By Dr. Assan Jallow
The politics of protests has raised its ugly heads in the New Gambia, thus affecting our socio-economic and political development as a country. One could construct an evidence-based chronology of events that the ramifications of protests in The Gambian economy are devastatingly grave and has a negative and significant correlation of consequences to stifle economic growth, thus, affecting the macroeconomic business environment.
It is worthy to note that nations are not built on the strolls of protests upon protests, nor is democracy attained through the medium of legitimizing an illegal act which is counter-productive in the promotion and attainment of democratic rights, inclusive growth, and development. Safeguarding citizens’ democratic rights is critical, and a government must be seen as an avid protector and guarantor of fundamental human rights, such as freedom of speech, the right to association, and movement and not a violator of rights in infringing the dissenting view of its citizens. Rights protection helps in advancing the cause and development of democracy, not a means to an end, but framed within the ethos and principles of laws. In substantiating this view, the building of democracy is anchored on laws to guide the conduct and affairs of both the governors and the governed accordingly. However, there is an interesting pattern emerging from the dividends of December 2016 elections with the resultant effects of missed opportunities, sporadic misaligned and uncoordinated policies, poor leadership, questionable accountability and transparency within the corridors of power as cooperation, consultation, collaboration, and cohesion were missing in our development, and governance model of the #NewGambia. Thus, the winds of change were marred with a back-pedaled development agenda that had regressed our aspirations and creative energies on the politics of protests and lack of focus on critical issues affecting our national economy.
The historical genesis of the Politics of Protests
The citizens of The Gambia were caged in the traumatic dungeon of silence and fear over a two-decade of a repressive rule that affected their lives and welfare. Thus, December 1, 2016, came as a surprise to many as an incumbent (President Jammeh) lost the elections and conceded defeat, thereby leading the citizens in an ecstatic jubilation mode and exhalation of freedom at last as a sigh of relief. Psychoanalytic theory posits that people who were/are victims of repression often behaves abnormally either as a result of being thrilled to adopt a functional ego of entitlement and unleash their abnormal behavioral rights to infringe on others in the exercise of rights, and not being conscious of their limits within the established Statutes of laws. That is the tested fact on psychology based on evidence of structural flaws on character/personality building of people in the Gambia, and we have a difficult task to work on that missing link in our national human development parameters.
Protests are democratic rights sanctioned by national constitutions, and of which, The Gambia is no exception. However, it seems the acts of protests in the New Gambia has become the bane of our new found democracy and a recipe of violence where protesters have mistaken their rights to association, movement and freedom of speech by becoming public nuisance through violence means and with the intent to instigate violence and unseat a democratically-elected government over the issue of morality against legality. Two camps have emerged that is the (a) Operations 3 years ‘Jotna’ and the (b) Operations Barrow for five years. Both groups had laid their arguments in context based on morality and legality that the sitting President (PORG Barrow) had reneged or has not reneged his contract with the electorates. I have a problem with those arguing based on morality and deliberately ignoring the legal aspects of a president’s tenure of office. Moral issues are issues we are all confronted with and most often than not we are found in gross contraventions in principles and actions. However, the bone of contention is that citizens or any pressured group should not use the basis of morality to replace legality. The difference between the two groups is even more striking as the former’s (3-years Jotna Group’s) line of argument has no legal merits and cannot be entertained in any court of competent jurisdiction. The later also acted foolishly in defending what is constitutionally-guaranteed by law. Therefore, in supporting constitutionalism, the law, as provided in our statute books, takes precedence over any compounding issues (including morality).
Let’s take a quick walk down on memory lane in 2016 with the evidential strolls of politicians doing what they are best at through the use of deceptive politics and indoctrinating loyal lieutenants, and supporters to blindly defend their actions and inactions over the controversial Coalition’s MOU. It cannot be disputed that 2016 Coalition campaigned on the platform of a three-year transitional government and they had vitiated every aspect of that unsigned contract (MOU) as they were politicians bandied around a marriage of convenience with hidden self-desires and unprepared for the governance of the country (The Gambia) after post-Jammeh. The resultant effects are the continual experimentations of missed opportunities, spiral, misaligned and uncoordinated policies, poor leadership, questionable accountability and transparency within the corridors of power and members of the opposition parties as cooperation, consultation, collaboration, and cohesion were missing in our development, and governance model of the #NewGambia. The winds of change were marred with a backward development model that had regressed our aspirations and creative energies into the political protests.
The legitimacy of violence has its roots in politics. And, politics in The Gambia is not based on issues but rather on building a personality cult with a heavy semblance of tribalism, familial, communal and regional relationships. It is used as a game of emotionalizing feelings to unleash the steam of anger and frustration through the incitement of violence in the polity. It is evident as we are all a living witness to the ugly rhetoric of politics of insults, hate, and division flamed by the rise of populism in today’s modern democracies and The Gambia can be used as a case study.
Violence as an instrument of protest has been sanctified, fanned, and legitimized by citizens and politicians who used it as their political currency to push a self-desired agenda in a nation’s polity. However, politics should not be used as a vehicle to incite violence. This is because politics is about development and a strategy to outperform a political opponent on issue-based policies and not to be used as a coup of a contest on character assassination to make the country ungovernable by sponsoring pressure groups or citizens of conflicting interests to take to the streets. The demonstration of political maturity is a rare feat in the crops of political leaders, thereby imploring leaders to lead by example and detest violence of any form, as enshrined in our 1997 republican Constitution and subsequent legislation such as the criminal codes under which violators of our national laws shall be punished based on specific provisions of our statute books relating to their culpable offenses.
A right is a sacred principle and should not be dissipated to the extent of which the claimant is reduced as a mere subject without a voice on his or her state of affairs as it relates to governance and democracy.
