Monday, July 22, 2024

April 24 – Building a Sovereign Gambian and Gambia

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By: Madi Jobarteh

Today 24 April 2016 marks the 46th independence anniversary of the Republic of the Gambia. The start of independence was marked by a ceremony on that day in the capital then called Bathurst when the British-born Gambian Chief Justice Sir Philip Bridges sworn in Dawda Jawara as the first president of the Gambia as per Section 32 of the 1970 constitution, and following the republican referendum held two days earlier on 22 April.

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Forty six years after independence, the Gambia is yet to become an independent country because the Gambian person is yet to become a sovereign citizen. This is a malaise that was created by our independence leaders and intellectuals that continues to be perpetuated through the years until today 24 April 2016. After the defeat of formal colonialism which was introduced all over the Gambia by 1902, the new independent state that emerged on 24 April 1970 and its officials failed to politically educate the Gambian citizen to realise that indeed independence means the nation is one unified entity in which the owners of the voice, power and resources of the new nation are the people themselves. Rather since independence, the rulers in the first and second republics protected state sovereignty, but weakened and hijacked citizenship sovereignty and national independence. This is the crux of our malaise as a nation.
What is Sovereignty?
Chapter 1 Section 1 of the 1970 Constitution stated that the Gambia is a sovereign republic. This constitution went further to identify fundamental rights and freedoms, thus manifesting citizenship sovereignty under Chapter 3 as belonging to Gambian citizens that must be protected by the state. These rights include the right to life, liberty and security of the person, speech, association, assembly, privacy, and property among others. These are entrenched clauses that can only be changed by a referendum because these rights are sovereign rights establishing our self determination as a people.
In the 1997 Constitution, not only did Section 1 states that the Gambia is a sovereign secular republic as an entrenched clause changeable by only a referendum, but also Section 2 went further to unequivocally stipulate that the sovereignty of the Gambia resides in the people of the Gambia and that the state derives its legitimacy from the people and on whose behalf it performs it functions. Furthermore, Chapter 4 identified a set of fundamental rights and freedoms in entrenched clauses for which it categorically places the primary obligation for their protection and fulfilment on the State in Section 17. Again these fundamental rights and freedoms are the basis of our sovereignty. It is these rights that colonialism seized and damaged with impunity. Thus with independence, it is these same rights which were rescued and restored to us as a sovereign people.


The essence of sovereignty therefore is that people who are sovereign determine their destiny by being their own law and policy makers in all aspects of their lives. It means power and voice of the nation resides in the people who are the independent owners of the wealth of the country. Sovereignty means the State is an instrument of the people charged with the responsibility to manage the affairs and resources of the people for the benefit of the people. The State is fundamentally tasked with only two functions in a sovereign republic which are; first, to respect and protect the fundamental rights of the people as specified in the constitution and other laws as sovereign rights. Secondly, to fulfil the needs of the people as emanating from those rights which are now claims that citizens can make on the state. It is in the fulfilment of these sovereign rights and needs that citizens enjoy public goods and services hence development in the form of affordable, accessible and quality healthcare, education, good roads, water and electricity supply and protection of personal liberty and exercise of personal freedoms among others.

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Thus in Chapter 4 of the 1997 constitution, Gambians have a list of sovereign rights such as right to life, liberty, education, political participation and association and peaceful demonstration among others. The role and responsibility of the state is to establish the necessary institutions and employ competent citizens to utilize our national or sovereign wealth which comes from our taxes, loans and grants to fulfil the needs of our people as their rightful claims by law. In this case therefore, the state is nothing other than a servant of the people because the state emerged from the will of the people and charged with the responsibility of fulfilling the will of the people. Thus in a sovereign democracy, the State cannot be more powerful than the people, or citizens become afraid of the government or the state. Rather it is the state that is afraid of the people because the people are the owners and masters of the State and all its agencies and officers.
Our Malaise
The failure of the Gambia since independence, and therefrom the poor human development and limited civil liberties of Gambians emanates from our failure as citizens and as well as officers of the state to realise the value and purpose of sovereignty and act on it accordingly. For this reason, instead of the governments in both the first and second republics protect our fundamental rights and needs as entrenched in both the 1970 and 1997 constitutions, these governments have served to mainly trample on these rights and abandon these needs. This situation became more aggravated by the masses, who, by lacking in political consciousness and republican values as sovereign citizens only served to rather help and strengthen the irresponsibility and violations of the state. There is no gainsaying that the average Gambian public officer including security officers considers himself and herself as not a servant but a master of the people who is beyond reproach and scrutiny by the people, when they perform their duties such as delivery of goods and services.


