By Njundu Drammeh
We remember that day on 22 July 1994 when a little group of wilful men, thinking of nothing but power, usurped the people’s mandate, suspended constitutionalism and superimposed a reign of terror, brutality and wanton disregard for the rule of law on a people they claimed to have come to liberate. Constitutional-Dictatorship it was.
We had a Constitution but it scared away only the people and emboldened the President. Rule of law was supplanted by rule by law. That was our tragedy.
Njundu, we have crossed the bridge now, but not the Rubicon. Freedom is a daily struggle, between the governed who wants its enlargement and undiluted enjoyment and the governors who wants to shrink the space, to narrow the freedom and have to juggle the individual rights against the collective or the State’s obligations.
A constant struggle, a constant negotiation, a constant war of attrition. Whatever war has been won, the people must not rest on their laurel. If there is any organism to be feared for its treachery, double faced sphinx, it is the State. Never trust it 100%. Take it that it can betray you and the course and cause it took and espoused at the beginning of the struggle.
Njundu, July 22nd should be a day of national reflection, a retrospective-introspection of what went wrong, how a nation once trumped as a beacon of hope and citadel of rights easily fell to five men in uniform, why a people so loved by God for their religiosity and hospitality easily accepted their suffering and some among them become complicit in their hardship? History is not bunk; it is supposed to serve the future, to provide an understanding of the past, a learning for the present and a redefinition of the future. Experience is only useful when the people from it, when course correcting measures are put in place and implemented. Otherwise, history repeats itself.
Njundu, are we learning from our history? I think the jury is out in this. We are establishing mechanisms and institutions to safeguard the new frontiers. The security, legal, constitutional and public services reforms promised in the National Development; the establishments of the TRRC and CRC and the Gambianisation of the Judiciary are encouraging. But good Constituotion doesn’t necessarily give constitutionalism. Good institutions do not necessarily deliver the goods as expected and they so not implement themselves. How the NDP is effectively implemented; what resources and independence these new institutions enjoy and have; how the new Constitution is implemented are in the future. We await.
Njundu, the national battle cries, during and after the fall of Jammeh, were “The Gambia Has Decided” and “Never Again”. If they are not to be mere slogans, then we need to ponder over them, their significance for all of us, how they inform what we do and say, as citizens and as Government. If history is not to repeat itself.
Njundu, Jammeh was alone in the perfidy and cesspool we saw ourselves. He had willing accomplices, people who served as his cat’s paw and handmaiden and people who went out of their ways to please him by doing the nasty in a fawning way. The Jammeh commission is testimony. I know the buck stopped on his desk but individual culpability we must recognise and deal with.
That these men and women are trading their skills in the current corridors of power and some of them the power itself tells that we are not learning from history; that we are repeating the mistakes of the past. What are we really learning from our past? What are we not re-learning from the Jammeh “power book”? History will tell.
Njundu, you were worried about the leaked Jammeh audios. I remember our late night conversations. I understand your concerns. But am not much worried although we all agree Jammeh is a dangerous schemer and still holds away over the minds and allegiance of many a people. However, Jammeh and his cohorts can only succeed in their plot if the Barrow Government allows the same or similar “evils” which Jammeh fed on and bred to thrive, fester and get entrenched under his watch. One does not have to look into the crystal ball to know that history is gradually repeating itself.
Njundu, if this Government is not to repeat the history of the past, then President Barrow must be careful of his legacy, how we remember him long after he is gone. He must learn from the ignoble past and not repeat it, not even a semblance of it.
Njundu, the fact of history is that governments do not learn from history; it is the people who learn. Thus, it behooves on the people to stand guard, to be that bulwark against tyranny, to be constantly reminding the government, through every legitimate means, of their past. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
Are we learning from the history of the past 22 years of Jammeh regime? The jury is out.