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Friday, December 1, 2023

Mr President, freedom of speech is not the problem

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By Tabora Bojang

President Adama Barrow, the Constitution of The Gambia guarantees a participatory democracy that reflects the undiluted choice of the people. It goes further to state that; “this Constitution provides for us a fundamental law, which affirms our commitment to freedom, justice, probity and accountability. It also affirms the principle that power emanates from the sovereign will of the people.”

Furthermore, “The fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in this Constitution, will ensure for all time respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction as to ethnic considerations, gender, language, religion and political affiliations.”

As the head of state, you took oath and allegiance to respect and uphold these constitutional provisions. Therefore, you are not only duty-bound but morally obligated to uphold, defend and enforce the constitution to the letter without fear or favour.

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Your recent remarks that there is too much democracy in The Gambia and henceforth you will put a stop to it, that you will re-arrest people even judges give bail to, that you will go after journalists, politicians, activists, TikTokers and radio stations who insult or allow people to insult government officials and others on their platforms.

These words are dangerous remarks that ring alarm bells that dictatorship is rearing its ugly head in The Gambia.

We have seen several attempts to polish these remarks but these are words you said in local languages and they are clearly heard by all. In fact, in their attempts to sanitise the remarks, these generals and lieutenants have even differed in interpretations. One of them said he merely spoke at a political gathering and therefore not reflective of your government. The other one said it was taken out of proportion. The other one said you are being pushed to the wall. The other one said they stand by these words and they will help you implement it to the letter.

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These remarks do not need clarification; they are heard and they are believed but do not forget that Gambians have given their blood, sweat and tears to bring this change which is why many people in your inner circle are enjoying the positions and privileges they have today because yesterday becomes today. Most of these people have no idea about democracy.

They have never worked for a democratic government and as a result they have rottenly become anti-journalist, anti-opposition, anti-activist, ant-social media and anti-freedom of speech. They have since been singing the songs and waving the banners of dictatorship before the eyes of President Barrow and he has fallen for it and they are singing together. The walls are painted, bells are ringing and the whistle is blown. The police have resorted to their old tactics. They are inviting citizens critical of the state and the president to police stations, keeping them incommunicado, detaining them beyond 72 hours, and getting them bailed without any charges or taking them to court.  They are citizens who do not commit any crimes that we know, their only crime is to merely express divergent opinions on social media. This is not democracy. This is a dictatorship and every genuine Gambian who believes that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere must stand up and say no to it.

In a democratic society, the process of governance is conditioned by law in the sense that citizens are not exposed to the arbitrary will of the rulers.

Activists, journalists, oppositions, tiktokers and critics of the government are not the problem. They are not doing anything that is retarding the development of this country. Every responsible Gambian wants and prays for peace and development to reign in this country. I have never seen any political leader, civil society actor, journalist or Tiktoker openly calling people to violence and civil disobedience. Some political scientists consider politics as who gets what, when and how. In our pursuit of determining these processes in the distribution of the national cake, we must differ in opinion, thinking and way about. And governments that fail to realise these realities often resort to power abuse to silence and intimidate citizens.

The problem in the Gambia is lack of good leadership. The agonising failure of state institutions and state officials tasked with doing the needful to bring much needed development and uplift the country from its predicament.

We have heard one of the president’s advisers or aides saying he has been pushed to the wall. Really? But if there is any issue that requires pushing the president to the wall, it should be the unprecedented failure of the state, its institutions and its officials who are tasked with uplifting the country from its predicament.

There is rampant corruption and daylight stealing of public resources by government officials but this has not pushed the president to the wall. The general insecurity, the youth unemployment, the poor infrastructure, poor health care, proliferation of harmful intoxicants, drug trafficking and smuggling, the high inflation, have all not pushed the president to the wall.

