By Lamin Sanyang
‘…A society, the members of which fully exercise their ability to criticize themselves and society objectively, is the only society that will achieve real social progress…,’ stated the Jamaican Writer and Activist, Ivor Osbourne.
First, I would want to add my voice to the dozens of people to commend the president for pardoning detainees: treason convicts, murder convicts and drug convicts among others. It was a sigh of relief to the convicts, families of the convicts and their loved ones. I was moved when I heard him say, ‘I have opened a new page’. Whether he meant it or not, that is something I would not want to talk about at this stage.
‘A good politician would commend the good deeds of the opponent,’ said Brother Zoom, a political activist. ‘Criticise when the person does wrong’.
President Jammeh was a young soldier when they overthrew the former government in July 1994. As chairman of the junta, young Lieutenant Jammeh defended the coup by accusing the ousted government with allegations of ‘corruptions’, ‘lack of transparency’ and, ‘overstaying in power’. Twenty one years have passed since the overthrow of former government and the man is still clinging on to power. He is not planning to retire anytime soon. He told BBC radio, ‘I will be president for one million years’. Chickens come home to roost!
Twenty one years back, any political observer would not believe that the military turned politicians would be one day accused of the same allegations as the former government. They have compromised many of their alleged principles. Why, I heard some of them saying the president has the mandate to overstay in power because the Gambians voted for him. Have they forgotten that the former President was elected to office for 30 years? Didn’t they think his loyalists could also make counter claims? What difference did the revolution bring despite all the condemnation of the former government for overstaying in power or for corruption or lack of transparency.
ECOWAS had earlier attempted to introduce term limit for presidency in the sub-region, but suspended the proposal after opposition from Togo and Gambia.
‘Re-eligibility and unlimited terms encourage violence, dictatorship, coup et cetera’, said Nathalie Kone Traore, WASCOF president. ‘Some of these negative outcomes can be seen ravaging most African countries where constitutions have been amended for incumbent presidents to re-contest in elections.’
I have stated in my last piece that political figures should not condemn the injustices of the past only to justify the injustices of the present. What was wrong for the former government is also wrong for the present regime. How can you condemn injustice in one place and turn a blind eye to it in another case? You cannot call yourself a sincere person by stopping evil on one side and allowing it to pass on the other.
Recently, there was a great hullaballoo made over the recent passage of the Election (Amendment) Bill. The regime could not deny the fact that the bill is aimed at its political opponents. The bill is not aimed at straightening out the political situation of the country. We need to raise concerns: Why come up with the bill? What is all these hullaballoo for? Certainly, eliminating the opposition is not the right thing for the country.
However, there are two kinds of change—regime change and system change: a regime change is the transfer of power to individuals. Those engaged in regime change are interested mainly in changing the leadership and not policies. They are as good as the people they removed from power. New wine in old bottle.
The system change focuses on transforming the policies. This is a revolutionary struggle. It changes the system, remove the wrongs in the system and replaces it with a better one.
I heard the president talking to top ranking government officials at a retreat at Kanilai: ‘I am not the highest paid public servant in the country’. On the other hand, in one of his interviews on GRTS— ‘I own the government vehicles’. It is a statement of this nature that creates controversy. It is difficult to know whether the president wants to be seen as a humble public servant or a rich patron.
There is a tendency of being labelled as ‘opposition’ when you criticize the regime or a ‘sellout’ when you criticize the opposition. That reminds me of a former US President, George W. Bush, after the attack on the World Trade Centre. He told the world: ‘This is a crusade. You’re either with us or against us’. No wonder most of the politicians are speaking the same language. Unfortunately, there is no room for objective criticisms or new ideas. The welfare of Gambians is far greater than any governments or political party. How many political parties and leaders existed in the past? They have all gone. The Gambia is still here to stay.
The oppositions are the government in waiting that should be judged by the programmes and policies of the parties. They should not be seen as enemies to the state. They are important factors to national development.
‘A politician should not feel grudge’, Brother Zoom told me. ‘It expose your lack of sincerity’.
When you are opposed to a regime, it does not mean that you shouldn’t contribute to national development. As some of us would stay away having nothing to do with national development, waiting for a regime to come and who knows when the next regime would come? The regime and the state are not the same. The regime does not own the state. Working for the welfare of your countrymen does not mean you are enabling the regime. You are only empowering your own people. The regime would go but the people would remain.
Surprisingly, the seats at the National Assembly were covered with dust. Many of us would not listen to parliamentary sessions. The large auditorium of the legislative chambers was empty except for the press and a few others. How would you know what your lawmakers are doing? When you vote for a person to represent you in a legislative body, you should find out whether the person is serving you or somebody else. If they are serving you, let them stay there. And if they are not serving you, get rid of them. We want results.
Gambians must take charge of their destiny. The country’s destiny is in our hands. We never will be recognised and respected if The Gambia is not recognised and respected. No foreign entity or international body can change our destiny. We have to do it ourselves.
This attitude of naivety is tearing us apart. Some of us would say, ‘let’s leave it to God’. With that article of faith we would fall back and fold our arms to wait for a miracle to happen. And we would not want to wait for the same miracle to put food on our table. That is hypocritical. It is said that patience is virtue but our conduct in keeping patience would determine whether or not it is virtue.
The pardoning of detainees is a step in the right direction, offering olive branch to political prisoners like Amadou Sanneh and others would mark the beginning of political reconciliation in the country. There is a strong urge to establish an inter-party committee so that the views and aspirations of all parties and others, such as civil society groups, are heard and represented. The lack of intellectual milieu and debate in the country should be addressed.
Meanwhile, democracy is not restricted to elections. The press has to be free. Since the president claims that he has opened a new page, more is expected from him. The judiciary and legislative bodies should be independent. Genuine electoral reform and coverage of divergent views by GRTS are anticipated. This will help the youth to have critical and objective minds.
These are reflections of an ordinary Gambian young man. Gambia Cha Kanam! Gambia Nyaato!