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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Assuming political responsibility

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By Alagi Yorro Jallow

There might come a time in a person’s life when it becomes necessary to die for the good of others and, if not for that reason, at least to stand for one’s cherished ideals and values. The resignation of Landing Kinteh, the former Inspector General of Police, for the deaths of three unarmed Faraba Banta village protesters is a rare occurrence in Gambia.

Kinteh said he resigned from his post to give the nation a chance to heal after the killing of three protestors and the injuring of several Gambian environmentalists by the country’s police intervention unit (PIU). He cited his principles: “Yes, this morning I resigned through the Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service; shortly thereafter, I got a response that it has been accepted by the President,” he told reporters. Kinteh, a Nigerian-trained lawyer, was President Barrow’s second police chief in less than two years. Kinteh contended that he deemed it imperative to resign to safeguard his image and that of the police.
Gambia’s top political executives don’t resign as a way of assuming political responsibility for any problems in their portfolios of duties. They very seldom account publicly for their responsibilities or own up when problems arise. Instead, the usual trend is for junior officials who report to them to take the rap. Bureaucrats end up paying the price instead of their political bosses.

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There is no doubt that the vice president, who is the chairperson of the National Security Council and the Minister of Interior responsible for internal security, must take the necessary steps to look at the path our country has taken, a path of insatiable greed and shame that is clearly unacceptable and unsuitable. Nothing is left but to resign and seek forgiveness from the Gambian people.

Landing Kinteh’s resignation came about because no individual took executive accountability or political responsibility. This resignation was caused by public pressure in two cases. In one case, a public investigation loomed, and in the other case, those police officers who allegedly killed protesters with live ammunition may not face any criminal charges or prosecution because of the Indemnity Act of 1982 that was amended in 2001: “An Act to indemnify the Government or any agent of the Government or any person in the service of the Government or any authority acting on behalf of the Government for any act, matter or omission to act or thing done or purported to have been done during the period of the public emergency, and for connected matters” (Act No. 8 of 1982 amended by Act No. 5 of 2001).

After students’ peaceful demonstrations on April 10-11, 2000 during which 14 were massacred, the government amended the Indemnity Act of 1982. In both cases, the government of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara and the government of Yahya Jammeh created the law purposely to cover the acts and actors in these two regimes’ human rights violations against Gambians who were killed, tortured, or abused.
Both incidences in 1981 and 2000 involved human rights violations and crimes against humanity for which someone must be held accountable. These victims, who demand and need justice for closure, have been denied this because of the Indemnity Act, a law that indemnifies the government’s killings and torture by psychopaths. In other words, no one took public accountability for their actions.

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The top executives’ political responsibility for mistakes, disasters, or political failures is regarded as an entrenched democratic principle linked to public accountability in many countries.
Historical examples of political leaders resigning include U.S. President Richard Nixon for his role in the 1974 Watergate scandal and Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan after the Fukushima nuclear tragedy. The Gambia’s first political leader in history to resign was Sheriff Mustapha Dibba, Gambia’s first vice-president in 1970. He resigned on September 15,1972, as a result of the butut scandal, in which his younger brother Kutubo was arrested for smuggling Gambian currency and contraband goods to neighboring Senegal in August 1972 and was found to have been working out of Dibba’s official residence at No. 1 Marina Parade in Banjul.

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe announced his resignation as president after parliament began impeachment proceedings to strip him of power and open the way for prosecution. His departure, after a stand-off lasting for days following a military coup, brought an end to the reign of a man who was Africa’s longest-serving head of state and one of the best-known and controversial figures in international politics.
The announcement of the resignation came with the drama that has been one of the hallmarks of this extraordinary saga. The motion of impeachment was being debated by the National Assembly and the Senate, with speaker after speaker lining up to denounce the President, when the news came that he had gone.

