By Democracy Watch Gambia
It is often said in many quarters of today’s Gambia that “we will never go back to dictatorship”. In the absence of dedicated effort to ensure this holds, such a statement is no less than an aspiration and, as months and years go by it is becoming more so than most of us would like it to be. It is vitally important to note that dictatorship is not and event but rather an existence whose emergence is gradual and often unexpected. Vigilance is the antidote and, we must observe it very proactively. But, are we?
Just like even the world’s best athlete would have victory snatched off them by that pebble which is stuck down their shoe, our salient democratic gains from 2016 are being eroded by our complacence.
The Coalition (now defunct), being the vehicle through which change was delivered, was the product of a hard worked on political agreement of the willing. Let it not go amiss that this hard worked on political agreement as it turns out, became the first casualty of what appears to be a determined legion of charlatans: as if our new found democracy demised the same day it was born. Never mind the self-comforting cliché ‘new Gambia’, it is a false prophecy. A ‘new Gambia’ is indeed possible, however it simply is not yet here. As a people of faith, we think we are right in assuming that most are well too familiar with the concept of false prophets and their machinations; we of-course point no fingers but make of that metaphor what you may.
Nearly 3 years after the banishment by the Gambian people of a narcissistic dictator, worrisome it is that rather than transition out of the lamentable state of affairs of the gloomy past, it appears progress is being stalled by a vacuous fold for whom over 2 years on statecraft still remains a canoe they are unversed how to paddle. Depressing as this may be, it is not even the unversed team’s most worrying attribute. Time and time again, we witness public policy lurching ever increasingly into the retrogressive circles of what is by all accounts a slippery slope back into the the ditch which our nation strives to emerge out of. It will no doubt be conspiratorial to suggest that all of the above is part of a well thought through masterplan to deliberately undermine the popular will for progressive change but, we will certainly be extremely naive to just write it all off as mere coincidence rather than intended and deliberate and for the purposes of a particular desired outcome.
A first error may be written off as a mistake, a second forgiven as indiscretion and, a third deemed careless. However, anymore then it is and should be deemed a hobby. The latter, in our view is what must be attributed to the flawed persuasions of those currently running the asylum. Let us be absolutely clear, in plain speak the current administration of Adama Barrow is playing ‘Russian roulette’ with our nation’s affairs.
The blunders of this administration, in such a short period of time are too voluminous, we’d be foolish to attempt addressing them all in a single publication. But, for the purposes of this publication, we shall stick with the issues around the blunders in respect of transitional justice and reform.
For all we know, Mr Surahata Janneh is not a judge nor qualified to be one. In light of this and, by virtue of Section 201(1) of the Constitution his appointment as sole Chairperson of the Commission set up to look into the financial dealings of Dictator Jammeh and associates is at best Constitutionally and legally questionable. Additionally, the raison d’être of the Commission is non – judiciable and shall remain so until such a time Section 69 and the Transitional Provisions of the Constitution are repealed, or such undeserved immunity revoked. As if it is not bad enough travelling contraflow with the dictates of the Supreme legal order in establishing an unlawful Commission and wasting eye-watering sums of money on it, the terms of reference of such a Commission grossly exceed the mandated Constitutional authority for Commissions of Inquiry as fact finding probes established under the Constitution. For the avoidance of doubt, Section 202 does not in any way accord or authorise a Commission of Inquiry to recommend or issue punishment or sanctions; the essence of a Commission of Inquiry is certainly not meant to make freelance and part-time judges out of laypersons and politicians. It is bewildering and frightening that this government takes this bizarre and legally unsound view.
In light of the above, the ‘sanctions’ announced by the Government (white paper) revoking the Constitutional rights of private citizens, requisitioning private property etc constitute the radiation of very dangerous levels of repression and illegality and in total perversion and abuse of a power which is not even available to the Executive at all in the first instance. Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, Idi Amin Dada in 1972, Robert Mugabe in 2000 all unlawfully seized private property under similar pretext. Why on earth would a democratically elected President of an emerging democracy do anything which is this remotely close to the modus operandi of such bogeymen? Why would anyone voluntarily knot their own noose?
Under articles 10 & 11 the Universal Convention of Human Rights, there can be no punishment without law, this spirit is enshrined in our Constitution, but it appears this administration has a blind spot for Constitutional restraint. Let us be in no doubt that even if the bans were handed down by a Court, they will be unlawful – every citizen has the right to serve in public office / services whether elected, appointed or otherwise and, taking this rights away, something which the AFPRC / APRC also did, is a flagrant breach of human rights. This is a very dangerous precedent which we must not allow any government to set. Never again.
The very same professionally negligent legal errors which characterise the establishment and edifice of the Janneh Commission, manifest themselves in the Truth Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC). It is as if this government is a law unto itself, breaking laws at will, re-writing the rules as it deems fit and in accordance with what suits their flawed agenda best rather than act in good faith and in the best interest of the people on whose behalf they govern.
Having unpacked and laid bare the flaws we will not do justice to the subject matter if our admonition is not matched with humble counsel. In a democracy, laws exist to protect society from a number of vices including a power-grabbing Executive and not the other way round. This is to be borne in mind at all times. In respect of the lamentable ‘sanctions’ in the white paper, the ridiculous and unlawful pronouncements should be rescind. However, should the government wish to plough ahead, we would recommend they do so through a Court order or primary legislation (Act of the National Assembly). More importantly, the government should start heeding to legal advice or if at all it has been doing so, then it’s incredibly high volume of noncompliance conduct must inevitably lie with the quality and source of legal advise it relies on. If the latter is the case, then, it has to be recommended that the government urgently seeks the services of a versed attorney who is sufficiently competent to give sound, responsible, sensible and lawful legal advice failing which more embarrassing legal and Constitutional disasters will follow.