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City of Banjul
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

What difference do 30, 45, 90 or even 100 days make?

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By Samsudeen Sarr

Well, well, well folks, what do I know? President Adama Barrow addressing the Gambians Friday on the coronavirus pandemic in vernacular was far more convincing and natural than his previous attempt to do so in English. Dumping the reading glasses in fact made him look far more unscripted and emotionally appealing. As a matter of fact I think he was relatively more convincing this time than Justice Minister Honorable Tambadou in his bid for an extension of the quarantine declaration at the National Assemble on April 2, 2020 obviously derailed by Honorable Halifa Sallah who threw a monkey wrench into it.

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Essa Faal seems very free and I guess still receiving wages whom the minister could have employed to fight this one for him. Respectfully, I think the guy can argue his way to heaven without praying a day in his life.

The president won my admiration this time; yet I still wish he could further listen to suggestions to commission a diverse task force to assist in this coronavirus battle composed of elements from all ministries, some selected or elected members of the opposition parties, religious leaders and few entrepreneurs for transparency, accountability and probity.

The diversity and candor manifested by National Assembly Members (NAM) these days revealed a lot about what the government and the Gambian people may not have otherwise understood about the general feelings of the masses towards government’s efforts to fight the pandemic. No one expressed that feeling better than the Jokadu NAM who opposes the embargo altogether, proffering his reasons to the public’s suspicion that the whole coronavirus sensationalism is a flimflam rooted on government officials trying to seek foreign aid to serve their corrupt ambitions. One wonders whether any government officials would have told that to President Barrow even if there was a billboard at Traffic Light junction saying it.

However, whether the declaration of the state of emergency by President Barrow on March 18, 2020 violated certain constitutional or procedural imperatives or not, my concern is more of a different perception. Justice Minister Honorable Tambadou’s untenable presentation to shove it into the throat of the lawmakers in one day was cleverly stalled by Honorable Halifa Sallah’s supportable intervention exposing an overall weakness in the Barrow government to handle the pandemic persuasively.

Tambadou’s last arsenal of defense that these are extraordinary times requiring extraordinary measures to circumvent Sallah’s strict adherence to its unconstitutionality failed embarrassingly because of his lack of tangible evidence to substantiate that argument. There is no greater violation of human rights than forcing people not to congregate for prayers, go to the crowded market to buy stuff and just chitchat, limiting invitation to friends and family members to a wedding planned for months or years and restricting funeral processions of a deceased father, mother, brother, sister, uncle, daughter or son to only ten people. Undoubtedly, the motive behind the curb in the wake of the pandemic is plausible but there is little to show the Gambians to win their confidence to cooperate in going that far.

I think Hon. Sallah used the Human Rights and Constitutional commission argument to once again illustrate how well he has always been a step ahead in his mastery of the Gambian constitution but the subsequent arguments presented at the assembly to halve the period from 90 to 45 days vividly underpinned the negative impact of the first lockdown on the helpless and poor population against the insignificant ramifications of the virus so far, further questioning the validity of implementing the proclamation. It is not at all reasonable since the emergence of the virus wreaking havoc all over the world for the Gambia to just register four cases with only one death and expect the people to believe that its threat to society is more real than measures ostensibly aimed at crippling their livelihood. That is why the argument to even disregard the shutdown is gaining more traction than reducing the period from 90 to 45 days; a proposal acceptable to Halifa and his protagonists.

Anyway in my opinion the problem is the imminent conflict between the government enforcement strategy against the defiant majority of Gambians viewing the restriction more as an existential threat to their livelihoods than even the squabble over the violation of their human rights.

Halifa has warned all NAMs that if they eventually approve a shutdown in this extension, everybody must accept being part of the implementation and its consequence.
That statement indeed gave me some goosebumps in that with all the heated discussion including the resources provided, nothing was mentioned about how to enforce the exercise. The NAMs have emphatically highlighted the need to subsidize the income of the most affected as a very critical component for the implementation or success of the exercise. Without that, no matter how well Halifa and co may be insulated for the task, I think they will run into frictions in the enforcement mechanism which might require the use of force. And I don’t think the country has the capacity, personnel and resources to use force.

Are they afraid of talking about the need to use the army who must be part of the enforcement operation if it has to be successful and spread nationwide? While at that, how come Halifa or any NAM never brought up the legality of the Senegalese indefinite occupying forces of the Gambia to the Human Rights and Constitutional committee of the National Assembly for similar scrutiny? It makes no sense for the president to be begging for financial contributions to raise D20 million to fight this global war when the Senegalese troops are paid D700 million per annum for doing nothing but waiting for a war in the Gambia that will never happen. Do we expect our underrated and underpaid army to be in the forward position in this raging battle?

That said, as mush as I have no cause to question the measures adopted in the country to fight the pandemic, I nonetheless have serious reservation over whether there is an accurate compilation of infection data in the country. Honestly I cannot seriously believe that we only have 4 cases in the country throughout.

The testing was and still is understandably limited to quarantined arrivals from mainly European countries broadly affected by the pandemic. People crossing our porous borders from Senegal are not among. The hotline for persons to call when noticing any symptoms is either not utilized, not working satisfactorily or is only unveiling callers always testing negative. Do Gambians even know that fever and high body temperature often associated to malaria is one of the symptoms of the coronavirus? Sore throat, dry cough and anosmia (losing sense of taste and smell) are also indicators but equally linked to the common cold. If that isn’t the case then it is about time to look into the accuracy of the Gambia’s diagnostic streamlining.

To be continued

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