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Friday, March 1, 2024

Perspectives on the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission

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Saho Sambou
University of The Gambia

Transitional justice by way of truth commissions is a massive denial of justice. It is a travesty of the just aspirations of the victims of dictatorship and the rights and suffering of people denied by the dictatorship. It is a spineless, politically correct, and unfair address of the rights of the people who have suffered mental and physical torture and other despicable treatments meted on victims.

Nelson Mandela ushered in this misguided, baseless, scandalous, and disgraceful approach to justice for his personal aggrandisement so that he would engrave his memory in the minds of the gullible long after he is gone. What has his transitional justice achieved for the majority citizens of South Africa since the implementation of the so-called justice except to entrench and enrich the privileged minority of the South African nation? It has created the Jacob Zhumas, Cyril Ramaphosas, and others who have become filthy rich on the back of poor South Africans. It has led to a gross wastage of the tax payers’ money which could have been spent on the victims of injustice.

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So the first attempt at transitional justice, if transitional justice aims to address the economic inequalities, peace, harmony, freedom of the press, rule of law, respect for human rights, democracy, justice, economic and social growth, it has failed woefully not only in South Africa but in Liberia and Sierra Leone to cite a few examples because transitional justice by its very nature achieves neither peace nor justice or reconciliation of the people of a nation. It does not bring closure for the relatives of the victims and indeed the nation. Instead it leaves bitterness, anger, and frustration in its wake long after it comes to an end.

My view on what should have happened in the case of The Gambia is to undertake a thorough investigation of what transpired in the economic, political, social, fundamental rights of the people with a view to prosecuting those who have cases to answer. There is absolutely no enmity, strife, rancour among Gambian ethnic groups. The ethnic groups in the country are not at each other’s throat. There has never been any ethnic cleansing in The Gambia. If anything, the differences between some ethnic groups are exaggerated or the figment of the imagination of those who wish social strife for the country. In The Gambia, people still pray in the same mosques, churches; attend each other’s ceremonies and funerals, watch football matches together in the same video clubs or stadia without any trouble or conflict; they attend the same schools, universities, colleges, hospitals, markets again without any ethnic strife.

Granted, there had been some disturbing incidents among some groups of Gambians immediately after the change of government, but that was largely political rather than ethnic. I attribute that to shock. Many people never expected a change of the old regime and as such they found it difficult to accept the new dispensation. As the former President said when he took over in 1994 that “In any change, in any process of change, some people are sad, some people are happy; and who are those who are sad? Those who were in a position, in a privilege position of power and have been kicked out of that privilege position, they will never be happy.” The shock resulting from the change is inevitable and understandable.

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The same shock was experienced by the supporters of the PPP party and government when Sir Dawda’s regime was illegally overthrown. But, people came to accept the reality though reluctantly as time went by. The same thing will happen again in The Gambia with time especially if the government adopts an inclusive approach to running the country. Everybody, every ethnic group should be made to feel that they belong and have a stake in the affairs or running of the country. If the government achieves a balance in its cabinet appointments, any lingering notion of discrimination in the minds of some Gambians will be quickly dissipated thus consolidating the peace, harmony, and tolerance that is characteristic of the Smiling Coast. In fact, people are gradually and increasingly reconciling themselves to the inevitable and this will deepen with time.
In that light, there is no need for a transitional justice commission or tribunal.

The TRRC will only waste money and enrich its officials or personalities. The money that would be spent on the tribunal and its officials will be better spent on the victims of the Second Republic. What should have happened is that the previous government’s conduct and running of the country on all fronts, in all domains on all aspects of Gambian life should have been subjected to a case by case scrutiny; the government should have borrowed a leaf from the Nuremberg Tribunal in its thoroughness, robustness, and the range and scope of its investigations of the Nazi criminals and its commitment to bring them to justice.

I am not trying to equate what happened in Germany and other occupied territories during the Second World War to what happened in The Gambia during the Second Republic, but to some extent some of the crimes- economic, social, legal, human rights, freedom of expression etc- allegedly committed by the former regime are equally appalling. What would be pleasing and right to the numerous victims of the Second Republic is for government to thoroughly investigate the Second Republic and all its personalities especially the leaders and those who served them from 1994 to 2016 without exception; no sacred cows; no selective justice; the coup and its ramifications should have been the starting point.

