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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Lessons the TRRC should learn from the Great Gabara of Manding

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If God had asked me: “Dembo, which event in history would you have wanted to be part of?”,

i would take a mental flight to the year 1235 on the laterite plains of Manding Kangkaba.

Article 3: The five clans of marabouts are our teachers and our educators in Islam. Everyone has to hold them in respect and consideration.

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They would not stop there. The right to life was guaranteed as enshrined in Article 5 of the Constitution as follows:

Article 5: Everybody has a right to life and to the preservation of physical integrity. Accordingly, any attempt to deprive one’s fellow being of life is punished with death.

Adequate legal instruments must be recommended in the TRRC’s final report to ensure that the right to life and the preservation of physical integrity are non-negotiable and cannot be subjected to even a referendum. The delegates in 1235 would even further legislate against dismembering of the dead as in Article 41:

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Article 41: You can kill the enemy, but not humiliate him.

Certainly, we have all heard of the dismembering of victims during some of the TRRC sessions and this is why I believe that the Manding Constitution was light years ahead of its time.

The people would not be satisfied and would continue to enact more laws protecting women. The right to divorce, domestic violence and affirmative action to protect women and ensure their participation in all affairs of their communities as enshrined in Articles 11, 14, 15, 16 and 30.

Article 11: When your wife or your child runs away, stop running after them in the neighbour’s house.

This article clearly spoke to us on April 10 and 11 when students were shot dead most of whom from behind. The reason why Manding enacted Article 11 is that a person who is running away from you is no longer a threat to you and you must not pursue him. This provision today is, in more refined form has been used to prosecute law enforcement officers around the world. Excessive force legislation was necessary to check the likely extreme tendencies of dictators like Sumanguru Kanteh and we did not have a shortage of these trigger-happy forces that gunned down and cut short the lives of our young and bright children unto whom we would have bequeathed the affairs of the state.

Article 14: Never offend women, our mothers.

Article 15: Never beat a married woman before her husband has tried to correct the problem.

Article 16: Women, apart from their everyday occupations, should be associated with all our managements.

Article 30: In Mande, divorce is tolerated for one of the following reasons: the impotence of the husband, the madness of one of the spouses, the husband’s incapability of assuming the obligations due to the marriage. The divorce should occur out of the village.

Again they would not stop there. They knew the importance of justice but also the role reconciliation can play in bringing about good neighbourliness. Two articles standout to me. In Article 7, they people realised that after the war, and that because of the atrocities committed by Sumanguru and his agents, retribution was very likely and so they cleverly introduced Article 7, which borders on a joking relationship between families and clans and blood pacts of supporting one another. These eased tensions and improved reconciliation efforts.

Furthermore, in order to cement this effort at reconciliation, Statute of Limitation clause was introduced that after 40 years, the people must not pursue most crimes. Certainly this was a clever way of garnering acceptance to maintain peace. Article 17 therefore became necessary.

Article 17: Lies that have lived for 40 years should be considered like truths.

Just as Manding has struggled with reconciliation and justice, the TRRC must also equally strike a balance between the two and the people look forward to their report.

Article 7: The sanankunya (joking relationship) and the tanamannyonya (blood pact) have been established among the Mandinka. Consequently, any contention that occurs among these groups should not degenerate the respect for one another being the rule. Between brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, between grandparents and grandchildren, tolerance should be the principle.

They would perfect the art of diplomacy by guaranteeing the safety of diplomats and at the same time opening embassies outside of the empire.

Up until today, they produced the wealthiest man in human history.  Mansa Musa was worth US$400 billion in today’s value. No one has come close to even US$300 billion, not even Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates.

And of course, promoted art and music enjoyed to this day by creating a class of historians called the Jali. Sundiata understood the importance of history and during his time, the Jali did not have to worry about anything. In fact all that Sundiata inherited from his father were the Jali and the metal and wood workers. The TRRC must endeavour that not only were they charged with the task of collating an unbiased record of the past 22 years, but that will be of no use if they fail to preserve and keep the records alive as Manding did through the art of music. Perhaps, this is an opportunity to team up with the National Archives (written Records) and the National Museum for the objects and instruments that they may have collected as evidence to find ways of preserving them. The National Records Services Act has well laid out instruments in the management, custody and destruction of public records. The TRRC enjoys better funding regime than the National Archives and I believe it will be a win-win situation if the two institutions collaborate and by a secondary achievement, we can also save our written records of years gone by. We should not try to reinvent the wheel. Collaboration is called for given the limited resources as the National Archives has a new site and construction I am told is ongoing but at a slow pace.

Conclusion

And so my response to God would be to put me in a time machine and allow me to travel back in time and live in the year 1235 and sit either as a delegate to the KuruKan Fuga, and perhaps lobby to include the Fatty clan as part of the Marabout Clan of Manding or at a bare minimum, sit among the onlookers as the delegates try to carve out a way for the broader interest of humanity. I would love to shake hands with Sundiata Conateh, Kamanjang Camara, Farang Tunkara and Fakoli Dumbuya and all the great warriors who worked the trenches of Kirina, Daka Jalang, Kunkung Baa and the many theatres of war that ultimately led to victory. How apt that we just celebrated Memorial Day a few days ago.

