The Gambian Opposition Coalition’s 2016 MoU provides for a Committee on National Reconciliation to serve as an advisory and consultative body on national reconciliation and will give recommendation as and when requested by the Coalition Executive Committee on ‘how to conduct civic education to promote National identity and reconciliation by enhancing tolerance of ethno- linguistic, religious, gender and other diversities in pursuit of national unity and peaceful co-existence’. This was necessitated by the belief that the then President Jammeh and his APRC party had disintegrated our society and communities, and divided the country along regional, religious and tribal lines that we risked an outbreak of a tribal or civil war. However, this was only a fear of the unknown that comes with ousting a tyrant, should we have a not-so pleasant change of Government and leadership. Rightly so because from his appointments, policy and public pronouncements, the fear was legitimate. So I do understand the spirit of this provision in the MoU.
The Coalition Manifesto on Human Rights and Justice outlined their plans ‘Addressing the Issue of Torture and Death in Custody’. It states:
‘Many allegations of torture have been reported by the media and made by accused persons in their testimonies in court. Reports of disappearances without trace are common. There are also cases of death under detention without the institution of any proceedings by the Coroner.
The Coalition Government shall set up a truth and reconciliation commission to enhance the healing of wounds that have caused pain and trauma through a cycle of confession, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. The commission will be empowered to recommend remedies for injustice including payment of compensation by the state, as it deems fit.’
Pursuit of Justice has been sidestepped for repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. I’d always believed that the Gambian society is not as divided as we made it seem, and I still maintain that position. If it were especially to the level that we’d need a TRC, not even Ecomig could have prevented the bloodshed. We had a 22-year tyranny where ONE man and a handful of known murderers with the backing of the State, targeted perceived political enemies. We ALL know who these are and what they did. The Gambian communities, despite the political differences were not seriously divided on any lines that led to any tribal, religious and regional conflicts that made cohabitation impossible. All our communities need are consultations and dialogue.
For The Gambia to want to constitute Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would model Sierra Leone, Liberia or Rwanda’s is like Pata importing the imam and model from King Fahd Mosque to lead his nonexistent congregation. Wasteful. The model countries that had TRC, had gone through serious civil wars that had folks in same communities slaughter one another on religious, tribal, regional or political lines. What do we reconcile in the Gambia when even as awful as the APRC as a party was, none of its top brass or rank and file have ever been accused of serious commission of crimes? Not even attacking the opposition in their midst. Not a single reported killing. It was NOT the APRC as a Party or GDC as a party, the Mandinkas or Jolas as a tribe, Banjulians or Jarrankas as a people, or Muslim youths that arrested Solo Sandeng and co., and had him murdered before daybreak. None of these insulted the other tribes or regions. None made public declaration intended to disrespect and make Christians second-class citizens. It was not any group of citizens from Foni that kidnapped Alhagie Mamut Ceesay, Ebou Jobe, Chief Manneh, Tumani Jallow, Ndongo Mboob, Kanyiba Kanyi, slaughtered and buried them in mass graves in the bushes of Foni. They were all killed by the NIA or the ‘Junglers’ and/or both on the orders of Yahya Jammeh. Who do you reconcile their families with?
The Coalition’s manifesto failed to outlined their plans to accord justice to the victims. Their focus was to amplify the need for ‘forgiveness, repentance and education’ which would be centered on and around amnesty and forgiveness for the perpetrators (the State) and some financial compensation to the victims, absent Justice. Check out the below excerpt:
‘The Coalition government will propagate laws, institutions and programmes on national reconciliation to build trust, confidence and positive perception towards the coalition by presenting it as a unifying rather than a dividing force. It will convince the electorate that the coalition is on the path of national reconciliation rather preparing for revenge.’
Revenge? Why would any Government want to confuse dispensation of deserved justice to those persecuted, raped, tortured, killed by the State and few elements with Revenge? Why would anyone hold the belief that people who murdered perceived enemies for One Man in the name of the Gambian state would be forgiven by families and country only because they have been financially compensated? Why are the Coalition group of private citizens deciding for Gambians what’s best way to heal? The mistake we will make as a nation is to think that bringing criminals before a commission to apologize and accept their barbarity in exchange for immunity for prosecution would satisfy justice and heal hearts. Justice is not the same as revenge, and denying it will not accord us the peace.
The Gambia Government needs to grow horns and do what’s right. INVESTIGATE alleged crimes, PROSECUTE perpetrators and ensure we have RESTORATIVE JUSTICE where the criminals wouldn’t only be punished but VICTIMS be seen to be taken care of by the STATE that failed them. SIMPLES! Let’s be efficient and do away with fancy stuff. Former President Jammeh, The Junglers and elements of the NIA are the alleged perpetrators of all these. No Gambian communities had any hands in anything. From the accounts of the first two prosecution witnesses in the NIA 9 case, we have a glimpse of how heartless and barbaric these sadistic murderers treated ‘the UDP people’ as NIA Director Yankuba Badjie was quoted as saying before driving off leaving the near lifeless body of a tortured victim. Further accounts from witnesses and even perpetrators would leave our jaws dropped on how scores of non-political detainees and the disappeared were butchered. Anything short of prosecution in a competent court of law would be denying justice and leave our peace hanging on a string.
And for the record, these TRCs in the aforementioned countries have been criticized to be largely ineffective from the victims’ perspective because there were a lot of uncooperative elements and agencies, not to even mention the inability to locate bigwigs for them to appear before the said Commission. Most who appeared were seem to not be remorseful or even accept responsibilities for their roles because they were ‘carrying out orders’. And because the conditions for their appearances were amnesty, most of their victims were further scarred thus remaining unforgiving. We have read testimonials of perpetrators seeking compensation for the post traumatic disorders, claiming they were still been haunted by how viciously they killed or witnessed killings, rape and other sorts of torture. You tell me how would the murderers of November 11 soldiers, April 10/11 students, Mile 2 inmates, Deyda Hydara, Marci Jammeh saying I am sorry reconciles a Nation and people that had no parts in these killings! Quite frequently, we have seen our Criminal Justice System to be rewarding when it punishes the perpetrators to longer jail terms or even death, thinking that would bring closure to victims, families and victims. If punitive justice is not an adequate source of closure for the nation, a TRC mandated confessions and ‘I’m sorries’ of remorseless cowards promised with amnesty would be worse.
The Gambian state must prosecute alleged criminals, pursue fugitives, seek the extradition and indictment of the chief criminal Yahya Jammeh, adequately compensate victims and families to set a deterrent. Anything to the contrary is risking an angrier, a more divided nation and potential for revenge by those who felt cheated. That’d be a betrayal of the people by the State that denied them effective avenue for redress. These, among many things, could be the unintended consequences of ‘Good intentions, awful outcome’.
In subsequent series, I hope to blog on the failures of TRCs and accounts of unhappy citizens, and how ours may be worse as the criminal trial of NIA 9 unfolds and more bodies exhumed.
The author is a Gambian political commentator resident in the United States.
Pata J Saidykhan