The Debating Nation: Blame it on History and be a Solution

The Debating Nation: Blame it on History and be a Solution

By Burama Jammeh

Since the overthrow of People’s Progressive Party (PPP) there is a noticeable increase in the political debate as to how the nation should be managed and who should be the manager. The problem of the debates, however, as it was the case during the first republic, usually deviate from fundamental national question. The fundamental national questions for The Gambia are – Sovereignty, Democracy and Prosperity. These are what we stood for at the birth of nation in 1965. Equally both the 1970 and 1997 Constitutions claims to ensure these fundamentals for all Gambians at all time. National debates can only make meaning for our common good if they provide some measure of progress in this direction and/or provide some explanations of failures with a view to take corrective actions.  All other issues can best be described as human interest stories that maybe of interest to the reader with or without national bearing.

The 1970 Constitution was deficient because it has not being managed as a living document that required changes and amendments with the passing of time and changing socio-economic/socio-cultural circumstances. The 1997 Constitution was a great improvement over it predecessor but it carries a number of unconstitutional provisions that renders it not so good. Democratic republican constitutions are standards base on the undiluted sovereign will of the people and ensure that sovereignty throughout.  The following excerpts are at the very beginning (some sort of introduction) of the1997 Constitution.

“In the name of God, the Almighty.

We the people of The Gambia have accomplished a great deal and historic task. We have had our say on how we should be governed. For this Constitution contains our will and resolve for good governance and a just, secure and prosperous society.

Our hopes and aspirations as a people were reflected in the enthusiasm and zeal with which we embarked on the task of nation building on the attainment of independence. The self-perpetuating rule of the recent past, however, soon gave rise to the abuse of office and related vices which negated the total welfare of the Gambian people. The sovereign people of The Gambia therefore endorsed the change of government on 22nd July 1994 to rectify such evils.

This Constitution provides for us a fundamental Law, which affirms our commitment to freedom, justice, probity and accountability. It also affirms the principle that all power emanate from the sovereign will of the people.

The fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in this Constitution will ensure for all time respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to ethnic considerations, gender, language or religion. In acknowledging our fundamental rights we also affirm our duties and responsibilities as citizens of this Country.

This Constitution guarantees participatory democracy that reflects the undiluted choice of the people. The functions of the arms of government have been clearly defined, their independence amply secured with adequate checks and balances to ensure that they all work harmoniously together toward our common good.

As we usher in the Second Republic and beyond we give ourselves and generations of Gambians yet unborn this Constitution as a beacon of hope for peace and stability in our society and the good governance of The Gambia for all time.

In this spirit, we continue to pledge our firm allegiance to our beloved Country and pay that the Great God of Nations will keep us all ever true to The Gambia.”

Clearly there is enough evidence in the above as to what is fundamental to Gambia and similarly the 1970 Constitution provide for the fundamentals. Hence the fundamental questions are – are we a sovereign people? Are we a democratic nation? Are we prosperous people? These questions can be answered both in the affirmative and negatives but the only true right answer will be one deduced in line the constitution and laws of The Gambia. Any answer based on ethnic, gender, religion, and/or sectional considerations will be wrong.

PPP government failed to develop democratic institutions nor do they delve/decentralized governance/power to the people. PPP democracy is a Gambian is the President; Gambians are Ministers, Parliamentarians, Divisional Commissioners, etc. The 1970/71 Constitution of the PPP government is deficient. The District Chiefs are elected by the people and fired by Jawara at his will. The governing structures of elections sit on the table of the Minister of Local Governments and Divisional Commissioners are the Returning Officers. In addition PPP has coerce people by denying them jobs, delaying promotions, denying them scholarships, and/or various forms of inducements with resources looted from public coffers. This has created the “tesito classism” which is largely the social orientation of today’s Gambia. The A(F)PRC is a by-product of PPP with magnification of PPP dirt tactics and their addition of killing opponents.

