Professor in Islamic Studies at Al-Maktoum College of Higher Education, UK
The Gambia has been seriously wounded over the 22 years of tyranny and dictatorship. The damage has been political, economic, social and religious. This is what I normally refer to as the healing of the damaged human infrastructure. We normally focus on the physical and economic infrastructure and tend to forget the human infrastructure, including the social, moral and aesthetic aspects. This includes particularly developing mechanisms to ensure that such horrific issues over the years of tyranny do not reoccur. 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.
Militarily, whether we like it or not, the military has been largely undisciplined and unprofessional. The army and the security service have generally been personalised. The army has been filled with the uneducated and under trained who were largely school dropouts unfortunately. Recruitment has not been done properly and effectively in order to create a modern army. The Gambia needs a modernised army as in other countries that can protect both the people and the county. This requires a quick and comprehensive overhaul of the security sector across the board. The army must be professional and disciplined through continuous education and professional development. The army should be educated in all fields in order it can be truly national and professional (GNA). Education creates civility and humility. The army should play civilian roles like agriculture, engineering, medical assistance and so on. Soldiers should not be feared but be part of the bigger society. This can only happen if they can be educated in many things including particularly human rights, civilian- military relations and international humanitarian law.
Morally, the spiritual ethical dimension can never be neglected in our society. Morality is in fact the bedrock of any society. When we examine human historical evolution, we shall find that morality or its lack has been largely responsible for the rise and fall of nations and civilizations.
There are many moral lessons to learn from the testimonies of the witnesses before the TRRC Commission. Some of these lessons are the centrality of morality to development of any nation and community.
Conversation: The significance of national dialogue, conversation and communication to promote social cohesion cannot be more urgent. Justice must be overriding and thus Ibn al-Qayyim (a great Muslim scholar) equated it with shari’ah. The New Gambia needs honest and sincere people to move the country forward.
On the individual level, 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.
Religiously, Islam as an ideal is different from Islam as lived. Therefore, there is a need to understand Islam from both its theological and anthropological perspectives. The absolute ideal of Islam cannot be claimed by anyone. Thus, the lived Islam is complex and varied. It is unfortunate that Islam is presented/misrepresented in a way that does not match its grandeur. According to the later Taha Jabir al-Alwani, Islam is channelled to us through “a thick tangle of transmitted fiqh…) instead of considering the “complex realities of our time… and …respond to the complex needs of modern societies”. Intellectual uniformity is not necessarily positive, while intellectual plurality should not be frowned upon. Islamic universality goes beyond narrow national and ethnic parochialism and insularity. Rather, it has come to embrace all regardless of their socio-cultural, economic, political and ethno-linguistic backgrounds. Islamic universalism that is anchored on the uncompromising monotheism (tawhid) has come indeed to liberate individuals and communities. The Islamic universality is one which is comprehensive, compassionate and equitable. It is a universality of mercy and fairness at a global level.
Coming closer to home the Gambia, we therefore remind you and ourselves of the Qur’anic ethics of moderation (wasatiyyah) that is inclusive and encompassing. All forms of extremism should not be encouraged as extremism may lead to violence and militancy that may threaten the stability and peace of our dear country. Extremism whether secular or religious should be combatted. Shari’ah is based on wisdom and achieving people’s welfare in this world and hereafter. It is about justice, mercy and good for the society. Any ruling that replaces justice with injustice and mercy with callousness does not belong to the shari’ah.
The reconciliation we are yearning is not a cosmetic surgery. Rather it is a great exercise to heal the wounds inflicted on our dear Gambia and make it a better place in the community of nations. It is about putting the hand on this wound in order to create social cohesion and civil discipline by entrenching the values of national unity. There is a momentum in the Gambia for change and transformation.
Now that the old regime is gone and a new Administration has dawned, efforts should be geared towards establishing institutions and structures that are geared towards promoting lofty human values, human rights and the rule of law. It is no time to revenge but to establish mechanisms for strengthening the justice system and enforcing the virtue of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is time to build and not to destroy. It is time to contribute and not to stand by. It is time for collective wisdom and endeavour. It is no time of egoism and individualism. It is no time for arrogance and bigotry. It is time for self-reflection, humility and sense of solidarity. It is no time to undermine but to support, guide and counsel each other for our common good. It is no time for partisan politics. Rather it is time to entrench Gambian values and Gambianess. It is time to go beyond narrow partisan ideologies and develop and contribute to developing policies that will rescue our lovely Gambia from its economic, political and social decadence perpetuated for decades. Let us not allow tribalism to kill us. Tribes are there, as one of my wise educators noted, a reference point. Indeed, this what the Qur’an alludes to as that we are created into clans, tribes and nations so that we know each other and not despise/scorn each other. Tribal diversity should be used as a source of strength for the Gambia. It should be used as a source of blessings and not divisiveness.
Politically: In fact, ethnic and tribal plurality is a reality around the world that should not only be tolerated but celebrated. This rich diversity of the Gambia should be maximally utilised for the nation-building and reconciliation. I believe this has been the case in most of the Gambian recent political history. However, there is always a handful who are bent to spoil that rich diversity by appealing to the ugly face of tribalism in their politics and rhetoric. Let us not be afraid of opposition. I believe that is another good manifestation of good governance. We should encourage vibrant opposition and constructive criticism for our vital national interests. None should shy away from the national conversation to move our country forward. We have to reconcile and forgive. Revenge will lead to revenge and violence. The testimonies before the TRRC have revealed the urgency of reconciliation. It has emphasised the centrality of peace and social cohesion. Without peace and freedom, we will be unable to rebuild our country. I take this opportunity to wish al the Gambians A happy 55th Independence Anniversary. May Allah bless the Gambia.