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Political leaders must protect peace and the rule of law

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By Madi Jobarteh

I have watched the UDP press conference held on Monday June 3rd in which party leader Ousainu Darboe said his party will not trigger violence, but they will respond with violence against anyone who unleashed violence on his party members. I hold these comments to be utterly inappropriate which must not have been uttered by any political party leader especially from the largest political party in the Gambia. I wish to urge Lawyer Darboe to retract his comments and rather urge his members to maintain peace and nonviolence in their politics at all times.

I fully understand the context of his reaction, which is a direct response to similarly inappropriate and irresponsible comments uttered by Pres. Adama Barrow in his recent country tour. Speaking at a meeting in Kerewan, Mr. Barrow said,

“I want to tell the NPP supporters that you don’t have to be afraid because you form the government as President Barrow alone can’t do it all. Whoever insulted you and broke the law, you all should get up and stand firm and fight, and I will be behind you to provide support. There cannot be two presidents in a country. And from today until 2026, President Barrow is the President of The Gambia.”

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This comment has already been fact checked by Malagen as dangerous speech. In fact, it has been noted that this is not the first time Barrow has made similar incendiary remarks. In May 2023 during the mayoral elections, he also vented out in a rally,

“And I will tell our boys that they are the ruling party and there is no reason to be scared. Why would an opposition supporter not be afraid of you and you as the supporter of the ruling party is afraid of that person? How will you be afraid? Everyone is behind you. If you look at the high table, all these people are important, holding key positions.”

These comments clearly constitute incitement to violence. Consequently, we have seen over the period how NPP and Barrow supporters or affiliates have acted with violence with no one ever held accountable. For example, UDP’s Ebrima Dibba recounted the encounter his UDP election registration team encountered in Kanilai where they were assaulted yet nothing has come out of it even though they reported it to the police.

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Furthermore, Barrow has also openly bragged that he ordered the security forces to violently clampdown on the Three Years Jotna protesters. In fact, it is also on record that PIU officers were on social media boasting about how they teargassed UDP supporters. In Brikama, we can also recount how PIU officers physically assaulted UDP supporters at the nomination of their candidates in the last local government elections. In all those cases, no one has been held accountable. Thus, what is evident is that Pres. Adama Barrow is the leading instigator of violence in this country.

That notwithstanding, Lawyer Darboe should know better that to respond violence with violence will neither help his party nor the Gambia. Rather, if UDP is to be considered a credible and responsible democratic party, then it must always stand on the path of peace, the rule of law and human rights no matter how much provoked they feel. Violence in any form is a violation of the rule of law, human rights and an undemocratic practice.

Therefore, I strongly urge Lawyer Darboe to withdraw his incendiary comments which have the effect of militarizing his party members as Barrow has succeeded in militarizing his party members and the security forces. Such irresponsible and unlawful comments by both Barrow and Darboe can only energize party supporters to take advantage of the slightest issue and become violent. The country does not need such a situation.

In this regard, I wish to call on the IEC to wake up to its responsibility in ensuring that the political field is peaceful, stable and fair as envisaged in the Election Decree. The IEC must understand that they have an accountability function over political parties and their leaders and supporters. Hence at any time, not just during election campaigns or voting day, when political parties, politicians and supporters engage in malpractices such as violence, then IEC has a duty to intervene.

Similarly, I call on the Inter-Party Committee to wake up to their duty by activating their MoU intended to ensure a peaceful, decent and nonviolent political environment. In the MoU, they agree that parties must respect each other and abide by the laws of the Gambia. So far, this has not been the case especially on the part of the NPP and President Barrow. The incendiary, tribalist and hateful comments emanating from NPP leaders and supporters over the period have been well documented. The Inter-Party Committee is yet to hold NPP and Adama Barrow accountable.

Above all, I wish to call on the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Dawda Jallow and the IGP Seedy Muctarr Touray as the chief law enforcement officers of the country to call in the President to caution him to refrain from violence, incitement to violence, and breach of peace. They must tell Barrow to tame his party members to uphold decency, the rule of law and democratic principles. While I condemn Lawyer Darboe for his incendiary remarks, I share in his concern and frustration at the abuse of law and the impunity perpetrated by Pres. Adama Barrow.

Therefore, the Attorney General and IGP must recognize that they have a duty to maintain law and order, and for that matter no Gambian, regardless of position or status has the right in any way to flout the Constitution and threaten the peace and stability of this country. Political leaders must always tread on the path of peace and democracy and shun violence and violations.

In the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is stated that, “… if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.” I therefore call on both the AG and IGP to enforce the law equally lest they allow this country to slide into violence and instability.

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