We are haunted by our own history. We had opportunity with the National Convention Party (NCP), National Liberation Party (NLP) and People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) to change PPP with our own terms but we choose not to. Even if we do not want those groups/men we had opportunity to offer one self and/or another for a change but we choose not to. This was because majority of Gambians said Jawara is good. Others said well his followers are bad but Sir is okay. PPP succeeded in deviating the debate into trivial non-relevant issues to label members of the opposition parties frustrated, disgruntled and jealous. This is disheartened considering the constitutional provisions for political parties and the guarantee of political right. On July 22nd 1994 the same people were dancing and chanting that Jawara is gone. It is had to describe such a character for people who claimed they are largely Muslims and Christians with a binding constitution to regulate and guide their common affairs. I can only blame it on history that was largely shape by PPP. Buba Baldeh (one time Minister of PPP government) publicly told an A(F)PRC gathering that his PPP has failed Gambia and Yahya is the real answer. The least to say is that Buba is not only a non-PPP but also PPP has lost control and direction that made Buba to pass a public judgment on that party. Please refer to party history. It is understandable in the course of doing business for one to make mistake(s) and take corrective actions but if it will take over a quarter of a century for such mistake(s) to be realized especially by a policy maker in a ministerial capacity, then The Gambia is doom. Remember the same game is on only with change in personalities and it is already 13 years. Only God knows when another change will happen. I can only hope we seize our sovereignty and dictate that process rather than imposed while we dance and chant on the side street.

Ignor Ansoff – “Observation of the historical transitions from one orientation to another shows that, if left unmanaged, the process becomes conflict-laden, prolonged, and costly in both human and financial terms. Management of resistances involves anticipating the focus of resistance and its intensity. Second, it involves eliminating unnecessary resistance caused by misconceptions and insecurities. Third, it involves mustering the power base necessary to assure support for the change. Fourth, it involves planning the process of change. Finally, it involves monitoring and controlling resistance during the process of change”.

It is up to every Gambian to take a look at our political and socio-economic history with a view to become sovereignty independent people capable of determining our destiny and/or be an ordinary observer of the show. Those who choose to make elsewhere home so be it. Those who want to keep the status quo for sectional interest(s) will be confronted by those determine to own themselves. Regardless, we remained one people of The (Republic) of The Gambia.

Halifa Sallah and team have broken down the content of the 1997 Constitution to the people and ask for a yes vote at the referendum. They have acknowledged that it is not perfect but we can change the impurities with a government of our choice. Was the demand for a yes vote influenced by the thinking that PDOIS is at an advantageous position since it is the only known existing party and/or a genuine argument of a statesman to get back our sovereignty? What else? Either way the yes vote is a costly mistake that is yet to be fixed. The lessons of the ability of the military/governments to twist the constitution/laws are amply in our sub-region and Gambians should not have underestimate Yahya’s hidden agenda(s). What we did was to legitimize illegality that has since neglect all our rights as constitutional guaranteed. Had we took our time to slap the constitution on their face that would have warn them that we are a people determine to maintain our sovereignty. How are we sovereign when we endorsed a coup as a legitimate change of government and turn around to make coup a treasonable offense in the same constitution? How we are sovereign with decrees (impositions) every where in the constitution? How are we sovereign when we cannot determine who the next village head (alikalo) is and/or District Chief? What made us believe that we elected Yahya when the governing law is a Yahya imposed decree? Is it because we went to the polls last September?

Foroyaa Newspaper, July 26th, article, On the 1994 Coup and its Commemoration on July 22, 2007, statement by Halifa Sallah, in essence challenged Gambians which day should we celebrate, April 24, 1970, July 22, 1994 and/or January 16, 1997. The arguments were July 22, 1994 was an illegal action that overthrew the sovereignty of the people while the other two dates were the declaration of sovereignty of the people. This is a very valid question that will continue to confront our consciences as we claimed to be a sovereign democratic nation. However, I refer Mr. Sallah to the second/third paragraph of the above quote from the constitution that endorses the July 22nd. Going by that paragraph and recognizing the result of the referendum, yes July 22nd can be celebrated as the end of self-perpetuation and the resultant abuse of power. This is a total ridicule for Gambians to rely on coup to stop self perpetuation and abuse of power by some group of people. Where is our sovereignty? Where is our democracy? Where is our prosperity? Blame it on history of which A(F)PRC is only a by-product.

