Sunday, August 18, 2019

Debate On The Secular State And The Secular Republic

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The Constitutional Review Commission is charged with the responsibility of engaging the population on their recommendation for constitutional reform. It has been brought to our notice that some religious scholars would not want The Gambia to be called a secular state. However no one is clarifying what a secular republic means from the position of constitutional law.

Philosophical analyses are being made on radio. However, the intellectual debate that should have been done on constructive platform is yet to take place despite claims of having constitutional lawyers and political scientists. Instead of a healthy debate on Gambia’s constitutional future, political aspirants are scrambling for political support in the next presidential election. Hence the spirit of the transition is being sacrificed before the altar of political interests.

During the two year transition after the 1994 coup, a Constitutional Review Commission was established and Foroyaa played a major role in trying to explain the constitutional provisions and to promote the debate on the draft Constitution. Many people with intellectual capacity simply stayed away from the debate and later accused those who took the national duty seriously of not guiding the nation. Now everybody is free to take part in the debate.

What is holding people? Foroyaa is open to this debate and will step in if people who should now be outspoken on the need for constitutional reform remain silent. Whilst others who are schooled in constitutional law and the history of constitutions state their honest opinions, one cannot understand the concept of a secular republic without understanding what a state is and what a republic is. The debate should start with explaining what a state is and what a republic is before one could define the form of the state and the form of the republic.

There is common sense explanation being given which is equating majority with state. For example in Ghana one has more Christians than Muslims. Do you call Ghana a Christian state? In Senegal one has more Muslims than Christians yet Senegal defines its republic in its Constitution as a secular republic. Should it now be called a Muslim state? That is why it is said that one must know what a state is before one can have clarity in this debate. Honest Gambians who do not have clarity should invite religious scholars, constitutional lawyers, social scientists to engage in a constructive debate on such an issue of fundamental importance. Those are the programmes for which funding should be given during this transition.

The danger that Africa is confronting is the dependence of its thinkers on the world view carved by other thinkers in other parts of the world without appreciating what is universally applicable and what is not. Hence they get lost in not being able to separate the tree of the forest from the forest of diverse opinions on a particular concept. Foroyaa may have to relaunch its enlightenment forum to help clarify this constitutional concept to the satisfaction of all who are interested in this debate. We will pause and see whether thinkers will assume their role as we try to shape the institutions of the state after the change of 2016.

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