News of the appointment of a Ghanaian Justice Mabel Agyemang as new Chief Justice of the Gambia replacing Justice Wowo has been confirmed. This appointment of a Ghanaian trained lawyer who has served as an expert Appeal Court judge from the Commonwealth Secretariat; the Ghanaian Judiciary and Swaziland among others brings some form of hope and optimism to the Gambian Judiciary. At least from the very fact that she comes from a model Democratic West African State of Ghana known for its strong independent judicial and democratic institutions, one may be incline to believe that she will try to push Gambia’s justice system towards that directions.
In addition, by virtue of the fact that she has served in the Commonwealth Secretariats for several years she is certainly exposed to higher standards of Judicial independence as expected of Commonwealth States. It is also to be noted that Justice Mabel is on secondment to the Gambia as technical Aid to the country which puts a lot more high level scrutiny on her as a Judge. Severing as technical aid on behalf of her country and or the Commonwealth she would be expected to report back to her appointees which supposedly can hold her accountable for her work.
According to her records justice Agyemang was appointed to the High Court of Swaziland in October 2008 for a two-year assignment to help strengthen the judiciary. She reportedly did well in helping reform the system and delivered fast, expert judgments on cases she presided over. She also previously served in the Gambian Judiciary from 2004 to 2008 and reportedly as a secondment from the Commonwealth Secretariats
It is also to be noted that this is the first time a woman has served as Chief Justice in the Gambia. Giving the growing demand for women leadership and political involvement in national governments, Justice Agyemang has a lot to live up to and could serve as a role model for African women. As a woman she is expected to work more diligently and empathize with cases that drags in court without regard to the plight of the accused. Ms Agyemang must also deeply care about her future as a legal scholar which spells great potentials back in her home country and the Commonwealth. Professionally, she therefore has nothing to gain by appeasing the Jammeh government knowing fully well that she can always return to her native Country Ghana and or the Commonwealth to continue to serve with dignity and integrity.
Although reasonable Gambians have every reason to be optimistic and or pessimistic about her appointment; many are mindful and well aware that accepting to serve under the Jammeh regime comes with uncharted territory from a professional perspective. To agree to serve under this regime almost always appears to be willing to compromise one’s principles and independent mindedness. Ms Agyemang therefore is accepting the appointment knowing fully well that there will be two choices; she will either fight to vigorously advocate for the independence of the courts and the Judiciary or succumb to President Jammeh’s judicial interference thus compromising her ethical profession at the expense of her own future and universal justice and fairness.
It is therefore yet to be seen if Ms Justice Agyemang will live up to expectations and solicit the behind the scenes support of her home country Ghana, ECOWAS and Commonwealth states who are increasingly putting pressure on the Gambia government to reform the judiciary, allow level political playing field and repeal draconian media laws. It is certain that Civil Society groups both in Gambia and Ghana will put pressure on her to exercise her independence or vacate her appointment on principle grounds of independence, justice and fairness as demanded by her profession.