Gambia: The Battle For Liberty After 22 Years of Tyranny

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The fog of tyranny has been lifted off our lives. In the end, political shrewdness and moral courage interfaced to change the course of Gambian history. On the one hand, an unapologetically defiant population that mirrored the banality of a wrenched life lived on the brink of intellectual paralysis; an invisible political morass that consumed The Gambia for so long. And on the other, an ECOWAS reborn to assault a story of dystopia and perhaps, give rise to a new political paradigm.

December, 1, 2016, was not an ephemeral festival of liberty; it was a long-lasting celebration of freedom and presented escape from the tragedy unfolding on the front-pages of the human experience. But, for one seemingly endless moment in time, the events of December, 2, felt like a Shakespearian drama fraught with suspense, uncertainties, twists and turns, but with an uncanny ability to free the soul and restore the dignity of man. Eventually, ambivalence and uncertainty gave way to an awareness that nothing in Gambia will remain the same again. The political haze had now lifted, and I could peer into the distant solitude and see mysterious silhouettes dance to Jaliba Kuyateh’s intoxicating Kora rhythms, or just as easily get lost in Hocha Jallow’s melancholic ballads, bellowed out in characteristic Fulani baritone tradition.

Appreciation that The Gambia had turned a new page and puerile giddiness in celebration of life, became powerful forces, which, for a while, overshadowed the herculean task that still lay ahead. The challenges of governing, manifested in the stark, almost irreconcilable ideological differences on how to reconcile with the past and choreograph  The Gambia’s seamless transition into the future, proved to be a stumbling block. The political discourse framed around a binary choice; justice or appeasement, but looming over this conversation was the riveting lack of governing experience, which rattled the Coalition’s decision-making capacity. Amateurish change management, evident in the litany of missteps, severely handicapped the Coalition and plunged the governing experiment in doubts and potential mine-field of political flashpoints.

For most Gambians, it is not that the Coalition is disengaged; rather, it is the collective sneering at the slow pace of change. The burst of energy, which encapsulated the aftermath of the collapse of the regime, stirred dramatic displays of patriotism, but that contagious nationalist force is already dissipating, for lack of proper avenues for patriotic expression.

But, despite manifestations of the Coalition’s failures of imagination, The Gambia is unlikely to devolve into chaos anytime soon, but the perennial fascination with undermining its professionals, which seems so evident, questions the intrigue with mediocrity and the fear of professionalism. There is nothing more of an existential threat to the country’s economic development than spurning and dismissing its professionals. The lifelong obsession with kneecapping and undercutting its best and brightest, almost feels like living in an Orwellian dystopia, but The Gambia cannot repeat the mistakes of its past, and once again plunge the country in another carnage of mediocrity.

And in what has become a Gambian orthodoxy, the recruitments to populate its Civil Service appears to lack a baseline criteria for qualifications, in so doing, potentially retain standards that further impair the capacity for complex analytical thinking, in the interest of the nation. The end of one dark, spineless chapter must be marked with optimism for an objective new beginning, in the interest of rejecting the destructive counter-narrative that so often animates the insecurities in our people.

Moving on; a recent meeting in Banjul with The Gambia’s Diaspora, nebulously references appreciation of their contributions in the liberation struggle, but fell short of acknowledging the need to tap into the reservoir of expertise that could be the bedrock of The Gambia’s march into the future. A parallel issue of symbolic and substantive significance, is the extent to which there has not been changes to the institutional structure of the last regime’s governing template. Even as the Coalition settles comfortably in the space it carved for itself from the legacy of Yahya Jammeh’s tyranny, the mismatch will continue to inspire the necessity for change.

I have marvelled at the way the Coalition has jealously kept outside expertise from the decision-making process, dumbfounded by its unwillingness to share in the fruits of victory, but the head-scratcher must be the way in which, soon after the Coalition’s tenuous formation, strategic, or as some would argue, tactical fissures began to threaten the cohesiveness of the alliance. And just as infatuation with the blood-drenched 1997 Constitution hampered political progress, the Coalition Memorandum of Understanding is, itself, the perfect textbook for how never to prepare a legally binding document.

Frankly, the ongoing tiff among Coalition members, regarding the National Assembly elections, is just one of the multitude of areas where the MoU doesn’t pass muster, for a document of its kind. In mythologizing the Constitution, the Coalition has set the parameters for individual members’ participation in the democratic process. The limits of each party leader’s electioneering effectiveness, may or may not be defined by the Constitution, but that’s hardly the point. What is relevant here is that the 1997 Constitution should never have been our reference platform for governing, given its inadequacy, both as a legally binding document and as a roadmap for good governance. The 1997 Constitution is replete with benchmarks that are legally discriminatory, and morally and ethically unjustifiable, and, therefore, have no place, whatsoever,  in any national Constitution. And the fact that this flawed Constitution is the centrepiece of our governing mechanism, has trapped the country into acquiescing to the constraints of redlines and benchmarks, which have a proclivity to tinker with the right to participate in the political discourse, unhindered by The Gambia’s unjust Constitution. The lack of objective rationality has straightjacketed the Coalition into divining a Constitution, whose strengths lie, not in justice, but in impeding social and economic progress. Progress begins with intellectual dexterity, and The Gambia must stare down the legal contradictions in the Constitution in order to muster the will to draft a new document that responds to the changing political and cultural landscape in the region.

Author: By Mathew K Jallow, Madison, Wisconsin

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