By Professor Alhagi Manta Drammeh (PhD; Fellow Higher Education Academy, Fellow, Royal Society of Arts and member of Political Science Society UK)
As we enter the fourth year of the new democratic dispensation after 22 years of dictatorship, the Gambia goes through one of the critical and defining moments of its contemporary political history. 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 Gambia 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. Most of those young soldiers now in their fifties or so were recently sat before the TRRC to testify. They mostly confessed to the terrible rights abuses and to their immaturity and amateurship. They were at one time subjugating the Gambians to the worst human rights abuses in the history of the Gambia. What we are witnessing today is indeed a test of the budding democracy and the rule of law. The Gambians are worried about the future direction of the country as a result of the gigantic challenges that confront our politicians whether in power or in opposition. For the past one year or so, I believe two important issues, among others, surfaced on the political landscape of the Gambia, namely, transition and secularity. They reflect a complex combination of politics, morality, constitutionality and culture. The rhetoric of confrontation should be discouraged by the organisers of either three-years Jotna or Five-Years. So far, the demonstrations have been peaceful. That spirit of cordiality and civility should continue. It is the democratic right to demonstrate within the law. Whatever you define politics, in the final analysis, it is about dialogue and compromises. Pragmatically, I believe our politicians should not be entrenched in their ideological bunkers and should instead aspire at adopting what is best for the Gambia at this crucial stage of its history and existence. The important moral issue is that our politicians need to sit down to find a solution to the looming political crisis that faces our country. All should endeavour that the hard-fought democracy that the Gambians undertook should not be waisted because of the short-sightedness of a few. Let us allow the rule of law take its right course. Let nobody take the law into their own hands. Let the channels of conversation be opened between our politicians. The civil society and the wise elders can play an important role in facilitating the dialogue between the different sections of the society. I understand some individuals are assuming that role. Let us allow them to intensify those efforts with the view of salvaging the country from a looming human made crisis.
On secularity, I have written a couple of articles. I have alluded to the fact that its origins can be traced back to the schisms in the so-called “Medieval Ages” between religious and political authorities in Europe. It emerged as a result of the reaction to the then dominancy of the ecclesiastical/clerical authority over all forms of authority in Europe. Consequently, the role of religion theoretically was diminished and marginalised following the Renaissance and the Enlightenment period in Europe. What is more important than inserting secularity in the Constitution of the Gambia, I believe is to organise the relationships between culture, politics, religion and the state in order to ensure civility and citizenship in such a way that rights are protected regardless of ethnic, political and religious persuasions.
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. 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. 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 differences should be sources of strength and not weakness or division. 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. As we rebuild the new Gambia, the following is observed:
- Professionalisation of Government institutions detached from personalisation or politicisation
Suspension of individuals implicated in human rights violations and brought to justice
Immediate and swift restructuring and reforming of the army and other security apparatuses (please see my article on the Faraba Banta incident on Kairo news)
Urgent need to improve the well-being of the service men and women at all levels
Appointments should be based on merit and experience and not on party/ethnic/religious/regional affiliations
Rebuilding the broken human infrastructure in tandem with the building of the physical infrastructure. I mean by that the social, moral and psychological rehabilitation of the
individual that was broken
- Reform of the education sector at all levels to capture the requirements and the ethos of the new Gambia
I believe with our collective wisdom and efforts the Gambia can be turned around. The culture of pluralist politics with different persuasions should be encouraged for nation-building. We should not shy away from having divergent views and opinions if they are constructive and positive and do not contravene the laws of the land. Freedom is key to any meaningful development. With freedom people can be innovative and excel at doing extraordinary things. With freedom, we break sycophancy and fear and create ideas that galvanize societies. Freedom is an inalienable right and sacred. No one should be deprived of it on grounds of religion, race or ethnicity. The other thing is peace and that we should not take for granted. We should develop and nurture. As good citizens, we should all make efforts to entrench the peace we enjoy and should not allow it to be ruined
Inevitably, there are challenges, but they can turn into assets if dealt with judiciously. For me the fundamental challenge is how to heal the wounded country. The mental trauma and the psychological wounds are deep, and they are more difficult to fix. I have referred to the concept of human infrastructure as opposed to physical infrastructure.