This statement is published by the Gambian Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in reaction to President Adama Barrow’s threatening statement against Madi Jobarteh. Below is the entire statement.
2nd May, 2022 was Eid al-Fitr, the culmination of a month of prayers and fasting, a day marked for forgiveness and reconciliation, a day for family and friends to celebrate together, and an opportunity for a nation in pain, to heal and bond together. It was this Holy day the President chose to defile with remarks threatening to infringe on the rights to freedom of expression and speech of a citizen, the media, civil society and the nation as a whole, thereby causing division and anger across the nation. A day, just before world Press Freedom Day.
During his message to Religious Leaders and Elders at State House, President Adama Barrow stated “Some people want to burn the country, one of them is Madi Jobarteh, he said he’s from Civil Society…” Accusing a hard-working citizen of intending to set the nation ablaze, and cause chaos, ‘fitna’ without an iota of evidence, is to say the least sad. He further called out the media fraternity for giving Mr Jobarteh a platform to incite violence, which we consider to be an insult to our collective intelligence as a nation. Furthermore, the President roping in civil society in his statement reminds us vividly of the days of dictatorship during which we, Civil Society were branded enemies of the state and the nation’s development.
We recall the heated political campaign season that preceded the recent elections on December 4th 2021, during which statements were made by the President, promising a clampdown on the fundamental rights of Gambians if/when the second term of office is endorsed. As a matter of fact, the President’s campaign had on some occasions allowed speech that was more potent to set the country on fire, ‘taal dayka bi’ but we as a nation, notwithstanding, decided to waive those threats taking them as mere political rhetoric, believing that a caring and responsible leader who has lived through dictatorship and all the horrors it propelled, will never again allow our dear motherland to live through such brutality as was meted out to her sons and daughters before.
Sadly, five short months later, Gambian Civil Society, the media fraternity and indeed a noble citizen, in the person of Mr Madi Jobarteh, are feeling the first punch of keeping to his promised threat, of clamping down voices of dissent.
We gather in peace today to highlight and express our grave concern over the blatant attack on our fundamental rights and freedoms, by the highest office in the land. Have Gambians forgotten so quickly how Yahya Jammeh started? How he branded anyone that spoke against him as an enemy of the state and how he used the state machinery to instil fear and eventually silence us? Have we forgotten how people started disappearing? Have we forgotten the dark period in our history that even in the privacy of our homes, we had to look over our shoulders before saying anything about the Government? Dictatorship indeed has a start date.
Civil Society has not forgotten and that is why we come today, to the home of NGOs and CSOs, TANGO to demonstrate our distaste for such remarks, unbecoming of a Statesman. We come to remind our leaders that ‘the horse has already bolted from the stable’ Gambians are not going back to the days of tyranny. NEVER AGAIN.
Mr President, fellow compatriots, I think it is apt at this point to give a brief history lesson, lest we forget.
Who is Madi Jobarteh?
Madi Jobarteh was a member of the Gambian Students Union (GAMSU) at Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, and even became its President in the 1997/8 academic year. Amongst his numerous engagements are:
- He was a Chief State House correspondent and later a producer at Radio Gambia in the early 90s
- He hosted the traditional GAMSU symposium at Gambia High School Hall, in 1995.
- He was banned in 1994, from conducting the popular Saturday Current Affairs live show.
- He was singled out in April 2000, by the then Government for his uncompromising pressure on then Ministers to tell the truth about the student demonstration as a result, the GRTS Management banned Madi Jobarteh from attending government functions or interviewing the President or Ministers.
- He joined the civil society, worked with The Gambia Family Planning Association, the Foundation for Legal Aid, Research and Empowerment (FLARE) and TANGO, conducted several public lectures, workshops, and symposiums on human rights in the country. Under TANGO he launched a massive human rights education program across the country targeting policymakers, National Assembly Members, law enforcement agencies, local government institutions, traditional and religious leaders, as well as CSOs and communities.
- In 2016, his voice became louder against the dictatorship and in support of the Coalition and its Presidential Candidate who was no other than Adama Barrow, now President of The Gambia. Madi had sent several letters to several Governments, Regional and International Organizations including the UN, AU and ECOWAS as well as to several Regional and International NGOs to highlight the state of affairs in the country and the need for support. Thus, he contributed in no small measure towards the success of the Coalition 2016.
- He continues to engage within the Civil Society to support any effort that aims to empower citizens to become active players in the affairs of the country.
- It was Madi Jobarteh, as one of the drafters of CSOs statement in defense of Electoral Integrity, on the
5th December, that was behind the keyboard typing the statement.
I can highlight many more interventions but will stop here for now.
What the above indicates is that the life of Madi has been dedicated to the Gambia and for the empowerment of the people, the building of democracy and the maintenance of peace in this country. Madi’s engagements in this country are only geared towards maintaining peace, strengthening democracy and good governance, and protecting human rights.
Every citizen has an inherent right to criticize their Government and that right must be protected and not threatened or taken away. The people defied all odds to elect you into office Mr President and the people will do all in their power to guard against the infringement of their rights in any shape or form.
Mr President, Gambian Civil Society is diverse and vibrant and has complimented the government efforts since the 70s. We have worked with communities and will continue to do so, in different parts of the country, intervening in the areas of Health, Education, Agriculture, Disaster Relief, Gender, Children and Youth, Good Governance, Transitional Justice, Human Resource Development, Elections Monitoring and Observation, Conflict mitigation and Resolutions, Mediations, Support to victims of Human Rights Violations, Food Security, Refugee Support, to name a few. In all these interventions tremendous successes have been registered as the Government continually highlights. Most of these Organisations are led by well-meaning Gambians, who have sacrificed, at times going without salaries to ensure our country moves forward and not descend into chaos.
The contribution of the media towards our nation’s development equally cannot be quantified, their sacrifice cannot be rewarded enough and their image cannot be tarnished. They have suffered enough in the past and we will not allow them to suffer again. This same media continues to enlighten the populace, provide timely information, ask the necessary and important questions, provide platforms to popularise government programmes and policies, and give prominence to the same politicians that speak against them. The media is our media, they are responsible Gambians that mean well for their country and have no intention to destroy our country.
Mr President, our nation is plagued with a plethora of issues and challenges that are a more of a potent force to set the nation alight, that we want our government to address, than attack its citizens. The increased corruption allegations without transparent investigations and prosecutions, high cost of living, poor service delivery by Public Institutions, erratic power supply and Internet connectivity, coupled with their outrageous charges, growing crime rate and fatal car accidents, high unemployment rate and so on. The poor are getting poorer and Public Servants continue to erect mansions and allocate land to themselves. The people are watching.
To the Executive, Mr. President and your Cabinet, please recommit yourselves and Government to guarantee the continued protection of our rights to speech, expression and assembly. Let us work together to build our dear motherland. With the new cabinet in place, this is an opportunity to begin afresh to move The Gambia forward.
Let me leave you with this quote by President Barak Hussain Obama “As president of our country, and commander-in-chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so.”
To our religious leaders, remember your sacred call to lead us in accordance with the dictates of the Almighty. To speak truth to power always, to fear God and not men. To be content and maintain your integrity because one day we will all give an account for our deeds.
To all Gambians remember from whence we came and be resolute that NEVER AGAIN, will we allow any form of tyranny. Let a new Gambian be born, a patriotic Gambian loving country more than self, willing to support the course of national development. A Gambian that sees public service as just that – service to the people. Together we can build the brand Gambia and make our children proud. We cannot give up and we will not give up. Better days are ahead. The Gambia is our Gambia.
For the Gambia our only Homeland
The Gambian Civil Society Fraternity