Saul Saidykhan

The largest Gambian Age bracketws are those Under 30 years old. Over 70% of Gambians fall in these categories (going by the latest CIA figures.) The Median age in Gambia is 21 years old. The Gambia was ruled by a brutal and barbaric dictator for 22 years until fourteen months ago. For the sake of convenience, if we assume that the 70 % of Gambians under 30 were all 7 years old when Yahya Jammeh took power, it is logical to conclude that this large majority of Gambian citizens unwittingly don’t know what democracy is since they’ve NEVER lived it. They were only beginning their schooling when Jammeh came along and did both Elementary and Secondary School under his oppressive and stifling dictatorship.  Thus, the general confusion about what democracy in Gambia really means.

Contrary to perception, Democracy only guarantees QUALIFIED freedom to citizens for certain conduct, expression, and or writing. “Qualified” because the right or freedom of one citizen or group of citizens to do, say, or write something is limited by the caveat that it MUST NOT encroach on the right of another citizen or group of citizens. Case in point, if one stands inside the SerreKunda market and falsely screams “fire in the market”, and someone else gets hurt while trying to escape what he or she believes to be a life-threatening situation, invoking one’s democratic rights to free speech wouldn’t save the culprit from prosecution or sanction.

In short, democracy doesn’t grant anyone absolute rights to do, say, or write anything. Yet, given what we’ve been seeing in Gambia in the last year, it’s obvious there‘s serious misconception about what democracy means. Democracy doesn’t mean unnecessarily overheating the polity; democracy doesn’t mean doing outrageous things because you can (pedophiles operate with that mentality); democracy doesn’t mean abusing freedom by publicly engaging in illegal or questionable acts and then cursing out law-enforcement officers when they confront you; democracy doesn’t mean holding a poor and destitute State to ransom by unreasonably demanding from her what she doesn’t have to give; democracy doesn’t entitle anyone to being a pain in the behind of the public unjustifiably; democracy doesn’t mean constantly insulting a President who is doing everything humanly possible to avoid using the state’s Police powers lest he be construed as intolerant. Democracy certainly doesn’t mean provoking and defying law-enforcement officers INSIDE their premises when they’ve made it clear that your presence is unwelcome.

Just like blindly supporting the government is deleterious to democracy, so is the tendency to lob critiques and insults at the government without regard to facts, context, or circumstances. In my profession, we operate by the Reasonable Person Standard in assessing the conduct and performance of an organization’s operations. The key is: what would a reasonable person do under such and such circumstances or conditions? What is feasible or justifiable?

In the nearly-four weeks I was in Gambia, I saw and heard of many disgraceful manifestation of  the much-misunderstood new Gambian democracy: a sign and announcement says no burning of refuse at a particular dump site, yet citizens including residents in the neighborhood persist in doing so because it’s the government’s responsibility to take care of the place;  drivers forcibly driving on the  side of the road parallel to regular traffic and bullying pedestrians to let them pass because they feel too important or impatient to join the line at a traffic light; drivers literally driving counter-traffic;  same drivers yelling at Police officers for stopping them; spewing nonsense on radio, internet, and television in the name of democracy. The list goes on. The ridiculous case involving Dr. Ismailia Ceesay, the young political scientist is emblematic of the madness unfolding in Gambian society in the name of democracy.

Ceesay was called in for QUESTIONING by the Gambia Police after telling a local newspaper that “the presence of ECOMIG soldiers in The Gambia will not prevent long-term security risk if President Adama Barrow does not win the trust of the Gambia Armed Forces.” This statement is at best another misunderstanding of democracy. I am as baffled as the Police were about what the young man is saying. Thus, I understand their need to invite him to tell them what he knows that they don’t. President Adama Barrow does not HAVE TO “win the trust of the Gambia Armed Forces” for there to be stability or absence of security risks in the Gambia. First, if there is a country on this planet today without security risks, I’d like to know its identity. Second, in a democracy, it DOESN’T MATTER what the personal feelings of members of the armed forces towards the president are. The army is REQUIRED and OBLIGATED to defend the Constitution which mandates them to RESPECT and OBEY their Commander-In Chief who is a CIVILIAN President! The army is purposely subjugated to civilian authority by the Constitution in a democracy. This is basic – as in Democracy 101. How Ceesay can miss this beats me.

Here is a VERIFIABLE example: in early 1993, the American Commander of NATO Forces in Europe – a REAL four-star General, went to a cocktail party in Germany and “joked” that America now has “a pot-smoking, draft-dodging, skirt-chasing” President in Bill Clinton. He was quickly recalled and fired shortly after news of what he said leaked. Soldiers don’t have the luxury of tying their loyalty to the Constitution to their feelings about the president. They can hate the president if they want but are obligated to RESPECT and OBEY his Command! Ceesay as a public commentator should keep repeating to Gambian soldiers that Gambians WILL NEVER AGAIN condone their interference in politics – just as Nigerian intellectuals and activists (NADECO) were doing in the early ‘90s to the Nigerian military. We should be careful about the messages we send to the unprofessional security services we have! Any attempt by the Gambian army to inject itself in politics again will not only be resisted, the consequences will be dire. EVERY SOLDIER NEEDS TO HEAR THIS.

