I have been reading, listening and hearing various opinions about the interpretation of the memorandum of understanding signed by the members of the coalition of then opposition parties which brought to power H.E President Adama Barrow on December 2016.
Those interpretations of the referred document brought about the emergence of the three years “Jotna” movement which dominates today the legal and political debate in the Gambia.
It is obvious that Gambia is a diverse society composed of intellectuals from different educational background, therefore I am not asking for a conformity of views; on the contrary critical controversy must be encouraged between rival views.
In fact, I am a true believer of the old-fashioned Popperian principle that only through free controversy and free speech can we identify our mistakes and get nearer to the truth, through learning from our mistakes.
But one thing must guide our participation on the current political debate, that is a gentle respect for general rules of good conduct. Rules of gentleman ship.
To those who may question about the definition of gentleman ship, I invite them to read the definition of Karl Popper, who defines this concept as follow: “ a gentleman is someone who does not take himself seriously, but is prepared to take his duties very seriously, especially when most around him talk only about their rights.”
The various interpretations going on now in the Gambian political landscape brought to my mind two fundamental questions: first what are the instruments used by the authors of these various positions to interpret the Memorandum of understanding signed by the coalition which brought Adama Barrow to power? Legal or from a political science point of view? Where is the Think tank installed by President Barrow, just at the beginning of his era?
From my perspective, I am of the view that there are only two ways of analysing this document: the legal one and from a political perspective.
My reflection on this issue in this essay will be structured along the following lines: first what is liberal democracy? The importance of this question cannot be over emphasized, because it is only through a real understanding of what democracy is about, that we can save the precarious peace and stability prevailing in the Gambia.
Secondly, I will analyse the discourse of our different political leaders and verify if they match to their claim attachment to democratic values; third and finally I will pronounce my position on the discussion about the three years Jotna.
What is democracy and how it is being understood by the majority of Gambians?
About two years ago, after my return to the Gambia, I went to Trust Bank to cash some money.
While we were in the queue, an old man arrived and went directly in front of the first one in the line. When we tried to persuade him that he should follow the line according to arrival, he replied to us by the following words: “It is democrac;y everybody has to do what he wants”.
This incident coupled with many Facebook publications in the name of democracy made me understand that we are very far from understanding the real meaning of liberal democracy.
For many in the Gambia democracy is equal to chaos as well demonstrated by the attitude of the old man whom I met at the Trust Bank Lamin branch.
Another conclusion drawn from Facebook publications is that social media is a real threat to our young democracy, in the sense that many of its publications lack civility.
But then what is democracy?
The traditional definition done by one of the former American President that democracy is the rule of the people, by the people and for the people has been challenged or discarded by Joseph A.
Schumpeter in the last chapter of his book “Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy” in which he defined Democracy as: “the institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people´s vote”
This passage points out that it is only through elections that one can get into power, as far as democracy is concern.
In the same chapter Schumpeter insisted that a democratic term must be completed, that it is unacceptable that a few months or years before the end of the constitutional term ends, opposition leaders come to the street requesting the overthrow of a democratic elected government.
I can enumerate many political recognized scientists’ theories which will contradict the many political Gambian scientists who graduated from the Facebook universities and disseminate every single day their political ideology.
I do share the view that the establishment of democracy is a goal and process, that there cannot be a perfect one, but it is important to get the minimum understanding of the concept if we want to avoid chaos in our beloved Gambia.
There is no need to further elaborate on the democratic theory to demonstrate that analysed from liberal democracy theory the three years “Jotna” movement cannot stand.
I am not a legal specialist but one thing I know is that any legal agreement under normal circumstances should have a clause for dispute settlement. Did the memorandum signed by the coalition parties mention how they would have settled their differences in case it emerges among them? Did the memorandum envisage a demonstration in case one of its members fails the agreement or a court settlement? Many questions that only the reading of that document can answer.
Beside these questions there is another fact, that is the Memorandum of understanding does not involve the whole Gambian electorate but its signatories, therefore those who are not signatories to it, should not be involved in any demonstration for lack of its fulfilment.
From a legal perspective there is no law that can supersede the constitution of the republic, let alone a Memorandum of understanding, a mere temporary agreement between parties, can make the stipulated five years term of our constitution void.
If the people felt that the current administration is violating any agreement, why don´t they take the matter to the supreme court for settlement? As at a certain point in time of the current administration, one of the political leaders pronounced that whoever requests president Barrow to leave before five years will face the court. Why the sudden change of direction?
