Gambia – Is change Illusive?

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By Neneh LouFaye

Walking through the gates of hell of past memories can be a painful experience.

The pain emanates from two sources – from a lingering recollection of the past and from a non-realisation of aspirations.

In a journey of hope, recollections are sometimes re-lived by excruciating narrations or memories, while aspirations are thwarted by unsatisfactory and sometimes confusing achievements.

Thus, the pains of life can be of three forms – a loss (loved one or thing), unresolvable burden (irreversible situation) or unfulfilled aspiration (unattained hope). Perhaps that is indeed hell.

The past two decades in The Gambia bear the hallmark of the two forms of pain – a pain of a loss and of irreversible conditions.

Some loved ones perished and some, physically and emotionally, maimed for life.

The country was not permanently infected by the third form of an unattainable hope which provided the impetus for an exit from the woes of brutality.

It was to be a hopeful exit for a better life, for a better system of governance and to walk towards equality, justice, transparency and uprightness.

It was to be a walk into a state of transparent transactions, an atmosphere of sincere execution of duties and an absence of scandalous corrupt practices.

It was to be a walk on the road of change – a change of doing things differently from the past. It was a hopeful break from the past of deception, divisiveness and sycophancy in order to assuage the pain of having lived in a “hell-full” situation for two decades.

Change can sometimes be sudden and very apparent but sometimes it can be slow and clandestine. One thing that change is not – it is not constant.

The fluidity of change gives it the unique ability to leave footprints of a legacy – good or bad.

With the advent of high tech, wider and more intrusive media coverage and keen public awareness, such footprints nowadays have become more indelible, detectable and discernible. An awareness of this fact of imprinted legacy should be a guide for conduct in the spheres of the execution of duty in any governance system.

Is The Gambia learning any lessons from the past? Let us retrace the steps of hope and our exit from the hell of tyranny back to the days of a negotiated coalition of political parties.

Political parties came together to form what they labelled a “coalition”. The representation for the selection of a flag bearer was by an equal number of participants from all the parties.

That seemingly sounds great but out of our anxiety to walk away from brutally, the foundations of democratic representation were pitilessly assaulted.

On hindsight, does it make sense that parties small or large, new or old should be equally represented by number in such a selection process? That sounds very incongruous to our very electoral system of selecting a head of government.

Constitutionally too, a majority has been the arbiter in such an instance.

The very foundation of our traditional democracy succumbed to what may seem to have been an idealistic political venture.

 

The very basis of that coalition became insecure. Anyway, let’s keep walking.

The selection of the leadership was based on conditions (“an agreement”).

The selected flagbearer was to be “independent” despite the reality that he came from a political party (and a senior official too).

Was that being too eager to set the country free and thus neglect the reality of human sentiments and affinity? In addition, the selected flagbearer was for a “transitional” period of three years after which he was supposed to be unqualified to contest the following election.

This was the agenda given to the people of the Gambia to vote tyranny out and usher in a hope of freedom, justice, equality, transparency, national unity and a rectified system of governance.

In other words, Gambians were made to believe that they were generally voting for a transitional government – a government for a limited term with a limited checklist of attainable goals that presumably would be less than the normal constitutional requirement. This concept of a transition appears to be a misnomer from the on-set, for two reasons.
Traditionally, transitional governments are negotiated governments and not voted ones – such as recently in Sudan.

We voted in the current government as a constitutional requirement. Secondly, at the end of any transitional government, elections are held to vote in a government as per constitution.

Let us assume that the voting in of a transitional government was an exception in the Gambia (we seem to have too many exceptions in our efforts to attain a system of governance).

However, it becomes difficult to circle the square peg of requiring the leadership of such a government to step down after three years simply because that was the agreement.

In other words, what beats rationality is the fact that despite the conscious awareness of the constitutional requirements (which is accepted by the participants) of the tenure of office this agreement was entered into.

