Let me start off by saying that prosecution of human rights violators is an integral part of any accountability measures. Let me also state that I’m a huge believer that how perpetrators are held to account must be a shared decision between the victims and those charged with ensuring accountability for human rights violations. What I have concerns with is the almost singular focus on prosecutions as the sole avenue to accountability or justice.
Not only are these prosecutions based on Western notions of what constitutes justice, we, as Gambians, seldom engage in a cost-benefit analysis of punishment or accountability in our quest for justice. Justice has been truncated to prosecutions and imprisonment. We hardly ever sit and wonder what is the purpose of punishment or imprisonment! Is imprisonment, a colonial idea, the only way for us to hold our people accountable? Can we hold people accountable without prosecuting them through these colonial and Western themed court processes?
We never ask how imprisoning individuals will help fix or build the colonial space we call Gambia. One could be forgiven for thinking that it was only “punishable crimes” that sustained the tyranny of Yahya Jammeh and his APRC Government. And so by punishing these crimes, we will somehow ensure the “never again” slogan takes root and dictatorship will never be allowed in the country again. Talk about a simpleminded approach to solving complex societal challenges.
Here’s the reality. Only lying and scheming Sayyindi Jatta and his band of mindless followers make the stupid claim that what happened to Gambians during the tyranny of the APRC Government were simple “mistakes.” These heartless and wicked souls aside, all decent Gambians know that the various human rights violations against Gambians were calculated and deliberate acts, not mistakes!
For any government to pervert its monopoly on violence and orchestrate human rights violations against its citizens, it needs certain essentials which include:
1. Compliant citizens
2. A weak governance structure
3. A caving parliament
4. An impotent judiciary
5. Mindless security agents
At the rate we are going, the fixation remains on Essential Number 5. Numbers one through four do not matter much in our calculations. The prevailing thought seems to be that we should imprison a few folks, give some money to some victims as reparations, ban some people from working in the government for some time, pay lip service to security sector and civil service reforms and voila, accountability is a success!
In the equation above, those who cheered for the rights violators, the parliamentarians who limply went along with Jammeh’s desires, those who promoted the image of the APRC Government as ambassadors, IEC and GRTS staff who manipulated elections for the APRC, newspaper editors and journalists who parroted what Jammeh desired, thieves who helped Jammeh bilk Gambians, those who spied on their fellow citizens, and those of us who simply turned a blind eye to all get a free pass. Since our actions were not necessarily criminal, we can all mount the moral high ground to shout and throw stones at the criminals.
Given what obtained in this colonial space during the days of the APRC tyranny, if you think that imprisoning a few individuals (usually those without friends in high places), banning people from government work (again those without influential friends willing to back them), giving money to some victims and holding a few televised reconciliation efforts are what constitute transitional justice, I can only feel sorry for the future of our people! We keep following these Westerners and their ideas of justice solely anchored on prosecutions and see if it will help advance our people! We were created with brains to think for ourselves but we have resigned ourselves to helplessness and continue to allow others to think for us. As if they’re more interested in our advancement than we are.