The Freedom Newspaper recently conducted an interview with Lamin Waa Juwara, a one time strong opposition personality against A(F)PRC rule, on a broad range of issues over governance, democracy and the state of the opposition parties in The Gambia.  Even before this interview the claims that the elections in Gambia are free and fair, including those from international observers is a joke, the least to say. The peaceful atmosphere on election day in The Gambia is no measure of free and fair, after all peace in The Gambia is a cultural heritage that is best credited to intermarriage and religious tolerance.  The right measure can only be deduced from our conformity to the electoral law, which is a decree (an imposition). Furthermore, the provisions of this decree are violated at registration, voter register management and eligibility of a cardholder to vote on Election Day. The hiring and firing of members of the institution in charge of conducting elections is controlled by the president and the president is also a known financier. That is a classic conflict of interest. The fundamental rights such as expression, speech and association are equally restricted for this purpose. Lamin Waa Juwara may not suffered from violation of his rights this time but ordinary Gambians are still in government custody for no apparent crime besides demonstrating their constitutionally guaranteed support to an opposing political organization.

The comparison of Gambia to British colonialism and Mugabe’s self-perpetuation and undemocratic rule were featured in the interview. I could not make any sense out of these irrelevant examples other than another old PPP time politician deviating from the fundamental issues. Both slavery and colonialism are bad and dehumanizing, hence, the civilized world is moving away from them. They cannot be an excuse for any wrong doing of toady. Equally Mugabe leading the independence fight for Zimbabwe does not give him any special and/or ordinary ownership of Zimbabwe. He deserves the credit to fight for the independence of his country but the people remained sovereign and hence should/can make and undiluted change of their choice.

The offer to use his contact to negotiate the return of some self imposed exiled Gambians is yet another ridiculous utterance from a supposedly democratic person. First there are a number of innocent Gambians already in government custody, if you have a contact please secure their release. They are closer to home than inviting free people to such situation. Second, why should a citizen’s return be negotiated? Is that not a constitutional right? The constitutional provisions on movement and return are

Section 25 (subsection 2) states “Every person lawfully within The Gambia shall have right to move freely throughout The Gambia, to choose his or her own place of residence within The Gambia, and to leave The Gambia”.

Therefore leaving and returning is no crime for it to be negotiated, especially through some special contacts. Contacts are only fine so long they are not used to wrongly influence matters of law.

Section 25 (subsection 3) states “Every citizen of The Gambia shall have the right to return to The Gambia”.

This is a right and not a privilege for someone’s contacts in government establishment and/or anywhere else in that country or beyond.

Probably what is at play here is the assumption that Pa Nderry Mbai is a journalist and/or he has published supposedly Anti-A(F)PRC news and/or articles in his paper. Is this a crime? For the right answer we have to go back to the constitution. The constitution has rambled over this issues all over the section quoted on top but the specifics are

Section 25 – Freedom of Speech, Conscience, Assembly, Association and Movement (subsection 1), states Every person shall have the right to-

  1. freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media;
  2. freedom of thought, conscience and brief, which shall include academic freedom;
  3. freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice;
  4. freedom to assemble and demonstrate peaceably and without arms;
  5. freedom of association, which shall include freedom to form and join associations and unions, including political parties and trade unions;
  6. freedom to petition the Executive for redress of grievances and to resort to the Courts for the protection of his or her rights.

The interview also featured Mr. Juwara asking Bakary Bunja Darboe, Saikou Sabally and others to return home to develop the nation. He has also argued for the rest to do so because, as he put it, there is freedom and that is why he can conduct an interview with Freedom Newspaper. This is an irresponsible call because contributing to national development has no direct bearing on where one chooses to live. Certainly, many people have lived away from home out of genuine fear for their lives. The evidence is the number of the undetermined killings from Koro Ceesay to Deyda Hydara, the mysterious disappearances of Foday Mankalo to Daba Marena and co-prisoners, the unexplained attacks on Lawyer Ousman Sillah and Mai Fatty and the arrests and detentions of political opponents including Waa. What comfort would Bakary Darboe and/or Saikou Sabally gain from such cowardly call? On the other hand if the call is intended to us the hustlers in the Diaspora, it is absurd for such a call to come from a person who has been living out of the efforts of such group of Gambians/philanthropists. Both moral and financial support has been given to all parties by this group. They are also contributing to the micro-economic activities of tens of thousands of family, relatives and friends. In fact if all of us should go back that will be a socio-economic nightmare for that crippling economic. More over it is our constitutional right to stay, leave and/or return to The Gambia at a time of our choice. It is also a choice to be a political activist and/or not and Mr. Darboe and Mr. Sabally has equal rights to determine their level of involvement.

