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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The pillar of democracy

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By H.E Dr Isatou Touray
Vice President of the
Republic of The Gambia

On December 2016, Gambians decided their fate by coming together in Unity of purpose and direction to deliver the country from the brutal dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh who for twenty two years ruled the Gambia with an Iron fist, and was making his fifth bid as president. Then it became quite clear that no single party can effect change or take over power from him. Given the peaceful nature of Gambians, people wanted to effect change in a non-violent way and decided to look at possibilities of how to liberate the country in a peaceful manner.

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As feminist activists with years of grassroots activism, we thought it fit to join the political parties that were making genuine attempts to remove the dictator. This meant entering a male dominated space to disrupt the status quo and bring in other perspectives such as the involvement of women and youth in the political arena.

Different options were deliberated upon and finally a consensus was reached with the emergence of an independent candidate, elected through the primaries.
Adama Barrow emerged the winner among the contenders and became the Coalition flag bearer. After electing a coalition flag bearer, all the Coalition leaders collectively engaged and put aside their partisan inclinations and traversed the whole country to appeal for a peaceful and non- violent change. The various political parties, interest groups, teams and individuals; the youths and women who were all affected by the dictatorship played a lead role in supporting the Coalition led by H.E Adama Barrow. Despite their different political persuasions they came together in unity of purpose and direction to salvage the Gambia. Key among the campaign agenda was the need to strengthen the democratic institutions by setting up commissions and relevant institutions to set the legal frameworks and policies for the Third Republic.

The Law Reform Commission, the Constitution Review Commission, the Land Commission, Janneh Commission, the Truth Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC), the Media Reforms to promote freedom of expression etc. are creating the enabling environment to set the pace for the democracy we longed for.
Similarly, a comprehensive review of policies were undertaken to facilitate the effective engagement of various institutions to align them with current developments that the Barrow government is planning.

There are also quite a number of Laws and Bills enacted to respond to the changing needs of Gambians. All keen followers of development trends of the past dictatorship would observe that our noble democratic institutions had lost their glory and the good performance they were known for in the first Republic. Institutions were not allowed to work efficiently and effectively in pursuance of due process and procedures. Our human rights records were very poor; there was no respect and recognition of people’s rights resulting in extrajudicial killings, disappearances, impunity and persecution of independent minded people. There was serious interference with due diligence and procedures, and professional ethics was undermined by interference and state impunity.

This has resulted in lack of confidence in the Jammeh regime leading to migration of the young able bodied men, women and youth to look for safety and opportunities to survive. This is why Gambia was among the 1st quintile of countries of high migration rates.
Similarly, the environment in which the technocrats worked was disabling resulting in high attrition of technically competent people in search of greener pastures. The brain drain resulted in weak institutions and inefficient workforce. Those who migrated to look for peace and safety were heading reputable international and regional institutions and contributing their quota to development. Those who chose to remain faced a lot of tribulations and trials that were orchestrated by the dictator – Yahya Jammeh.
The political parties operating on individual platforms could not uproot the power of the entrenched dictatorship. Several attempts were made to change the Jammeh Regime but to no avail. A different innovative and collective strategy was needed to achieve that goal.

THE PEOPLE’S WILL
The Third Republic came into being when the will of the people reigned supreme by collective efforts of political parties, individuals, teams, groups, civil society and institutions who saw the need to come together to change their destiny. Mr. Adama Barrow was chosen to lead The Gambia with the support and guidance of the Coalition 2016 in November 1st 2016. His ascension to the presidency brought in a ray of hope to the Gambia and its people. He found a situation where mutual trust was eroded, freedoms were curtailed, and self censorship was prevalent. A culture of silence prevailed as a result of fear of what would happen to them. Fear reigned, thus affecting people’s confidence. That has changed now and we are seeing a vibrant nation through freedom of expression where people are expressing their views, where democracy is taking shape and giving hope to many who felt that the Gambia can never come out of the darkness of dictatorship. This is the beginning of freedom and liberty as people are free to express their views and opinions. Gambians are taking this challenge to engage constructively and consolidate the gains of freedom and liberty. We need peace and stability to achieve the goal.

The legacy of the Dictatorship
The government of Adama Barrow has inherited a lot of issues such as the misappropriation of resources, and weak institutions. The gross violation of human Rights and State impunity using the security forces as an instrument of oppression resulted in fear, pandemonium and panic. The change from this situation resulted to high expectations. This was the situation in which the coalition government found itself. Amidst the need to manage the great expectations, government on a daily basis was discovering things beyond recognition. While responding to such issues the government has to focus on managing these processes in an efficient and professional way following due diligence and procedures. Given the context that the Barrow government inherited a systematic and professional approach is needed to address them.

