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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Revolution or protest: legality and illegality in a democracy

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By Lawyer Ibrahim Jallow ESq.,

There is a world of difference between a revolution and a protest.

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The first connotes the involvement of violence and an outcome that could possibly overturn an established order.

Those who have opted for a revolution do not have to seek permission from the state, not least because what they have set out to achieve is anti-state.

In this regard, it would be naive to assume that state authorities, in the name of democratic expression, would condone a revolution in whatever guise it presents itself.

Of course, a protest can go out of hands and graduate into a revolution. Examples abound in history and that history of revolutions is one cause for political leaders, especially in highly volatile states, to be jittery and suspicious of the intentions of political activists.

In this article, the word “Revolution” should not conjure in the minds of the readers, the spectre of bloody violence, it is not, and need not necessary to be so.

As with Karl Max himself, a revolution in his conception does not necessary implied a violent revolt against a morally dishonest, inefficient and oppressive government. Although he does not also exclude violence should it become necessary.

In the Gambia, as in the rest of Africa, the use of violence may turn on how bad and desperate the situation is. It may also turn on whether the violent action is spontaneous  or not, and the chances of success.

The moral justification of violence itself as a means of bringing about radical change, even in the fight  for liberation from an oppressive colonialist regimes, or governments, is not free from disputation.

Celebrated revolutionists and authors on the subject, such as, John Lock on (when an unjust and oppressive government and or laws, justifies rebellion); Henry David Thoreau on (civil disobedience); Martin Luther King on (civil disobedience as a political tactic), Gandhi on (non-violent resistance in  fight for liberation) etc.

The bloody violence of the French revolution should not lead us to think that violence is necessarily inseparable from revolution or that a call for revolution is necessary a call for overthrow of government by violent or unconstitutional means, in the absence of utterances or actions suggesting such an intention.

The story of the French revolution need to be taken together with that of the American revolution, and that without an element of violent we cannot meaningfully speak of a revolution.

The American Revolution began with violence, the violence of a war of independence to liberate the American colonies from the yoke of British rule.

But, apart from the war, the American experience was a revolution in the additional sense of  events, starting with war, but including non-violent events, that revolutionized American government, society, ethics, values and culture generally.

Our beloved Country, The Gambia, is today going through the pangs of socio-economic degradation, as result of failure in leadership, and need to be saved.

The principles and institutions of  government – particularly the economic, security and the lack of social accountability, respect for human rights, and integrity or honesty in leadership, are withering and are in need of restoration.

Democratic rule, that is say, rule of the people by the people, is being hijacked and emasculated, and is in need of restoration and revitalization.

Freedom is being trampled upon, and need to be unchained.

The instruments of peace, order (the security) are in the state of malfunction, featuring killings, tortured, banditry, arm robbery and other acts of criminality, and need re-activation.

The moral principles that ushered in the current President (Adama Barrow) and his government, is now view as a mischievous and calculated manipulation of the confidence and wishes of the people, and need to have them removed from Government.

Our lives have been greatly impoverished, with poverty, hunger, hardship etc.

and need revival. In short the country is failing and not working, and the country must be made to work.

To get the country work again, as we did to Yaya Jammeh in 2016, requires a radical change in the political, social and economic systems, irrespective of how the change is brought about. Such a radical change is what is known in common parlance, as a “Revolution”.

I am not unmindful of the evil consequences of violent revolution. A peaceful revolution led by a leader suitably fired by a revolutionary fervor is preferable.

However, violence may be justifiable where the situation is so hopeless and rotten as require blood to clean it up.

It was the violence of the French revolution in 1789, the bloodiest revolution of all times, that transformed France’s aristocratic society, with its gross inequalities, social injustices and feudalistic values, into the democratic society that France eventually became, a change which in the course of time, swept across the whole of Europe.

It is fair to say that European society and polity are what they are today largely because of the French revolution.

There can be no doubt that, in a situation of pervasive massive rottenness and decadence in government and society, such as existed in France before the Revolution, which The Gambia today is dangerously approaching, a model of the French revolution can be effective and useful in cleaning the society and government of rottenness and in bringing forth a new, rejuvenated  society and government.

I am of the considered view that election is the best way to institute  a change of government.

But that does not mean, a change of government cannot emanate from the sovereign will of the People, who are vested with the supreme power in a democracy, by other means, such as protests and when necessary Revolution.

Examples abound, such as the Arabs spring, particularly the faith of Hosni Mubarak former President of Egypt etc.

But embarking on violent order than peaceful protests or Revolution in order to bundle out an inefficient or inactive Government, or dictatorship etc. can be counterproductive.

There is no gain saying that street protests and peaceful Revolution can be hijacked by miscreants who can go on a looting spree thereby wreaking havoc on the very people the protesters are meant to protect their interests.

A tragedy of good intentions and noble cause may ensue. These are some of the reasons governments proclaim, as basis not to tolerate a call for protest or Revolution change, no matter how benevolent.

Some may ask, “is this how we will continue? Of course, not. We do need a revolution, and we have the constitutional right to protest,  but not a violent revolution or violent protest.

The first thing we need is citizen engagement to demand good governance from our respective political offices across the three arms of government, before resorting to a Revolution or protests.

Except in an autocracy or dictatorship or monarchy, the right of the citizen to protest against those in authority is both constitutional and democratic.

It is inalienable in that the State cannot take it away from them.

Protest represents a feedback to the activities or policies of those who govern.

The concerns of individuals outlined during a protest should constitute a new input into the process of governance.

Such a new input could generate another feedback that resolves a potential crisis situation. Be that as it may, the Barrow-led coalition government has on its table lists of grievances that should not be swept under the political carpet.