There was much brouhaha about Ceesay’s “arrest” online. My wife called from the US to ask me to look into it because one of Ceesay’s siblings had sent her the statement that caused the young man’s unjustified “arrest.” This was only a couple of days after I had met Barrow. I called one of the president’s closest advisers to enquire. He had not heard of the issue but promised to dig. He called me back shortly after speaking to Barrow personally. Contrary to claims on the internet and radio, Barrow didn’t know a darn thing about the NONSENSE.  The next day, the Police Chief provided more details about what happened.

After questioning Ceesay for several hours and not learning anything new from him, the police realized the young man was just shooting his mouth off. He doesn’t know anything more than they do about the Gambian security situation. So, they told him to leave. He refused, aggressively DEMANDING that they tell him why he was summoned for questioning! Not only that, he sat in their station making calls and texting his associates who saw the issue as an opportunity to exploit and embarrass the government. They quickly coordinated how to blow the issue up into a scandal by organizing a group of mostly idle youth to head to the Police Station to demand Ceesay’s release as if it’s the police stopping the man from leaving. God knows Adama Barrow’s Gambia is sweet! And won’t you know it, Gambia’s social media soon lights up in orchestrated phony outrage. Supposedly another Yahya Jammeh era is upon us. Seriously?

See, the people who disappoint me most are the ones who have lived in America for a while yet applaud silliness in the name of democracy. America’s 240+ years democracy is the oldest in the world. The Gambia’s third attempt at democracy is less than fifteen months old. In America’s mature democracy, when a citizen or any person is summoned for questioning by the police, and asked to leave the Police Station, he or she quickly complies. If one refuses to leave and insist on forcefully demanding an answer as to why he or she is summoned, he or she will be arrested and charged with trespassing on government property, or for Disorderly conduct IF ONE IS LUCKY. In most American jurisdictions, such rudeness will cause the police to provoke one to say something smart to them which will give them the excuse to really rough one up. No sane person will do what Dr. Ceesay did in America!  Refusing to leave a police station after you’re dismissed until your rented crowd arrives for dramatic purposes is what makes one a freedom fighter now? Ceesay doesn’t have to take my word for this. He can ask some of his siblings – Mai, Mawya, or Neneh who have all lived in the States for a long time about citizens’ relationship with the police in a mature democracy.  If Ismailia Ceesay does in America what he did in Barrow’s Gambia, he’ll be very sorry. Anyone who has lived here knows this. Those egging on Ceesay from America will NEVER try what he did here. So, let’s stop the madness. Anyhow, since some of us are clearly clueless about the democracy ala new-Gambia, Dr. Ceesay and his colleagues need to school us on this peculiar democracy they’re touting.

Yet, some of us here in America were blaming the Gambia government for violating Ceesay’s right.  Exactly what right of Ceesay’s did the Gambia Police violate? All Ceesay had to do is leave the Police station when asked and return home to talk or write about his experience and if he so desires, lampoon the police for being thick to figure out what he was saying. Instead the very next day he was claiming political persecution even as he declared their victory in a “war”.  Funny thing, I have no idea when their war started. I know Gambians won a major battle in December 2016 after 20 years of fighting. What war is Ceesay and his team fighting? We live in absurd times. It’s easy to be famous nowadays because all you have to do is say or do something outrageous through an audio-visual medium. You can’t help but be embarrassed by the juvenile antics of some people.

Good thing, in the real Gambia, this nonsense was treated with the contempt it deserves!

Unfortunately, it’s déjà vu with the medical doctors and their unreasonable demands. The relevance of Ceesay’s case isn’t so subtle: the same “Gambia Has Decided” group who wanted to turn Ismailia Ceesay into the Steve Biko he is NOT are the same ones stoking the dangerous and needless medical strike currently going on. Their public faces are Madi Jobarteh and Nyang Njie, but more insidious characters lurk behind them. The endless nonsense that Madi, the pugnacious bloviator churns out on social media in defense of the errant doctors is no coincidence. The good news is, unlike the “Gambia Has Decided” gang who USED Jammeh’s organized chaos to get rich, genuine activists know the struggle against the Jammeh dictatorship in Gambia DID NOT start on December 9th, 2016, but over twenty years earlier. However, since they think the rest of us are too stupid to differentiate between being smart and being a smart-ass, let’s keep watching their mental games. Chivalry truly is dead in Barrow’s Gambia!

GRTS, PLEASE START A PROGRAM ON DEMOCRACY so young Gambians can understand democracy!

PS: To Dr. Ceesay, here is some unsolicited advice you might ignore at your peril: if your biggest fans are Madi Jobarteh, Momodu Sabally, and Fatou Kamara, you are in REAL trouble, and need to RUN FOR YOUR LIFE. I wish I’d found you in your father’s compound in Brikama when I went to pay my respects on your step-mom’s passing. Chatted with both Nna Jara and Lamin, and god knows I would have told you everything I’ve said here. They say a word to the wise is enough!


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