8 November 2012

Gambia: Opportunism in Politics, Gambia's Cankerworm


Many Gambians say they are tired of opportunist politicians and opportunist players in Gambian politics. Many would tell you that it is the educated people who make this country suffer; that they come and tell us one thing and later we see them doing another thing completely different.

They cannot understand why people who consider themselves leaders and educated people can continue to flip flop while expecting others to follow them. This article intends to shed light on this very important issue with a view to help people become aware of tendencies that are likely to lead to opportunist behaviours.

I was talking to a University student the other day and he intimated to me that he would accept a ministerial portfolio from the head of state if he were to have such an opportunity. I asked him to explain why he would yearn for such a position. He said he would accept it for a short duration to first raise his profile and build himself up. Then he would take a leave and simply go away to do what he wants to do.

I was also one time in the provinces and a farmer intimated to me during a conversation that he would also squander state resources if he were to have the chance to do so. He in fact said those doing it do it because 'their mothers had successful marriages; meaning that they are good people.

The interesting thing is that it is not uncommon to hear that a certain prominent opposition politician has defected to the ruling party and he/she would say xyz against the opposition to support his cross-carpeting as dubbed in the local jargon.

It is also a practice for some to join the opposition, raise their profile with calculated timing, and desert the party in opposition for the ruling party only to cook up a cock and bull story.

The practice was so popular after independence that it was dubbed 'cross carpeting' which many said was what wrecked the United Party and so many political groupings.

The ruling party appeared to have schemed a plan to coax members of the UP to cross carpet to the PPP after which they were posted to some high positions not only to beef up the support for the ruling party but to weaken an opposing party. These types of opportunist behaviours in politics have been interpreted in Gambian languages as politics, meaning 'tapaleyaa' crookedness.

During the 1st Republic, such cross carpeting was so rampant that there was an outcry against it because it was seen to be one of the reasons that stifled the growth of the opposition or the development of democracy in the Gambia.

And this was why when it came to consult the people regarding the constitution for the second republic, many suggested measures against cross carpeting from one party to another with a seat from another party or an independent ticket.

However, despite the law, making it impossible for one to cross carpet with a seat, opportunist politicians are using the law to serve their interest in one way or the other. Whether it is to dismiss a member of a party elected under the name of their party who may have supposedly oppose their policies in parliament and call for a by election to regain the seat, or to encourage an opposition councillor from another party to join the ruling party because the law does not apply to the local councils.

According to Wikipedia, Opportunism can be defined as the conscious policy and practice of taking selfish advantage of circumstances - with little regard for principles, or with what the consequences are for others. Opportunism should not be confused with "seeking opportunities" as such, or "making use of opportunities when they arise". Opportunism refers rather to a specific way of responding to opportunities, which involves the element of self-interestedness plus disregard for relevant (ethical) principles, or for intended or previously agreed goals, or for the shared concerns of a group.

So what are some of the main causes of opportunism in politics? According to Robert Michels who made a study on this topic: "the scope for opportunism depends very much on the nature and goals of the organization itself, and on the strength and integrity of its leadership," He gave an example, that if the organization sets itself the task to exploit risks and opportunities to advantage, then no matter what its size is, it tends to facilitate opportunist behaviours.

On the other hand he said, "if the aim of the organization is to carefully conserve a state of affairs or belief system, this is much less likely to attract opportunists".

So it is correct to say that one of the major reasons why many people indulge in opportunist behaviour is precisely because they lack the necessary information, knowledge or awareness about their interests and values before plunging into it. It may also be that they have not identified all the consequences before pursuing a particular opportunity.

According to Michel, it could also be due to deliberate disinformation; Self-interest may be followed because it is unclear or undecided what other interests are at stake, or because a shared morality is lacking. He said, plenty scope exists for opportunist behaviour where everything is very uncertain or chaotic; that faced with an excess of possible choices, a person, group or organization may also become disoriented, and "plump" arbitrarily for a course of action that serves self-interest, regardless of principles.

Sociologists and psychologists view human opportunism as somewhat related to the study of gambling behaviour, and centres on the way people respond to risk and opportunity, and what kind of motivation and organizational culture is involved. They said both the element of risk and opportunity play a role, since seizing an opportunity may carry no risk or eliminate risk (that might indeed be the very reason for it), while creating an opportunity may be conditional on taking a risk ("if we take this risk, then we will have an opportunity").

Below four examples are cited as indulging in opportunist behaviour:

refuse to take a risk, if doing so would reduce influence, support, wealth or popularity, even though taking the risk is consistent with the principles the person or group uphold.take a risk for the purpose of gaining/maintaining influence, support, wealth or popularity, although taking this risk is inconsistent with the principles being espoused.take advantage of an opportunity to increase influence, support, wealth or popularity, although it is not consistent with the principles being upheld.refuse to respond to an opportunity, only because responding to it might forfeit influence, support, wealth or popularity, even though taking the opportunity would in truth be consistent with the principles being subscribed to.

According to researchers on this issue, the propensity to engage in such kinds of behaviours depend a great deal on the presence or absence of personal characteristics such as integrity, moral character, personal insight or self-awareness.

In other words, it depends on the ability to judge correctly the consequences of different courses of action as well as how permissive a person, group or organization is . Without these factors which influence the capacity to know where to draw the line appropriately, and regulate one's own behaviour, one cannot remain consistent.

Another observation is that people can often be inclined to think "what's good for the goose, is good for the gander", or "if it's OK for them to do it, it's OK for me to do it as well". It is usually after the experience that many come to regret their actions.

According to Michel, the prevalence of opportunist behaviour is likely to be influenced by the thinking that the pay-off or advantage of engaging in it, outweighs possible disadvantages or penalties.

It is his view that Success is also another motivating factor for opportunist behaviours. According to him, opportunism often involves the presence of a very strong desire to be popular, to exercise influence or to succeed in making gains. That motivation can promote the urge to win something "by any means necessary", even if it means to "cut corners" and do things not consistent with relevant principles. If people are for some reason motivated "to do anything at all to achieve success", they are more likely to engage in opportunist behaviour for that very reason.

According to Lord Acton's famous dictum, "all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely"; that if a person or group has great power in some context, it is more likely that they can engage in opportunist behaviour without this being challenged, criticized or checked. In other words, the absence of relevant controls on behaviour is likely to facilitate opportunism. If there are only weak sanctions against unprincipled behaviour, this creates a setting where opportunist behaviour can flourish, and if the positions of people are very unequal (in terms of power, wealth, status, knowledge or strength) the possibility exists that some will take advantage of the disadvantage of others.

So as you can see some organizations may have a code of behaviour or set of rules that makes opportunist behaviour difficult, since organizational policy sets clear and immediate penalties for such behaviour. There are other organizations that may be so loosely structured and so lacking in controls and sanctions that regulate behaviour that opportunism becomes almost unavoidable. This is why the nature of an organization may promote or inhibit opportunist behaviour or it may depend greatly on what sort of people it attracts.

So to cut a long story short, opportunists whether in government or outside government who are out to betray the aspirations of the people for selfish gains should now be aware that Gambian people are more alert than ever before and are ready to ditch opportunists or aspiring opportunists into the bottomless pit of shame and eternal humiliation, for pretending to be their servants in disguised opportunist clothing. So beware.

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