By Morro Ceesay
What is to be said of a people who for 500 years have known little freedom or security beyond the thrill of a full stomach, save what is afforded by blissful ignorance? In dismay, I borrow the lament of William Butler Yeats as my own:
Parnell came down the road, he said to a cheering man:
“Ireland shall get her freedom and you still break stone.”
Why Yeats felt hopeless looking at his country I do not know. But I feel the same looking at mine, for I know of no African who feels free in a free Africa.
The tenacious danger always is, African presidents overwhelm constitutional safeguards taking up hammers against people as if every head is a nail.
Pardon my skepticism for thinking no matter how many consultative meetings it holds, the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) will not devise the elixir to The Gambia’s troubles for there are 3 fundamental problems it can’t or won’t overcome.
First Problem – Justice CS Jallow should resign.
I say this knowing we are all fallible as human beings and I am more flawed than most, but Justice C.S. Jallow is a malign presence on the CRC and he won’t resign.
In the recent Ya Kumba Jaiteh case, the Supreme Court unanimously and out of whole cloth created a power for the presidency to hire and fire 9% or 5 members of Parliament.
Justice CS Jallow’s concurrence in that awful decision is not a benign error or even an error.
It was a conscious choice in a critical controversy of our time that rendered the Court a lapdog of the presidency, and Parliament a neutered partner in our system of government.
This has enduring institutional consequences as the decision fundamentally and firmly recalibrated in favour of the presidency, what few checks and balances there are in the 1997 Constitution.
People will die as a result. Justice C.S. Jallow seems okay with that.
Otherwise, why rule the way he did?
So, what shall we expect of a commission chaired by a Justice that behaved so appallingly so recently? Not a lot. I say it in as many ways as I can.
If you put a thief in charge of your treasury, do not be surprised if you get robbed.
If you put a fox in charge of your henhouse, do not be surprised if the chickens get eaten. If you put 5 donkeys on your Supreme Court, do not be surprised if they make asses of themselves.
Or, more aptly, if you put on your constitutional review commission a Justice that just took a wrecking ball to your constitutional framework, do not be surprised if he knocks down your country.
Simply put, Justice C.S. Jallow’s presence on the CRC is ominous and he ought to resign.
Second Problem – Curbing Presidential Power.
I know of no African country that failed because its president had too little power, except maybe Senegambia and that wasn’t really a country.
The African president’s naked ambition for tyranny is too strong to be effectively restrained by any delicate system of checks and balances.
What we require, some of which we won’t have, are multiple constitutional blunt instruments to tame or decapitate a president gone awry.
These may include:
· No immunity for anyone for crimes committed before or while in office.
· Abolition of the power of the president to nominate members of parliament.
· Reservation to Parliament the sole authority to impeach and remove the president, without any input from any other institution especially the obviously compromised Supreme Court (headed by Justice Hassan “Igor” Jallow).
· Power of the people to recall the president.
· Power of 10% of Parliament (as persons of conscience) to call for early elections, such power to be invoked only once every election cycle for no pecuniary benefit to the invocators and at pain of a 5-year exclusion from running for or holding any office in government.
· Power of direct legislation by the people. Homo Politicus Africanus does not give up power; it must be taken from him at the cost of much blood and treasure.
The people therefore must have the power to at least protect their fundamental rights, where their representatives and the courts fail.
· Election of Justices of the Supreme Court every 5 years.
The generosity of licentious Justices with our liberties, must be checked by fear of accountability to voters.
Third Problem – African Unity.
I came to the CRC meeting preoccupied with one question: How do we prevent another 22 years of dictatorship? Who will guarantee our security? The truth is our security in The Gambia is inextricably linked to regional and continental integration.
While the CRC can encourage that by constitutional measures, it cannot guarantee it. That requires the will of the people, and the cooperation of our region, and the rest of Africa.
We have witnessed the power of African cooperation firsthand in our recent history. It was Senegal that came to our rescue during the 1981 coup; we could not have defended ourselves without our good friend.
Again in 2016, we could not have wrested ourselves from the clutches of the Jammeh regime without our good neighbour Senegal and our great region constituted as Ecowas. Remember that too.
If our leaders were to pursue integration as doggedly as their prodigious appetites for corruption, a federalised Africa will not only eliminate the curse of 200 coups or coup attempts in 60 years, wars, famines, and violent upheavals, but by their elimination, could unleash the power and ingenuity of the African people.
Africa could within a generation achieve a $40 trillion GDP. Assuming a population of 2 billion in a generation, that means a per capita income of $20,000.00.
Today, the per capita income for China is only about $11,000.00 with a population of just 1.5 billion. This is doable. Africa is drowning in ankle deep water; all we require to live is to get up, stand up.
Image this, the current GDP of $2.33 trillion is derived largely from the commodities trade which constitutes only 2 of the world’s total trade.
That means Africa’s economy is largely an extraction economy. We mine gold, and others give us what they please for it.
Were we to transition into a manufacturing based economy, it could have a 10-fold multiplier effect on our GDP.
For example, Africa exports about $10 billion in raw diamonds.
These are processed abroad generating $100 billion for other countries.
It is easy to see the advantage of processing these diamonds ourselves.
If disunity were no longer a constraint in our full participation in 98% of the world’s trade, the ambition of a $40 trillion economy within a generation would not only be a possibility but a probability.
That is more than the combined economic output of the United States and China today.
Obviously, the world will not be standing still while we surge for a generation, but it does stand to reason that no matter what the world looks like then, we would be splendidly positioned as a people with $40 trillion in our pocket.
Who is the shithole country then?
Yet, there is precious little on integration in the painful minutia of a 369-question questionnaire being circulated by the CRC on the new constitution.
Indeed, at the July 4th, 2019 CRC meeting on the Southside of Atlanta, Georgia, the questions relative to immigration floated by the CRC for comment by attendees, betrayed its obliviousness to the future needs of The Gambian people.
The complicated and arcane rules of legal residency in The Gambia being considered for fellow Africans in an age when we should be all-in on African integration, especially in the Ecowas zone, should tell you all you need to know about the misalignment between action and vision.
We know Justice CS Jallow. We have seen his kind come and go. They are the same men who sold us into slavery, turned us into servants in our own homes during colonial times, and made us beggars in our own gold mines today.
Do you really think he will take up shield and spear in defense of your fundamental rights? Even on paper? If past is prologue, don’t count on it.
Our hope lies elsewhere. Freedom without security is the state of nature – nasty brutish and short. Hobbes taught us that. And security without freedom is a dictatorship – nasty brutish and short. Yahya taught us that.
How secure are our freedoms if easily upended by a broke corporal with a hankering for opulence and just savage enough to drink from your skull? Benjamin Franklin had it wrong on never trading freedom for security; balance matters.
One does not long endure without the other in a well-balanced society – at least for the masses.
Trading freedom for security is all man has ever done; it is the foundation of society. It is the basis of our exit from nature and our entry into society.
Man did not and does not defend freedom as an end in itself. He defends it entirely in service of security.
Freedom is the security of rights retained and not ceded to the state, and the ubiquity of creature comforts (opportunities) afforded by society.
Freedom in security is the reason we sharpened the rock and tamed the wolf. It is the reason we left home for parts far and unknown.
Is all not lost then, when Yahya begets Adama? It hurries the flight of the soul, when a struggle yields no more than a budding tyrant and bumbling others.
Let me retain the chains and keep my soul.
Our balance lies elsewhere.
It is found in a united Senegambia, a united Ecowas, and a United States of Africa.
The truth is, to restore the balance so we may live, The Gambia must return to the whole from whence it was ripped – Senegambia, Ecowas, and mother Africa.