Lamin Waa Juwara has all constitutional rights to associate and freely express his political opinion to the extent provided by law and we respect that choice of him. What is disturbing is that a man we rally behind as a beacon of democracy is comparing our issues with Mugabe’s autocratic rule over Zimbabwe and British colonization of Africa. This is not only an irrelevant example but an act of incoherency, ignorance and irresponsibility. The promise to use his contact is an undemocratic and moreover an unconstitutional act if undertook. Pa Nderry Mbai did not commit a crime but even he has, the right thing will be to face it at court and not get away with it through Waa Juwara’s contacts.

The opposition politicians and their parties are the only civil society organizations that have been asking for political pluralism and change of government by the ballot. PPP called them disgruntled, frustrated and jealous individuals and A(F)PRC called them detractors and not having the nation at heart. Both PPP and A(F)PRC have it wrong and in fact their claims are unconstitutional in that political parties and free political association is a constitutional guaranteed right. Recently this group suffered a numerous attacks from certain members of the public including online contributors and some media houses such as The Point Newspaper’s The Bite Article – The Nation First.

First I must acknowledge that this group has a lot of institutional problems ranging from management to financing. The constitution states

Section 60 – Political parties 6 of 2001 (subsection 2) No association shall be registered or remain registered as a political party if-

(b) its internal organization does not conform with democratic principles;

One way to have a democratic internal organization is through Congress of General Assembly of members. First the parties have no up-to-date registered membership. They should of course be able to do that. However the bigger problem is that except the founders of the parties all the educated men and women do not want to join the opposition parties either to safe a job and/or avoid some sort of government harassment. During the PPP era, even if you an opposition sympathizer, it is hard to compare BB Darboe against any NCP candidate for Kiang West and this scenario is true for many other parts of the country. Except the dishonesty of most of these PPP bigwigs, which was not either obvious and/or not accepted by majority of the voters, the PPP candidates command a lot of personality and other standards which are political assets. Today the quality of opposition leadership is distinguished in many ways than the coup leaders but have little or no support from the educated class.   The current caliber of the opposition and ruling party National Assembly members are either 50/50 or the opposition with a negligible edge. For APRC, it is a deliberate strategy to keep control of the herds. This problem is further compounded by their inability to raise adequate funds partly because of the laws, lack of public support and/or deficient internal structures.

Second, it is totally incoherent for people to blame them for our problems because of the fall-out at National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD). Instead they deserve all credit just for offering themselves to challenge tyranny. It is truly these people we still have multiparty practices. Remember the no election campaign of A(F)PRC and up to date there are no-go-areas for the opposition in that country. A united opposition may have helped our course but it is not required of them. Each of them has a right to want to become a president of The Gambia and that is not being hungry for power. Those killing and abusing the rights of fellow Gambians are truly hungry for power. The constitution states,

Section 62 – Qualification For Election as President (subsection 1) A person shall be qualified for election as president if-

  1. he or she is a citizen of The Gambia by birth or descent,
  2. he or she attained the minimum age of thirty years but not more than sixty-five years;
  3. he or she has been ordinarily resident in The Gambia for the five years immediately preceding the election;
  4. he or she has completed senior secondary school education; and
  5. he or she is qualified to be elected as a member of the National Assembly

We could vote for any of these individuals regardless of union or not. Who has forgone his/her civic right – one who want to become a president and/or one who will not vote because some people disagree in their group?  Who is the loser – one who chooses not to vote and those who choose to vote? It doesn’t really make much of a difference Halifa at NADD/PDOIS and/or Ousainou at NADD/UDP. With the current level of civility and the inability and/or will to enforce our sovereignty any leader can abuse our rights with impunity. The problems are not the personalities in the opposition nor are it lack of union. The problems are total system break down that included the electoral processes and compounded by abuses of the rights of the citizenry. The political parties and their leaders are only trying to get it fix. Whether success or not, bravo, all of you for giving it a try.

