The unfortunate decision by the Barrow Government to stop the renaming of Arch 22 to Memorial Monument is a clear indication of the betrayal of the Gambia that is characteristic of this regime. Since it began operations, TRRC has initiated a number of reconciliatory moves which included giving a platform to individuals who wished to reconcile. The Government itself gave D50M to the TRRC to support the rehabilitation of some victims. Hence it is in place for the TRRC to also suggest the renaming of the arch as part of the process of reparations, reconciliation and memorialisation hence promote national healing. The submission of the TRRC Final Report does not have to hold back such initiatives.
Therefore, one truly wonders what is in the interest of this Government to stop the renaming of the arch if indeed it has recognised that the 22 years of the APRC misrule represented a national tragedy that must be corrected. One of the many ways to correct the ills of the past is to document it and then remove the signs and symbols, practices, materials and structures of the past out of public places. This is precisely the reason the TRRC was created as part of the transitional justice process in order to enable the country overcome that difficult experience.
This is not peculiar to the Gambia alone. Any country that underwent such catastrophe, the government and citizens remove the vestiges of the past from public view in order to build a more just, equal and democratic society. It is part of the process of stabilising the hearts and minds of citizens and renewing society. For example, since the end of Apartheid in South Africa, the government has been renaming places including even their capital city from Pretoria to Tshwane, while also removing a lot of statues of colonialists and apartheid leaders from many public places.
Similarly, in the wake of the Black Lives Movement, we have seen in many parts of US cities as well as cities in UK and Europe where governments and citizens pull down a host of monuments and statues of rebels, racists, imperialists and colonialists and those who perpetrated authoritarianism in the past. The fact that some of these statues survived hundreds of years standing until this time shows that truth shall always prevail. If you go to Germany today, one will hardly see, if any, a statue of Hitler or any place named after the Nazi Government.
Therefore, the Gambia Government will do a great disservice to the people if it prevents in any way for the renewal of the Gambia by removing the vestiges of the AFPRC/APRC misrule under tinpot dictator Yahya Jammeh. That arch does not belong to Yahya Jammeh nor AFPRC/APRC. Rather it is the legitimate property of the people of the Gambia but created with an objective to perpetuate and represent dictatorship. Hence it is only logical that when democracy is restored, the arch be renamed immediately to further strengthen the transition from dictatorship to democracy.
Renaming the arch will also serve to appease the suffering of victims. This is because anytime we speak the words ‘Arch 22’ it will only trigger misery, discontentment, and pain for victims in particular as it reminds us of a very painful past. As we cannot dismantle the arch completely as that would mean waste of public resources, the least the Gambia Government could do is to rename it and impose the names of victims on it. By that simple action, it would make victims victorious that at the end of the day, out of their misery came consolation. Thus, renaming Arch 22 to Memorial Arch is a form of reparation and a means to pacify and provide closure to victims.
To the rest of the population, it will send a strong message that dictatorship does not last. It will show us that democracy is what is ideal and desired. It will further make all Gambians, even APRC members to recognise that the sanctity of life and the supremacy of the Gambia is beyond and above any individual or party and it is the eternal truth. This means therefore, so long as we maintain the name, Arch 22, it will represent a tacit approval of the dictatorship and a direct affront to a large section of society, if not all, who directly suffered at the hands of that dictatorship.
I wish to therefore urge the Gambia Government to respond favourably to the TRRC by moving ahead to rename this arch as Memorial Arch in memory of the suffering, dignity and lives of Gambians who suffered abuse and violations. In this same vein, there is need to take urgent steps to rename the hospitals in Farafenni and Bwiam and the highways named after Asombi Bojang and Zineb Jammeh as well as other places, streets and institutions named after July 22 actors and events.
It is high time our National Assembly takes frontline in the management of the country. If this were another democracy, the parliament would have intervened immediately to make sure the best interest of the country is served. One wonders why the National Assembly decides to take backseat and even silent on fundamental national issues like this. Rename the arch Now.