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Gambians wonder about President Barrow’s duration as head of state

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President Adama Barrow has left Gambians wondering about the duration of his presidency as he did not address it at his recent State of the Nation Address.

By the time he finished his 45-minute State of the Nation Address at the National Assembly on Thursday, 19 September 2019, some of his compatriots were left ruing at what they thought was a missed opportunity to come clean on his intentions in relation to serving three years or going the whole hog and remain at the helm for five years as constitutionally mandated.

During his shock poll victory as head of a hastily created opposition coalition in 2016, Barrow had repeatedly promised to serve just three years in a transitional arrangement, should the electorate vote him into office.

Barrow stuck to this familiar electioneering refrain during interviews with local and international journalists, waving away any suggestion that he could go back on his promise.

However, through the course of the next 18 months, this refrain had been rendered hollow and distant, not helped by his increasing ambivalence as it bubbled to the surface.

Late last year, he raised question marks over his tenure, thickening the dust storm around a debate over whether he should keep a promise he made to his people to prune his stay in power to three years or proceed with a constitutionally-backed five years.

Since then, the plot has thickened and the question over his tenure has driven a wedge among Gambians, who had united against all expectations to vote out of office his predecessor, Yahya Jammeh.

Today, this polarity is mirrored by the existence of two diametrically opposed forces whose births took inspiration from this vexed question which has refused to go away, a local social commentator who wishes anonymity claims.

The so-called Three Years Jotna Movement’s stated aim is to unseat Barrow by a series of mass disobedience campaigns that even encourages civil servants not to report to work for a week next December when the three-year anniversary of his election comes around.

However, another movement in support of the president’s unstated five-year term was quickly launched to checkmate that.

“Thus, 2 December when Barrow’s election would clock three years sets the stage for confrontation between the two opposing forces with not only Barrow’s presidential longevity at stake but also Gambia’s stability” the commentator predicts.

Before Barrow’s address, many Gambians including some National Assembly members such as Halifa Sallah had entertained hope that he would use the occasion to “address this dilemma”.

Sallah who incidentally played a starring role as the coalition spokesman during the post-electoral crisis triggered by Jammeh’s U-turn after initially conceding poll defeat, said there was expectation that Barrow was going to pluck the courage and tell the nation where his presidency is heading.

The veteran politician told journalists that the president has missed a chance to avoid prolonging the dilemma caused by his protracted reticence over the issue, thus fuelling more tension.

Barrow instead launched into a long-winded monologue chronicling the supposed achievements under his belt over the past two years, setting out his stall for the future.

“This is the surest hint about his intention for a longer-term presidency although he would not go on to say this” the anonymous commentator opines.

Barrow described 2019 as a turning point for the country’s development trajectory from fulfilling projects to incentives for civil servants, “and reform processes that would ensure accountability, peace and reconciliation, and a harmonised state that guarantees human rights”.

All these are generally seen as divisive talking points for Gambians some of whom dread that Barrow’s reticence over his future as president will just add to the tension, the suspense and possible overreaction on the streets.

It remains to be seen whether his call for Gambians to join in his quest for national development will strike an agreeable chord or provoke his detractors in the Three Years Jotna Movement to make good on their threat to render The Gambia ungovernable while he remains shut in at State House.


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