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On the rejection of the Constitution Promulgation Bill (2020): A letter to sovereign Gambians!

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By Sanna Badjie

It is with concern and immense sorrow I write to express my disappointment not only in the rejection of the Bill, but how few populists and demagogues; based on short political interest, misrepresented the Gambia’s ‘hard-earned’ Draft Constitution and orchestrated a fiction against the CRC and the persons of the CRC commissioners just to cover up.

Sadly, these include the ‘advisers’ of President Adama Barrow, who himself appointed the CRC commissioners and played a fundamental role in the establishment of CRC as part of his broader legal reform agenda.

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The CRC delivered not a perfect Constitution (nothing as such exists),  but a constitution that best represents and addresses the needs and interest of sovereign Gambians and to a great extent, solves the problems of perpetuating political power.

It is a public secret that this unwise and self-perpetuating enterprise is engineered by the political executive under the stewardship of President Adama Barrow and some self-centered National Assembly Members who supposedly are elected to serve the supreme interest of the Gambian population.

Firstly, I join my compatriots to extend my sincere gratitude and thanks to the the CRC eleven Commissioners and the secretariat staff for successfully executing your mandate as per  Section 6 of the CRC Act, 2017. This great national service was done in a more transparent, inclusive, participatory and comprehensive fashion.

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I remembered the usual introductory line of the CRC Commissioners in every meeting of their public consultations from Sarreh Ngai in the Wulli District to Lamin  in Kombo North; mostly put in local languages that:

“The CRC commissioners could sit in their offices in Banjul and Draft the Constitution, but when that is done; the Constitution will not be representative of the Gambian people, but the Commissioners. That is why the commission thought it is compelling and paramount to canvass the opinion of every Gambian home and abroad to decide on how they (Gambians) wish to be governed.”

This was always followed by the phrase Alkanaa korontoo mbejangneh for tillo yehboye. Meaning: don’t be in a harry countrymen and women; we will be here for the whole day.

The commissioners will then with passion and enthusiasm, slowly explain the laws and ask questions on the reviewed and analyzed laws of the Gambia both past and present (Constitutions of 1970, 1997 and other laws) and patiently allow the participants to seek for clarifications and give submissions on what laws they want to see in the Draft Constitution and issues they want the Draft to address.

In doing these most important but heavy tasks, the commissioners were never tired, transcribers never stopped recording and documenting responses, Mr. Ceesay and the research crew always on the surveys and other researches; Grant, the logistician and the drivers always on point, Mr. Bruce and the report writing crew never compromised quality of reports and Mr. Jobe and team always made sure that everything is set.

Records of these are kept for posterity! In the words of Hon. Halifa Sallah “The young should be told the truth”

I vividly remembered the CRC Chairman catch cold in several meetings and a more severe one in Sarai Ngai, but never lagged behind and never  relaxed in  encouraging the staff to work effectively and transparently.

The spirit continued as the commission toured the entire length and breadth of the country from Jokadu to Sabakh Sanjal, Nurat Senior to Diabugu Batapa Senior Secondary schools.

Students with courage and desire for sustainable change, gave submissions on the promotion and protection of their civil and political rights and economic, social, and cultural rights.

After the publication of the first Draft Constitution in November, 2019, The CRC embarked on a second round of consultations and this time  the tour was meant for the people to confirm whether  CRC put in the Draft what the people asked them to or otherwise, clarification on other matters and chance to add new issues.

The process went until a Final Draft, the people’s constitution was delivered and shortly hijacked by a few demagogues in the The Gambia National Assembly on   September 22nd 2020.

Just to borrow a term from the former Hon. Minister for Justice, Baa Tambadou “Naturally, the Constitution must be a departure point for any comprehensive law reform.” Hopes are dashed, but we must be optimistic and keep working hard for a better Gambia. As the CRC chairman also puts in the CRC final press conference “constitutional reform is always alive, and so shall it be long after we depart this world.’

These happenings are already in the public eyes, but it is good I repeat myself to reflect and give courage to myself and compatriots in the civil society space to work harder for the betterment of this country. I cried as I kept writing!

Moreover, it was quite clear that the unwise rejection of the Bill was not based on reason, conscience or national interest, but the self-perpetuating interests of individuals and the president in particular based on false democratic narrative and propaganda. And effectively, ceased to give the supreme law makers (citizens to decide on their future governance).

I wouldn’t go far on the issues for obvious reasons. I just have an alarm to raise on the systematic attack on both national and international democratic values and principle “seeming’ through democratic instrument itself just to advance the narrow and short political interest of individuals at the distance disadvantage of the populations.

I once attended an online forum and learned from a professor of politics that:

“What we must understand is demagogues and populists easily create false democratic narratives in the pretext of promoting democracy or law and order and people will not realize that it was an order to prisons until it is too late…They take democratic power and dismantle democratic institutions and use propaganda over true democracy. They always have the opportunity to cast doubts on progressive change and democracy.’

This is what happened in the Gambia on the sorrowful day of 22nd September, 2020.

Let’s briefly look at some covered- up arguments advanced in rejecting the people’s document.

*Discrimination of the President/ Retroactive  law- Schedule 4 (5-2)of the Draft Constitution that includes Barrow’s current term in connection with section (102) (1) of the Draft which provides  a two five year term for the office of the president.

The claim first came from H.E Adama Barrow’s Cabinet as the Standard Newspaper kept revealing the self-perpetuating position of the cabinet on the Draft Constitution.

That is the desire and position of the Gambian people (supreme lawmakers) and it is never meant to discriminate against Barrow. The Gambia is not about Barrow or Badjie.  This is a clause about entrenching the future and interest of Gambia and Gambians. Barrow never acquired a second term yet to claim for discrimination. Oh Gosh!

It is clear that the ultimate goal of constitutional reform is to end self-perpetuation and make citizens as depositories of state sovereignty, in that clarity in every section/clause is important to avoiding recipes for disasters

*Cutting powers of the president- in this, they meant subjecting presidential appointments to parliamentary approval (These include: Ministerial appointments, Justices of the superior courts and other key appointments in the state public intersperses).  This is not knew, but important democratic principles and standards that greatly help to end self-serving governance. It is a wise practice in Ghana, Nigeria and more advanced democracies both at continental and global. It is not knew in Gambia (164)  (1) of the 1997 Constitution  provides appointment of  Ombudsperson to be subjected to scrutiny by parliament among others.

*The most shocking misleading claim is that the Draft promotes same sex marriage. It shocks me further when some National Assembly Members themselves raised this misleading claim even though the Draft made it clearer in clause (54) on how marriage should be based on and between who and who.

A reflection on how some NAMs came to the Assembly prepared to vote NO: On that sad day, even Angels came from heaven to plead for the Draft to be given a chance, it would not work. Those NAMs’ minds cannot be changed.  Evidence to this are:

Some NAMs said the Draft is more progressive than 1997 Constitution and again voted it out; they had the chance by democratic and constitutional procedures to the give the Bill passage to the Committee stage where CRC could be involved and make improvements where necessary, consult with the CRC for clarification before the debates among a plethora of way to reach a so-called “consensus” but wasted it without consideration.

Finally, it a wise saying that “there cannot be sustainable development without sustainable democracy.” The Draft constitution, a product of comprehensive constitutional design and development by CRC would have undoubtedly ended self-perpetuation, achieved gender equality and fair representation of women in parliament; promoted progressive change; promoted the needs and interest of Gambians, created a responsible and accountable government, ended impunity and minimized corruption.

Thank you CRC for the great service to our great motherland, The Gambia.

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