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City of Banjul
Thursday, November 26, 2020

Making a case for the 1970 Constitution of The Gambia

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By Papa Faal

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In every country, the constitution is the sacred doctrine by which its national affairs are regulated. The constitution, being a living document demands through its citizens, protection from infringement, or threats of infringement either from within or foreign. It is therefore paramount and incumbent upon every citizen to defend the sanctity of his or her national constitution. As a living doctrine, a constitution when created and ratified, citizens can choose to amend to suit changing times.
The oldest constitution, the United States constitution was ratified in 1788 and adopted in 1789. It was afterwards amended 27 times. Even the bill of rights was added to the constitution as an amendment. Countries such as Norway, with its 1814 constitution, the Netherlands, 1815, Belgium, 1831, Denmark, 1849, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, to name a few, all have constitutions dating back hundreds of years. Yet, their constitutions are still in existence guiding the principles and policies of their nations.

Changes in leadership are never a pretext for a new constitution. The United States for example had 44 leaders prior to Donald Trump. The country had a de factor two-term limit until 1947 when the term limit was included in the constitution, ratified as an amendment and adoption in 1951. Prior to that amendment, Franklin D. Roosevelt served three terms in the US presidency. None of the leaders has suggested abandoning their country’s constitution because of bad laws. Rather, they put forth amendments to the constitution to replace or rectify the bad laws.

If the few countries I have indicated continue to treat their constitution as a sacred, living doctrine, we as Gambians should ask ourselves why then are our leaders choosing to replace rather than amend our constitution?
The constitution of the Gambia, adopted through a referendum, the 1970 constitution still exists and waits for defense from its citizens. It still has all the necessary protections and laws for its people. After all, it is the constitution that brought the Gambia republicanism and out of colonialism. Many are now talking about the 1997 constitution as the foundation for the impending drafting of the new constitution, oblivious of the significance of the 1970 referendum in which two-third of Gambians adopted our republican constitution.

When the AFPRC overthrew the legitimate government of the Gambia, it suspended the constitution our forefathers fought to set forth. The AFPRC created its own doctrine designed in its favor. Now, in the third republic, the leadership of the Gambia is once again crafting another constitution for the country. If history is prologue, no guarantee is there that the new constitution will not be crafted to favor the current leadership?
Notwithstanding the immense resources required to develop the new constitution, what good, then, is a constitution as a living doctrine when it can be ripped apart, tossed aside and replaced by any new administration.

As a sovereign nation, I believe we have a solemn duty to be guarded in protecting our limited resources and deflect foreign imaginations in conducting our affairs. We must guard against the temptation to forgo our legacies but to fight to preserve it at all cost.
Let us protect and defend our constitution by ensuring no administration in its whims and fancies throws it out as it wishes. Let the Constitutional Review Committee review the 1970 constitution and recommend amendments to it rather than creating a whole new one at our expense.

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