As the risk of a confrontational by-election is looming in Niamina West, in the Central River Region – South, the National Council for Civic Education has stepped up its presence in the constituency. The Council is working to upkeep the peace between supporters of the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC) who, each has a candidate aiming to occupy the constituency’s vacant National Assembly seat since the death of GDC’s Demba Sowe earlier this year.
Following his demise, NPP of President Adama Barrow intends to snatch the seat from his arch rival, Mama Kandeh, and test his popularity ahead of the 2021 presidential election. But the history political rivalry in the Niamina West constituency is marred by strong disputes between political proxies of Mama Kandeh and President Barrow, who both came from the same district of Jimara in the Upper River Region. This is expected to continue warranting the National Council for Civic Education (NCCE) to initiate a pre-discussion with the constituents of every party before the election.
“The use of force, intimidation, slander, provocation and thugs are threats to our fragile democracy and peace thus people were encouraged to desist from such undemocratic and unlawful acts. Tolerance and respect for the rule of law are very critical in the maintenance of peace during an electoral process,” said Yusupha Bojang, program manager of NCCE in an open discussions with militants of the contending parties.
According to Bojang the foundation for a free and fair election lays on voters being law abiding while they exercise tolerance and maintain peace before, during and after the elections. He advised the constituents to always remember that in an election, there must be a winner.
“It is a civic duty on every Gambian to consolidate the peaceful coexistence the Gambia is known for. Since every citizen has a right to express his or her view and be heard, naturally differences are likely to occur, but let us learn to tolerate each other when such differences occur. Whether one’s choice wins or loses, that should not cloud our mind to the point of compromising the peace and stability of the country”, Yusupha Bojang insisted.
Ebrima Bah, assistant village head lauded the work of the NCE, saying civic education has brought some changes within their community in awareness level creation. He advised the community to refrain from the politics of foul words and tribal sentiments ahead of the by-election.
“Do not use foul words against other parties. Go and vote without violence. Vote peacefully, go home peacefully and wait for the results.”
Meanwhile, the communities were also sensitized on the importance of the civic education to end the history of voter apathy in the region. “The objective of the campaign is to promote civic awareness for increased electoral participation to lessen the high voter apathy that usually characterize National Assembly and Area Council elections as well as promote peace during the process. This will significantly contribute to high voter turnout and the maintenance of peace during the electoral process,” says Bojang.
A youth leader in one of the communities, Sainey M. Bah, agrees that change of perception is required to ensure mass participation in the voting. “In the past presidential and parliamentary elections, it happened here. So many people didn’t vote. But this coming by-election is different. People are ready. New political parties are forthcoming and people are ready to vote.”