By Musa Bah
There is no doubt that one of the best ways to manifest grievances available to citizens is to protest.
This is how they can show to their elected officials what they are happy or unhappy about as they can’t have the opportunity to meet these officials regularly.
It is for this reason that the Constitution has made Freedom of Assembly a fundamental right to be enjoyed by citizens; and, to be protected by the State. Of course, it is understood that this right is not absolute and has some limitations.
These limitations; however, must not be used by the State or its agents to deprive citizens of their rights.
The State is the primary duty bearer to provide services, i.e. health, education, electricity and so on.
It is in the absence of these and/or their inadequacy, that citizens go out to protest.
The Constitution has recognized this and therefore gave citizens this avenue to vent and bring their dissatisfaction to the attention of the elected officials.
It is well known that no one wishes to be on the streets every other day protesting; people only resort to it because the need has arisen.
In many parts of Africa, and The Gambia in particular, the State frowns on citizens protesting and in many cases, do whatever it takes to discourage it.
If we continue to do that then we would only be paying lip service to democracy because it cannot be enjoyed with citizens being provided the space to protest.
Oftentimes, we hear state agents say that they don’t want the people to go out and protest because the peace is fragile and that criminals or some nefarious individuals may use it to destabilize the country.
This argument, in most cases, does not hold water.
As there is no insurgency or rebellion in the country, whatever security issues there are, the state has the responsibility to take care of it and ensure that it does not degenerate into lawlessness. We, as citizens, have given the government all the tools to provide us the security we need and deserve.
When therefore citizens express the desire to protest, it is the responsibility of the state to see to it that a space is provided for them to protest.
They should provide security for the people and even the protesters.
Firstly, in most cases, it is the failure of the government that makes people wish to protest.
Thus, the government must ensure that they provide the people this avenue to vent their frustration. The happenings in Brikama are a clear indication of the above position.
It is the lack of amenities that brought about the protests.
I however think that if we look at the happenings of July 24th only from the vantage of the Brikama demonstration and the spontaneous riots in Serekunda, we will be doing cosmetic repairs leaving out the real damage.
These incidents are just symptoms of deeper frustrations whish we must seek to identify and address.
Many of our youth – who certainly played a key role in the change we have – are disillusioned. The change that was anticipated did not materialize and thus the anger and ranting that we observe daily.
There is a lack of job opportunities; the cost of living is at an all time high and we don’t see any concrete corrective measures being out in place.
For instance, many people who are known enablers of the previous regime (our tormentor), are still holding key positions in this government, some even ministerial positions.
Now we all said that the problems we are facing are caused by the former government and its officials; if that is the case, how on earth can those people who caused the problems be part of the solutions?
One thing is clear, so long as there is a perception of social and economic injustice citizens will rant and vent their frustrations.
Thus, the space must be created for this to happen.
There is an urgent need to look at the root causes of the problems in order to begin to formulate ways to resolve them.