By Omar Bah
Three groups acting for Gambians abroad yesterday sent an open letter to President Barrow asking him to arrest the disenfranchisement of 200,000 Gambians in the diaspora.
In the letter, the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA), Gambia House and Right2Know Gambia said Gambian diaspora organisations and individual citizens, resident in foreign countries are deeply concerned about the slow pace of preparedness of the IEC to actualise diaspora voting for the December election.
The letter read: “We are equally worried that barely seven months to the said presidential election, the apparent lack of commitment on the part of other relevant stakeholders including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, responsible for diaspora affairs and the Ministry of Justice, the line ministry overseeing the IEC, have evidently failed to show reasonable haste, to coordinate their efforts in order to expedite the necessary processes that will ensure that the diaspora’s right to vote in compliance with both existing laws and government policy, materialises in good time for the scheduled election.
“Your Excellency, we respectfully draw your attention to the policy statement contained in your government’s flagship policy documents, the National Development Plan, 2018-2021, specifically under the heading of ‘Diaspora in Development’, as one of the seven critical enablers of the NDP, in which your government gave a cast-iron guarantee to actualise the enfranchisement of the Gambian Diaspora, in accordance with Sections 39(1) and 26 of the 1997 Constitution.
“We also call your attention to the recent Supreme Court ruling in the case of Bakary Bunja Dabo and others vs Attorney General of the 27 January 2021, in which the country’s apex court reaffirmed the right of Gambians living abroad, to be registered and to vote in all elections and referenda amongst other rights.
“Your Excellency, continuing to tolerate the disenfranchisement of the Gambian Diaspora is proven to be difficult, because it is the same as disenfranchising the whole of Kerewan Local Area Council, which has a similar population size to the Gambian Diaspora. It will also amount to a deliberate and direct discrimination of around 9% of the Gambian population, in clear violation of constitutional provisions (Sections 17 and 33) of the 1997 Constitution, based merely on where a citizen resides. The supreme laws of the Gambia prohibit such act, the Gambian people abhor it, and so should you, Your Excellency.
“As the 2021 presidential election draws closer, the Gambian Diaspora and their supporters at the home front, continue to demand for the Gambian Diaspora’s legal right to be registered and to vote, and we call on Your Excellency to leave no stone unturned to ensure that the promise you made to the 8th region of the Gambia (The Diaspora) in your NDP, is respected and fulfilled. The implementation of this legitimate demand will be in keeping with the obligations of your government to respect the Constitution of the Gambia, to project a culture of sound democratic practice, to promote the principles of popular and inclusive participation, and to demonstrate respect for the rule of law.
“Your Excellency, the implications of doing anything less, by continuing the illegal policy of deliberate inaction on the part of your government, and the continuing disenfranchisement of bona fide Gambian citizens, who just happen to live abroad, will prolong the more than two decade long policy of marginalisation by the ousted dictatorship, that deprived the Gambia Diaspora of their constitutional entitlement to participate in national affairs since the advent of the second republic. In fact, anything short of registering the Gambian Diaspora, in line with constitutional stipulations, to actualise the Gambian Diaspora’s right to vote in the December election, will call into question, the legitimacy and credibility of the Presidential Election; and could trigger further unintended consequences. It will also no doubt, Your Excellency, negatively impact on your legacy.
“So, as we endeavour to find an expeditious path to the realisation of our full legal entitlement to participate in national decision making at the highest level, along with our brothers and sisters, and our larger Gambian family, please be assured Your Excellency, of our highest consideration and respect.”