22 February 2018

Gambia: The Bar Joins the Public Debate On the Part Played By Civil Society

Since the President remarked that civil society did nothing under the Jammeh regime, there have been numerous and reactions expressing disappointment with the remarks and the Gambia Bar Association refuses to be left behind.

The Bar issued a statement expressing concern. For the benefit of posterity, the statement retraces the path that got Mr. Adama Barrow to the high office of President of the Republic of The Gambia following the Presidential elections of 1st December, 2016.

The statement continues thus:

Over a period of twenty-two years numerous Gambians indeed suffered gravely under the regime of Yahya Jammeh. Some even paid the ultimate price with their life; and, more particularly, when Solo Sandeng and others took to the streets on the 14thday of April, 2016 to stand up for justice and fair play, and were brutally handled at the time, no one in the Country heard of Adama Barrow.

Likewise, when Ousainou Darboe and others took to the streets subsequently, to demand production of the body of Solo Sandeng, it is not known to us that Adama Barrow was even amongst them. But the whole country was aware that lawyers, members of the Gambia Bar Association, rose in court to their defence without prompting by anyone or the hope of any reward from anybody.

On the 2nd day of December, 2016, all Gambians would recall that Yahya Jammeh had spoken telephonically to Adama Barrow conceding defeat at the polls; that seven days later he changed his mind and rejected the results of the election and proceeded with nefarious actions, familiar to all Gambians, to stay in power. The Gambia Bar Association was quick to condemn these actions publicly on Friday the 12th day of December, 2016, thus blazing the trail for other Civil Societies to do the same. The Gambia Bar Association did not stop at that; we went on, in due course, to resolve as a professional body to stage a total boycott of all the courts. Without such action, the Supreme Court would have sat and, most likely, declare the elections a nullity. Our action thus prevented this from happening.

Therefore, to the Gambia Bar Association, it does not fall in the mouth of President Barrow to make the unwarranted and incorrect statements uttered in Turkey. When any Gambian talks of courage and steadfastness of purpose during those grim days of the "Political impasse" in The Gambia, Gambians would not fail to recall the forthright statements to Yahya Jammeh byBishop Hannah Faal Heims, in spite of the potential risk, to the effect that the people of The Gambia no longer want him to lead them and that he should do the right thing by leaving the office of President. When all this was happening, it is a known fact that for obvious reasons, Mr. Adama Barrow and family were given refuge in Dakar, Senegal, until it was declared that it was safe for him to return home to The Gambia. Most of the Gambian people, who voted for change of leadership by electing Adama Barrow, remained in The Gambia to stand their ground against the tyrant, with determination to defend their decision for change.

Mr. President must therefore accept without equivocation, that it was the courageous Gambian people who brought about the change of leadership, and not Adama Barrow per se; and that the days for political jingoism are over in The Gambia. As of now, whoever is elected to the office of President, is there by virtue of the will of The Gambian people. Since the people hold this power, they also have the right to express their views freely and openly on any issue or matter of their interest. That is why the President of the Republic must be readily disposed and willing to listen to all views, be they positive or negative, as this is a prescription for good governance and the establishment of a democratic culture. Any other way, would lead to bad governance and, ultimately, tyranny.

There should be no looking back, the die is cast. It is time for real work to be done to take the country forward in its quest for development and the realization of a stable democratic process. It is worthy of note, in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville that"... ... ..only outstanding ability can save a ruler who embarks on the improvement of his subjects' lot after they have been suffering a long period of oppression. The wrong that people have been putting up with particularly while they thought it inevitable becomes unendurable the moment they can envisage shaking themselves free of it. From that moment the removal of abuses, no matter what they are, serve only to uncover others and make their cutting edge sharper. There is less wrong, it is true, but it is more piercingly felt." (L'Ancien Regime, Book 111 Chapter 4)

And so, on this auspicious occasion, as The Gambia celebrates the 53rd anniversary of nationhood, The Gambia Bar Association would wish to extend its congratulations to all Gambians and best wishes for a meaningful and joyous celebration of this momentous day in the life of our country. We remain pledged to continue to serve the nation within the scope of our ability as legal practitioners with utmost resolve, courage and integrity.

Below is the relevant portion of the remarks made by President Barrow while addressing Gambians during his visit to Turkey which sparked the controversy (Translation by Yankuba Jallow):

The ultimate responsibility of developing the country is that of the Gambian people. Other countries, the World Bank, IMF, the European Union can always help but the responsibility is the Gambian people. This is because we were united to be strong. Let's continue with that spirit of unity and that is the only way that our country can move ahead.

There is too much talking. Everyone is beating his/her chest, saying that we should do this or that but one of my friends always reminds me of the proverb, "victory can boost up many fans but defeat is like an orphan".

We have won and everyone can speak but were our efforts equal in bringing the change? We should ask each other this question. Today, many people are speaking saying, "I will not accept this or that"; "we will not accept another Yahya Jammeh, we will not accept this, we will not accept that".

But the time we were challenging Yahya Jammeh they were all here, the time Yahya Jammeh rejected the verdict of the elections and delivered a statement, on that day the Coalition members and I made a statement in response to Yahya Jammeh.

Those speaking today were nowhere to be seen at that time. Those speaking today should have come out openly and challenged Yahya Jammeh that what he said would not hold; that he lost the elections and that he must vacate office by force. Civil Society groups speaking today did not speak on that day and I didn't hear them that day but today there is too much talking. We are discussing and our discussion is about our country, The Gambia.

They held our people in incommunicado and killed one person, some of us demonstrated and were arrested and we were left behind. The Courts took a duration of 3 months. I mobilised people to go to court house and as we moved to greet Ousainou (Lawyer Darboe) the NIA officers were always present to identify us, but those speaking today were unseen and silent by then. When we went to Mile II, a police stands at our back and that of Ousainou but on that day we did not see people. On the 9th of May (2016) we decided to mobilise people and we spent nearly one million dalasis but we had less than a thousand people. On that day, we couldn't mobilise a thousand people in The Gambia; we brought people from the hinterland (bolongkono) in Wuli, Sandu including Solo Nkrumah, but people in Banjul who only need to walk to reach the court house and those in Serrekunda who need to pay only ten dalasi to reach the court house did not turn up.

All this happened yesterday (recently). When went to a great extent. One day we discussed at our Executive at UDP that our Executive are getting older that we need young ones who have knowledge to come and join us and we all committed ourselves but we all searched until we were tired but we couldn't have even one person. We tried to use young intellectuals to join the fight against Jammeh but we didn't succeed.

Today the lawyers we have, the doctors are all Mandinkas and so are many accountants; but today these are the people who will stand and say we will not tolerate this and that; they will not accept Jammeh's doings anymore.

Are they the ones who should speak about Jammeh or are we the ones to speak about Jammeh? Answer the question for me.

We have never worked in the government and it has never happened in my life and I never expected to work in the government. I joined the group (UDP) because what was happening was not pleasant to me, that's why I joined to add up to the struggle. I joined to contribute to the fight to remove Jammeh and if that happens then I will be happy.


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