By Lamin J Darbo
If he is to be believed, Ebou Jallow (EJ), with an unnamed Ghanaian lawyer, and Edward Singhateh, former AFPRC junta member, and APRC Cabinet Minister, were the three inspirations behind the one-sided executive document called the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia. With a “Federal Republic of Senegambia” his latest pet project, I hope the powers that be exclude EJ from the committee to be assigned the task of drafting the proposed federal constitution of a highly anticipated liberal democracy anchored in the mores of the rule of law. Although allowing for EJ to spring a surprise by working his persuasive magic on the principal federal negotiators in Dakar, and Banjul, my hunch is that this constitution is unlikely to come to fruition. His project of a Federal Republic of
Senegambia is unlikely ever to see the light of the day. Contrary to EJ’s contention, there is no political,prospect of Napoecurity basis for it. None whatsoever!
It is astounding that EJ’s central justification for a proposal so seismic is rooted in governance failures in the security domain, particularly in 1981, and 1994, and the totalitarian system now running our country. A proper reading of Gambia’s political development as of 1981 conclusively demonstrates that an overriding concern, as demonstrated by Kukoi’s easy displacement of the government, was the failure to institute a robust security regime within the overall governance mechanism, not of national viability. This is an extremely vital distinction in the sense that a compelling federal argument must demonstrate that viewed in the round, The Gambia is not viable as a state even where it faces no security challenge.
Without question therefore, 1981, and 1994, were exclusively issues of internal security failures by the political authority governing Gambia.
Indeed, 1981 was a non-event in political terms in light of the irrefutable fact that Kukoi never ascended the pinnacle of Gambia’s leadership. On the other hand, 1994 was a watershed event, a fork-in-the-road moment that could have ushered in a fundamentally positive redirection in the structure of Gambian governance. The authority that catapulted itself to the helm of national affairs had priorities different from the security, prosperity, and dignity of all Gambia.
In advancing his mere assertion for a “Federal Republic of Senegambia”, EJ appears to have lost all sense of proportion, and more importantly, the fruits of his rarefied US military training and expertise. He commands no credibility, and demonstrates no courage whatsoever in the critical arena he now propounds on, i.e., what to do with Professor Jammeh in the domain of the use of force. I emphasise to EJ that those who oppose violence are neither “weak-minded”, nor are they “do-nothingists”, as postulated by this eminent US military personality. Some of those people are at the forefront of the fight against public lawlessness in the most critical theatre, the home-front, with all that entails.
EJ conflates his federal assertion with what I call the theatrical idiocy of an argument that denotes active frontline soldiers as cowards, even as it regard deserters as lion-hearts. Gambia’s preeminent proponents of “by all means necessary”, the euphemistic shorthand for violence as a means of instituting a political settlement in the home country, are resident in the relative comfort of cities and towns across Western Europe, and the North Americas. I do not criticise anyone propounding that liberation mantra, but I ask how many of us are willing and committed to the critical project of relocating to the land of our birth, to assume the role of inspirational foot-soldiers in the legitimate battle for human dignity and national redemption. There is a palpable insurance in numbers, and with the knowledge, ideology, and strategic wisdom in place, plus exposure to the beauty of democratic political cultures, there is no question we can enlarge our collective freedoms via several distinct avenues. With EJ, and many an enlightened Diaspora activist on the ground, the Professor would have no option but to negotiate his survival in exchange for a tolerant and accountable public space.
To the extent that Professor Jammeh expressly and implicitly accepts that “violence is the only instrument capable of restoring the scales of justice…” against him, I do not challenge EJ at all. Again, I do not refute his contention that extrajudicial violence is a central aspect of governance, and that yesterday’s untouchable darlings of the Professor are today’s dehumanised straw men languishing in all manner of degrading locations in the country.
But what has these aspects of Gambian public life got to do with EJ’s ill-conceived and un-argued call for a federal arrangement between the sovereign and viable republics of Senegal, and The Gambia? Absolutely nothing is the simple answer!Contrary to EJ’s postulation, there are no insurmountable “sub-regional fears and socio-economic problems”. Even if there are, they are not remotely attributable to the absence of a federated Senegal, and Gambia. EJ advanced absolutely no political or economic arguments for a federal arrangement between Senegal, and The Gambia. But even the tangential nonsense he appears to advance as a basis for his federal thesis, i.e.,
Professor Jammeh’s “tyranny”, is hollow to the core. The man is an ordinary mortal, and assuming EJ is to be believed, the Professor is the sum-total of Senegal, and The Gambia’s political and economic troubles. Approaching the matter from such a perspective, there is no case whatsoever for aconstitutionally mandated federal tie to bind the two sovereign republics.
If we are too petrified to take on the Professor, the natural course of time will do it for us. After all, there was historical precedence for this. At the height of his powers, the Russians were alarmed by the prospect of Napoleonic invasion. They took solace in their “General February”, the most unforgiving winter month of the Russian calendar! “We cannot defeat Napoleon but our General February would do it for us”.
The Gambia travelled the route of separate statehood voluntarily, and EJ’s assertion of “geopolitical dismemberment” is clueless nonsense.
“Balkanisation”? Nonsense again, especially in light of historical fusion, and current separation, in larger Sudan generally, and South Sudan in
particular. And EJ’s historical precedents (Jolof Empire (1350-1550); the Muslim theocracies of Nasir al-Din from Mauritania (1673-1803), and Abdou Qaadir Khan from Futa (1775-1803) are not persuasive in so far as they were grounded in “violence”, the fundamental bedrock and guiding ethos of empire creation and management.
As to EJ’s “troubled Cassamance”, the bureaucrats in Dakar are fully aware what their responsibility to the peoples of the contiguous territory of Senegal is. Peace is a pipe dream in the absence of justice and the equitable distribution of commonly-owned resources. It is imperative that the leadership in Dakar treat Cassamance as a fully integral part of Senegal!
The sensible preference would be for Senegal and The Gambia to exist within a larger space of individual liberty rooted in a government under the rule of law, not create a schizophrenic creature designed to paralyse any federal mechanism this side of independence. Integral to the cultures of Senegal and The Gambia are the languages of French, and English, and therefore the nuances of the governance cultures of the UK and France!
These two aspects of our cultures can be complementary at the regional and larger continental level, but Gambia has no need to subsume its national identity in the larger ocean of Senegal. Contrary to EJ’s view, such would denote not a mutual surrendering of sovereignty, but Banjul’s unilateral surrender of sovereignty.
Those among our liberation-era leaders who argued for an independent Gambia are emphatically vindicated by the course of events. Gambia’s ability to survive as a sovereign state is now conclusively established, and the country has the potential to be a political and economic giant in our part of the world. It is brimful of intellectual and technical expertise, and in the right governance climate, it can benefit immensely in an immediate neighbourhood where it alone conducts national affairs in the preeminent language of international diplomacy and commerce. There is work to do but that work is doable under the auspices of a clearly viable, self-determining, and sovereign Republic of The Gambia!