“Bakary Bunja Darboe is right in serving in a military government and that averted a civil war and Yahya will rule Gambia for another 20 years”, these are statements from an article by Bubacarr Sakanu, published at Allgambian.net sometimes in the recent past.

First, at least for me, Mr. Darboe accepting a job in The Gambia is matter of choice for that gentleman. I can understand that he might have been threatened to accept the job to earned them some social acceptance and stability or get arrested. Every thing constant the acceptance of a job from a group of criminals who robbed the nation especially by an elected representative of the people is not only wrong but a betrayal of the people. Mr. Darboe has the benefit of our doubt otherwise that was a wrong decision.  How does it avert a civil war totally beat my imagination. To overthrow an elected government has greater potentials to plunge us into a civil war. Gambians good at deception, a culture cultivated either by PPP and/or adopted to cope with PPP, let Kairaba demise without a word. This is the man they have been telling in 30 years that there cannot be a Gambia without Jawara. Unless Mr. Sakanu knew what is not known to us Mr. Darboe accepting a job from the junta averts no civil war and is a betrayal of his people if not under threat.

By extension Mr. Darboe is considered by many as a honest and righteous civil servant. I want to associate myself to that group but I have unanswered questions. Why did he keep quiet over the wrong doing of his colleagues? Was he doing the same? Besides his legal responsibility to the people of The Gambia it will be morally and ethically right to try to fix the problems and if the resistance is beyond the internal problem solving mechanisms, then publicly blow-a-whistle. As far as I can tell he has not done that. He cannot claim ignorance of such wrong doings because he was a Vice President and Chief Government Financial Advisor. By the terms of references of both portfolios, Mr. Darboe, should know all that came to light at the Commission’s of Enquiries. Certainly, Mr. Darboe was not found guilty of any crimes but he was also not investigated and the allegations thrown at him after his departure where not substantiated. Until a legitimate court declare Bakary innocent of PPP corruption I look at him as I do Jawara, OJ and the rest of the group. They are all corrupt and/or condoned corruption.

Rumors have it that Mr. Halifa Sallah rejected similar offers of senior government/political appointments.  Did that plunge us into a civil war? Is Halifa’s situation the same as Mr. Darboe? No! He has declined A(F)PRC job offers mainly because it is a government that do not derived authority from the people. This is a position of a true democrat.

Yahya will rule The Gambia for another 20 years. Where is this coming from? Yahya is elected for a mandate of five years ending 2011/12. This is far less than 20 years and there is no way of knowing who next they will give the next five year mandate.  The constitution states

Section 63 – Tenure of office of President (subsection 1) The term of office of an elected President shall, subject to subsection (3) and (6), be for a term of five years; and the person elected President shall before assuming office take the prescribed oaths.

Subsection (3) A person elected as President may at any time during his term of office be removed from office if a no confidence motion is passed in the national Assembly supported by two thirds of the members of the National Assembly.

Subsection (6) where the life of the National Assembly is extended for any period in accordance with section 99 (2), the term of office of the President shall be extended for the same period.

It is clear that Yahya has no 20 year mandate and even if extension should be needed I cannot conceived any reason that would warrant a 20 year extension. Also, if I can assume, Mr. Sakanu sound like a Muslim, a religion believing that human soul can at any time be requested by our Creator which time is not known to the holder of that soul. When will Yahya’s die is not known and how long he will rule that nation cannot be determined besides the current mandate. We shall go to the polls at the end of the current mandate to elect a president. If any one Gambian can determine the presidency of Yahya beyond the current mandate this is yet another prove that there is no democracy in The Gambia.

