Adama Barrow’s Talib Obsession: Mayoral Election Is Not A Contest Between Barrow And Bensouda
By Mustapha L Marong – USA
It’s funny how life’s universal truths reveal themselves at the most unexpected places and times. This was the case for me, today, while meandering the afternoon away, watching an NPP rally at the buffer zone, and pondering the politics of our nation.It occurred to me that the idiom that life will throw everything but the kitchen sink in your path, and then it will throw the kitchen sink perfectly encapsulates the politics of our time, especially the treatment that the lord mayor of Kanifing municipal council, Talib Ahmed Bensouda is getting from the president of our republic.
If you are wondering, the idiom went to say that it is your job to avoid the obstacles. If you let them stop you or distract you, you’re not doing your job, and failing to do your job will cause regrets that paralyze you more than a bad back. That captures the shrewd nature of Talib’s politics to steer clear of the obstacles that the president and his surrogates are laying for him to trip over.
Good governance encapsulates a lot of things, among which is conducting public affairs with transparency, accountability, participation, responsiveness, effectiveness, efficiency, equity, inclusion, rule of law, and respect for human rights. It means delivering public services that meet the needs and expectations of the people. It meant ensuring that public resources were used wisely and fairly. It meant promoting democracy and development for all.
The Kanifing area council under Talib, not perfect by any means, tries to hew along that good governance ethos and their Mbalit project, which draws the ire and criticism of President Barrow and a variety of speakers at the NPP Shindig at the buffer zone tonight, an event billed as a celebration of the nomination of their candidates for the top job at the three urban municipalities, is a perfect example of responsiveness, effectiveness, efficiency, equity, inclusion, in solving a perennial societal need.
President Barrow and his surrogates pooh-poohed the fee the municipality charged for this essential service, with the president derisively saying that he has not seen such a fee for service arrangement anywhere. That coming from a guy who lived in London where council tax is levied and collected from residents to provide, you guess it, garbage collection among other things, is, shall we say, rich. Not to be outdone in the promise pie in the sky race, his party’s candidate for KMC, who lived in the United States and paid for garbage, sewage and water among other things, feigned amnesia to tell residents of KM that they shouldn’t pay for trash collection because it should come out of their taxes, conveniently forgetting that he was paying property taxes to a city that turns around and made him pay to get his garbage collected when he lived in Florida.
Talking of fees and who gets to levy them, the Securiport scam, as the former Auditor General of the Gambia put it, comes to mind. Here is an arrangement where the President’s office initiated a deal with a foreign private company to collect an inordinate amount of money from the traveling public for a service that could be provided for by upgrading the immigration systems with security software that is available to them at no charge. But that is okay in the president’s book. What he loses sleep over is the temerity of Talib Bensouda thinking he can charge twenty-five dalasis for a month of garbage pick-ups, the security of the collected personal data or the financial burden of the fees never crossed his mind.
This may bore you to no end, but the fee for service hypocrisy of the Barrow government doesn’t end at the securiport deal. While they jump all over Talib for the prepaid, efficient Mbalit system that he runs in KM, they conveniently forget that they are levying fees for drivers to drive across Trans-Gambia- I mean, Senegambia bridge in the North Bank and Samba Juma bridge in Basse, URR, albeit, both structures are utilized by citizens who pay other forms of taxes. I don’t think Talib will have any issues with the last two because he understands that nothing in life is free, you just may not know who paid for it. And this is whygovernments levy taxes, fees and fines. They are a necessary evil to the development of a polity. Trying to score cheap political points by promising utopia will come to a deadly halt when the reality of a community’s needs comes calling.
Which brings me to Barrow’s obsession with Bensouda and the kitchen sink strategy he is deploying to kneecap his young, promising political career and how that undermines good governance in many ways. It has diverted attention from the real issues facing the country, such as poverty, inequality, insecurity, inadequate health care, education, the environment, etc. Instead of talking about ways and means of tackling those serious issues, Our president is obsessing over an invitation to the opening of a new office complex, as if he doesn’t have enough on his plate. The obsession has generated some excellent results in our jurisprudence, when the councils successfully sued to block their undemocratic dissolution three months prior to local government elections, derailing the chicanery the government would be able to pull with temporary custodians they will be appointing to oversee these municipalities.
Having failed to ouster and replace the democratically appointed councils with hand-picked viceroys who will do his bidding, the president deployed plan B or what I call the muddy up Bensouda project – officially referred to as the commission into the conduct of local government councils, borne out of the frustration of the president with getting outfoxed at the courts by the team KMC. The other councils are collaterals in the president’s pursuit to get Bensouda. If it sounds insidious, that is because it is. The president, whether he admits it or not, sees Talib as the biggest threat to his project of self-perpetuation and entrenchment, and he is determined to undermine the mayor’s reputation and popularity by any means necessary.
So, what is a president to do? Simple. Ordered his loyalists in the parliament, such as Kebba Lang Fofana, to launch hearings, drag mayors and chairpersons into these hearings to garner negative headlines for them, albeit the issues at hand are the responsibilities of the CEOs and their finance teams. But in politics, muddying the waters always confuses low – information voters and seeing faces on television with a wisp of innuendo about wrongdoing goes a long way to taint images. The president and his surrogates know this too well. Talib’s clean cut image must be muddied up.
It is refreshing to see Bensouda refused to back down or give in to Barrow’s pressure. He defended himself with facts and evidence. He exposed Barrow’s propaganda on the Mbalit program for what it is when he articulately dissects the reasoning behind the fee to an audience of tertiary education students he conversed with at a question-and-answer forum he organized. Furthermore, he rallied his base and reached out to other constituencies. He presented his vision for a better Gambia, based on good governance principles -a repudiation of the president’s utterance that you can say anything during a campaign.
The president of our republic is clearly threatened by mayor Bensouda’s popularity and is desperate to derail it before he could potentially suit up to take on him in 2026 -this is within the realm of possibilities, all things considered.
The question on many observer’s minds is whether the electorate will see through President Barrow’s schemes and tactics, reject his negative campaign, and embrace Bensouda’s positive, issues driven message. These mayoral elections, after all, is not a contest between the president and Mayor Bensouda, notwithstanding his efforts to make it so.