By Foday Chorr
The enemies of progress cannot be defined by tribe or political affiliation, as the majority of the population have the same ideals; that is – the development of the nation and the desire for progress. The real enemies to the achievement of these goals are those who take or support action that not only is of no value to the people or the country, but has negative outcomes on the quality of people’s lives or is of detriment to the peace and stability of the nation. There are however many factors that must be taken into consideration, which whilst individually significant also combine to hamper progress.
Each citizen, whether a politician, businessman, civil servant, husband, wife, brother or sister has the collective moral obligation to consider the effect of their actions on others. In an age where anyone can become a cyber warrior this should start with exercising our duty to use social media responsibly and use appropriate behaviours online. There are those that use this platform to take or endorse actions that are motivated by political point scoring, willing to sacrifice the truth to gain the political upper hand or to sabotage the success of their political opponents, regardless of the consequences. There are others who without doubt are attracted to whatever drama they can create; their addiction to social media gratification fuelling their desire for more as the brain produces a steady stream of dopamine every time the ‘like’ or ‘share’ button is clicked (Professor Adam Alter “Irresistible:
The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked”). Making a name for themselves online serving only their own ego rather than serving any common good. The politically immature will scaremonger and attempt to instil fear by fabricating stories and events to achieve their own aims and objectives with scant regard for the very principles of democracy. We are being fattened on a diet of lies and deception through media and social media, to the point that it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish what the truth looks like. To this end we must ask ourselves:
Who benefits from Politics by deception?
How can our right for democracy be realised when the truth is obscured by lies and deceit?
In many cases, those using social media to create a culture of fear are doing so from the comfort of their armchairs in Europe or America, whilst provoking or inciting others to take action through violence or disorder. Again let’s ask ourselves:
Who benefits from instilling fear?
Who benefits from creating unrest and inciting violence?
Often the seed that is planted in people’s heads however has been sown by the media. Readers become enraged or inspired by supposedly factual reports, blind to the fact that the stories they are consuming are often distorted, fabricated or told with such bias to make them attractive or sellable or elaborated to a point that any embers of truth are barely distinguishable. In many cases today’s reporter is no longer narrating the story but creating it; his job no longer to just inform, but to entertain, persuade and mislead. The media does however have a crucial responsibility to a nation. They should be able to provide a service to the nation whereby they are holding the government and its institutions to account for their actions.
The absence of a press that is truly representative of the diverse opinions within the country is a threat to the democratic rights of the Gambian people, and does not favour the progress of the country. The media need to show political impartiality to encourage genuine debate. Political pluralism is essential to a thriving democracy, and the media have a role to ensure that the public are able to make informed decisions based on the provision of unbiased information. This can only happen where all political parties are offered a level playing field.
It is likely that the misuse of media and social media has been largely responsible for whipping up anger, injecting fear and promulgating hatred between kinsmen which has resulted in pockets of unrest and acts of violent disorder emerging over the past few months. People on all sides of debate trusting that the daily diet they have been fed on to be accurate and correct, emboldened by their conviction. In any society however, you will find factions that strongly disagree with others; it is a by-product of democracy.
Article 19 of the Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”. People must however also observe that these rights exist so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others, or fall foul of other human rights. It therefore becomes a social and moral responsibility to ensure that debate/argument is conducted with the mutuality of these rights, and to ensure that our differences do not lead us down a path where these become infringed through the eruption of violence or unrest.
It is a responsibility of the security forces to ensure the protection of the peace and to support communities in maintaining an inclusive social order. They have a role in bringing communities together and through equal treatment before the law, promoting social cohesion. Only in this way and by ensuring they conduct themselves in line with their professional duties will they earn the respect from the population. Respect for the law cannot be secured through intimidation, nor can it be bought by showing favour for whatever reason, be-it political, tribal, familial or other. A system that shows bias favourably or unfavourably to a group or groups of people is a threat to national security. If on one hand a party, group or individual perceives their treatment to differ significantly to that of others, particularly where this is due to tribal, religious or political affiliation, they are likely to grow resentful.
Resentment most often manifests itself in anger and at worst a desire for retribution. Let’s consider the possible outcomes of this. To purposely frustrate a group of people is irresponsible. It may achieve its desired short term objective of point scoring, particularly if those who are victimised or unfairly treated react in any way, but an undesired consequence may ultimately be the suffering of innocent third party individuals. On the other hand favouring others with a soft approach results in a lack of accountability for ones actions and will perpetuate more crime. Offenders will take advantage of favour shown towards them and gain in confidence to continue their actions.
