December is a hot month in Gambian politics. We are overwhelmed with the controversial criminal amendment code; the draft constitution, three years failed promise And yes the dizzying numbers on the 2020 budget!
But for this post, I want to bring up the draft constitution and in my view how it seeks to exclude four or more generations of Gambians; well educated, well trained and highly experienced in ever occupying key positions in leading the country. The dual citizenship clause disqualifies any Gambian with another nationality to run for the Presidency, become VP, Speaker of the National Assembly and Chief Justice. By virtue of disqualification for running for President you are not eligible to occupy any of these four significant roles because they are inline for succession to the Presidency. Now, why do I think four generations of Gambians are excluded or alienated?
Since the first Republic, Gambians both in government, private sector or the ordinary farmer all did everything within their powers to send their children outside for education and skills training. It is often referred to as Gambia’s massive brain drains from searching for higher education to greener pastures. Gambians left in mass numbers many against their will. Majority of these best and brightest did not only get their education outside but also acquired citizenship of their host nations for various reasons and rightfully so. They have children who were either born or became citizens of other nations. The draft constitution excludes all these people from running or occupying these key positions.
The draft constitution gave the National Assembly rightfully so greater powers than any other institution in the Gambia including the Executive. This is absolutely proper in a representative democracy. The National Assembly does not only have legislative responsibilities but are tasked to confirm major appointments the President is empowered to nominate. From the Ombusperson, IBEC Chair, Chief Justice, Solicitor General, DPP, Central Bank Governor, Chairperson of JSC, Human Rights commission, Anti-corruption Chairs etc etc are all to be confirmed by the NA. So the NA will without a doubt be the most powerful institution in the country!
How then can you exclude a critical sector of Gambian population arguably the most skilled and educated from participating in such an important the running of the nation?
My solution to incorporating these highly skillful citizenry would have been to allow them to run for such offices and upon winning be required to give up or renounce their dual nationality before being sworn into office. This would have encouraged many to contest especially for the National Assembly where the bulk of our national politics and good governance would depend on. The three year ordinary residency before one could run for these offices is equally counter productive. This means Gambians who have been serving in various UN and other International bodies who couldn’t be resident in the Gambia are essentially disqualified from running for such offices. This is very unfortunate as the Gambia is being deprived of many of its skillful citizens who have made remarkable difference in the world stage!
The argument that you will run away and seek refuge into your other country of nationality would have been nullified. And certainly paying allegiance to another nation or being conflicted would have been a wash too.
Another angle to look at this is that if you are already a US citizens for example, you return to Gambia and have children there, your kids are banned from ever contesting for any of these positions outlined earlier because those kids automatically have dual citizenship in many instances.
This is my understanding of the citizenship clause and I stand to be corrected. The idea that our massive exodus of Gambian intellect would be excluded in running for these positions has drastic consequences in my opinion. The likely long term consequences would be that Gambia will continue to have mediocrity leadership running our country. The Gambian Diaspora including those serving in important International roles have contributed immensely to the development of the Gambia contributing over 22% of GDP. The fall of the dictatorship could partly be credited to the persistent resistance of the Gambian Diaspora. The draft constitution snub these important contributions and fails to recognize the Diaspora as a separate constituency. A look at how our neighboring Senegal is exploiting it’s Diaspora talent with 15 National Assembly seats would have been more just for the Diaspora Gambian.
Thus the drafters of the constitution should have taken the circumstances of our decades of brain drains into consideration. In the end both Jawara and Jammeh packed their families and left the Gambia even though they did not have dual nationality.
Without a doubt there are many things I love about the draft only if they won’t tamper with it such as the 1997 draft.
I strongly believe this is a debate we must have again and again. What is at stake here has far reaching unintended consequences than meets the eyes. What are your thoughts on this particular citizenship clause. How many Gambians are affected are questions we must be bold enough to address.
Demba Baldeh Associate Editor Gainako