By Burama FL Jammeh

Civic Mindedness and Participation Essential for Democracy to Work

Some 2,500 years ago Athens and some Ancient Greek City-States practice direct democracy. The word democracy comes from the Greek demos meaning “the people” and kratia, meaning “rule”. Direct democracy is when the people participate directly in government decision making. Every Athenian citizen participated in the governing assembly and voted on all major issues. The increase in populations, changing demographic relations and country sizes made the application of direct democracy impossible. Representative democracy, synonymous to republic is when majority is expressed through a smaller group of individuals elected by the people to act as their representatives. This is what we have in today’s democracy and it is the same most autocracies/dictators hide behind.

Elsewhere there were/are other forms of governance from feudalism to communism. The latter’s main architect, Karl Max, philosophized that the proletariats will take over from bourgeoisie. This did not happen as Max predicts but masses have established their will in governance in about half of the world. However even in these areas and in great democracies bourgeoisie still command a lot of influence. Today democracy is the preferred governance system even for those under other systems because it provides freedom of the individual, opportunity to make choices and reward based on input. The reward systems are largely inbuilt in the capitalistic economic system that is market driven. Market forces are dependent on demand and supply which are people centered.

The United State of America, one time 13 colonies (what became the United States of America) ruled by the British Monarch is today arguably the best working democracy. This is an achievement credited to the ordinary men and women of the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave”. Although a lot of the foundation was laid by the visionary leaders it is the progressives (middle-class, usually college graduates and believers in science/social sciences) movements that perfected the system.  In 1776, Thomas Paine, a former English Schoolmaster and Corset Maker’s, “Common Sense” article/speech severed the remaining United State ties of loyalty to the British Monarch.

“A government of our own is a natural right; and when a man seriously reflects on the precariousness of human affairs, he will become convinced, that it is infinitely wiser and safer, to form a constitution of our own in a cool and deliberate manner, while we have it in our power, than to trust such an interesting event to time and chance”.

Surprisingly against this philosophical stand America maintained slaves for economic gains. They had to deal with issues of open-voting, vote buying for control over state/city resources (machine & boss), the civil war, the great depression, the abolition of slavery, buying of Alaska and other places, etc. all ended up in a progressive movement that demand a just society for all its members.

The Gambia’s political history has interesting similarities at least up to the attainment of independence in 1965 with that of USA. The obvious is Gambia was equally a British colony. The British colonial administration let Gambians into administration in the 1920s/30s. Before 1947 they have secured nomination into the legislative assembly.  They have since negotiated to secure voting rights, increase participation and of course some noticeable personal interested. Between 1947 and 1954 the Wyn-Harris Constitution was changed three times to incorporate those agreed changes.  After each changes elections were held with completely different outcomes; E. F. Small won in 1947, Rev. John Colley Faye won in 1951 and Pierre Sarr Njai won in 1954. At the dawn of self governance in 1958 when Jawara came in Gambia has a powerful functioning parliamentary democracy. This was similar to the meeting of the 13 colonies in the First Continental Congress (12 attended) in 1774 against the “Intolerable Acts” and reconvened the following year to assume the powers of a central government. Thereafter one thing builds on another until the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and the ratification of the Constitution in 1788. The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.  Clearly our forefathers mushroomed their way into the colonial administration, and then asked for nomination into the legislative council, then a voting right, then expansion of representation until eventually they wanted total responsibility of our own affairs. Some of the men who deserve our honor for earning us self rule are E.F. Small, Ibrahima Garba Jahumpa, Finden Dailey, Rev. John Colley Faye, Pierre Sarr Njai, Mustapha Colley, and J. Francis Senegal. Of course there were others before the above names such as W.D. Carrol and Sir Samuel Forster who passed away in 1941 and 1940 respectively. However E.F Small and group deserved the credit for our independence.

