Building the New Gambia: We Need a Truth and Justice Commission

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So far the common post-conflict practice in Africa is to create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) as we saw in Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia following their bloody civil wars and apartheid in South Africa. The Gambia on the other hand neither suffered a civil war nor an apartheid system. What took place in the Gambia were acts of gross human rights violations perpetrated by a regime and its henchmen. Therefore ‘Reconciliation’ is not a fundamental issue for our society; rather the Gambia needs to know the truth about those atrocities and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Hence what is required in the Gambia is a Truth and Justice Commission (TJC). In that process, reconciliation will emerge as a natural byproduct.

The reason the Gambia needs a TJC is because we must know how dictatorship was created and maintained in our society. Dictatorship is not a spontaneous reality that just drops from the sky. Rather dictatorship is a deliberate and calculated system that is built by men and women who have a duty to protect their society yet betray their society. Hence dictatorship is a betrayal of public trust, abuse of power and an act of selfishness that destroys a society and its future. Dictatorship is not merely about a dictator usurping and personalizing the state and public resources as a whole, but it is also a system where public servants, security officers and common citizens disregard and damage the rule of law to perpetuate a culture of violations and wastage of human life and pubic resources with impunity. Dictatorship therefore fuels and feeds on a culture of violence against the very citizens who live and maintain that system. This is why dictatorship is a self-destructive system.

A Truth and Justice Commission does not mean that there will be no prosecutions for gross human rights violations. No. Rather a TJC supports and makes even a stronger case for prosecutions of those who bear the greatest responsibility for the atrocities and plunder of public resources committed during the dictatorship.

But beyond prosecutions, a Truth and Justice Commission will further expose more truths about dictatorship for which prosecutions will not be able or enough to expose. This includes how certain decisions, actions and activities were conducted which constituted abuse, but one cannot prosecute because not everything and everyone  could be prosecuted even though those issues are significant. For example Yaya Jammeh knew the Constitution clearly states that the Secretary General and Head of Civil Service cannot hold another office for which there is payment. Yet he appointed a Minister of Presidential Affairs as part of the portfolio of the Secretary General. He even made the Secretary General the head of the APRC Party. Thus there have been many unlawful decisions and actions by Yaya Jammeh and many people also accepted those positions when they knew it was unconstitutional. These cases may not go to court but a TJC will help us understand how therefore Yaya Jammeh was running the state and how dictatorship was entrenched through the complicity of some Gambians.

We can also point to the way and manner he gave huge donations with money taken out of the Central Bank, or how he got businesses and farms and then made soldiers and public servants to work on them. We need to know how those decisions where made.

Even when we prosecute cases, the court may not expose fully how the decision to kill Koro Ceesay or Deyda Hydara or the April 10 Students or Solo Sandeng was given. Who actually gave the order? How was the order given? Was it through a written order or verbally or through some signs? To whom was the order given? These and many questions can only come through a Truth and Justice Commission so that we know the exact details of issues and actors. These details will expose to us the very heart and nature of dictatorship that will give us lot of lessons to learn. This also means prosecutions and a Truth and Justice Commission will competent each other to expose all sides of dictatorship and ensue all victims have some solace in one way or the other, i.e. either in the courts or at the commission or in both places

Hence a Truth and Justice Commission would help the country better to engage in self examination to understand why and how farmers were kept poor, or how our public institutions failed and how public resources were being diverted. This will help the Gambia to cleanse and reposition itself in order to build a new society. A TJC will also give more comfort and space to all sorts of victims to have their say. These include people who were wrongly sacked or their properties taken away or how they lived with the grief of losing their loved ones or tortured. Hence a TJC is a national conversation where citizens speak to each other from their hearts. This is how the commission will become a healing process hence reconciliation because the truth has been set free.

With a Truth and Justice Commission, we will also provide answers and clear doubts in the minds of those who still believe that Yaya Jammeh and APRC meant good for the Gambia. The TJC will show them that dictatorship is bad for any human being and society and therefore it would be immoral for anyone to continue to trumpet Yaya Jammeh and APRC.

Let us remember that there are many more Gambians who have been silent in their bedrooms for years yet crying every day and night because their son or father were killed, or their mother or sister raped or their property taken away from them or they were dismissed from their work only to drop in poverty and hardships. All of these people cannot go to court, but a TJC will uplift their souls and spirits as they speak about their ordeal. Their stories will make our citizens become more sober and reflective so that we can all begin to review our decisions and actions in the new Gambian we wish to build.

When we create a Truth and Justice Commission that is open, credible and fair, it will then offer us great lessons about how to avoid another dictatorship. We will then know how to engage and relate with our new leaders and public officials. Many a time we create dictators without our knowing. There are many aspects of our culture and religion that are fertile ingredients for dictatorship. A Truth and Justice Commission will therefore enlighten and warn us about how we should use culture and religion in our governance and politics so as to avoid creating another dictator. We will also quickly see and expose those politicians and elites who wish to exploit culture and religion to impose themselves on us.

I therefore submit that the Chief Servant Adama Barrow and his Justice Minister to put together the necessary bill to take to the parliament for the enactment of the National Truth and Justice Commission Act so that work can begin to expose the truth and dispense justice.

God Bless The Gambia.

Madi Jorbateh

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