History repeats itself as complacency sets in, again
“The President shall hold office for a term of five years. No person shall hold office as President for more than two terms of five years each, whether or not the terms are consecutive.” Draft Constitution of The Gambia, 2020.
The draft Constitution provides Gambia a governing document with the potential to be the envy of Africa. But there is a stumbling block, which, in hindsight, is neither surprising nor unexpected. Four years after toppling Yahya Jammeh’s military regime, following the election, Gambia is still governed by a military constitution. And this is absolutely unacceptable, but Adama Barrow, transitional head of state, seems to have things for the last dictatorship. It’s an undeniable fact Adama Barrow tore a page right out of Yahya Jammeh book of how to run a government to the ground. The usurpation of political power through intimidation, relating to the loss of employment, is a signature Yahya Jammeh strategy, but that’s not the remarkable thing. That has to be the way Gambians have allowed themselves to be coerced into total submission, much like the story of Yahya Jammeh’s slow rise to absolute power, and transitioning into a dictatorship. So far, Adama Barrow is far from that point, and where he is now, is still underwhelming.
In short, it’s déjà vu all over again. Thus; due to the above two sentences Clause in the draft Constitution, the Gambia is confronted with one of its most consequential decisions since the fall of the military regime, four years ago. The Clause in the draft Constitution created six months of a standoff that tells a story not unique to the Gambia. It’s an African story that illustrates the way in which African leaders take advantage of the weak democratic systems, to their advantage; Alpha Conde, Guinea Conakry, Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast, come readily to mind. Today, Gambia faces a paroxysm of fury as Adama Barrow took to himself to hold hostage, a draft Constitution paid for by the Gambian people. In overplaying his hand, by assuming authority not given by law or other authority, Adama Barrow seized on the weakness of Gambia’s democratic institutions, to fill a vacuum left by the ignorance or indifference of the Gambian people.
This is not a time for Gambians to be indifferent to the way Adama Barrow slouches towards an imperial presidency; much like Yahya Jammeh did. There is no compelling rationale to hold the draft Constitution captive to his personal interest. The interest of the Gambian people to have their Constitution ratified overrides the interest of any individual. The draft Constitution precludes Adama Barrow from holding on to power for three terms; consecutive or not. By design, the draft Constitution consolidates the two Constitutions, which stymies effort to hold more than the two terms of office. The majority of Gambians who understand Constitutions want the draft ratified as is, without making any changes. As it is, there are two competing forces that stand in the way of a ratified constitution for the Gambia; the preponderant national interest and Adama Barrow’s extraneous personal interest. The national interest wins, any day.
Mathew K Jallow