There is no middle ground in democracy. You either have it or you don’t have it. A semblance of democracy is no democracy. Democracy is not an event such as a picnic to be enjoyed in one day only. Rather democracy is a way of life to be fought for; to lose or win every day, forever. In other words, democracy is a process that also takes time to mature. But for democracy to mature it cannot be subjected to the circumstances and interests of any particular person or group. We cannot claim to have democracy yet refuse to allow democracy to flourish!
For democracy to flourish citizens must enjoy their rights and freedoms as specified in the Constitution and the State must respect and protect those rights. Just because one feels there is insecurity or traffic will be disrupted or services will be slowed down therefore democracy could be shelved. No way! Democracy already caters for such situations by ensuring that there is the police and other human services to allow everyone to enjoy their rights as much as possible.
The Inspector General of Police cannot therefore state that there will be no public assemblies at any period when there is no state of emergency declared by the President. Since 2017 there has been no war nor was there any natural disasters or disease outbreaks in this country such that a state of emergency was declared to warrant the curtailment of public assemblies. Therefore, there is no justification for the IGP to deny any group of citizens to demonstrate on the basis that it has ‘compelling national security and public safety concerns.’ What are these concerns?
As citizens let us agree or disagree with each other in terms of our ideas and positions but let us not accept the denial of rights by the State on flimsy excuses. I have seen many people so far agreeing with the IGP in denying Three Years Jotna a permit. Some have expressed disgust with the frequent protests in the country while others have sought to demonise one group or the other thus justifying the denial. If this is our approach then we are harming ourselves, if not now but sooner than later!
Democracy is the environment that ensures that good governance and economic development prevail where the rule of law will be respected by all, corruption will be exposed and combated, and goods and services are delivered efficiently and affordably by both the State and the private sector among others. Democracy is the dispensation that protects human rights and ensures social justice and equality. It is democracy that allows for a vibrant media to flourish thus further amplifying the voices of the people. In the absence of democracy everyone in society is at risk.
Democracy is not just what happens on the floor of the National Assembly or what happens inside the Office of the President or how independent the Courts are. Rather democracy is also very much about citizen engagement to influence public policy, hold the State as well as the private sector and civil society accountable and ensure that citizens enjoy quality and affordable goods and services. The quality of democracy is guaranteed by that citizen engagement where citizens challenge issues in court, protest in the streets or occupy public spaces, boycott businesses among many other types of campaigns.
Therefore, let us not allow our personal interests and political affiliations or our like or dislike of a group or an individual to serve as the measure of our democracy. In a democracy citizens will express offensive and sometimes threatening remarks but these do not constitute violence or hate speech such that one will be denied the right to enjoy a right. Let us protect democracy even if we do not agree with this group or that activity.
Let us not be fed up with the exercise of fundamental rights by citizens and therefore condone the suppression of those rights by the State. Let us remember that when we allow the State to suppress one right simply because we do not agree with the individual claiming that right someday soon it will be your right which will also be seized.
From Iraq to France, from Senegal to Guinea Conakry citizens are protesting against corruption, ineffective government, high cost of fuel and food, poor leadership, abuse of office and many others. Some of these countries are currently undergoing severe armed conflicts while others are full blown democracies, yet citizens are allowed to protest. Why should it be different with the Gambia?
I totally and vehemently disagree with the IGP for denying the Three Years Jotna people a permit to protest. There is no tangible evidence that the IGP has presented about this group that they will cause violence if they protest. The IGP cannot impose a blanket ban on protests in the Gambia because he has no such authority.
I strongly advice the Three Years Jotna group to go to the courts to challenge the IGP’s decision which is unconstitutional and illegal. The primary law of the Gambia guarantees first and foremost the right to protest. The Constitution only contemplates a limitation of this right but not a denial. The Public Order Act is a subsidiary law that draws inspiration from the Constitution hence the norm for the Act is to allow protest to take place. A denial can only be an exception but not the norm in the Act. The norms of democracy require that such denial must be explicitly justified with tangible reasons.
The IGP needs proper advise on law and human rights so that he does not act unlawfully by misapplying the law hence supressing rights.
For The Gambia Our Homeland