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The Perspective, by Edward Bwalya Phiri: real political change is illusive in Africa; case of the Gambia

FORMER POTUS Herbert Hoover once opined that, “All progress and growth is a matter of change, but change must be growth within the social and government concept if it should not destroy them.” An American Clergy, Andy Stanley once remarked that, “Where there is no progress, there is no growth. Environments void of change are eventually void of life.”

On The Perspective today, focus is on political and social change in Africa. While political change dynamics include, but not limited to; political freedom, political decentralisation, civil society participation, constitutionalism, political openness and democratisation, social change is a process that cannot be realised overnight. And all the strides towards its achievement must always be for a positive change of the social structure.

In this write-up, limelight is on Gambia; a small West African country with a population of about 2.3 million and a total geographical area of 11, 295km2 of land. Gambia got its independence on February 18, 1965 from the British colonial masters. In the post-independence, Gambia was ruled by President Dawda Jawara, from 1970 to 1994.

Yahya Jammeh is the second President, who took over power after a bloodless coup in 1994, and ruled with an iron fist for 22 years. He lost the December 2016 presidential elections, conceded defeat, but later u-turned and refused to cede power. The little known candidate, Adama Barrow defeated the strongman in the 2016 polls, courtesy of the people’s strong desire for change.

President Barrow was sworn-in in January 2017, following a regional political-military intervention and the subsequent departure of Jammeh. Later, government constituted a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), to investigate crimes committed during President Jammeh’s 22-year rule.

The commission revealed serious human rights violations; extra-judicial killing of political opponents through the death squad, enforced disappearance and abductions, arbitrary detentions, state-sanctioned torture [which included, rape, electric shock and severe beatings among others], suppression of the media and free speech, attack on religious freedom and the list goes on.

Other criminal acts involved corruption and pilfering of state assets by President Jammeh and his lieutenants; while the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project [OCCRP] had reported that about US$975 million had been stolen from the poor and debt ridden [about 130 per cent of GDP] west African nation, the national justice ministry reported a higher figure of US$362 million. Further, it is reported that Jammeh looted at least US$50 million as he fled to Equatorial Guinea. He is alleged to have withdrawn the money through a state telecoms company.

On Friday March 29, 2019, justice minister Abubacarr Tambadou lamented that, “This staggering amount of money could have had significant impact on the lives of the ordinary people of this country…. Instead, it was money used to satisfy the pretentious and delusional lifestyle of an egotistic megalomaniac, an act that were both unconscionable and criminal.”

The government obtained a court order to seize assets belonging to Jamemeh and his associates; they included 88 bank accounts and 14 companies, livestock, planes and cars, among others. The TRRC has so far submitted its interim report, and is expected to submit its final report consisting of 16 volumes to the President. The civil society hopes that the Commission will recommend for the prosecution of the former dictator.

Exactly three months before the December 4 presidential elections, on Thursday, September 2, Gambia’s ex- president Jammeh’s Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction [APRC] party and President Adama Barrow’s National People’s Party [NPP] forged an alliance following months of negotiations.

The APRC party’s secretary general, Fabakary Tombong Jatta announced the alliance formation at a Press Conference held on Saturday, September 4th at the Coco Ocean spa and Hotel. Mr Jatta disclosed that, “Our goal is that former president Jammeh returns to this country peacefully and with dignity.”

According the Memorandum of Understanding [MOU] signed between the two parties, which stated that, “We in our capacity as representatives of the National People’s Party and the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction do agree the following:
3.1 Former President Yahya Abdul Aziz Junkung Jemus Jammeh will be granted unconditional amnesty to return home as an elder statesman.

3.2 Former President Yahya Abdul Aziz Junkung Jemus Jammeh will be reimbursed all gratuities owed since relinquishing office in January 2017.

3.3 The alliance upon securing victory will arrange for amnesty to be accorded to all those associated with human rights violations during the 22 July 1994 to 19 January 2017.
3.4 All findings and recommendations passed by the TRRC shall not be implemented. Instead, newly elected government will embark upon credible period of national reconciliation.
3.5 The Director of Public Prosecution shall file a nolle prosequi [discontinue the prosecution] in the case of the NIA 9 [the criminal trial involving former staff of the National Intelligence Agency; they are accused of crimes ranging from murder, torture and conspiracy].

3.6 The President of the Alliance shall grant his prerogative of mercy on Rtd. Captain Yankuba Touray [a former Minister of Local Government and Lands, sentenced to death for murdering former Minister of Finance Ousman Koro Ceesay at Touray’s residence in Kololi].
(4) The Alliance upon securing victory at the Presidential Elections will form a broad-based cabinet of which ministerial positions will be allocated to APRC nominees. The post of Vice-President and 5 Ministerial Posts shall be allocated to the members of the APRC.”
The human rights groups have dubbed the action, as a betrayal; according to Sheriff Kejira, the Chairman of the Gambia Centre for Victims and Human Rights Violations [GCVHR] who remarked that, “Adama Barrow, by all indications, he is a disappointment to the people of Gambia. I can say that this is the greatest betrayal of the century… It is quite shocking and despicable for the victims and very depressing. So many victims of Yahya’s brutality couldn’t sleep when his party announced the merger with Barrow.”

And Mustapha Darboe, a Gambian journalist had earlier said that, “The opportunity we had in 2017 to change the country for good has been greatly missed. We have not solved the past, we are moving into an uncertain future, that’s dangerous.”

Jatta further revealed that, “We have agreed, we as Africans and for that matter Gambians, we should call an end where our political leaders leaving office are traumatised, harassed, exiled or even jailed. For now and posterity, it’s not only African leaders who commit errors. No government is perfect…We have seen atrocities being committed by the so-called Western world….” However, it’s ironic how Jatta accepts that they made mistakes but don’t want to be held accountable. He goes further to justify that it’s not only in Africa where atrocities are committed.

Truth be told, President Adama Barrow has not only disappointed the people of Gambia but the entire African continent and must consider reversing this unwelcome decision. Failure to rescind this decision may cause a serious humiliation during the forthcoming polls. Borrowing Sera Palin’s words, “In politics there are some candidates who use change to promote careers, and then there are those…who use their careers to promote change.” President Barrow’s actions have revealed that he is more interested in his job than serving the people.

Our only hope for a serious political and social change in Africa is in the young people, who are in the majority. American Architect and author, Buckminster Fuller, said that, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” There is need for the young people to build a continent-wide network, for a total transformation of the continental outlook. Create synergies for capacity building, through the sharing of information and resources.

In conclusion, British Writer and raconteur, Quentin Crisp opined that, “Politics is not an instrument for effecting social change; they are the art of making the inevitable appear to be a matter of wise human choice.” For today I will end here; it’s Au revoir, from EBP.
For comments: elbardogma@yahoo.com

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