By Madi Jobarteh
Let me first of all express my heartfelt congratulations to the CRC for producing a robust, positive and forward looking final draft constitution within the timeframe provided to them. In that same regard Pres. Barrow and his Justice Minister deserve commendation for setting up the CRC and allowing them to do their work without any interference. This final draft constitution is indeed an exemplary Gambian success worthy of celebration.
This draft constitution is one of the most explicit, innovative and progressive constitutions in the world for which I will not hesitate to vote YES in the forthcoming referendum. Having upheld and guaranteed the Gambia as a democratic republic, the draft went further to set up series of new accountability institutions, enhanced processes with effective checks and balances and expanded citizen rights on one hand and State obligations on the other hand.
Furthermore, the draft opened most chapters with general principles and standards to define relationships, obligations, terms and functions of institutions, authorities and persons in charge of those institutions. This is quite innovative and necessary so as to inform and guide at the first instance the expectations of citizens about those institutions and the overall goal of those institutions themselves. This will help to remove ambiguities as well as empower citizens to understand what these institutions are for and how to engage them.
Not only has the draft constitution strongly guaranteed our civil and political rights but it went further to also guarantee our social and economic rights. Without social and economic rights then our civil and political rights are meaningless and vice verse. For example, after we enjoy our freedom of expression and the right to vote and to protest if we cannot at the same time make sure we enjoy the right to food, housing and healthcare as well as education or electricity and employment among other social and economic rights then our citizenship has no meaning.
By recognizing our cultural rights, the draft constitution therefore enables us to practice our cultures, religions and beliefs as we deem fit without harming one another. This allows for creativity, peace building and national unity. At the end of the day human beings are cultural beings just as they are political animals. Furthermore, the draft constitution recognizes the equality of men and women as well as the equal citizenship of persons with disabilities where sign language is recognized as part of the languages of the Gambia. The draft indeed provides for an equal and just society.
In terms of the rule of law and good governance systems the draft has indeed set up all the necessary governance institutions to ensure the protection of human rights, guarantee accountable leadership and provide the space for sustainable development. The draft has put in necessary checks and balances to restrain political power and distribute power in such a way that no one authority or person would wield undue power over all others. In fact, no one person can serve as president for more than 10 years! This is indeed the hallmark of a democratic republic where the State is reasonably restrained while sovereign power remains with the people.
With this final draft the Gambia has a formidable, pragmatic and clear mechanism to ensure not only good governance and sustainable development but as part of that, to also limit, if not eradicate abuse of power, corruption and inefficiency in the public sector particularly.
On the issue of secularity, the CRC did extremely well to strike a balance that addresses all of the issues and concerns of both sides of the secularism divide. It has therefore introduced a set of new provisions that indeed should satisfy all citizens that indeed the Gambian State protects all religions and neither favours nor discriminates any. Here are those provisions:
Sections 1 (3) – guarantees equal respect and fair treatment of all faiths Section 5 (4)(d) – recognizes each and every culture and religion as a source of national pride and unity Section 12 – recognizes each and every culture and respect for our ethnic groups and religions as the foundation of our nation and our collective civilization Section 49 – recognizes and guarantees freedom of religion and the right to practice one’s religion privately or publicly without discrimination and interference from either the State or any other person Section 88 (5) (b) – prevents the President from having any power to establish any state religion Section 153 (2) (b) – prevents the National Assembly from establishing any state religion.
These sections are so progressive that everyone will fine space to live in peace and security. They have avoided the contentious word ‘Secular’ yet raised the fences high enough to ensure that no religion or believer will ever be victimized or discriminated on account of one’s faith. Above all they have created strong fences that prevent any authority to declare a state religion.
Yes, not everyone will agree with every provision in a constitution. This point was made very beautifully by both the CRC Chair Justice Jallow and the Justice Minster Tambadou. If I could I will change some provisions. But indeed, by and large this draft is a constitution that is a very good start in building the Gambia we want. It is far better than the current 1997 Constitution and many others around the world!
A constitution though, no matter how well written and lofty its ideals are, only becomes constructive and productive and serves its society well when citizens live the ideals of that constitution. Therefore, so long as Gambians – as citizens and the State – do not consciously, deliberately and purposefully embrace and implement its provisions in full we will not benefit from the great ideals, values, standards and objectives of the constitution. Therefore, this final draft when it becomes the approved constitution will become as good as how far citizens embrace and implement it.
Having said that let me once again express my heartfelt congratulations to the CRC – its Chairman Justice Jallow and all his Commissioners and staff for their incredible work. If there is one thing that makes me proud of the Gambia it is the CRC and the work, they just did. Indeed, they have provided to Gambians a tool and a roadmap which has all the potentials and opportunities to usher this country into a third republic that could transform the country into a highly democratic and developed society within out lifetime.
Therefore, let me begin my ‘YES Campaign’ from this moment to say ‘Let us join to vote YES in the referendum’.