The move of three years “Jotna” is neither democratic nor legal. It could only be characterized as an insurrection.
In a liberal democracy the mono poly of force is given to the state, “The general will of Jean Jacque Rousseau”, let the leaders of the three years “Jotna” movement understand this. In a liberal democracy demonstration is a right but it has to be approved by the current administration any challenge to this is an attempt to public order and a violation of the law.
Now that I have defined briefly what is democracy, by quoting only Joseph Schumpeter, let me turn to some discourses of our political leaders. In a rally held in Brikama, President Adama Barrow told the audience that: “Whoever likes it or not, I will be here till 2021” or let me repeat his own words: “A diyata menyeh mbijang for 2021, Akuyata menyeh mbijang for 2021.”
This speech analysed in the light of liberal democracy´s theory, would be considered a big blunder and shock to the new Gambia´s claim of democratic values. This type of speech cannot sustain neither build our democracy nor will allow to create consensus among the Gambian political class.
In his book The Political Man, Symour Martin Lipset wrote that: “a stable democracy requires the manifestation of conflict or cleavage so that there will be struggle over ruling positions, challenges to parties in power, and shifts of parties in office; but without consensus- a political system allowing the peaceful “play” of power, the adherence by the “outs” to the decisions made by the “ins” and the recognition by the “ins” of the rights of the “outs”- There can be no democracy.”
The speech of President Barrow in Brikama reminds me the address of the former American first lady, Michell Obama who in 2017, stated that: “The presidency doesn´t change who you are, it reveals who you are. … A candidate is not going to change suddenly once they get into office.
Just the opposite, in fact, because the minute that individual takes that oath, they are under the hottest, hashest light there is.
And there is no way to hide who they really are. … So, when it comes to the qualifications we should demand in a president, to start with, we need someone who is going to take this job seriously.
Someone who will study and prepare so that they understand the issues better than anyone else on their team.
And we need someone not with good judgment but with superb judgment in their own rights. . We also need someone who is steady and measured. Being President is not anything like making fiery speeches.
It is about whether or not the candidate can handle the awesome responsibility of leading the country.”
The threat to the young Gambian democracy is not only from the social media but also from the politicians developing tribal lines politics
. For certain Gambian political leaders, only their tribe people are citizens of the Gambia, the rest are foreigners.
With this type of ideology how can we build a united nation with a stable democracy?
The challenge of the three years Jotna
The three years movement is a real challenge not only to the current regime but to the Gambian society in general, in the sense that any unrest in the country will, at the end, affect those who are living inside.
If a solution is not met before December, this threat will affect the economy of the country in almost all its components.
I did question above the whereabouts of the think-tank installed by President Barrow, because the role of a think tank is to make periodical publications of scientific academic works on policy analysis and advices on hot issues.
How can we be privy for their take on the three years Jotna? The way things are going one can foresee a confrontation of the two camps due to the preparation being carried by each side.
It is true that President Barrow has the legitimacy, the legality and the monopoly of the coercive action accorded to him by the constitution but should remember that he claimed to be a democrat and for the sake of democracy should engage in dialogue by involving all the people of influence in the Gambia such as religious leaders, intellectuals and obviously the political leaders.
The three years Jotna movement from my point of view, actually sent a message which would have deserved analysis by the Barrow administration.
The regime would have questioned why this movement so categorically requesting a regime change before the end of the constitutional term? The answer of this question could be found in Aristotle’s writings: “…democracies are safer and more permanent than oligarchies, because they have a middle class which is more numerous and has a great share in government; for when there is no middle class, and the poor greatly exceed in number, troubles arise, and the state soon comes to an end.”
In conclusion, I would say that the three years Jotna movement is neither legal nor democratic, it goes against the magna carta of the Gambia therefore must not be encouraged.
IT is a threat to liberty and allow me here to quote Alexis de Tocqueville who immortalised liberty by these words.:
“Je ne crois pas non plus que le véritable amour de la liberté ne soit jamais né de la seule vue des biens matériels qu´elle procure ; car cette vue vient souvent à s´obscurcir. (…)
Ce qui, dans tous les temps, lui a attaché si fortement le cœur de certains hommes, ce sont ses attraits mêmes, son charme propre, indépendant de ses bienfaits ; c´est le plaisir de pouvoir parler, agir, respirer sans contrainte, sous le seul gouvernement de Dieu et des lois. Qui cherche dans la liberté autre chose qu´elle-même est fait pour servir. »
Former Ambassador of the Gambia
To Guinea-Bissau, Republic of Guinea and Cabo Verde