By Madi Jobarteh
During a brutal war of liberation against the British, the first 13 American colonies declared independence to become the United States of America on 4 July 1776. Ten years later these 13 states then convened in a secret meeting called the Constitutional Convention in 1787 in the city of Philadelphia to draft their constitution. But while they met, a crowd of citizens waited outside the hall so that after the meeting they could ask their leaders what they decided. It was reported that when the meeting ended one woman from Philadelphia asked one of the Founding Fathers of the new country Benjamin Franklin whether they decided to create a republic or a monarchy. In his response, Mr. Franklin, who later became the sixth president of the US told the woman, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Therefore what is a republic and what is the meaning of that response? A republic is a political system and a form of government, which holds that the country belongs to all. ‘Republic’ is a Latin word which means ‘public matter’ or ‘public concern’. In a republic, supreme power is held by and belongs to the people. This is why in our Constitution, Section 1 subsection 2 says,
“The Sovereignty of The Gambia resides in the people of The Gambia from whom all organs of government derive their authority and in whose name and for whose welfare and prosperity the powers of government are to be exercised in accordance with this Constitution.”
This provision is the foundation of our citizenship, power and ownership of the Gambia as sovereign citizens. It is our title deed. It is this provision that makes the Gambia Government a legitimate authority because its legitimacy and authority are derived from the people’s will and power. This means that Adama Barrow and all workers in the Gambia Government derive their legitimacy and authority from We the People and they function to serve only we the People. They are our servants.
The first republic to be created in the world is the United States. Before then, the world knows only monarchies and other forms of governments in which power belongs to only few people as families or rich people or religious leaders among others. But in 1776, history was made when a society created a form of government in which power did not belong to a few people, but to all of the people. They dismantled the monarchy, aristocracy and feudalism to make sure the power of the people prevail. Leaders are elected from and by the people to serve none other than the people. The next republic to be created in the world became France, which also abolished their kingdom following their 1789 revolution.
Why is this relevant to us in the Gambia? This is relevant to us because the present-day Gambia was composed of various kingdoms in the past that were conquered by various European nations and placed under colonialism. But in 1970 we gained independence and from that moment to today the people of the Gambia became the direct owners of the country and the source of power of the Government. Hence the Gambia is our public concern. But as Franklin told that woman in America in 1787, did we, as Gambians keep or protect this republic of ours since 1970? Our history has shown that we did not keep our republic, as we should. The evidence lies in our experiences since independence.
Our failure to keep our republic began in 1970 because our people did not know what a republic was in the first place and no one enlightened them about it. Hence since that date our people surrendered their power to a bunch of politicians under the PPP government to use it anyhow they wished. For 30 years, we were subjected to exploitation and poverty leading to poor living standards and abuse of our rights and dignity. PPP did nothing but to merely abuse our republic.
Because of our failure to protect our republic back then we then created a situation that led to the despicable tragedy of 22 July 1994. For 22 years, we again failed to protect our country as our public concern. We left it with one person Yaya Jammeh and his party, APRC to abuse and misuse our common property as they wished. In the end, we experienced untold suffering as they maimed and killed citizens with impunity. They treated us as slaves and plundered our wealth for their own selfish ends.
Then came 1 December 2016 when we woke up for the first time to take charge of our public concern by voting out the dictatorship. For the first time, Gambians stood up collectively to defend and protect our republic. But will it last? Will we once again fail our republic by allowing Barrow to treat us like how Jawara or Jammeh treated us?
Thus as we solemnly remember July 22 which marked the beginning of our 22-year misery, each and every Gambian must ask himself or herself whether we are ready and willing to keep our republic? Let us recall that on 24 April 1970 we had the opportunity to keep our republic but we failed. Then on 22 July 1994 we had another opportunity but failed to keep our republic. Now we have 1 December 2016, will we fail this time again?
We must remember that a republic is a self-governing society. Allah or God does not rule the Gambia. Adama Barrow does not rule the Gambia. The Gambia Government does not rule the Gambia. It is we the People who rule the Gambia. It is we the People who employed Adama Barrow and all public servants to work for us in our government. If our republic becomes better, there is no one on whom to heap the praise but on We the People. If our republic fails there is no one to blame but We the People.
Let us remember that Adama Barrow and the Gambia Government do not have any rights. In our Constitution, the only people who have rights are we the People. Our Constitution only places obligations and limitations on Adama Barrow and the Government. They have no rights. They are there to fulfil obligations to we the People. We gave them our powers to manage our resources and affairs for our benefit only.
This is why our Constitution also places limitations on them to make sure that they do not abuse the power we gave them so that they do not harm us. This is why anything and everything the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary must do, they have to follow the rule of law. These are the checks and balances that make sure they do not misuse and abuse our resources or become corrupt or merely waste our resources. Thus these limitations based on the rule of law restrain public institutions and public servants to act within the law and those limitations. In this way, the checks and balances ensure that the Government protects our rights and satisfies our needs.
In this regard, all Gambians must stand up from today to pledge allegiance to the Republic of the Gambia that this country is your concern. It is your property; that you will not sit by again to watch the Government and a bunch of politicians and their parties and public servants to misuse and plunder our resources. We must stand up to ensure that no government ever will abuse and damage our rights and lives for free. We must stand up to ensure that our resources must be used to benefit only we the People.
If we have learnt any lessons from the PPP and APRC governments, it must be that we will not betray ourselves again by remaining silent, dormant, indifferent and lazy on matters concerning the Gambia. Remember, politicians do not stand up for the people until the people stand up for themselves. Governments do not manage public resources well until the people stand up. Leaders and public institutions do not protect the rights and lives of citizens until the citizens stand up.
Therefore, stand up against sycophancy. Stand up against mediocrity. Stand up against abuse of power. Stand up against tribalism. Stand up against nepotism. Stand up for transparency and accountability. Stand up for democracy. Stand up for your republic!
Are you ready to keep the republic? I am!