The Windley Constitution incorporated universal suffrage for the protectorates which were excluded from the previous elections. It also allocated twelve of the 19 elected legislative seats to the protectorate. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was formed in 1958 by people of the protectorates with D.K. Jawara the leader. PPP won majority of the seats in 1962 and Jawara appointed the Premier. By independence in 1965, PPP occupied ¾ of the House of Representatives. From there to 1971 Jawara diffused what was one time a strong legislative democracy to an elected monarchy. He negotiated a new republican constitution (1971 Constitution) that gave him executive powers and makes political opposition an unattractive venture. The House of Representatives was controlled by political appointments such as Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, and High Commissioner’s to foreign land. This earlier attack on fundamentals of democracy has produced only one school of taught (the PPP School). He consolidated by befriending old foes, the ruler support remained loyal without demands and the relative peace that is not his making but an inheritance of our culture. He also flares pretty well against the late opposition because there were no fundamental differences, unlimited access to state resources for PPP’s purposes and majority of the electorates has nothing for comparison. Jawara portrayed himself as the provider and not the appointed manager. A comparison makes PPP an era of political stagnation while A(F)PRC is the darkest days of our history.

PPP has in essence disfranchised Gambians from all civic awareness. They controlled news outlets and limit the coverage of the national radio. They did not maintain the Civic -Education class one time offered at Junior Secondary Schools in the late 70s. In fact the contents of that class were largely inadequate and history classes taught irrelevant lessons up to date. They made ruling a thing for a privileged few. They present themselves as providers rather than servants entrusted with public resources. Instead of being accountable to the people we become their subjects. In the end the average Gambian do not see him/herself as a shared-owner of the nation but someone at the mercy of Jawara and lately Yahya.

Some decided to join the bandwagon of whoever is ruling rather than take a position of how you want The Gambia to be. Those who openly opposed are labeled as jealous and unpatriotic. The rest became passive observers of what some considered unworthy of involvement as long as they go about their daily business without interruption. The later largely do not even know or care that they are equal shared-owners. Unfortunately whatever stand we took and/or group we belong everyone is loosing. Certainly Jawara do not wish to end up begging for his return and living in land he is one of the founding fathers and toil for in many ways. On the other hand that is a reward for the greed for power. Had he did what he was supposed to do he would have retired more honorable than his present status. Most of the key PPP insiders are today in exile that could have been avoided by letting free and fair democratic processes. Another example is the one time most fearful living being in The Gambia, Sana Biro Sabally. A simple frame of carrying a gun into a superior’s office landed him in Mile II for nine year and now into exile. In fact is it not yet over for him because he will someday be try for crimes (breaking the code of conduct of the army and overthrowing the government of the people) committed against the people of the Gambia. Both Baba Jobe and Daba are another good examples, these two men are one time big operatives of the dirty tactics of the repressive regime of Yahya and today one is in jail and the other only God knows.  The passive group largely mute over what they like or not. Others think distance is a remedy and in the recent past a good number blamed their lukewarm attitudes on opposition split at NADD. Some said I have money, home and did not need a government job hence I don’t want to get involved. Eventually every Gambian has a poor quality of live whether rich or poor, farmer or some government functionary and professional or self-employed business.

Certainly all of us cannot be politicians nor can everyone be a crybaby like me but country and government is everyone. No single person can build a school or hospital regardless to your wealth nor can you put up roads and clean environment for an exclusive use. Collective resources are put to provide public services that no individual can adequately satisfy. Such provisions of services are paid by all of us in one form or the other. The three essential purposes of a government are resolving conflict, providing public services and defending the nation and its culture. It is time for the citizenry of The Gambia to make a sober reflection on their individual civic responsibilities. The average Gambian (politician, rich or poor) die at the age of 45 -50 mainly from malaria, diabetes, hyper-tension and/or liver cancer. These diseases can be controlled, managed or totally eradicated not by an individual regardless to the share of your estate but by government. Malaria is controllable with proper environmental management and the rest are controllable by ensuring uncontaminated food chain. Country and government (of course good one) can safe all (poor or rich) of us against these diseases.

Thus, civic mindedness and participation of all citizens are essential for democracy to work in the Gambia. What is civic mindedness and participation?

