By Yusupha Cham
If you were in the Gambia at the period of the birth of the National
Alliance for Democracy and Development (best known by its acronym as NADD) in 2005, and you were a believer of the possibility of a democratic change in Gambia, then you probably were in the same school of thought as me – NADD’s untimely demise was the greatest missed opportunity for Gambians in history. Let me state why. The brief semblance of unity, as it were, among well known strange bed fellows from across the country’s opposition parties changed the whole arena with people beginning to take interest in politics and mobilising themselves around either NADD or the APRC, since the once divided terrain had become two. The very sight of heavy weight political figures sitting side by side, no matter how strange their past had been, galvanised and united supporters around the country. APRC supporters soon began to realise that there were more opposition supporters than those on the other side as every time they engaged in political debate they found themselves out numbered and beaten from all corners. That sent shock waves among the leadership of the ruling class, forcing a clearly panic striking President Yahya Jammeh to take to his old ways, rekindling his paranoid threats to bury anyone who ‘destabilises’ the country, his usual rants when faced with heated legitimate dissent. As if he is the only one who wishes stability for Gambia, a country whose peace and tranquillity he threatened by taking part in an illegal act of overthrowing a democratically elected government in 1994. Every other week Yahya Jammeh would rally his cabinet of mainly academics and non professional politicians to forge a counter move against the newly emerged political force whose popularity was growing like bush fire in the middle of harmattan. Newspapers, including even the Daily Observer, were forced to frequently carry stories on NADD, to avoid been left out of readership interest, I suppose. And by mid 2005, NADD had caused so much headache for the APRC that Jammeh began privately contemplating reversing to the 50 percent mandatory toll to avoid a second round, which he cowardly did, fearing that his dwindling popularity could prove fatal under that system. Yankuba Touray, the disgraced former griot of the APRC, clownishly composed a song, insulting, in his view, the new political force. He called it, in Wollof; Nadd dina jurr, do mi Nadd nina jurr. Meaning, NADD will breed, NADD’s off springs too will breed. That ludicrous statement of the clown is opened to a number of interpretations, but what is clear is that Yankuba’s prophesy proved to be the case as NADD continued to breed more and more supporters in the villages and towns. Even Yankuba’s master, Jammeh himself, had an insulting go at NADD. He simply coined his own idea of the acronyms – NADD, as representing National Association of Donkey Drivers. Although it was hardly noticed, but that cost Jammeh a lot of respect, as some of his traditionally sober supporters were flabbergasted by his childish demeanour. If Yank’s miss behaved, Gambians could take it to some extent, but for the head of state to descend so low to the level of his clown of a praise singer was demeaning to say the least. And as fate would have it, APRC engineered a bye election when, in its desperate attempt to destroy NADD, it exploited a legal loophole to force a bye election in some parliamentary constituency held by the opposition. This again proved the rising popularity of NADD. The only seat that went astray was won by the APRC through a massive, calculated intimidation and terrorising of a whole community of people in Salloum, by locking up elderly people in police cells for hours to prevent them from voting for the true choice of the people, the Honourable Amat NK Bah, one of the most efficient MPs Gambia ever produced. The APRC transported aliens to Salloum to vote their virtually unknown candidate, who was himself surprised as to how he got that win. That brutal operation against innocent people was headed by the then transport controller and thug from State House, the late Manlafi Sanyang, who by the grace of Allah and the self inflicted curse he earned himself by maltreating the elderly people he persecuted, became a fatal is time of the stupid order he was defending. He died on day one of his trumped up prison term, clearly poisoned because he knew too much. Again, always trying to find a chance to break up NADD, Jammeh shamelessly rounded up the party’s leaders on his return from a humiliating border crisis talks in Dakar, in October 2005, presided over by Nigeria’s Obasanjo, where he had been showered with embarrassing revelations on his subversive activities against the states of Senegal and Guinea Bissau. His plan was to shamelessly pick up NADD leaders, falsely accuse them of unfounded allegations and even releasing a worldwide laughable press release that Halifa Sallah was on the run. Even Jammeh’s own fifth sense must have told him that that was a blatant lie not even a dummy would believe. Halifa running away? Again it took Obasanjo to fly to Banjul, in February 2006, to drag Jammeh out of that embarrassment by brokering peace and a memorandum of understanding on the coming elections.
But such was Jammeh’s frustration at the growing popularity of NADD.
It was at this point that I left the country, thinking that at long last the monkey had been held by the tail and cornered for a big show down. But alas, what did I hear? Stupid innuendoes forecasting the breakup of NADD started flowing from within the APRC leadership, from people such as Yankuba Touray. Instead of dealing with the clown by exposing his slavish mentality, the NADD leaders let the rumour grew and ate them on the day they selected to pick a flag bearer. The UDP internal quarrel, Darboe Vs Juwara, also factored in the process as Darboe believed that his arch rival, Juwara, who would rather choose Jammeh as leader instead of him, is pulling the rest of NADD leaders toward his anti-Darboe wagon. Meanwhile, Halifa and others continued to preach theory, letter and spirit of the NADD agreement until the practicality of it collapsed. In the elections that followed, all APRC supporters and even imported ones voted and they could not score half of the total of the registered voters. The bulk of the voters stayed away. That is the NADD story. A case of a missed chance.