It is a green light for lawlessness. At it’s very core it can therefore threaten the security of the nation and cause division. When divisions are created within the fabric of society itself, then society may turn on itself. Let’s ask ourselves:
How can the country develop when there is division?
How will the country prosper with diminished rule of law?
Division only serves to weaken a nation.
If security apparatus is not put in place, then the enabling environment for development to occur does not exist. It is therefore incumbent upon the government to ensure that it creates the correct environment and conditions for the security forces to be able to provide effective and accountable public service.
The government are obliged to empower them in order for them to acquire proficiency in the dispensation of their duties. This can only be achieved through building capacity; providing the correct training; ensuring that the resources afforded to them are adequate for them to be able to carry out their duties and fostering positive professional relationships with a foundation of trust and respect. It is also essential to national security that these services are not politicised. Their loyalty is to their nation first and foremost and this must not be compromised by government or political interference. The individual bodies must remain politically impartial whilst at the same time honouring the presiding governments directives, provided of course that they are lawful and constitutionally correct.
Our security personnel must have access to focussed training, relevant to their roles and responsibilities, that develops their understanding of the law and it’s appropriate enforcement. Crime prevention, alongside conflict prevention, conflict management and conflict resolution must underpin training, particularly for the police force to ensure they are equipped with the correct skills for safeguarding peace and stability within the country. This is of particular importance now, as the internal use of our armed forces has been stripped back, with the police finding themselves having to deal with situations that their level of training has not adequately prepared them for.
Every citizen has the right to expect the law to protect them and expectations of justice to be served.
“In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society”
Universal declaration of human rights: Article 29, paragraph 2
In other words in order to be free, there have to laws and limits that respect everyone’s rights, meet our sense of right and wrong, and keep peace in a democratic society. In order to achieve these aims however the police and other emergency services must be able to do so without obstacle.
Rapid response is a key component in reducing the incidences of crime and maximises the chances not only in catching perpetrators but also in the collection of key evidence before crime scenes become compromised. Lack of communication and transportation therefore hinder these operations. An emergency phone number that allows citizens to contact the police or other emergency services for urgent response would enable officers to respond immediately, and increased human resources and access to transportation would enable crime scenes to be attended swiftly. Only effective action on crime can reduce its occurrence.
For the instruments of national security to be effective, there must also be a coherent strategy hat encourages collaboration between the different sectors so that one does not undermine or contradict the aims of the other. This can only be achieved when there is mutual respect and trust. A government must ensure that there is appropriate harmonisation of services and that it fosters the enabling environment through its own leadership. The military are the guardians of national safety and security within any country, therefore entrusted to protect the peace; this however becomes compromised when the armed forces are no longer afforded this trust. It is an inherent responsibility upon government to ensure that this is prioritised. If trust is not given and nurtured the risk that one may perpetuate is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy and therefore an armed force or members of that may become subversive. Soldiers have a vested interest in their own country. No external force can protect the lives and properties of your citizens better than your own for they have a stake in it. If the armed forces are not endowed with the trust to perform their duties, and these are being outsourced, then they are being undermined. This is counter productive. Not only is weakening the country’s armed forces weakening the defence mechanisms of the nation, we are disenfranchising our soldiers.
Where is the wisdom in disenfranchising the protectorates of our nation, whom are trained in armed combat and warfare?
How can we instil trust and confidence in our military when they are being undermined?
Whilst it is the responsibility of government to oversee the security of our nation, it is also largely in the hands of our institutions and ourselves through the attitudes and behaviours that we choose. Tribalism and affiliation to political ideology cannot exist in our institutions if we are to provide a system of national security that is free from discord. To this end appointments within the security sector should be truly representative of the diverse peoples that make up our population.
Our security forces require the trust of our government and respect from the people if they are to be truly effective in the dispensation of their duties. This is achievable through appropriate government investment, training and collaboration across forces, and the eradication of discrimination and prejudice of all kinds. Greater respect for our security services will equate to greater respect for the law, and be instrumental in achieving a society that adheres fully to democratic principles. As we strive for greater democracy we must also recognise that we have a collective responsibility:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Universal declaration of human rights: Article 1
We however, cannot focus on the direction we are going if we are forever looking over our shoulders and paying attention to where we have been. We must learn from the past by acknowledging and analysing where we have fallen down, but by also celebrating our successes to build upon them.
Foday Chorr is member of the opposition APRC.