectful” press but as long as Jawara retained his commitment to press freedom, a change of direction remained unlikely.

Of course, the press was not only a source of threat to the PPP but also served as a useful survival resource. Government-controlled newspapers, and Radio Gambia even more so, served as a useful communication and legitimization tool during elections or periods of difficulty for the regime, such as labor unrest and the introduction of the ERP. While opposition groups were not denied all access to the radio during elections and most major events in between received coverage, broadcasts were primarily a government tool and a degree of self-censorship was practiced. (to be continued).


Posted on Sunday, April 11, 2010 (Archive on Thursday, April 29, 2010)
Posted by PNMBAI  Contributed by PNMBAI

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