How I wished that I could dance to the tune of the war veteran pacing back and forth singing:

Ateh julu baa dong nah (He will not dance the warrior’s dance)

Satewo sadaa tay julu baa dong na ( the good-for-noting son of the village or an efulefu as the Igbo would say, will not dance the warrior dance).

And so it is my fervent belief that in the recommendations by the TRRC, they will not forget a category of people mentioned briefly in lead counsel’s closing remarks bordering on summary dismissals of civil servants who were never accorded the opportunity to be heard, or hear from their accused persons. Many of these officers were dismissed with no entitlement to a pension. That is a travesty of justice for many reasons:

1.         A pension is a right no matter the way or why you left office. People who have served must earn a pension in old age and by legislating that dismissed officers cannot earn a pension, these officials have been condemned twice for the same crime they may have committed if any. Not only can they not run for office but will also not qualify for a pension. I want to believe that we already have a law in place against that.

The 22 years did just that to further punish those considered as threats or those upright officials who refuse to break their oaths of office. The TRRC must recommend that the Pensions Act be revised and that every civil servant has a right to a pension even if dismissed.  This clause has been used severally and the ghost of Mr Samateh, a one-time employee of the Ministry of Health kept tormenting me over the years. As a young lad at the Personnel Management Office, his story was probably the first to come under summary dismissals. Mr  Samateh at the time served almost 33 years and was just about to retire when he was dismissed without an opportunity to defend himself. He lost his pension at a time when he was most vulnerable. He died soon after. I remember discussing his case with colleagues and how unfair it was. He could have just been terminated in which case he would get some severance pay but to treat a man who dedicated all his life to public service to such a harsh and humiliating manner was beyond comprehension. He was not alone. The NIA may have inflicted physical torture, but the PSC inflicted emotional torture.

2.         Every citizen has a right to enjoy the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a competent court of law or in some formal hearing where he has an opportunity to represent himself or be represented. There are hundreds of civil servants who were dismissed without being given a cause and sadly, the Public Service Commission did not stand up and protect the rights of employees. They certainly looked the other way and allowed the General Orders, Public Service Commission Regulations, Pensions Act and the Public Service Act be adulterated. It is unfortunate that the TRRC did not bring into the spotlight as it did with the National Intelligence Agency, the operations of the Public Service Commission and the role it played in compromising standards. They rubber stamped every dismissal instruction and it was an open secret that whenever Pa Fatty, a messenger at State House entered The Quadrangle, all eyes were on his every move and if he passed your building, you breathe a sigh of relief that you survived that episode of dismissal. Even Jammeh jokingly talked about Pa Fatty.

Other than Ms Bertha Mboge, I cannot recall any instance in which the PSC refused an order to dismiss a public officer. Why and how the PSC officially sought audience with Jammeh to reverse his decision to dismiss her still baffles me. I guess some birds cannot be caged because their feathers are just too bright.

In 2017, an attempt was made to reinstate some officers but the scheme needs further scrutiny. Some who were reinstated were lucky to be paid their lost wages while others were not accorded the same benefit. How and why the scheme was managed should be put under the microscope because what is good for the goose is good for the gander and justice must be accorded to every Kumba, Nyonkoling and Sawalo irrespective of their stations in life, family connections or looks.

In matters of justice, the state cannot hide behind costs to dilute the reconciliation process. As far as I know, the state has not filed for bankruptcy; we are far from being a failed state and because somewhere in our Constitution I read that every person “shall be presumed innocent until he or she is proved or has pleaded guilty” then justice must be served. If I lived in North Korea, I would not mind because they have not committed themselves to the rule of law and rights of citizens.

And to paraphrase Martin Luther King, the citizens have sufficiently funded the state and it should not send back to the people a cheque marked with the words “insufficient funds”. Cost cannot be used to dilute or show indifference to the cause of a people who suffered in the hands of the very institution set up to protect them.

Many of these people are already dead and because dead people cannot file petitions to the TRRC, the TRRC must include in their recommendations on behalf of all of the aggrieved public officials who were summarily dismissed without cause and be given an opportunity to be heard; recommend an amendment of the Pensions Act to allow dismissed officials earn a pension and by extension the Social Security scheme which I am told has similar provisions. One cannot be punished twice for the same issue. Losing a job is one thing or a punishment but being denied a pension in addition, is cruel and unjust. These Acts must be amended.

Dead men cannot file petitions but these people were husbands, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters of many in our society and we must bend the morale arc of justice towards them and only then will we as a society, when gathered before the God of history can, with full confidence, say that we did our best in the service of humanity and we left the world better than we inherited it.

And so when Sundiata learned to walk for the first time, the people sang:

Biwo, bika dilay (Today is a joyous day)

Madaa alaa maa mang bi nyoghong daa (God, has not created a day like today).

And so a grateful nation is singing as the TRRC begins to walk in the direction of securing justice for all and that must include the cases of dismissed public officials without cause.

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