There have been other exchanges on various matters that make quiet interesting readings. Some Gambians registered dissatisfaction what over others write about The Gambia and/or officials who are serving the nation while some of us ran away. They further ask if we can focus on the positive issues and be responsible goodwill ambassadors of The Gambia.  It is clearly stated above (quotes from the constitution) that it is a citizen’s right to stay, leave and return to The Gambia at a time of his/her choice. On the other hand just being a government functionary those not necessarily mean one is making a valuable service to the nation. The prove of this is in the outcomes of the Commission’s of Enquiries of Public Officials in 1994/95. As far as I know there is no independent audit on public accounts since A(F)PRC seized power. We know Baba Jobe is in prison for economic crimes. Who else is out there? Also some Local Government Officers (LGOs) are fired and/or suspended with a reason but never prosecuted at court and we wonder why. Above all the official affairs of public officers is a public matter, hence a legitimate matter for public scrutiny.

It has never occurred to me to be a goodwill ambassador of Gambia nor do I see it as a responsibility. I don’t even know how to do that. I conduct myself within the limits of law, good moral and ethical standards. However, we do not have to fake happenings in The Gambia either because we are Gambians and/or 5 billion people may read what we write. The killings and disappearances in The Gambia is a fact. The repression of political opponents is a fact. The corruption in public offices is an open secret. The ill conceived regulatory investment environment is obvious. The abuse of the constitution by government is a fact. Police and Army Check Points are collecting bribes from drivers and commuters in our face is a fact. Seizing land in the name of the State Land Act, from the people of Tujereng, Brufut, Sukuta and Yundum and turn it to a private business man, Mr. Mustapha Njie, for profiteering, is not only criminal but further impoverishing the poor. State can acquire any land for public purposes such as roads, schools, parks, community facilities, public offices, and other developments for public goods which do not include selling it to another private citizen. This is why we are only occupants of land and state acquisition is appropriate for such purposes with adequate compensation. Leasing offers occupants an appreciation in value. Yahya grabbing land and livestock from poor farmers is a fact. The last piece of land he took is Lower Fullado (Boiram area), a very good farming community and he/his agents are using their labor at no cost. The least to say is that this is totally a conflict of interest. The list goes on and on. Except one is trying to deviate from the fundamental issues of our nation I wonder why we cannot discuss all of this issues on the World Wide Web and/or other forum that can easily and cheaply attract as many people as possible. Above all freedom of speech and expression is a constitutionally guaranteed right.

The choice of topic to write is the prerogative of the writer. I can choose romance while other chooses fiction, crime, politics, business, etc. I’m not a journalist and never a good English student but a writer’s responsibility is to introduce the topic, make a clear thesis statement, put up the body and conclude. It is good to hear good things about Gambia and those who have such stories please bring them up by all means. Even those of us writing things considered negative are doing so with a hope to change for good.

Gambians going on international assignments is not a new thing that may or may not be news worthy but not a credit for A(F)PRC government. I was a junior at High School when Dr. Ebrima Samba, the then Chairman of the Board of Directors of that school, gave a farewell speech that he is leaving for World Health Organization (WHO) and he is still out there. I was an entry Forest Guard when Bai Mass Taal, the then Director of Forestry, left for some international assignment. Malamin O. Sonko is the first African Country Director for ActionAid. Saul Njie, the first sport commentator over Radio Gambia, left for African Development Bank, Abidjan. In fact in the 1940s Ibrahima Garba Jahumpa, Edward Small and Jonh Faye attended a number of International Trade Union Congresses in England. Congratulation Famara Jatta but this is no new list. Governments make recommendations and/or endorses in some assignments and in others it is not necessary but whatever the situation it is no political point for a government. Ironically, with all these educated men and women the home from is in constitutional, social, economic and political mess. A closer look at this list also featured highly educated Gambians that did not attend the University of The Gambia. Where and how do they acquire those degrees? Who was the president then? Reaching your home village in two hours and/or be able to tune to GRTS is not a good comparison of Yahya and Jawara nor is it a good measure of the fundamentals. In 1958/62 there was no radio at all and/or coverage is the colony (Banjul and Kombo St. Mary’s). It is Jawara who extend it to Jarra Soma. It is Jawara who did the Trans-Gambia Road to Basse. Whatever claims credited to Yahya are additions. Elsewhere Gambia women (tax payer for 40 years) are still delivering on donkey carts and on arrival at the clinics there is no nurse and/or drug to care them.

