By Sana Sarr
Prior to the beginning of sittings, there was much skepticism about the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC). Was it a good idea for our small Gambia? Would the revelations open old wounds that can’t be healed? Rather than reconciliation, would it lead to vengefulness and jeopardize the peace we enjoy? Were some of the employees the right people to steer its affairs given that they themselves had been victims of the former regime? Etc. However, since it began sittings, much of that noise has died down. Firsthand accounts of the horrific crimes and abuses perpetrated by our own Gambian brothers on their fellow citizens has shocked the nation. There have been revelations of great suffering, of deceit and of betrayal. The TRRC has been must-watch television, thanks in large part to those leading and working at the commission. The competence and professionalism of pretty much everyone there has been recognized and appreciated. The TRRC has been almost flawless…well, until March 28, 2019.
By hosting the awards ceremony of gifts to Mafuji Sonko, one of the witnesses who testified at the TRRC, leaders of the commission made an unforced error that was completely unnecessary and easily avoidable. I understand how and why such an error was easy to make. It’s unheard of to find a Jola who is honest, charismatic, strong or handsome. The fact that Mafuji, a Jola, combines all these admirable qualities makes him a miracle worthy of being made an honorary Serere! I mean, the boy (yes, all Jolas are BOYS) is dripping with sexiness and simply irresistible! This appeal makes it understandable that everyone wanted to show support for the kind gesture extended by Gambians putting funds together to support Mafuji. It was generous, it was kind and it was commendable. One can also make a good argument that the gesture aligns neatly with the spirit of compassion and support for victims that the TRRC is meant to bring. Despite all that, the ceremony was completely WRONG! Those leading an ongoing commission of inquiry to establish truth and justice should never have been seen participating in such theatrics on the national stage.
- It was out of the TRRC’s mandate.
- It blurs so many lines between reparations and private gifts.
- It sends the wrong message to individuals that appearing at the TRRC will earn them sympathy and they can reap financial/material rewards.
- It suggests that being dramatic, charming or charismatic while testifying is more important than simply telling the truth as you know it.
- It suggests that the commission is not impartial and is taking sides with certain witnesses.
- It suggests that Mafuji was either more honest, that his suffering was greater than the rest of the witnesses, or a combination of the two, and that he was being rewarded by the commission.
The TRRC “courtroom” should NOT have been used as the venue for such a ceremony. It should NOT have been held smack in between the morning and afternoon sessions of serious testimonies, like some halftime show at a football match. There should NOT have been speeches by Deputy Chairman Adelaide Sosseh, Secretary Baba Galleh Jallow and lead counsel Essa Faal. At best, TRRC workers who are also Mafuji sympathizers could have attended, in their own private capacity as citizens, an award ceremony held at a different venue, away from the TRRC premises. The repeated disclaimers by both Secretary Baba Galleh Gallow and Lead Counsel Essa Faal, trying to reassure viewers that “this was not a TRRC event” tells me that they all knew something was not right about their participation and the chosen venue. Yet, they defied their better judgement and gave in to the sentimentality. They say actions speak louder than words, and no amount of reassurance by Baba Galleh or Essa Faal was enough to undo the damage that was being done. Ultimately, the images being broadcast around the world was that “Mafuji Sonko, a witness at the TRRC, was receiving gifts at the TRRC and with the participation of the TRRC Secretary General, Deputy Chairman and Lead Counsel.” The images are powerful and lasting. If you have doubts, just watch the ceremony with the sound muted. The photos will be circulated around the world and they’ll have no accompanying audios of what was being said. How will they be perceived? Think about that for a minute and you should understand what I mean!
From the testimonies, we have seen how deeply wounded our nation is. The TRRC is arguably the most important instrument for healing those wounds. At the end of the hearings, the commission will give a report and make recommendations on how we can move forward as a nation. The credibility of the commission must therefore be jealously guarded against any suggestion or appearance of impropriety. With their selfishness and greed, the political leaders have proven that material and partisan political interests, not national interests, are at the top of their agenda. Citizens have lost any and all confidence in trusting them to aid the healing process. This leaves the TRRC as one of very few institutions that still has public trust. It would be tragic if, due to negligence, the TRRC leadership loses the confidence of the people by making such unnecessary and avoidable mistakes.
For the assistance rendered to Mafuji Sonko, the performance was so beautiful, but the venue and participants made it oh so wrong!
The views and opinions expressed on here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of The Fatu Network.