Gambia: The Complexity of the Peaceful Transfer of Political Power

Jammeh's supporters want the government to guarantee the former ruler's right to return.

A state is a complex instrument put in order by a constitution which creates institutions and provides laws, rules of procedure to regulate the institutions and provide for personnel who exercise direction and control over those institutions and provide general services. In the Gambia, the Constitution provides for the executive, the National Assembly, the judiciary and the public service aimed at instituting public order and providing public services

In a democracy, there is a clear distinction between an elected representative and an appointed public servant. The representative entirely relies on the will of the people, periodically expressed during free and fair elections. On the other hand, appointed public servants serve until they reach pensionable age. This creates the unique possibility of governments leaving office for others to preside over the affairs of the state whilst appointed public servants retain their position. This gives rise to the saying that whilst government comes and goes civil servants remain untouched.

It goes without saying that if governments adhere to constitutional standards and civil servants are appointed according to their qualifications, the peaceful transfer of power would only lead to change of policies and programmes, but the civil service will remain largely intact.

A peaceful transfer of power however runs into crisis where self-perpetuating rulers disregard constitutional provisions to impose their will and transform public servants into implementers of executive orders. When power is transferred under such circumstances, the task of reconstituting the state becomes extremely complex as those who struggled for change compete for space in administration with those who have legitimate contract to serve the state. This would result in conflict of expectations where those who aspire for space would cry foul of exclusion and those who occupy the space would cry foul of witch hunting if they are removed. How that space is to be managed to avoid conflict requires a principled and seasoned government capable of managing conflict and expanding opportunities with tremendous speed to prevent exclusion and witch hunting. That is the role of a transitional government. It succeeds when it plays such a role and fails when it cannot. The future will tell whether the Barrow administration is capable of being such a government.

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