The selected observations are not in anyway special among the nation debate. The choice is only influenced by being good to make my point. Clearly, it is obvious that we have a common fundamental issue to look at with a view to find a common answer. The fundamentals that are common to all Gambians are Sovereignty, Democracy and Prosperity. Are we sovereign? Absolutely no! Are we democratic? Absolute no! Are we prosperous? Absolute no! Why? It is also clear that the laws are not all bad but its implementation is a complete shame. Why are the application and administration of justice bad in The Gambia? The answer is, We the people of The Gambia! The analysis and arguments of how and why the people are responsible for lack of sovereignty, democracy and history is what I mean “blame-it-on-history”. The PPP “tesito-classism” has politically and economically shape the mind set of the ordinary Gambian over years on to selfishness, greed and away from national derive. Gambians have no common national derive and instead we victimize each other in cover-ups while each is looting and/or securing public resources for personal gains. This is not the direction we want to pursue. There was and still a need for the nation to stand together and ask their government what was the crime of the 14 students and a Red Cross Volunteer to be executed. We are yet to do that! In fact some people came to the Radio and Television blaming the kids for being rude. The constitution states

Section 25 (subsection 1) (d) Every person shall have the right to freedom to assemble and demonstrate peaceably and without arms

What is the crime of these young kids? Sovereignty and national unity is one demonstrated by every US citizens on the September 11 terror attack on the Twin Towers and they respectfully disagree how to pursuit the perpetrators. Such stand is expected of people of a nation with common national derive. Sadly our mainly Muslim and Christian Gambia cannot agree on simply truth. Why? Just, because we support different political leaders, who are rigging us anyways. District Chiefs, Alikalolu, and other community leaders muted over truth for fear of loosing their jobs. The only time you hear a voice is the one-sided truth that makes Yahya grim a smile of a hypocrite. Being religious, is not only attending Friday Prayers in a stolen gown and/or attending Sunday Mass in stolen black. These religions has a way of life and politics that dictate how every living being should conduct him/herself both in private and in public. I’m not sure if this is the case in The Gambia.

We are the problem and we are the answer. There is no one answers as to what one can do to help out but every effort has to answer the fundamental national question. That is; how can we be sovereign? How can we be democratic? And how can we prosper? You can help out political parties including APRC to be internally democratic and conduct all political activities within the limits of the law. We can organize into unions and other civil society organizations to demand our rights as clearly prescribed in the constitution. Equally we can demand for transparency and accountability in all public affairs.

Civility on the fundamental national question is the best available legal option. And because it is a historical problem that has developed among us over the course of age we cannot have a short cut answer. The road to the answer is a long one but can be accomplish with a step at a time. Different civil society organization can be used depending on our diverse expertise’s to create a synergy that can some what accelerate the process.

The Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and their partner Community Based Organizations (CBOs) can work on fundamental rights issues that people at grass-roots can demand participatory local government administration that is recognized by the constitution. The constitution states

Section 192 (subsection 1) Local government administrations in The Gambia shall be based on a system of democratically elected councils with a high degree of local autonomy.

Note that the above quote is contradicted by section 58 and 59 that calls for the appointment of District seyfo and alkalo by the President and Secretary of State responsible of Local Governments. The constitutionality of these sections can be challenged by a vibrant civil society.

However, NGO/CBO partnership is not only an appropriate entrance into the communities but also cheaper and legal. The legality is further supported by

Section 198 There shall be established a National Council for Civic Education whose composition, functions and powers shall be prescribed by an act of the National Assembly.

Section 199 (subsection 1) The functions of the National Council for Civic Education shall be-

  1. to create and sustain within society an awareness of the principles and objectives of this Constitution as the fundamental law of The Gambia
  2. to educate and encourage the public to defend this Constitution against all forms of abuse and violence
  3. to formulate, from time to time, for the consideration the government, programs at national and district levels aimed at realizing the objects of this Constitution
  4. to formulate, implement and oversee programs aimed at inculcating in the citizens of The Gambia awareness of their civic and fundamental rights, duties and responsibilities
  5. to educate the citizens of The Gambia about international, regional and sub-regional matters relevant to The Gambia, and
  6. such other functions as an Act of the National Assembly may prescribe

Subsection 2 An Act of the national Assembly may provide for the establishment of district branches of the Council.