The situation so far
In 2016 -2017, His Excellency President Adama Barrow translated his manifesto to action that set the enabling environment for democracy to thrive. These are frameworks, policies, procedures to guide the country.

Legal Frameworks such as Bills, Acts and Protocols were revisited or developed to respond to the concerns of the citizens to be able to run and govern the country diligently using the relevant instruments to guide the process.

Also, the executive (H.E and Cabinet) are rigorously engaged in following due process to approve and debate over them in the best interest of the country.
. These bills and related instruments are presented to the National Assembly for debate in the best interest of the people. In response to the current situation the executive is engaged in formulating cabinet papers for discussions and approval in response to the changing circumstances.

Therefore matters that affect the population require having representatives who will analyze, understand and appreciate to come up with outcomes to benefit the country. This process should not be based on partisan politics. Under the third republic we have seen the vibrant debates MPs are engaged in, exercise of their rights to express their opinions without fear of arrest or disappearance. This is true democracy at work.

At the Macro- Economic Level: we have observed steady progress in growth and improvements in our reserves. There is confidence in the economy because of the steps taken and efforts made by the government in responding to the abysmal situation we found in the economy. Therefore, let us appreciate and protect the processes that are giving us this positive economic outlook. Let us maintain peace and stability to attract investors, and private individuals to engage in the country. Confidence is being created for Gambians, the private sector and philanthropists to engage meaningfully, and any effort to create instability and chaos will have a negative and rippling effect on the economy. Jobs which are needed to provide employments for youth and able bodied people will be affected. The opportunities that we envisage to create for our demographic dividend will be affected. The resources needed to fulfill our development projects in the areas of Health, Education, Agriculture, Tourism, Trade and Investment will be

affected. Government is committed to empower women and youth in various ways, through different projects.
The trajectory of the government’s development initiatives are positive and towards the right direction. In doing this, we must follow due processes to provide infrastructure and services and that is what the government is doing.

The media is enjoying freedom of expression in the Third Republic, engaging people to express their views. People of various backgrounds are provided the platform to express themselves on matters of state which is towards the right direction. Job opportunities are opening to those who chose to train as journalists as well as internship for students and talents are encouraged to engage and thrive.
A free press is key in a democracy. This government is committed to promoting press freedom.

The difficult situation in the past dictatorship resulted in mass exodus of youth taking the back-way. The Government of H.E Adama Barrow through the European Union has launched several projects geared towards youth and women empowerment. The most recent is the TEKKI FII Grant, (make it in the Gambia), seeks to contribute to socio-economic development and nurture prospects for Gambian Youths, including returnees and / or potential migrants by promoting attractive employment and income opportunities. In the Gambia, economic development and employment opportunities are the cornerstone for realising the full vision of the NDP. This is exactly what this government is doing by developing the policy frameworks and projects to respond to the pressing priority of addressing youth employment. Therefore all the sectors in government are responding to deal with the lived realities inherited from the past dictatorship, to generate jobs for the youth. We must be patient and follow due process and procedures to get it right.

What are the achievements up to date?
Having set the development agenda for the country through the NDP 2018 – 2021, the Barrow Government embarked on fund raising to implement the NDP. Pledges were made by different donors and friends of the Gambia. Since then the various ministries have engaged in implementing development projects for the good of the Gambia.
The current situation of implementation of the NDP has resulted in the following achievements by the Barrow Government:
Barrow’s Government stands firm in its conviction that good governance breeds peace and stability. It is therefore the fundamental pillar upon which all others will depend. It provides a conducive and permissive political, social and economic environment that allows the government to put in place policies, programs and strategies that uphold human rights and justice to spur economic growth, and give us the ability to provide basic service to our people.

Within the short period of change of two and half years Barrow government has made substantial progress into the realm of Civil and Political Rights, resulting in marked improvement in restoring the right of freedom of expression . Mo Ibrahim’s index for African Governance 2014 to 2017 shows that the Gambia (+39.4) has made the biggest leaps in the rule of law indicators. Similarly, the World Bank Report as well as the UNDP assessment gave a good outlook of progress made by the government of Adama Barrow which validates our efforts to restore democracy and good governance.

The Gambia has made progress in its transitional justice program. The Constitutional Review Commission is working on a new constitution before the end of 2019, with effective citizen participation across the country and the diaspora. The Constitution addresses term limits for the first time in the history of the Gambia. In fact a draft is submitted for discussion.

