By Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh (Fellow Higher Education Academy (FHE) and Fellow Royal society of Arts (FRSA) UK)
I have been following keenly the sittings of the Gambia truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission since its start in January 2019. In fact, I had written an article titled: National Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Great Conversation in the Gambia published by Kairo News on 27th September 2017. In that article, I captured what I thought were important features of the would-be Commission in the Gambia particularly in terms of creating an atmosphere of dialogue and conversation. In addition, I emphasised the need to respect diverse opinions and ideas of the society in order to enrich the process of healing and reconciliation. I highlighted the need to bring to justice those accused of human rights violations and crimes against humanity, as well as transcending petty party politics and parochial outlooks. Moreover, I think it is important to inculcate what I have called Gambianess regardless of ethnicity, tribe, faith or region. I also emphasised the need to rebuild the human infrastructure/capital as there is a lot of focus on the physical infrastructure and structures. The broken individual by the past regime must be rebuilt sociologically, morally and psychologically for the rebuilding of the nation. I argue as well that the whole process should not be cosmetic but a great effort to heal the wounded nation and its people.
One cannot stop sobbing and crying while testimonies are made by witnesses from both service people and civilians. Witness after witness, from Mr. Chongan to Mr. Kasama today, one cannot help hiding their emotions as humans and mortals. They all highlighted gross human rights violations that took place during the 22 years of dysfunctional rule and dictatorship. One has learnt from their testimonies as well institutional failings that need to be corrected and rectified to avoid the repeat of such misrule in the Gambia. I am compelled to capture what Captain Lamin Kasama relayed in his testimony that reconciliation would be less meaningful without justice. Indeed, we need justice to reconcile and heal as a nation. His testimony has been compelling. I came to know him a couple of years ago and found him to be disciplined, dignified, keen to learn and respectful. Many Gambians cried upon hearing his testimony regarding the gallant and chivalrous soldiers that were executed by the Jammeh regime. Undoubtedly, horrible things happened in those dark days of the Gambia. Women were stripped off naked and tortured. Old women and men were bundled and thrown into pick-up vehicles. People were deprived of their basic human rights and needs. People were starved and denied form bathing. Detainees were deprived of decent beddings and so on. This contradicted the very essence of the Gambian human decency and noble values. This is the beginning of the healing and will take a very long painful journey. I am sure, the TRRC under the able leadership of Dr Sise will measure up to the mammoth task it has undertaken to investigate the human rights abuses and excesses under Jammeh rule of the Gambia and to ensure that justice and reconciliation are done in the best possible manner. Both he victims and perpetrators should come forward to smooth this process. Needless, the whole country needs a big school to learn and unlearn some of the attitudes. The society has been severely knocked. It needs rebuilding in a comprehensive manner. We need theologians, sociologists, psychologists, educationists, political scientists together to contribute to this national conversation. Crucially, witnesses to the overindulgences that occurred from July 1994 to January 2017 should say the truth and only the truth as they have sworn to the scared book Truth will prevail, and may God bless the Gambia.