Dear President Adama Barrow,
Please allow us, with all due respect, to address this open letter to you. But before delving into the subject of our letter, please allow us to introduce ourselves. We are the Never Again Network, a post-TRRC civil society organisation dedicated to supporting The Gambia’s transitional justice process and helping ensure that Never Again will our country have a dictatorship or suffer the kinds of human rights violations it suffered under the regime of former president Yahya Jammeh. The network was created by a few former staff of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), including the commission’s former executive secretary, the coordinator of the Youth and Children’s Network Unit, a former legal consultant for the commission, and some researchers and investigators. The network conducts its work through purely educational means, by engaging and empowering young people and the general public through dialogue and conversation on issues of national interest.
Mr President, we deem it necessary to add our voice to that of the Gambia Bar Association and other individuals and entities in registering our concern over the recent spate of arrests and detentions of journalists and government critics, and your own recent statements regarding your critics in the country. We are particularly alarmed at your pronouncement that there is “too much democracy” in The Gambia. You made this statement in Wolof, and followed up with words that may only be understood as your stated determination to clamp down on dissent, and even to have people granted bail by our courts re-arrested. These developments and statements must be of grave concern to all who wish you success, and all who wish our country success, including our good friends in the international community. We are hoping that the international community – US Embassy, British High Commission, EU Delegation, and the UNDP, among others – will also reach out to you concerning these grave matters.
Mr President, please note that there is no such thing as “too much democracy”. Democracy is defined and its limits demarcated by the constitution and legitimate laws of the land. Whoever says or does anything outside the dictates of the constitution and legitimate laws of The Gambia is not practicing too much democracy; they are breaking the law. And only those who by their words and actions break the law should be punished by the state. And as you know, according to the constitution and laws of The Gambia, all who are charged with a crime are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court of law. And during their trial, if a court of competent jurisdiction deems fit to grant them bail, you as president of the republic would be acting illegally if you were to order their re-arrest. So please, Mr President, however angry you are, however tempting the impulse, never do or condone such a thing because then, you will be sabotaging the very rule of law that your government is built upon. No one is above the law Mr President, and that, we must say, includes the President of the Republic. The concept of the rule of law dictates that the law, and not the personal likes and dislikes of public figures, determines who is guilty of a crime. You must do all in your power to make sure that the country now under your care operates by the rule of law, not the rule of man as was the case under the ousted Jammeh dictatorship.
Mr President, we also heard you say that you have all the powers that Yahya Jammeh had. Yes, you do, Mr President. And that is entirely normal. The president of the republic has certain powers that are defined and bestowed by the constitution and laws of The Gambia. But we beg that you be very careful with how you deal with these same powers that Yahya Jammeh had, and that you now have by virtue of being president of the Republic of The Gambia. These powers will stay with you while you are president, and will leave you and migrate to another person as soon as you cease to be president which, by the very nature of things, will happen one day in the future. Always think, Mr President, of that day in the future when you shall be referred to as former president Adama Barrow. That day will surely come because that is simply the law of nature. No condition and no position is permanent.
As we would say in our national cultures Mr President, power is Satan. And as Satan, power is always whispering things in the ears and mind of its holder. We hope and pray that while you have all the powers that Yahya Jammeh had, you will be careful that your power does not use you like Jammeh’s power used him. The relationship between Jammeh and his power was a case of the tail wagging the dog, rather than the dog wagging the tail. He allowed his power to use him to commit atrocities and crimes against the Gambian people that eventually landed him into his current complicated predicament – a predicament he will have to deal with for the rest of his life. If a leader allows his power to use him, he will end badly, just like Yahya Jammeh did – as an international pariah and fugitive from law, possibly wanted under the regime of universal jurisdiction, and occupying a place of infamy in the annals of Gambian history, to be forever remembered as a careless leader who abused his power and tormented his country and people. You do not want to end that way Mr President. And we do not want you to end that way. That is why we are saying that Jammeh is not, and should never be your role model. Jammeh allowed his power to exercise and destroy him. Please do not allow your power to do the same thing to you!
We all know, Mr President, how Yahya Jammeh’s power tricked him into believing that he owned our country. We all remember the countless times he declared that whether we liked it or not, he was the president of all Gambians and if we don’t like it we could all go to hell. He was so deceived by his power that he openly declared that he literally owned the country (dekabi maako móm), and he famously told the whole world on the BBC that he would rule this country for a billion years and if anyone doesn’t like it, they can go to hell! That was not Jammeh the rational being talking, Mr President. That was Jammeh the victim of his own power saying things he very well knew were untrue and dangerous. But his power had deceived him into believing that he was the invincible choice of God, and that he could say and do anything and get away with it. Let us all be judges on how his story ended, Mr President. Please do not let your story end that way, sir.
On a final note, Mr President, please allow us to say that we wish you, your government and our country well, and to gain remind you to beware the dangerous trappings of power, and pay heed to its insidious whisperings of invincibility, infallibility and the capacity for total dominance. You have every right to respond to your critics and to warn all Gambians against breaking the law. And your government has the right to prosecute any person within the jurisdiction who breaks the law. But we beg that you also constantly remind yourself that the president is also subject to the constitution and laws of the land. Focus on cultivating your interests as president, the interests of your government, and the interests of our dear little country. And please, please, please, never regard Yahya Jammeh as your role model, or allow your power to use and abandon you like Yahya Jammeh’s power used and abandoned him!
We thank you for your kind attention, sir.