By Omar Janneh
S/he is probably me or any one of us. Those who know him/her well would say that s/he has hopes, dreams, aspirations and of course contradictions. They also know that s/he is quite inconsistent and that like some of us, s/he does not live by what s/he preaches or seeks to promote; that most of the time, the ideas s/he holds are contradictory to what s/he preaches. And if you confront him/her by calling into question the authenticity of the views s/he expresses, s/he would say, “but I’m imperfect”. S/he would permit us to exercise our rights to criticise him/her and to do so as noisily as s/he does. Naively or not, s/he also probably believes that we or at least some of us genuinely have the desire to fix the country’s problems. S/he thinks that s/he has enough wisdom to know that our prescription and the dose(s) of the medication(s) needed and how often we must administer it/them to fix the country’s ailments may be different. S/he also thinks that it is that knowledge which motivates us to do what we do, be it in private, in public, small or in large measure and at times noisily too. However, it is probably his/her hope too that we should be able to disagree very efficiently, without our disagreements degenerating into anything uncivil so that soon we would have gathered enough clear views to enable us to rebuild The Gambia.
On why we must scrutinise
In order to do the things we do, I suppose we are all motivated by a multitude of things and the same must hold true for our politicians. But I remain utterly perplexed when it comes to understanding what is uppermost in the minds of Gambian politicians that seek and occupy public office. This is because time and again, many of them do something utterly different to what they promised on the campaign trail or what we expect from them. Further, they are self-centred; everything appears to revolve around the leader – the all-powerful Mansa. We are advised, almost groomed to leave him (– so far it’s been a man) alone because we are told that when his time is up, he would leave just like those before him. That is odd; it is a view we must throw in the litterbin and it must remain there).
In the last 5 months, I have written a few pieces in which I criticised and challenged a variety of issues and some of the policies of the Barrow government. Along the way, some people have questioned why I choose to be noisy about some issues and not others or it seems even dare to speak out at all. In general, I write about the things I feel I have something to contribute to and I think others have the same choice to make too – in private, in public or both. I criticise our politicians because President Barrow gave us the licence to hold them to account when they fall short (read the forward to the NDP, 2018-21). But I do not need Barrow’s permission to speak out if I feel like doing so. In regards to the timing, i.e. why now, if I can be permitted to cheekily say that when I know who to obtain permission from before I speak, I shall happily do that. Anyhow, since our politicians make public policy on my/our behalf, it is my duty (should I choose) to scrutinise or express my views on such policies.
It is my view that our politicians have consistently omitted the need to provide opportunities and hope for the people as well as reverse the decay in The Gambia. They behave exactly like parasites – they take all and give nothing back. I think it is interesting too that those who we may think would make a strong and decisive leader because of their half-truths and somewhat sensible policies shall most probably never realise their dreams. But in the event that such an individual assumes high office, would s/he acquire, as if by osmosis, the mute and untrustworthy syndromes and quickly become preoccupied with self-enrichment and thoughts of overstaying rather than building The Gambia? If so, that would sadly say something about the character of Gambian politicians. In such a situation, could it be that we have much work to do on ourselves? I suppose I am urging that we do not blindly support a camp without being able to contribute in shaping the camp’s future towards nation-building, i.e., we must actively take part in shaping the change we are seeking. We must be in it to win it and if no one is buying into the message from our camp, then there must be something wrong with the message, the way it is being sold, and the person selling it. Thus we have to work collectively and come up with solution(s) to our shared problem(s).
On every little helps
On November 5, 2018, the TRRC asked the government to set up a medical board to review the cases of some of the victims of Jammeh’s brutal regime. It’s kind of good to hear that the Ministry of Health granted the setting up of the medical board and that the board members have started their work. It remains a strong view of mine that we owe a lot to all of the victims, and victims’ families of Jammeh’s brutal regime and not just to some of them because some damages may be deeper than can be seen. Therefore, the rationale of paying particular attention to the select victims of Jammeh’s brutality (e.g., survivors of the April 10/11, 2000 student massacre and those arrested and detained during April and May 2006) remains unclear to me. As I said in one of my pieces (-which along with some of the recent interviews given by some victims may have jolted the TRRC to act in this manner), the proposed work of the TRRC would need a lot of effort on the part of those who know what they are doing to execute it well. What they have just done can be best described as applying a plaster that has lost its stickiness over a huge crater; and it goes to show the gross incompetence with which the TRRC is going about much of its business. Let’s face it, the victims of 2000 and 2006 most probably do not need surgery or physiotherapy at this time and if they need to be seen by a Psychiatrist, s/he must be qualified enough to deal with traumatised victims because the victims most likely do not have mental illness. Thus the victims need much more than surgeons (yes, I know they have 2 very highly skilled individuals of impeccable characters), a Psychiatrist, a Private Doctor and a Physiotherapist. Indeed the victims (and victims’ families whose needs may not be addressed by this board for whatever odd reason) would need a lot of appropriate psychosocial counselling, because recounting the horrific pain and brutality they endured would make such support an absolute necessity. And if we are going to bang on about the fact that The Gambia’s truth commission would be different, we must ask the question: different in what way(s)? By my own assessment, it is already different in that it is probably the most conflicted of commissions; will be the most hopeless because it is full of people who have not got the skills to do the job they are tasked to do. Thus it is riddled with mediocrity. The TRRC continues to ride on the ego-massaging plastic comments following Facebook posts. They will be examining much of the so-called truth from a single account, since most of the perpetrators are outside The Gambia and thus it will achieve nothing, but accusations of blame. The Attorney General seems toothless at providing any direction. It is a shambles of a Commission by every measure.
I am probably an idealist, in that I subscribe to the view that if you are going to open old wounds, you must have the necessary skills, drugs and so on to treat and or manage the conditions well. With appropriate protocols, and under the Chairmanship of Dr. Charles Roberts, we live in hope that some good may come out of the work of the medical board members. At the very least, the Barrow government must find the resources or put in place strategic measures that will address the needs of the victims and the closest living relatives of the victims’ families. In my view, an annual fundraising drive in memory of the victims and victims’ families could sustain such a cause. Clearly if they can find enough money to travel in style, pay themselves unjustifiable salaries and per diems, they should be able to do the needful for the people whose sacrifice contributed immensely to the change and the positions they occupy today.
With the hearing date of the TRRC announced (January 7, 2019), we ask that the TRRC continues to work to clean its house so that the Commission can win the trust of the nation (Afrobarometer survey, page 4) and of the international community. The TRRC must do all it can to not only respond to the request from the US Senators, but to also meet the expectations of all victims, victims’ families wherever they are. It is truly odd that to date, the TRRC has made no contacts with victims, victims’ families and especially the perpetrators in the diaspora. Is it that they intend to establish the so-called truth by listening to one side of an account? Is this what they mean when they say that The Gambia’s truth commission will be different?
Finally, what is the position of the TRRC on Barrow’s utterances that he is more powerful than Jammeh? If the TRRC remains mute on this, can we assume that the #NeverAgain is nothing, but empty rhetoric?