South Africa’s embattled president, Jacob Zuma, resigned, putting an end to a period of scandal and mismanagement that threatened to destroy the party of Nelson Mandela.
Zuma’s resignation leaves his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, as the country’s acting leader, and a man now charged with salvaging the legacy of Africa’s most famous liberation movement.
The resignation came one day after the African National Congress (ANC) ordered him to step down or face a vote of no confidence in Parliament. It ended a long week of limbo for many South Africans as the ANC tried to persuade Zuma to resign and renew South Africans’ faith in the party.

But there are also many examples where senior politicians didn’t do the honorable thing. Isatou Njie Saidy didn’t resign as Gambia’s former vice president over the killings of unarmed students in April 10–11, 2000. More recently, the killings in Foni, the death of Haruna Jatta, and the police brutality at Faraba Banta killing three and injuring several others, the Vice President and Chair of National Security Council, Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang, has refused to leave office despite massive protestations against her. Unacceptable executive conduct by political heads can assume different forms including unconstitutional, illegal, and unethical conduct and administrative misconduct.

In other countries, these activities are regulated by a host of legislative and other directives. These include the Code of Ethical Conduct for Executives and the U.S. Constitution has provisions for impeachment.
The Vice President and the Interior Minister in Gambia, therefore, cannot escape the binding nature of their political responsibility by claiming that it depends mainly on moral judgement, which can differ from person to person. But in the Gambia, they escape their responsibility despite all the checks and balances in place. The general trend is that the Chair of the National Security Council and Interior Minister don’t take personal political responsibility. Instead, they act as bystanders when a scandal erupts or when an embarrassing event occurs while their junior officials take the blame.

Gambians cannot manage national affairs with cold indifference when the levels of corruption and human rights violations are being perpetrated by those who are expected to be the solution. Our youths are wallowing in poverty without a clear plan for them while business preferences and opportunities are always tilted in favor of outsiders, reducing Gambians to mere spectators in the economic affairs of the state. This cannot be allowed to continue. We need to go back to the original agenda of the coalition, where the poor and not the corporates must be at the center of all our decisions. It would appear that the poor Gambians have ceased to be the reason they are holding power. Materialism and the propensity for money have taken over and are arrogantly at the center of many decisions being made today.
Gambians believe that the failures of their political and economic management do not lie in the individualistic nature of a lot of our politicians but are the result of oppressing this individualism to a level where there is a consistent effort to suppress individualistic dynamism in a preference for collective carelessness and indifference.

Five police officers including a superintendent and an assistant superintendent have been arrested for their alleged role in killing of protesters in Faraba Banta Village. At least three youths were killed, and several others injured when officers of the PIU fired live ammunition at the villagers who were protesting the mining of sand in their village.
Among the officers detained and had their services suspended are Superintendent Aboukir Cham, ASP Musa Fatty, Nuha Colley, Momodou S. Jallow, and Musa Badjie. Six villagers are currently detained for taking part in the protest. Police have confirmed that several items including two caterpillars, five trucks, a police guard post, and four compounds were vandalized and set on fire during the protest.

The lack of accountability extends to the highest echelons of power like the corruption scandal over President Adama Barrow’s use of public money to build his private homestead and the electrification of a project of his village by a renowned American/Senegalese musician, Akon.
Given this scenario, what are we to make of Kinteh’s resignation over the deaths of Faraba Bantang youths? Does his departure constitute a break with the past? Is it symptomatic of changes in the Tactical Alliance Government?
We should not overly interpret the significance of Kinteh’ resignation becoming public political discourse. This means his resignation was also due to public pressure and not because he’d accepted that he’d failed in his job. But the fact that he resigned is nevertheless significant. And here, the context matters.

A complicating element in the Kinteh case is the implication of the principle of collective executive responsibility. Does it mean that only the former IGP and his department must take blame for the deaths of the Faraba Bantang victims? Or must the entire Cabinet, including the vice president, take the blame?
A presidential and mixed parliamentary government is normally associated with collective responsibility. In other words, the leader, in this case the Chair of the National Security Council and Minister of Interior, must answer to accountability to the Gambian people.
It’s fair to say that the government is a long way from accepting this much more radical approach to governing with accountability.

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