There is high cost of living, the electricity system is not only poor but also erratic. This has not pushed the president to the wall. There is mass failure of students in Wassce and Gabece but this has not pushed the president to the wall. Hundreds of Gambians are repatriated from Europe; they are brought with no hope, no future, no direction but this has not pushed the president to the wall. The tourism industry is crumbling but this has never pushed the president to the wall.

Seven years after promising to bring in a new law book, the 1997 Constitution still remains, despite spending D118 million on the draft constitution, but this has not pushed the president to the wall.

The security sector reform is stagnant with perpetrators of human rights violations such as torturers still in the system, but this has not pushed the president to the wall.

The TRRC report, Faraba commission report, and the Janneh commission report are all not implemented to the letter, but this has not pushed the president to the wall.

Our coastal environments are being damaged by sand miners, our fish resources are being exploited by European, Chinese and Senegalese licensed vessels in the name of fishing agreements, the Senegalese forces continue to intrude our borders with guns and artilleries. They will arrest, detain, jail and even kill Gambians and their actions deprive children in Foni of going to school for longer periods but this has not pushed the president to wall.

Contracts are being awarded without following GPPA stipulations, over 70 children were killed by consuming harmful imported medicines and until today no one went to jail over it. Thas this not pushed the president to the wall.

Fifty-eight young Gambians have died when their boat capsized off the coast of Mauritania in 2019, these are youths who went in search of greener pastures because home is not sweet for them, but this has never pushed the president to the wall.

In 2022 alone, 9 migrant  boats left Gambia for the Mediterranean also in search of a good life but this did not push the president to the wall.

The government is paying D10 million from taxpayers money to refund Global Fund after a few individuals misappropriated monies meant to support our fight against malaria, that has not pushed the president to the wall.

The Gambia’s debt stock has moved from little over D50 billion to over D100 billion since this government took over in 2017 and yet, poverty has climbed from 45.8 percent in 2019 to 53.4 percent in 2022 according to the World Bank but this did not push the president to the wall.

A timber contract was entered into between the Ministry of Environment, Hagie Baniko Sissoko Trading and Jagne Narr Agency for the exportation of timber, the NAO reported that close to $8 million (over D300 million) of timber proceeds is not being accounted for and the money remains in thin air. This did not push the president to the wall.

The former Lands Minister was forced to resign over corruption allegations. This did not push the president to the wall.

The National Assembly recently passed a resolution for some officials including the NDMA boss to account for millions of Covid funds failure of which the president is advised to send him on administrative leave, how far is the president with that? Three tonnes of cocaine were shipped into the country and yet, no one is held to account over it. This did not push the president to the wall.

Four Gambian diplomats have been expelled from the US for fraud allegations, and until today nothing happens to them but this did not push President Barrow to the wall.  The list goes on!  Mr adviser, these are issues the president should busy himself with to salvage us from misery and poverty.

The unnecessary fight with media, opposition and activists will not address any of these issues. Citizens have full rights to keep the government in check and ensure that it lives up to its responsibilities. No one appoints President Barrow, the IGP or cabinet ministers to serve as moral guardians who watch over what and how Gambians ought to express themselves. The law is there to maintain peace and just society and every responsible Gambia knows that insults are prohibited and those doing it include supporters of the president but nothing happens to such people. Rule for one should be the rule for all.

Mr President, let the police do their job, let Pura do its job and focus on these pressing issues in order to build your legacy.  Do not allow yourself to be misled by these anti-democrats within your government. Left to them alone you will not become president, they fight for Jammeh tooth and nail, ignore his killings and even bullied us for calling out Jammeh. They did not want you to get sworn and assume the mantle of leadership after Gambians overwhelmingly supported you. They did not do it because they loved Jammeh, they did so to entrench their positions, privileges and corruption and they only came to you because they knew all was lost with Jammeh.

So mind you, Mr President, that Gambians have given their back to tyranny and dictatorship and will not let you anyone drag us back to the dark days.

Tabora Bojang is a 3rd year Political Science student at UTG

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