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Public servants act as if they are first and foremost doing a favour to the people. They hold that these public goods and services are a charity for which the people must be grateful to them. These public officers do not know or just ignore the fact that they are merely performing their obligation according to law to protect the rights and fulfil the needs of the people.
Conversely, our people, because of their limited sense of sovereignty, generally also perceive the State and its institutions and officers as more powerful masters. The product of this malaise is therefore a culture of impunity in which state institutions and officials not only fail to fulfil their responsibilities to the people, but continuously violate citizens’ rights with impunity, while the people even defend and support them in this tragedy. To further fester this malaise, both the state and the masses have infused misconceived Islamic beliefs and oppressive and exploitative socio-cultural ideas to perpetuate the disempowerment of the masses and the abuse of the state.



This state of abnormality consequently made the people lack the capacity to hold the state to account and ensure transparency of state institutions, officials and processes. In this way, we have collectively inflicted excruciating harm on ourselves that has continued for 46 years unabated thus making us all both victims and oppressors at the same time.
Our political parties, both ruling and opposition since the first republic, also became complicit in this national malaise by not only failing to provide the necessary political education (excepting PDOIS), but also failed to create the necessary policies, institutions and processes within these parties to nurture a culture of rights and good governance, hence disempowered our citizens to exercise their rights to informed political participation and nation building. It can be seen therefore that since independence, each and every political party in the Gambian continues to be engaged only in sham internal party democracy while the levers of power, voice and control in them are held only by one person or few individuals who are mainly men. This is also the reason why no opposition party becomes viable enough, while the PPP in the first republic and the APRC in the second republic became quite powerful only because of their control of state power.


The manifestation of our low level of citizen sovereignty can be seen in the current political crisis unfolding in our country. After 46 years of independence today, we have an opposition leader and his team incarcerated for exercising a fundamental right that is entrenched in our 1997 constitution. We have political activists that are being arrested and detained by the police and some died in custody for merely exercising their sovereign rights in Section 25 of the 1997 Constitution. While these people are denied their entrenched fundamental rights by our State, one would see in a faraway but truly sovereign nation, Norway where both the State and citizens enjoy sovereignty, a mass murderer could have not only his life spared, but even enjoys human dignity by the conditions in his prison and been able to even take the State to court for what he considered as damages to his sovereignty and getting them restored to him.


Thus if we look at various social, economic and political indicators of the Gambia, one can therefore realise that we face an abysmally poor state of civil liberties, an expensive and erratic delivery of public goods and services which are largely unavailable to all citizens, and a limited space for popular participation of citizens in national issues. This is clearly a manifestation of the poor level of citizenship sovereignty.


What is to done?
The task before Gambians therefore is a collective and individual question as to how sovereign are you, and how much are you exercising your sovereignty? How much of your voice and will determine the manner of the State, and how is the state protecting your rights and fulfilling your needs? The question must be extended to our political parties as to whether we deserve parties in which only individuals and cliques control them yet they use our voice and power to exert themselves on us without transparency and accountability. We must engage in honest self examination as to whether as an individual public or private citizen, one is fulfilling his or her role to ensure that each and every Gambian is an embodiment of dignity.


In the height of the liberation struggle in Guinea Bissau, Amilcar Cabral made the point that our nation and struggle must be led by our best sons and daughters. As a Gambian, are you among the best sons and daughters of the Gambia? How have you raised your consciousness to realise that the sovereignty of the Gambia resides in its citizens and that the sole purpose of the state is to fulfil the will of the people? Have you positioned yourself, regardless of your station in life to identify yourself with the deepest aspirations of the people? In other words, are you able to commit, what Cabral calls ‘a class suicide’ in order to join the masses of the people? This is particularly significant for the middle class and the pretty bourgeoisie in the public sector, private sector and civil society sector, who thanks to the opportunities provided by the Nation-State that they enjoy, now remove themselves from the people. They do not share in the concerns and legitimate interests of the masses rather continue to take advantage of the unjust socio-economic and political system to make more money and enjoy more privileges when all around them are oppression and exploitation of fellow citizens. When the members of the middle class and the petty bourgeoisie, the nouveau riche, lack the necessary political consciousness they can only become oppressors and exploiters of the people creating huge inequalities, poverty, powerlessness and voicelessness in society.