Subsection 3 In the exercise of its functions, the Council shall be apolitical and, save as may be provided by an Act of the National Assembly, shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.

NGOs are doing a great job of bridging the gap created by poor macro economic policies of both governments and rural communities, however recognizing that abuse of rights is a fundamental source of poverty requires their attention. Unless this largely gray area is addressed only food handouts and other efforts may not bear the desired results. In the late 1990s ActionAid and other international NGOs organized a food rights match along the route of Kofi Annan’s motorcade en-route to the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting on Agreements on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIP), the then Secretary General of the United Nations, in New York.  Those concerns are not the subject of this article but it is about Article 27 (patentable subject matter) and Article 28 (rights conferred) both of which are viewed by most of the Third World to have negative impact on traditional agriculture. This was a good effort but the focus of that strategy (networking, influencing & advocacy) need to be redirect to governments and policy makers of home countries. International NGOs with expertise and resources can also engage local and weak indigenous NGOs on capacity building for further replication at community level.

The National Assembly is an arm of the government and as well civil society representatives at governmental level. With an awaked public demands can be made for better law making processes and scrutiny of the executive to adhere to the limits of the law. Failures to conform to the law can be dealt with in accordance with powers vested upon them by our constitution. An awaked public will not only elect competent but also people with fitting characters for such an important job.

The members of the Bar Association are some of the finest learned men and women of our nation in law. This expertise can be tapped to serve as watchdog of justice administration. This body can work with the judiciary to ensure that all citizens are equally treated before the law while ensuring laws made and ascended to by the executive are constitutional. The body was helping out NGO community Para-legal training programs but there is room for improvement especially linking such efforts to the National Civic Education Council programs. Linkages and partnering will save cost and the synergy will accelerate coverage with quality material.

The National Civic Education Council would need support to develop necessary organizational infrastructure. This should be followed by internal capacity building to enable them develop the right programs, implement and evaluation impact. The services of a legal expert on rights and an extension worker to determine better community training techniques will be crucial.

Political parties can be big on matters relating to citizens political rights and in the event such rights are abuse how to seek justice. This group will establish a good working relation with the IEC to help in organizing free and fair elections at all times and as well evaluate such activities for continuous improvement.

Although Trade/Workers Unions are almost in none existence in our country the skeletal frames that exist are another opportunity for civility. They will need support to develop democratic internal structures and other capacity building trainings upon which they can take up issues such as workers rights, matters relating to fair compensation arrangements safe working environments, equal employment opportunity, fair accommodation of physically challenged members of the society, and other matters of rights in employer/employee relations.

Finally for those of us resident outside the borders of our nation we can still exercise our civil right in many legal ways and as well support efforts in the home front. This is an apolitical approach to the fundamental national question. We can all remain in the political parties of our choice but having to ensure sovereignty, democracy and prosperity for Gambians transcend such political boundaries.

On September 01, 2007, Gambians shall be meeting at Chicago to discuss this national question with a view to establishing where we can fit to support the government and the people of the Gambia to once and for all realize this birth of a nation dream. Of course, this message is not from the organizing consortium, but as a concern Gambian at personal level, in this personal opinion article, would let readers know that every Gambian and those interested in matters in the Gambia are invited to participate in person and/or send contributions to the organizing consortium at ugambia@gmail.com. Such an apex non-affiliate group can be very vital in connecting the efforts of all the individual civil society organizations as a clearing house for conflicts and compilation and reporting of agreements and successes. Our location is also an opportunity to raise funds for the home front in their various activities. Details for conference and house-keeping matters can be access at the various online newspapers and/or the above e-mail. Blame it on history and be a solution! This is one such solution you can be. The Gambia ever true!

Posted on Thursday, August 23, 2007 (Archive on Friday, August 31, 2007)
Posted by PNMBAI  Contributed by PNMBAI
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