Happy February 18th, The Gambia!
You, the People, (Gambians), should still be proud of what you did in 2016.
You peacefully dislodged a long-standing African dictator, not a small feat in the annals of African politics. It was a surprising victory but it almost wasn’t.
Almost half of you (the voters) wanted the dictator to stay on. And by your own inability to defend your vote and protect your country’s future, you allowed an interventionist force in. Now, you have foreign soldiers traipsing around, protecting this native land!
A democratic victory that only needed an icing on the cake, the plaudits becoming deservedly, and entirely, your own. But instead you failed to finish the job. What did you expect? Yours is a nation of half-steppers. Nothing you start ever gets finished. Along the way, and too often, you relapse into your time-traveled laggard ways, hoping for help, a sense of direction, from outside.
It’s often said that leaders are products of their societies. In your 54 years of national Independence from British colonial rule, you’ve had only three presidents — an abysmal record. It’s not only about the paucity of leaders you have had so far, it’s also about the quality of leadership you have been dealt with. It’s neither impressive nor inspiring.
When next another leader in your country tries to repress you or forces an undue, prolonged stay in power, you should take the matter into your own hands. No, I am not talking about settling matters through force majeure, through arms, a guerrilla civil war campaign —- those methods are nasty and brutish. They do more harm than good. In fact, they do only harm.
I am talking about people power, the leveraging of the power of crowds. If you have 100,000, 200,000, 300,000 of you on the streets of Banjul, Serrekunda, Brikama, Basse, then you have a people’s revolution on the way. No government or leader is more powerful than crowds, the sheer immensity of a galvanized cause and movement. Consider:
The 1989 Romanian Revolution and the fall of Nicholai Ceausescu. The 1989 East German Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall and that of Eric Honecker. The 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the fall of Viktor Yanukovych. The 2011 Tunisian Revolution and the fall of Ben Ali. The 2014 Burkinabe Uprisings and the fall of Blaise Campoare.
Crowds. It’s something about them, their spontaneity, their bohemian ethos, the elasticities of their reach and potency, their ability to force leaders to the negotiating table, or worse, take short cuts and flee for safety.
But it’s more than just crowds. It’s also about who will lead them, who will mobilize the people around a core set of beliefs. Among you all, there should emerge a latter-day Edward Francis Small, the great Gambian nationalist or somebody like his fellow countryman M. E. Jallow, the veteran trade unionist. Those leaders had a superlative combination of brains and guts, a remarkable ability to move people, to stitch ideas with actions.
Mass movements need inspirational leaders. Look around and see if you have leaders in your midst who possess the same kind of steady resolve and charm offensive like Small and Jallow. Instead, all you see are sycophants, turncoats and opportunists – a burgeoning industry of them.
In your 54 years of nationhood, your country’s next door, big brother neighbor Senegal looms large in two seminal events in your nation’s history. In 1981, they quelled a mini civil war in your country and return to power your former president Dawda K. Jawara. In 2016, they forced your one-time ruler Yahya Jammeh into exile and helped you finally see the change you had voted for. In two instances, the Senegalese were the enforcers of democratic mandates in your own country. It’s painful when outsiders become protagonists, and major ones at that, of groundbreaking moments in your country’s history.
When President Adama Barrow turns into a dictator and tries to deny you your democratic gains or when a resurgent Gambian army tries to dislodge him from power, take a stand inside your country. Don’t cut and run. Don’t ask for help across the border. Stop groveling to Senegal.
Cherno Baba Jallow,
TRRC: Justice before reconciliation
I have been following keenly the sittings of the Gambia truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission since its start in January 2019. In fact, I had written an article titled: National Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Great Conversation in the Gambia published by Kairo News on 27th September 2017. In that article, I captured what I thought were important features of the would-be Commission in the Gambia particularly in terms of creating an atmosphere of dialogue and conversation. In addition, I emphasised the need to respect diverse opinions and ideas of the society in order to enrich the process of healing and reconciliation. I highlighted the need to bring to justice those accused of human rights violations and crimes against humanity, as well as transcending petty party politics and parochial outlooks. Moreover, I think it is important to inculcate what I have called Gambianess regardless of ethnicity, tribe, faith or region. I also emphasised the need to rebuild the human infrastructure/capital as there is a lot of focus on the physical infrastructure and structures. The broken individual by the past regime must be rebuilt sociologically, morally and psychologically for the rebuilding of the nation. I argue as well that the whole process should not be cosmetic but a great effort to heal the wounded nation and its people.
One cannot stop sobbing and crying while testimonies are made by witnesses from both service people and civilians. Witness after witness, from Mr. Chongan to Mr. Kasama today, one cannot help hiding their emotions as humans and mortals. They all highlighted gross human rights violations that took place during the 22 years of dysfunctional rule and dictatorship. One has learnt from their testimonies as well institutional failings that need to be corrected and rectified to avoid the repeat of such misrule in the Gambia. I am compelled to capture what Captain Lamin Kasama relayed in his testimony that reconciliation would be less meaningful without justice. Indeed, we need justice to reconcile and heal as a nation. His testimony has been compelling. I came to know him a couple of years ago and found him to be disciplined, dignified, keen to learn and respectful.
Many Gambians cried upon hearing his testimony regarding the gallant and chivalrous soldiers that were executed by the Jammeh regime. Undoubtedly, horrible things happened in those dark days of the Gambia. Women were stripped off naked and tortured. Old women and men were bundled and thrown into pick-up vehicles. People were deprived of their basic human rights and needs. People were starved and denied form bathing. Detainees were deprived of decent beddings and so on. This contradicted the very essence of the Gambian human decency and noble values. This is the beginning of the healing and will take a very long painful journey. I am sure, the TRRC under the able leadership of Dr Sise will measure up to the mammoth task it has undertaken to investigate the human rights abuses and excesses under Jammeh rule of the Gambia and to ensure that justice and reconciliation are done in the best possible manner. Both he victims and perpetrators should come forward to smooth this process. Needless, the whole country needs a big school to learn and unlearn some of the attitudes. The society has been severely knocked.
It needs rebuilding in a comprehensive manner. We need theologians, sociologists, psychologists, educationists, political scientists together to contribute to this national conversation. Crucially, witnesses to the overindulgences that occurred from July 1994 to January 2017 should say the truth and only the truth as they have sworn to the scared book Truth will prevail, and may God bless the Gambia.
Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh
(Fellow Higher Education Academy (FHE) and Fellow Royal society of Arts (FRSA) UK)