Reflecting on the Gambia’s young democracy

By: Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh Professor of Islamic Studies and global affairs in the UK (PGCeTHE, FHE, FRSA, UK)

The Gambia has come a long way from where it had been in the past 22 years of dictatorship and autocratic rule under Yahya Jammeh as rights were violated and human dignity was flagrantly flouted. This made Gambians become nostalgic of the Jawara rule from 1965 to 1994 when the Gambians had enjoyed freedom and fundamental human rights. In that era, the Gambia had a vibrant civil service that was the envy of many African countries and the Gambian was seen then as a bastion of human rights and the rule of law by and large. All that came to a complete standstill when young army officers staged a coup d’état ending a civilian led government of almost 30 years.  Regardless of all the good about the Jawara government, many commentators would admit that President Jawara should have transferred the reins of power to another person. That long stay probably created some unpronounced division within the PPP ranks. The young soldiers right or wrong capitalised on that vulnerability and seeming internal tension within the Jawara Government in addition to the yearning of some Gambians for a change of government in whatever form. Thus, the military coup was not resisted as such; it could have been foiled easily. They were not that armed, and they were not that experienced either following closely the testimonies by former and serving army and security personnel before the Commission of Inquiry led by Dr Lamin Sise. The Junta led by Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh declared that they were soldiers of difference and that they would promote accountability and probity. It is unfortunate that they became the most corrupt and the richest within a very short period. They amended the Constitution to suit their whims and fancies and cover up the atrocities meted out against the Gambian people both civilian and otherwise. Human rights violations became the norm of the day. Furthermore, the state coffers were looted and eventually emptied. On the other hand, the Gambians from all walks of life; men and women stood tall to remove the dictatorship. Some used their pens and paper to expose the atrocities. Others used their tongue to speak out, while some used diplomacy and other means to create a consciousness about the monstrous and atrocious nature of the dictatorial regime hovering on the Gambians. This week has witnessed testimonies by veteran and young shining journalists who underwent torture, false prosecution, deportation and forced exile for standing against tyranny. Their testimonies demonstrate a treasure and wealth of expertise and talents that the Gambians are endowed with. I am sure these talents and forces should be allowed to contribute to the national development of the Gambia.  Some of the highlights of the week’s testimonies in my opinion are:

That the Gambians from all walks of life contributed to the fall of a dictator and that all the Gambians should come together to equally promote good governance, the rule of law and protection of human rights

That the Gambians should stop being indifferent to national issues. Each and every one has a role to play in one way or the other

That the Gambia is endowed with talents that should be tapped into and harnessed for the national development of the country

That both power and wealth should be shared equitably for the benefit of the Gambians

That the Gambia has brave sons and daughters who would leave no stone unturned to ensure that human rights are protected

That there is a need to create social policies to protect vulnerable sections of the society. The social policies may include social protection for developing a balanced population capable of taking forward the national agenda

Finally, I believe the above will be meaningless if we do not create an awareness about citizenship entrenched in the concept of “Gambianess” I have been “throwing out there”! We are all Gambians regardless of our differences of opinion. We are all Gambians regardless of our different ethnicities. Those should be sources of strength and not weakness or division. We are all Gambians despite the existence of different religions. I very much hope that trivial political differences should not tear the country. The democratic capital made from 2016 should be strengthened. I hope the new awaited Constitution will surely contain laws to strengthen the media fraternity. The media is surely the “fourth estate” that is out there to inform the public and ask the authorities difficult questions.


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