While as usual, President Yahya Jammeh’s state of the nation address delivered at the National Assembly on March 28th no doubt contained some unsavoury comments, but in general, it was more conciliatory than his previous speeches. He seems to have particularly been a bit more conciliatory towards Diaspora Gambians, for whom he had previously always reserved some harsh words and unwarranted threats.
This time round however, he not only scolded the police for their constant harassment of Diaspora Gambians at the airport and other points of entry, but he also threatened to reciprocate against foreign governments that handcuff and maltreat Gambian nationals while they are being deported from abroad.
However, whether that is enough to appease his most vocal critics amongst Diaspora Gambians, would become clearer later. What is clear now however is that many people are worried about his threats to end the moratorium on the death penalty as a result of the frequent spate of murders since he defied public and international opinion and went ahead to execute nine death row prisoners last August.
We have indeed seen that since the execution of the nine prisoners about eight months ago, rather than a decline in the rate of violent crimes as he no doubt anticipated, the Gambia has witnessed an unprecedented spate of murders and other violent crime never before seen in this country. Therefore, rather than threaten to lift the moratorium on the death penalty, President Jammeh should have learnt a lesson or two from it that the death penalty is not a deterrent to violent crime. It has been socially proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the death penalty rather than act as a deterrent to violent crime tends to precipitate it.
Therefore, instead of again risk earning the wrath of the international community and other people of conscience by resuming the death penalty, he should have been magnanimous enough to accept that his intention of using it as a deterrent to the rising spate of violent crime in the country has failed. His administration should therefore devise other means of trying to reduce the crime rate instead of using such cruel methods like the death penalty.
While there is no conclusive evidence as to what may have been responsible for the sudden rise in violent crime in the country in spite of the executions, but there is a school of thought that it is not unconnected with the frustrations orchestrated by the apparent lack of freedom of expression in the society. It is quite obvious that if virtually all avenues of self-expression are suppressed, then the people are left with very little room to vent out their feelings through legitimate means and as such, they would tend to resort to such anti-societal vices like violence to express themselves.
Therefore, rather than threaten to resume the death penalty to address the rising crime rate, President Jammeh should ensure that his regime opens up the political space and allow the people more room for self-expression, as well as allow the media, including those media houses that were arbitrarily closed down, to operate, and also lift the unfair restrictions imposed on his political opponents to exercise their democratic rights to hold meetings and other political activities permitted in a democracy.
It is quite obvious that as long as Gambians are denied their inalienable rights to freely express themselves as guaranteed by the constitution, they will find other means of venting out their feelings, and that could include resorting to violence. Therefore, it is incumbent upon President Jammeh and his regime to accept that continuous suppression of the rights of the people to free expression is definitely not in the interest of national peace and stability.
It is therefore quite obvious that as long as Gambians continue to be subjected to all sorts of restrictions, including denying them virtually all the avenues of venting out their genuine grievances, including free access to the media, then they will be left with little choice but to resort to violence and other social vices to express themselves. The sooner the authorities realize this simple social factor, the better for the peace and homogeneity of this country.