Barely two months into taking over a government dominated by 22 years of brutality and gross human rights violations, the new Government in Gambia under President Adama Barrow is slowly taking shape. There is reasonable expectation that this new government will have a rocky start. They were denied a smooth transition of power and handing over from the previous government in almost every institution. This made it almost impossible for them to hit the ground running on the first day in office. Thus many of the struggles and missteps of the new administration you see are genuine efforts to get started on a sound footing. Reasonable Gambians who understand the challenges of running an institution much more a government do give President Barrow and his government the honeymoon period to run the government smoothly.
One of the most difficult challenges the country has to rattle with is the gross human rights violations, citizen disappearances, tortures and extrajudicial killings of innocent citizens by the former government. The magnitude of crimes and rights violations committed by the former regime and its officials is beyond anything anyone can comprehend. Couple that with the financial mismanagement and institutional abuse, it is almost overwhelming for anyone to deal with. How you ensure a democratic space, freedom of expression, security and justice are all guaranteed to Gambians is an enormous hill to climb. One must be careful to ensure that there is a balance without over reaching, under delivering and meeting expectations of citizens.
It is under these circumstances that the ministry of interior has the most difficult challenges of governing. This is mainly because the security institutions under its watch were the major instruments of oppression. They were used to kidnap citizens, arrest, torture and killed innocent Gambians. The prisons were used as detention centers and houses of horror. The military were armed and used to enforce Marshall law disguise under decrees of maintaining the peace and illegal constitutional amendments. The interior ministry did not have the luxury of waiting to set up commissions to find out what happened and hold those responsible accountable. There was immediate risk of culprits destroying evidence and constituting a flight risk. On the surface every Gambian knew the Director of the NIA, the Director of Internal operations of the NIA, the Director of Prisons, the operating instrument of the NIA were directly responsible for the killings of late Solo Sandeng, the kidnapping and disappearance of innocent citizens. So the move to arrest these folks and bring them before a court of law for these heinous crimes is the right thing to do. Ultimately, they will be tried under an independent court of law and if found not guilty they will be let go, if they are found culpable then the law should take its natural course.
Minister Fatty, despite his rocky start or possibly overstepping some of his initial mandates as alleged by his critics, is doing a damn good job in addressing issues. He has convened public meetings with members of the security and discussed with them what is at stake. He has apologized where he may have made mistakes and have promised to be better. Mai like President Barrow is new in his job and he is expected to make reasonable mistakes. You cannot fault a man in making mistakes and also be man enough to own up to those mistakes. Call it what you may, that is a good trait of a leader. Mr. Fatty is reported to have personally apologized to a journalist who may have been threatened or assaulted as a result of leaders’ tones. He is reported to have gone to the Fonis where there were reports of the Jola community being assaulted by members of the governing coalition to comfort and assure citizens that they will be protected under the eyes of the law. He was reported to be looking into alleged arrest of over 50 villagers in one village. That is as good of a leader as they come especially in Africa. So cut the guy some slack, critique him where necessary but give him credit where credit is due.
The most incredible thing Minister Mai Fatty is doing is keeping the public up to date on what his ministry is working on. This author has personally advocated to some of the new ministers to be more transparent in the form of picking up columns on newspapers and updating the public of what projects their departments are working on. We have directly suggested to the new minister of Information and communication that the President’s office conduct monthly or as frequently as possible press briefings to keep the public informed of what their government is working on. Allow citizens to ask questions and their concerns addressed. That is what we call transparency and modern style of governing. That is what we have seen Interior Minister Mai Ahmed Fatty is doing. We hope that all other ministries will emulate his strategy to keep the public abreast of what they are working on.
Below is a face book posting Mai Fatty posted on his face book page to update the public. Talk about transparency in governance, talk about keeping the public engaged and informed of what their government is working on! This is a model we hope will be adapted across the government. The extradition of the former notorious Jammeh alleged killer from Senegal is a step in the right direction. Mai’s efforts to repatriate young Gambians stranded in Libya and Europe to prevent them from dying there is commendable. See Mr. Fatty’s updated statement below..
The Ministry of the Interior intensifies its investigations into enforced disappearances as the unmarked grave of the late Patriot Mr. Sandeng was discovered and remains exhumed – inconceivably painful experience. The Missing Persons Panel I constituted continues to work on all leads around the country, and fourteen junglers are under custody, some already on trial for torture and murder, including former NIA DG Yankuba Badjie. I have authorized and invoked international criminal repatriation cooperation processes regarding those out of the jurisdiction for fugitives like Ousman Sonko, etc, and there is success with Bora Colley.
The investigations into the unacceptable assault of Journalist Kebba Jeffang Jnr continues as well. No one should be a victim for the legitimate expression of his/her views, and I regret that the unexpected incident happened. Valuable lessons were learnt. We will provide security for journalists at public functions if they make the request in advance, and as far as law enforcement deployment can accommodate. Freedom of expression and of the press are here to stay.
Yesterday afternoon, the Ministry invited and hosted private sector economic operators to a meeting to partner on prison reform, and to render penal servitude consistent with international human rights standards. So far, we released over 270 convicted prisoners. We will continue to decongest prisons while improving security and the criminal justice system. Meanwhile I terminated the services of David Colley, who was arrested, detained and is being investigated for specific allegations of overseeing systematic dehumanizing treatment of prisoners.
Regarding insecurity around southern border settlements in Foni, I held community meeting with Chiefs, Council of Elders and representatives of over 300 Alkalolu from Foni and West Coast Region in Brikama to discuss the situation. I authorized the additional deployment of joint Police/Immigration border patrol to beef up our presence to assure our communities along the Cassamance frontier. I also advised Police prosecutions unit to suspend prosecution through the courts, regarding the Foni Kanfenda victory celebration disturbances to give reconciliation exercises among the community a chance. Some of the accused are juveniles. This is in furtherance of community policing initiatives. We will not rest in our service delivery to Gambians while the security services sector reform agenda is on course. In the process, we may make some unintended mistakes and count on our citizens to remain vigilant as the guarantors of our democracy.
The statement above by minister fatty is incredibly encouraging. You may read anything into it, but this is the first time in the history of the Gambia that we have such level of transparency on a government department. I would rather have government officials who are willing to admit making mistakes and asking citizens to be vigilant than arrogant officials who think they are always right and are entitled to their positions. This is how you earn the respect and trust of citizens. We would like to encourage Minister Fatty to continue to challenge conventions and always aim to deliver high quality service. We expect the justice ministry; the ministry of information and communication, youth and employment, education and all other government institutions to adapt this process and keep the public engaged in their governing. At the end of the day mistakes will be made, critics will continue to be critical but genuine Gambians who understand the process of governing and the challenges involved will help nurture a culture of tolerance and good governance. Gambia belongs to all Gambians and the success and failure of our leaders has direct consequences on our country. Those days of siting on the sideline and whining about what is wrong are over. “Ask what you can do for your country not what your country can do for you ” JFK. The Gambia our home land “forward ever backward never”..
Commentary by Demba Baldeh Associate Editor… for feedback or comments contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org