Civic mindedness is/are

    1. Sense of ownership/belonging – every Gambian should recognized that you are a part/shared-owner of the 11,000 square miles and whatever it contained
    2. Sense of duty and purpose – every Gambian should strive and work in accordance with the laws, regulations, moral and ethical standard by our collective consent and/or through recognized value base systems of the society
    3. Sense of attitude for responsibility – every Gambian should be responsible of his/her conduct and be able to make independent choices as long as they do not conflict society’s interests
    4. Knowledge of history and desire to use it to shape future – every Gambian should know who s/he is in other to be able to realistically shape the future.
    5. Sense of appreciation that we have rights and readiness to defend it – we should collectively endeavor that every Gambian knows and recognize the rights of each and every citizen. All rights should be uphold and defended at the highest level of the laws, rules, regulations, moral and ethical standards
    6. Sense of organization – we should strive to have good laws to manage our relations and collective affairs. We should abide by our laws and rules to the extent they serve our interest
    7. Team work – a nation is a team and in other to win we must put it together all at once
    8. Accept unity in diversity – recognize that each person is unique in some way and yet still s/he is a shared-owner of Gambia


    1. Be involved – do not be carried by others, do not think its fine at your end so my problems are not yours, and do not give-in
    2. Do your part – that is what makes a working democracy; do your thing and we go along with the majority and the assumptions are that in a normal environment people will be rational enough to choose what serve their collective interest.
    3. Accept others point of view – while we maybe different in every given issue we should accept the choices made by others
    4. Recognize the importance of each view – as a shared-owner each view is important and should be accounted for at all times.

The reasons that were largely responsible for passive attitude towards country and governance are no longer valid. Before there was no much information and today regardless to location one can find as much information as needed. A lot more have attained secondary level education while an increasing number went beyond that level. Additional tens of thousands have visited and/or live in different part of the world to be able to learn and experience how others address common problems. The computers and information technology made the world a global village with information put at every door step. The multiplier effect of all these developments have seriously bridged the earlier information gap PPP partly traded on.  By extension the proper utilization of information will inform us the no person is an island regardless to the state of your wealth. The society needs you as well as the society needed society.

While we recognized every persons right in determining his/her level of involvement it is imperative that citizens know what is at stake, know what it means to participate/not participate and accommodate the position of others especially the minority.

Confucius – “If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand. He who will not worry about what is far off will soon find something worse than worry”.

Against government claims of progressives, today more than ever in our history, most Gambians want to make life elsewhere. Many young Gambians are unaccounted in the clandestine sea routes into Spain while foreign embassies and entry ports have us under a very watchful eye. While there maybe different reasons for the mass exodus the one thing that is clear is the run away from unworthy to search for a life worthy of living.  Why is our home not worthy of living? Certainly there is land, water and oxygen like any other place. It occurred to me that it is all about management and because everyone is a shared-owner it would require everyone’s input or else there will always be an unfilled gap. Importantly this process is not party politics which seems to be a big divider; this is about out collective inputs and its outputs. It is about a Gambia where citizens are equal before the law and a Gambia each can freely talk and associate as long as no law is contravened. This is about a Gambia where working in government or not is determine by political affiliation instead it is about merits and standards set forth in some policy document. A Gambia where Fatou Jaw Manneh or Chief Manneh should not have been arrested for their believes, a Gambia where Rambo and Kanyi-Ba should not be in jail for no reasons other than their political affiliations, a Gambia where we get to the bottoms of killings/disappearances of everyday citizens and/or attempts on their lives.

These are certainly our cause of searching for a living elsewhere. The uncertainties are legitimate reason(s) for anyone to explore alternative livelihoods. It is also for the same reason(s) we should work as people one of a nation (Gambia) to address/resolve these common problems. The ultimate choice is yours. For The Gambia ever True.

Sources: America at Odds; alternative edition – Edward Sidlow & Beth Henschen

A Political History of The Gambia 1816 – 1994 – Arnold Hughes & David Perfect

Posted on Monday, July 30, 2007 (Archive on Monday, August 27, 2007)
Posted by PNMBAI  Contributed by PNMBAI
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