The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) is engaging with the victims of human rights violations of the former regime to ensure accountability as well as safeguarding the welfare of people affected. The TRRC has made significant inroads through important witnesses. The ultimate outcome of their work is to heal the wounds of the past, help the victims and their families to find closure and set the stage for national reconciliation. Fifty Million Dalasis has been provided by the Barrow Government towards the victims funds.

The first ever independent National Human Rights Commission is now fully operational to address human rights violations in the country. The creation of the Human Rights Commission will guarantee and transform the human rights landscape in the Gambia. This will ensure the promotion, protection and fulfillment of rights of the people of the Gambia, as well as compliance by the government with human rights standards both nationally and globally.

The Janneh Commission of Inquiry has completed its work in March of this year, submitted a comprehensive report and government was issued a white paper on the findings and recommendations.

The Barrow Government is in the process of transforming the Security Sector. It is working closely with the security operatives with technical support from development partners to make it effective, professional and accountable to the state and the Gambians. The evidence before the TRRC has revealed the excesses of the security forces during the dictatorship. These reforms will also mainstream gender issues across the board in the security sector.

Government has moved the strategic interest of half the population “WOMEN” from rhetoric to Action. In 2018, the president used his “POLITICAL WILL” to endorse and create for the first time in the political history of the Gambia a Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. This Ministry is working closely with the relevant development partners to develop the ministry to promote gender equality, women’s empowerment, children’s rights and other vulnerable groups. This is one of the greatest achievements among others that this government has done to advance the rights of women and children.

Attaining food self-sufficiency, a crucial component of the overall policy of government, is a top priority. To this effect, government through the Ministry of Agriculture has stepped up support to farmers countrywide in the form of supply of tractors, transplanters, combined harvesters, power tillers, threshers, rice planters and milling machines to improve agricultural activities through mechanization and improved foundation seeds. Women have been the major target in most of these interventions and government will continue to prioritise women i

ssues across the broad spectrum of our development agenda and priorities.
Tourism and Culture continue to make tremendous success with a record breaking increase in arrival statistics for 2017 to 2018 season. There are efforts to maintain all round tourism which will provide jobs for youth and would as well promote Gambian art and crafts, food and drinks across the country.

Health Care is almost free, especially for maternal and child health. We maintain over 90% vaccination coverage of children against all vaccine preventable diseases. As a result, indicators on infant and under five mortality rates have improved.

More and more children are enrolling in schools at both basic and secondary levels. Two hundred and twenty new classrooms are being built in forty two schools and the construction of three senior secondary schools is underway in Gunjur, Sanyang and Somita. Across the country thirty nine Upper Basic and Secondary schools will be built.

The Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) will be transformed into a university in conformity with government’s science and technology turnaround policy, with a new university of STEM while we continue to graduate more Doctors, Dentists and Nurses.
The government is committed to building infrastructure and the initiatives it is taking for the realization of this commitment is translated into construction of road networks across the country to facilitate movement of goods and services. The inauguration of the Sene-Gambia Bridge is a case in point while other bridges are under construction. Other infrastructure such as electricity and water as well as the OMVG project are towards the right direction. Electricity is placed at the doorsteps of many Gambians and there is a massive effort to make it accessible to all.

The Barrow Government has brought the Gambia back to the community of Nations by building diplomatic ties and friendly relations. The Gambia has returned to the Commonwealth, ICC and established diplomatic ties with The People’s Republic of China among others.

In the Fisheries and water resources sector, water is of course a basic human right and government is trying together with partners to provide clean drinking water to all Gambian communities. A water bill is now finalized to be put before parliament for adoption. Great efforts are made to improve the fisheries sector.

It is a matter of regret that the recent disaster that struck in the CRR and URR affected many families. Government’s response to come to the aid of disaster victims was swift and effective. I have recently returned from upcountry to assess the impact of support provided to the communities affected by the wind storm surge in August. His Excellency, President Barrow personally contributed substantially as he called on other people, institutions and development partners to support the victims. This has made great impact in their life and wellbeing. Throughout the country I can see smiles and appreciation of the changes taking place in the communities. Many people have sent messages of appreciation and commitment to guide and support this change.

Government remains focused on achieving the targets set in the National Development Plan. The Sene-Gambia Bridge was commissioned in January of this year. The URR bridges and Roads projects have been launched. These are designed to ease movement and enhance economic activity within the region. The construction of the International Conference Centre (ICC) is complete. This has the potential to create about one thousand jobs.

We have seen the proliferation of private radio stations, newspapers, private television stations and the use of the social media by the supporters of the regime and the opposition, as well as private individuals.
We have come a long way in freeing ourselves from the shackles of the dictator and therefore the onus is upon all of us to uphold the rule of law and good governance in pursuit of development goals. May Allah bless and protect the Gambia our homeland.
Thanks.

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