No stone or personality however eminent, whatever the position in the republic, should be allowed to escape the dragnet. The coup cheated Gambians not only of their democratic institutions and order but it also denied them a leader whose democratic and human rights records are unimpeachable or impeccable. If what is emerging from the Janneh Commission is anything to go by, there is absolutely no justifications for the putsch or July 22nd take over, if any coup can be justifiable at all. What is currently being revealed in the Janneh Commission clearly indicates that the allegations against the First Republic are fake and deceptive, foistered on the unsuspecting Gambian people at the time. If there was rampant corruption in the First Republic, what is being revealed in the current commission of enquiry makes the corruption in the First Republic a baby stuff. The commission of enquiry into the former president and his associates’ financial dealings, in my judgement, is nothing but piecemeal and window dressing and does not go far enough.

What should also be looked at is the role of the international players or some members of the international community in the 1994 coup. How was it possible for a few poorly trained and poorly armed groups of soldiers from the Gambian Army to easily overthrow Sir Jawara’s government in the presence of an American Frigate? What makes the whole situation suspect is the refusal or inability of the warship to suppress the coup, and the convenient nature of its presence to evacuate President Jawara to Dakar. What is equally mystifying is the feeble nature of the condemnation by the international community of the coup. We are not suggesting any conspiracy theories, but the whole affair is very inconceivable and suspect.

Since the government of the day has decided on a transitional justice system to address the political, economic, social, human rights, rule of law, democracy, freedom of the press, issues in the Second Republic, we cannot but comply with their decision. It is the government of the day that had been democratically elected by the majority of Gambians, thus carrying their will and aspirations in the development of the country.
I want to say that for the TRRC to be credible, it must be composed of men and women of integrity; not necessarily erudites or university dons but people who are morally and ethically upright; not turn coats, social climbers, opportunists, who are ready to exploit any new dispensation for their benefit; men and women with a high sense of justice and fair play; people who are independent, above petty rangling and prejudice. When the government and the commission are guided by the above, the TRRC will be palatable to numerous Gambians who do not subscribe to its setting-up and who prefer the culpable to face the full force of the law and the justice system. For the commission to be credible and seen to be credible, care must be taken in the nomination or selection of its membership in order not to make it a travesty of justice.

The old regime leaders should be brought to justice and not lynched in order not to compromise all that is valuable in a just country. The regime’s personalities must be taught governance, rule of law, democracy by the way their cases are treated and handled. Things must be done differently from what they were wont to be done. The government should operate on a high moral platform if it is to earn the respect of fair-minded Gambians and the international community. At the heart of this proposition is the quality, moral, and ethical standing of the people who would serve on the TRRC. On the television footage showing the swearing in of the executive secretary of the TRRC, I thought I saw someone who, in my judgement, should be part of the people who should be invited to testify to the TRRC for their role in perpetuating and promoting the old regime. Was it the fake professor of Comparative Literature I saw on the television footage? A Professor of Comparative Literature who cannot distinguish between a doggerel and a real poem; a sociological piece of writing from a real work of art.

But that is neither here nor there. My main objection to his inclusion or possible inclusion in the commission is based on his compromised standing. This man is a turncoat, an arriviste, and creepy; looking for the slightest opportunity to promote himself. The so-called professor of Comparative Literature was one of the old regime’s spin doctors and cheer-leaders. Reference is drawn to the last July 22nd 2016 celebrations to make my case. On that programme, he was overwhelming in his attempt to recount the educational achievements of the old regime. He outdid the APRC’s spokesperson in recounting the number of schools, tertiary institutions, and scholarships provided by the old regime while dismissing the achievements on the education front of the First Republic. It was a foolhardy and an arrogant performance spiced with half truths.

The second objection is that, this man’s activities in the UTG on behalf of the old regime had led to the dismissal of many competent lecturers with whom he saw no eye to eye or who refused to bend to his misguided will; people he considered a threat to his inordinate aspiration and desire to become Vice Chancellor of the UTG one day. I will cite only one example. The late Dr. Boro Susso (May His Soul Rest In Peace) had a torrid time with the old regime. He was accused by the former government of being a UDP supporter and was constantly harassed, hounded, and subsequently he was dismissed. This bogus Professor, petty and shallow and irrelevant person, constantly spied and reported on him because he saw the late Dr. Boro Susso as a threat to his desire to occupy a senior position in the University of The Gambia. Dr. Boro Susso was a competent and an increasingly competent lecturer whose lectures were well-attended and appreciated by an overwhelming majority of the students.

It will be an abuse of the memory of the late Dr. Boro Susso, he would not rest peacefully in his grave if this self-anointed, self-proclaimed professor of Comparative Literature is allowed to serve on the commission; instead he should be summoned to testify to the commission for his role in advancing the will of the former government.

I am not calling for his rejection in order to recruit the attention of the government to substitute me in his stead. My view on the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Commission has conflicted me and therefore made me unavailable to serve on the Commission.

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