This is why Thomas Sankara noted that a soldier (and we can add that a business executive, a police officer, a civil servant, a law maker, an NGO worker, a chief, an imam or priest, a judge, a lawyer, an opposition party leader, etc) without political education is a virtual criminal. A person without political education is one who does not identify himself or herself with the concerns, aspirations and interest of the masses, but rather considers only his or her individual concern, interest and aspirations and utilise the wealth and privileges and opportunities provided by the nation and the state to his or her individual benefit without regard to those of the masses. Just as a police officer or soldier without political education would beat and shoot to death fellow citizens without remorse, so also a policy or law maker or civil servant would not cringe at making unjust laws and stealing public money to benefit only him or herself. It is a parasitic form of life in which such a person only seeks avenues that provide undue advantages even if these unjust opportunities only serve to perpetuate injustice and inequality in society.


Raise your Political Consciousness


Frantz Fanon said each generation must discover its mission, to fulfil or betray. Are you a Gambian who has discovered your mission to your society, i.e. to realise that you bear an obligation to serve your people, to stand for the welfare and rights of your people and to stand up for justice and human dignity. One cannot discover one’s mission if one lacks the political consciousness talked about by Sankara. Thus given the current state of affairs in the Gambia and Africa in general, one can confidently diagnose this malaise as the lack of discovery of our mission by the masses of our people, particularly our youth, the middle class and the petty bourgeoisie due to our low political awareness.
At 46 years and going beyond, I urge each and every Gambian to look beyond one’s position, and one’s party, and one’s tribe, and one’s religion, and one’s family, and one’s business, and one’s institution or organization and one’s selfish interest and see the Gambian Nation. Only then can we build a nation that fits our humanity and can deliver and ensure our dignity. It is such a society that can deliver development to us from the unlimited wealth and opportunities that abound in our country. Gambia and Gambians are still unable to realise their full human potential and tap their huge resources and opportunities because the individual Gambian citizen is yet to be sovereign and independent. But to create this dignified and sovereign independent Gambian and Gambia, we must become new citizens to exhibit qualities that Nkrumah said constitutes the African Personality,
“Africa needs a new type of citizen, a dedicated, modest, honest, informed man and woman who submerges self in service to the nation and mankind. A man and woman who abhors greed and detests vanity. A new type of man and woman whose humility is his and her strength and whose integrity is his and her greatness.”


Just imagine if Edward Francis Small, the Father of our Nation did not discover his mission to realize that he was an embodiment of dignity and sovereignty? EF Small cried out that there must be no taxation without just representation because he realized that no human being is a donkey to be exploited by another human being. It was that cry for sovereignty that eventually gave birth to the Republic of the Gambia as our collective sovereign property. How come 46 years down the line, we face worse conditions than those faced by EF Small in 1920?


Creating a New Gambian



It is distressful that for 46 years we have failed to build sovereign citizens. So long as our people are not sovereign, not only the State and its officers will fail to become responsible as a means to protect our rights and satisfy our needs, but also each and everyone one of us as well as our businesses, NGOs, political parties, traditional and religious institutions and indeed our young people cannot become an embodiment of dignity, and nurture a culture and a society of justice and equal rights. We cannot find our ability to do for ourselves even when we sit on a mountain of wealth and opportunities. Our fertile land and all the cereals, crops and plants that can grow on it, our unlimited waters underground, in our rivers and tributaries and our rains, our wind and sunlight, and our almighty people with unbound intelligence and strength will all be inadequate to provide us the quality and dignity of life we deserve. We shall continue to be a society of wretched people who can only find solace and hope outside of the Gambia, while we continue to oppress and exploit each other in our country.


Let us build a sense and a culture of sovereignty based on republican values which hold that the people are the owners and masters of the country. Republican values are established on the incontestable fact that all citizens are equal and all of us have equal right to all opportunities. Republican values require that we remove from our midst all ideas, institutions, practices, relationships and systems that oppress and exploit and dehumanize the human being. Whether these are cultural or religious beliefs or unjust and unfair laws and practices in our homes, offices and communities, oppression and exploitation of one human being by another human being has no place in a sovereign republic. All human beings, men and women are equal.



No tribe, no culture and no religion have precedence or significance over another. In a sovereign republic, there is no majority and minority tribe or religion or better culture. All cultures must be civilized and democratized to liberate the human being, and not to enslave some sections. Let us create a society of just and fair systems and laws and institutions that develop and upheld human dignity, knowing full well that in any society the only guarantor of peace and stability and human development is the respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights. Positions, guns, tribes, religion and culture have never provided safe haven for individuals in history. Only human rights protect and develop the human being. When a right is damaged in any society, and it is not repaired immediately and in full, then no one is safe in that society regardless of your position, religion, tribe or ammunition.
Forward to the Building of a Sovereign Gambian and Gambia.


From Madi Jobarteh’s Facebook page

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