The concert of political events that took place in the Gambia these past few weeks have been amongst the most dramatic events in the history of this tiny west African country of less than two million people.
As a result of the rigorous and combined efforts by an angry, critical and determined Gambian diaspora, an open coalition leadership and a determined and courageous electorate, one of the world’s longest serving and most brutal tyrants – the now former president Yahya Jammeh – was forced to his knees and into exile by democratic means.
It must be said that there are many elements within this Gambian story that would have been considered by any experienced analyst to be highly unprecedented.
To use the ballot box as a means to eject a dictator that has ruled the country for 22 years, terrorising any potential critic or opponent with arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and death, is act of deep courage.
Refusing to accept the election results was certainly in line with the modus operandi of a despot but the fact that the will and ever growing determination of the people – supported by the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), and the United Nations (UN) – led to the fall of Jammeh is beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
But what now for the Gambia?
Jammeh may have stolen US$11.4 million from the state coffers as he fled to Equatorial Guinea, he may also have left behind a country scarred by corruption and over two decades of autocratic rule but no time can be wasted in the rebuilding of the Gambia.
A new president, Adama Barrow, has been democratically elected and a new cabinet is about to be appointed. The first and foremost priority of the government must be focused on national security. Considering the fact that a number of Jammeh loyalists are still on the scene, and may continue to pose a security risk both to the new President and also the nation, means there must be national security policy reform with the ambition to curb any potential risk to destabilise the country.
Economic reform is another matter of urgency. This must take place in the form of both national, bi-and multilateral trade policies to create and attract investments. Policies that create jobs and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation by providing the tools, resources and network needed to empower young entrepreneurs in the Gambia.
Investments and job creation is the backbone of every economy; without progressive economic reforms with tangible improvements to the lives of the Gambian people, the regime change will be in vain. We may have secured negative peace in the Gambia by getting rid of Jammeh but to gain positive peace, we are required to create the conditions for Gambians to be employed, to enjoy freedom of expression, access to quality health and education services, good governance and an improved quality of life.
This brings me to the constitutional, electoral and other legal reforms that must be designed to bring back the fundamental democratic principles that were taken hostage by the former President.
The guarantee to everyone residing in the Gambia – regardless of race, ethnic origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation and age – to the right to human dignity, democratic principles, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights must be at the core of any legal or constitutional reform.
The need to create democratic and independent institutions in all three branches of government open to scrutiny and criticism by a vibrant and constitutionally empowered media and civil society is the key for any nation to be called democratic. The right to freely organise, protest and express opposition to government policies and actions cannot in any way shape or form be curtailed. This is partly why there should be government programs aimed at encouraging civil society through professional development and leadership activities that are designed to empower young leaders in the communities.
Truth and reconciliation
And lastly, there is an undeniable need for a truth, reconciliation and justice commission with a mandate not only to investigate the truth about what happened to Gambians under Jammeh’s rule and to engage in reconciliation processes, but also to pursue justice on behalf of the regime.
We must avoid the temptation of creating a copy of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. To have people accused of all kinds of hideous crimes during Apartheid confess their crimes only to walk away because of the assumption that victims and their families are capable of forgiving and forgetting without changing the fundamental structures of power and bringing justice to the victims of those crimes is gravely problematic.
Apartheid as a system of government has ended but the structures that systematically disadvantaged black people still remain, thereby causing huge economic and social disparities between black and white South Africans. This is why there should be a Truth, Reconciliation and Justice Commission in Gambia to help the country heal and move forward.
As the Gambian people have entrusted the new coalition government with the responsibility to bring about democratic change in the country, it is with great excitement that both the citizens of the Gambia and the rest of the world will follow every step that is taken by the new leadership. Regardless of what happens next, one thing is clear: Gambians will not hesitate to use their democratic might to change the government if the need arises and that is a fact worth celebrating.