Discussion on the Economic Implications of Protests
The economic implications of protests are enormous and devastating to a country that is resource-constrained like The Gambia. Businesses are starting to be worried and feared the worst could happen in the event of an outbreak of protest, while prospective investors are unwilling to take the risk and invest in The Gambia due to the climate of insecurity. You do not need to be an economist, psychologist, anthropologist, sociologist (to name, but a few) to understand public perception on the effects of rising protests by citizens and pressure groups on the economy of The Gambia. (Sorry, that I could not provide data to back up my points of the arguments on the economic implications of protests on businesses 2017 – 2020). However, we can attest to the historical facts of events that The Gambia has been marred and continued to be positioned under the triangle and prospection of political instability and insecurity following the series of endless and unnecessary protests from December 2016 to date.
The evidence of this article provides the following picture. Although protests are democratic rights, it is not a productive mechanism of engaging the government on matters of critical concerns in our polity. There are better and more cost-effective ways of engagement and communications than using the politics of protests.
Solidarity match and condemnation of colleagues’ arrests and demanding their immediate release is an exercise of democratic rights. But, that exercise of democratic rights should not be abused or used to score a political points when in fact you know that your colleague has violated the laws of The Gambia and fully understand that the rationale of their arrests has to do with their acts of being complicit of a crime, using their profession and radio platform to incite violence and broadcast scores of incendiary talk shows. This is where you begin to see professional hypocrisy of journalism in the New Gambia when they hide under the curtains of politics and used the martyrs of Deyda Hydara and Chief Ebrima Manneh to justify and condemn the arrests of some segments of so-called unprofessional social commentators and cum-political journalists. Let us stop using the names of dignified persons of impeccable characters of #Deyda Hydara in comparing the misdeeds of others who wronged the laws in the discharge of their duties. A wrong shall never be right because a wood no matter how long it stays in the water, will never become a crocodile. That is the gospel truth! Nelson Mandela of beloved memory posited that “a critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy.”
On the other hand, Shashi Tharoor notes that “freedom of the press is the mortar that binds together that bricks of democracy and it has also been open window embedded in those bricks.” And, in the words of Nancy Conway, “our democracy relies on an informed citizenry. The thoughtful, fair, balanced, comprehensive reporting in print and photos or video may be the best way to know what’s going on – the way to best inform ourselves. Information is what keeps us free from tyranny.” These persons have intelligently put what a free press means and should embody, hence reminding us that staying informed and acting within the ethics of information sharing is what keeps us from the bewitched tyranny of both the state and the press.
Under the 1997 constitution, no one is above the law, and journalists should not be treated differently with other citizens. If a journalist is found violating our national laws, he or she should face the full force of the law as any other ordinary citizen. The press is the fourth estate of government cannot be used as a license to exonerate its members of any acts of wrongdoing.
- The Gambia Press Union should disassociate itself with any conflicting member (s) if they are found in gross violation of their established protocols and bylaws. We cannot have every Tom, Dick, and Harry claiming to be a journalist thanks to Facebook live videos when they do not know the ABC of Journalism. Journalism is an art and a very noble profession that must be guarded to avoid being used as a vehicle to toe a line of self-serving political agenda with the intent to incite violence and hate.
- The government should set up an independent investigation panel on the January 26 violent protest and all those complicit in the act or having participated and destroyed public and personal property should be dealt with according to law.
- A radio station cannot and should not be used as a medium or platform to incite violence and the Ministry of Communications with the GPU should work in sanitizing this menace in our governance landscape.
- The arrest and prosecution of accused persons of interest in the commission of a crime are part of the functions of the Gambia Police Force, and we should stop condemning acts performed within the ambits of the law for self-serving interests.
- Political parties should stop using people as human shields in their political agenda of indifference with the state.
- There should be a moratorium on the issuance of permits for protests for a year. This will and let us focus on the development of the economy, the creation of jobs and addressing other development challenges we are faced with as a nation.
- The government to initiate and drive the vision of a national dialogue with all the relevant stakeholders (i.e., political parties, civil society groups, the University of The Gambia, captains of industry, venerable religious leaders – imams, bishops, pastors, and other religious bodies) registered in The Gambia to discuss and map out a strategy on governance and political development in the New Gambia.
The recipe for violence incitements is generated through the ills of politically-motivated protests outside substantive laws, and no genuine person of clear conscience will ever encourage violence protests or encourage citizens to take to the street and demand for the removal of a democratically-elected and sitting president from office. That is only possible if you are sick in the head or into drugs and have a personal vendetta against the laws of the land or with the deliberate intent to promote social violence and polarization propelled by your lack of confidence and narcissism bipolar tendencies under the brinks of low self-esteem.
The Gambia’s political and economic governance has been on the limelight since December 1, 2016. These structures are defective as they have been intentionally undermined by so-called rights activists and politicians who had become the saboteurs of political development and sponsors of politics of protests. There is plausible evidence on my position as the writings are on the walls and everyone can see it and deduce the facts from it based on their utterances and public statements. Democracy implores the sincerity of purpose through the genuine participation of all to promote our coexistence, respect the rights of others and understand the limits of our rights as provided by law. It requires and reminds us to conduct ourselves as law-abiding citizens and engage the government and its established institutions through a civilized dialogue and not in a retaliatory mode of indifference when we have a different opinion of the approach to their actions or inactions. Communications beget understanding and results and the absence of communications creates the tendencies of not understanding your audiences, thus, resulting in a standstill of a non-engagement communiqué.
To conclude, democratic civilization reminds us to engage and talk to each other to resolve our differences, and that is the only way to advance our burgeoning democracy to maturity.