No, this is not a reference to a five year term but more concerned about Section 65 (2) of the Constitution which states that “Whenever the office of President becomes vacant……the Vice President or if there is no Vice President…….the Speaker shall assume the office of President for the residue of the term of the former President.” (my emphasis)
Of course, other parts of the Constitution provide the conditions for the absence of a President but one thing is certain – absence simply means, I presume, vacancy of the office, which no doubt includes resigning to honour an agreement.

The question is why would the ardent participants of this agreement being fully aware of this provision require someone to resign just for another person to step in to continue the residue of the term? Were Gambians bamboozled to believe in a transition that never was? Was someone aspiring to be privileged – whether innocently or by deceit or by design – to be the Vice President and thus continue the tenure? Why was there not a similar clause in the agreement such that the surreptitiously selected President (from Vice President or Speaker) would have been equally barred from contesting the elections at the end of the term just as required of the flagbearer – a dishonest oversight? Something is comical if not sinister here The participants in the “coalition” owe us some very logical explanation.

Are we trying out things that have never been tried or unheard of in any governance system in the world? Are we so much overwhelmed by hope that we deliberately side step rationality and logic? We were almost led into a national assembly with only independent members in the name of some coalition of some sort – where in the world (not even in a communist state). Members of such an assembly or committee always belong to a party – whether single or multi-party system.

Perhaps it was all in the fever and anxiety to walk out of a hellish governance system. It is time to reflect – realistically and rationally.

Certain conditions infect rationality – greed, sentiments, dishonesty, impatience, anxiety and so forth. The road to change can be fraught with these characteristics and thus make change to be illusive. We were deceived into a system with no foundation. Any agreement that is not undertaken in good faith is voidable (I am not of a legal mind though).

The agreement presented to the Gambians is indeed voidable (if not void). This could be challenged in the law courts (perhaps a much better democratic approach).

It is high time we braced ourselves for the reality of the situation.

The humming seems to be getting louder and the silence more deafening. We have been tricked into a coalition, the selection process of which was abominably flawed and unheard of in the history of political manoeuvrings.

Not surprisingly, it has collapsed abysmally.

We were further made to believe in a transition that in reality was no more than a surreptitious provision for someone else to govern who would have completed the residue of a constitutional term. This same agreement, up to this day, continues to be imbued with so much intrigue and potential political, social and economic disruption and looming threats.

The disruption of peace and the economy (particularly tourism) based on a voidable agreement is not being fair to the innocent Gambians and should awaken our conscience.

There should have been better reasons than the basis of such a questionable agreement. Yet the silence is deafening from the participants of the coalition.

We aspired for change and change can be real. Reality can be many and in various forms of perception of a governance system.

Scandals in governance must not be allowed to permeate the system.

The ominous head of any selective justice should be severed.

A brazen threat of repression must not be awakened.

The blaring sirens with impunity of a military convoy in the road traffic could be stopped being a frightening reminder of the past. The process of awarding contracts must not be smack of past opaque ways of disregard for transparency.

Past contempt for Gambian competence in favour of foreign participation should be avoided.

Even a nomenclature of prominent national assets with a foreign flavour could be averted.

The faces of the past, administering and managing institutions of the governance system could be framed and hung in the memories of the past.

Inimical existing laws from the past could be reviewed, repealed or annulled prior to an entire review.

The economy must not allowed to be the biggest enemy – high indebtedness (local Treasury bills not to creep in and foreign loans not to be solicited), high energy cost and unchanged cost of food on the table could be a subject of visionary economic reforms.

The slow wheels of economic change require an early kick start.

Let logic and rationality rule our conscience and throw out sentiments, ethnic affinity and deception. That is the road to assuage the memories of a hell of unscrupulous greed and the past atrocities and a way to walk towards a realistic realization of our aspirations.

Nonetheless, our hope for change should still remain alive – a hope in the residue of a term of office where change still has vigorous opportunities but also a hope in the footprints of a legacy that will always be indelible and detectable for the rectification of the wrongs of a past. That is the reality of now and the future of tomorrow. Change must not be allowed to be illusive.