Issues of the three (3) years transition promised by the coalition, unemployment and general poverty are more than serious issues the administration must be seen to be addressing with greater urgency.

The transition to democracy, particularly in many African countries, during the upheavals of 1989-94, brought about the greatest expansion of freedom in human history.

These includes notably, the freedom of expression and the press, peaceful assembly and association, and movement. Under these freedoms and providing supports for them is the freedom to protest.

Democracy encapsulates as amongst its essentials the freedom to protest and, above all, to mobilized the people in support of grievances against government policies and actions, the democratic freedoms ushered in by the democratic revolutions have much practical effects.

Accordingly, the mobilization of the people in support of a call on government for change in government policies and actions is not a call for the overthrow of the government by violent or unconstitutional means.

It is only a call on government to change its policies and actions, or otherwise resign; a call for resignation of government, even if such a resignation be coerced or force, is not unconstitutional; it is a mean of change in governance sanctioned by democracy. See the Preamble to the Constitution of The Gambia, 1997, to wit:

“This Constitution provides for us a fundamental Law, which affirms our commitment to freedom, justice, probity and accountability. It also affirms the principle that all powers emanate from the sovereign will of the people.”

A marriage reading of sections 214 to 217, the failure of government in these regards, made it constitutional for the people to revolts, and demand immediate change in government policies and actions even where it mean the resignation of the government. Thus, the right to resist provide that, all citizens have the right to disobey any order which offends their rights, liberties, freedoms, and guarantees.

And in equal direct and unequivocal fashioned, the citizens have the right by civil disobedience, any attempt to coerce power in a tyrannical manner.

The people also have the right to resist and disobey government, individual or group of individuals or any corps of state that would exercise power in violation of the provisions of the constitution.

Thus, all the rumblings, all the jitters of the Barrow-led  government, whenever a call is made for a revolution or protest, even though nothing is said or done to topple the government by violent or unconstitutional means, shows that there can be no gainsaying the fact that Gambia is over-due for a peaceful Revolution – for a radical in government.

As a basis for peaceful political revolution, we also need a fundamental change in our socio-political and even economic attitudes as citizens.

By far, we need ethical revolution.

Our ethics and values, particularly those of the younger generation, have been greatly distorted and eroded largely by lack of proper parenting, peer group influence and exposure to uncensored western culture.

Core values that we need to hold in high esteem such as honesty, integrity, respect for elders, patriotism, nationalism, hard-work, tolerance and patience are today vanishing in our culture. Instead, people are yearning for money, religious bigotry, ethnic jingoism, disrespect for elders, abuse of office and many more.

Violent, which was alien to us , is gradually becoming a norm.

These changes are very imperative for any government’s breakthrough to address the issues of poverty, unemployment, infrastructure, education etc. (development).

It must be admitted that, the Barrow led-coalition government is fragile, it has been accused of human rights violations and corruption, but whether the Barrow-led government is on track with the drive to meet the fundamental requirements of an accountable, democratic and productive government, is currently the debate in town.

The President is my friend. I stood by his decision to uphold the constitution of the Gambia during the Parliamentary crisis in 2019 cause by the revocation of the nomination of Ya Kumba Jaiteh as a National Assembly Member.

And to frankly tell your friend the truth and your considered opinion, should not harm the friendship.

President Adama Barrow, came to power with the pledge to stay for three years, as a transition President and government, and then suddenly he said he need more time to sort out the problems but has not yet finish even one of the transition agendas, and has appeared to condone deliberate policies to enable him stay in office as president beyond the three years.

It should be remember that, Adama Barrow was elected as President on the platform of the coalition, he would not have gotten anything more than 5% of the total votes cast during the 2016 presidential elections, had he contested as an independent candidate or under a political party, and we were told of his personal reputations as a squeaky-clean man in a sea of corrupt politicians.

This was the only man Gambians believe could start the transformation of the nation for better, not for the worst.

But nearly, two years later, rumours of corruption around the President and violations of human rights began to surface. With all these allegations, the President is not happy to appear publicly or on TV to allay the discontents of the people, order than the meetings with some purported sworn supporters at State house.

President Adama Barrow reputation as a “honest man” who would not lie to the Gambian people, of unimpeachable character, which was even chanted by the most prominent lawyers in the country during the 2016 political impasse, is suddenly question, when he fired the prominent stakeholders in the coalition that ushered him in as President, and when he start pursuing agendas beyond the mandate and promises made by the coalition.

Who then, lie to the Gambian people? To determine that question, first , we need to ask the question, who promised the Gambian people? Is it Adama Barrow or the coalition? It is fair to say that, everyone involved in the coalition has this question to answer.

The failure of the Barrow-led coalition government will continue to be a black stain on each political party that was part of the formation of the coalition that led to that idea, which by now many parties to the coalition, scrupulously considered a regrettable decision and idea. They failed to grasp that there would be tomorrow, and that no condition is permanent, it either forward or backward.

The former President Yaya Jammeh was the worst student in the estimation of that phrase “no condition is permanent”.

When the two years he promised Gambian to return the country to civilian rule within two years of  transition after coup d’état, the two years flew away like rocket.

He then resorted to illegal means in his evil bid to extend his tenure as President.

Unfortunately, like his predecessor, President Adama Barrow seems to personify the body language of the former President, Yaya Jammeh. Gambians connected massively with the projected humility of President Adama Barrow, and the touching story of his love for the Gambian people.

More than ever in the history of our country, the common people in the Gambia hoped for a new beginning and a new Gambia, where they could pursue a dignified life, as citizens. And people trusted that the coalition will change once and for all the way business is done at the top of government. With the current situation, naturally Gambians got disappointed, this writer as well.

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