27 February 2007

Gambia: On the Road to Independence


To quote a great African historian, Robert W. July, "Colonialism contained the germ of its own destruction; indeed, the whole colonial system was a vast engine for the creation of a modern, self-governing Africa. By conquering, colonialism caused the desire to be free.

By exploiting, it produced a rising resistance to tyranny. By introducing Africa to the modern world, it generated visions of a better life consummated in liberty. By demonstrating its own fallibility, it begot the hope that led to autonomy.

By educating, it taught the skills of self-direction."

By education, the African has the tool to use to regain his/her freedom.

This was why the colonialists struggled tooth and nail to disallow the introduction of committees and councils to the ideas of the protectorate people.

It is therefore an irony in this day and age for Gambians who argue against democracy as an alien ideology. They did not know that they are speaking the same language with the colonial master.

As the struggle involves the provincial people to participate in the political life of the country, the struggle in the urban areas intensified to accommodate African members not only in the legislative council but also in the Executive Council.

This was why by 1942, one of the nominated members of the legislative council, Mr. J.A. Mahoney, asked during a meeting when there would be African representation in the executive council and the elective principle introduced in determining African members of the legislative council. In reply, the colonial secretary categorically said the government was not ready to consider any constitutional changes.

Despite that, by 1946, constitutional changes gave the council for Bathurst to have an elected majority but the Governor could still dissolve the council and appoint an administrator, thus delaying the democratic process.

By 1947, elective principle got introduced in the legislative council.

This means that the "culture of voting" has been introduced in the Gambia in 1947. In that same year, the election for the only seat provided for the legislative council took place and Edward Francis Small won the seat as duly elected.

FRANCIS SMALL now speaks with the voice of the people. His objective was to push the colonialists through their own system to attain self-government.

According to the Foroyaa booklet authored by Halifa Sallah, in 1951, "the elective seat in the Legislative Council increased to two.

Political parties also began to emerge in The Gambia. The Gambia Democratic Party was founded by Reverend J.C. Fye and Mama Tumani Bah.

They were followed by The Gambia Muslim Congress of Ibrahima Garba Jahumpa. The United Party of Mr. Pierre S. Njie also followed. In 1954, the number of elected members to the Legislative Council increased to fourteen. The battle for seats in the Legislative Council between the various political parties intensified.

In 1958, Edward Francis Small passed away at the age of 68 years. The gap he left in the political life of the country had become difficult to fill. He had established Rate Payers Association, Trade Union for workers, Cooperative Unions for farmers, a newspaper to enlighten the people. He stood shoulders high above the rest and is qualified to be called the pioneer of Gambia's independence struggle.

The independence of Ghana in 1957 gave impetus to the struggle for independence everywhere in Africa. In The Gambia, civil society became more vibrant from 1957 onwards. The Gambia Workers Union followed small's tradition of building associations to put pressure for political independence. The political figures also called for internal self government. The wave for independence had started. The colonialists could not stop the wave. Hence, on 11 March, 1959, they called for a Constitutional Conference.

The Gambia Democratic Party, the Gambia Muslim Congress, The Gambia United Party, The Gambia National Party and representatives of chiefs, religious and business persons were present. This gave birth to the 1960 constitution which established a House of Representatives comprising 27 elected seats. 12 members were elected by people resident in the protectorate as it was then called and 7 in the colony as it was then called. The chiefs of Districts were to elect 8 members.

Prior to the 1960 elections to fill the seats established by the 1960 Constitution, a party called Protectorate People's party,(PPP) which later became People's Progressive Party, was formed in 1959.

Politics in the country in the late 1950s and early 1960s were personality centred. Consequently, much civic education was not done to prepare to people for nationhood. Political parties struggled among themselves using tribe, sectionalism, religion, money, thugs, intimidation or any other ideas to be able to win votes. They could engage in character assasination just to be able to win votes. This is what is called dirty politics.

The colonialists, however, could not stop the process because of the demand of the people to control their destiny. Hence, by 1961, after massive demonstrations organised by The Gambia Workers Union, the colonial administration had to call for another conference to discuss about constitutional changes. And protest by the PPP regarding the appointment of P.S. Njie as Chief Minister led to the convening of another constitutional conference.

On 4 and 11 May, 1961, the Bathurst Conference was held. On 24 July, 1961, the London Conference was held. The People's Progressive Party (PPP), the United Party (UP), the Democratic Congress Alliance (DCA), Mr. M. E. Jallow for the Labour Union, Chief Representative and representatives such as Mrs. Rachel Palmer and Mr. Henry Madi were present.

This gave rise to the 1962 Constitution which provided 25 seats for the Protectorate, 7 for the Colony and 4 Chief's representatives. In the 1962 elections, the PPP had 18 seats, the UP 13 seats and the DCA 1 seat. The 1962 Constitution created an Executive Council with the Governor as President, a Premier, 8 ministers and an Attorney General.

Mr. D. K. Jawara became Premier. The Governor had reserved powers as far as defence, foreign affairs and internal security were concerned, but in other areas he was required to consult the Executive Council. The House of Representatives was responsible for passing Bills. But this was subjected to the approval of the Governor, who could legislate by declaration if he considered it to be in the public interest.

In 1963, Gambia attained internal Self Government with Mr. D K. Jawara as Prime Minister, and on 18 February, 1965 The Gambia Independence Constitution came into being. This is the day that is often celebrated as Independence Day.

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