The Gambia From Mob Justice to Criminal Justice System

By: Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh (Fellow Higher Education Academy (FHE) and Fellow Royal society of Arts (FRSA) UK)

I am no lawyer, but I think the recent incidents of banditry, criminality and the perceptions ordinary people may have about our criminal justice system warrant one to reflect profoundly on what went wrong and to soul search for solutions. Undoubtedly, the newly found freedom after years of accumulated tyranny, dictatorship and frustration with polity maybe misunderstood and misrepresented by our young impressionable people. Freedom, which is one of the cornerstones of any good governance or name it democracy, must be used responsibly otherwise it may lead to anarchy. It is good to note that the government of the Gambia is trying to end this phenomenon of criminality and mob justice by making police presence felt at important vantage points. It is never too late to have such interventions. However, the populace seems to lose its patience with the slow pace of criminal justice system in the Gambia. Therefore, people are unfortunately taking the law into their own hands. There are fundamental institutional and structural weaknesses that need to be strengthened through education and sensitisation. The criminal justice system from the police who arrest, the prosecution service, the courts to the prison where correction and rehabilitation ought to take place, must work together to ensure that justice is entrenched. Justice is the bedrock of peace and prosperity. We need collective effort from all-the police, judiciary, the religious leaders and above all our politicians and the government. There is a need for more civic education about issues of law and criminal justice. It is a wake-up call with regards to the bigger issue of justice that people want to see. In my articles in Kairo News on 15th February 2019 and 26th February 2019, I proposed that to rebuild the new Gambia, the following among others, is required:

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.

Job opportunities for the young citizenry of the Gambia is a matter of urgency. The young mut be engaged and there must opportunities created for them in terms of both education and employment. They must be empowered and included in the process of national development agendas. The youth in the Gambia constitutes more than 60% of our population.

I also observed that to make this reconciliation resilient and meaningful, a form of transitional and restorative justice maybe put in place to formulate mechanisms for addressing human rights abuses and to heal the wounds of the past regime. Truth-telling will therefore augur well in bringing about closure and healing of those wounds and broken families and individuals. In this restorative justice, relationships between individuals, communities and families can be reconstructed to move the country forward. As the TRRC ended hearing testimonies, we hear harrowing stories of state brutality against the very citizens it was mandated to protect and serve. The Lead Counsel summed it up very clearly within minutes and observed that: “There may be denials, but these numbers don’t lie. Deny as much as you wish but the fact speaks for itself. Justice must happen, we all pray for reconciliation and that is fundamental but there must be a justice for the victims. Dictatorship, self-perpetuation in power and corruption is a recipe for disaster but in order to free ourselves from those shackles, we have to ensure there is rule of law and to have strong democratic institutions. If we don’t correct the ills of the past, we will be sowing seeds of disaster for the future.” This is probably in reference to the need for reform of institutions and make them fit for reconciliation, healing, and the dispensation of justice and that will prevent the recurrence of the 1994 coup b the military junta. Let justice take its course and due process happen. Let no one take the law into their own hands.


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