Halifa Sallah 11th June 2017
Events of far reaching importance are developing in The Gambia as the country strives to give content to the new Gambia that people of diverse backgrounds hope to build, as a result of change of government through the consent of the people, for the first time in Gambian history.
No one would have envisaged that in less than six months after the emergence of a new government, blood would stain the corridors of state power. This should compel all Gambians to take a pause and ask what has gone wrong and how to right it. This is the demand of truth and justice under our times and circumstances. This is the urgent task precisely because the clarion call of the Coalition 2016 is to give Gambia a new start. Hence if that new start is blemished by blood stains, each Gambian should speak and act in accordance with the dictates of conscience and the national interest. This is the only way we could speak with one language. This is the only way we could give shape and content to the concept of one Gambia, one nation and one people.
The incident in Kanilai gave birth to weeping and gnashing of teeth on one side, and the cocking of guns and the issuing of warnings on the other. This is not a recipe for building the new Gambia.
People, State, Parties, Security Force and CSOs and the New Gambia, must be a Sovereign Republic with a Sovereign People. This is the Commandment of the Constitution of the Republic, which should shape the thinking values and practice of the people, state, parties, security forces and the CSOs.
Section 1 Subsection 1 states that “The Gambia is a sovereign Republic. Subsection 2 adds that the Sovereignty of the Republic resides in the people of the Republic. Hence all Gambians are equal before the law, says section 33 of the Constitution. None should be discriminated by being subjected to any disadvantages on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, race birth, origin, language, political opinion, affiliation or other status. This is the basis of national unity and good neighborliness among the sovereign people.
Subsection 2 does not only make each citizen a depository of the sovereign power and authority of the nation, but it goes further to establish who should exercise power and how, which is the basis of democracy.
It reads: Sovereignty of the country resides in the people of The Gambia, from whom all organs of Government derive their authority, and in whose name and for whose welfare and prosperity the powers of Government are to be exercised.
The essence of democracy is clear. It starts with giving each citizen sovereign power and authority. It makes it mandatory for any authority to govern to be derived from the authority of the people. Thirdly, it makes it mandatory for the authority derived from the consent of the people to be utilised to promote the general welfare and prosperity of the people.
Hence democracy is rooted in the sovereign equality of all citizens and does not recognise the separation of citizens into majority and minority ethnic groups, religions, gender and other status. Hence the duty of a people is to recognise each other’s sovereignty and live together in the spirit of sovereign equality and good-neighborliness.
The State institutions must derive their authority from the will of the people and utilise that authority to promote their welfare. Any state that fails to do that in a Sovereign Republic is unfit to govern.
In the same vein, the role of the security forces in a Sovereign Republic is to safeguard the sovereignty of the Republic and the people and protect their general welfare, including their liberty and prosperity. Any security force that is not bound by such principles and values is a killing machine. Such senseless and conscienceless killing machines are what tyrants rely on to impose reigns of impunity.
CSOs in a Republic have the duty to amplify the needs of the Republic and, as principal interlocutors, advocate for their satisfaction and ensure the consolidation and enlargement of liberty and prosperity.
These are the values of the new Gambia for which PDOIS joined the coalition to engender and defend, and for which we were ready to live or die for during the Impasse.
Hence all developments in the Gambia must be weighed against such principles and values. The Kanilai incident is no exception.
Suffice it to say, it is important to review the issue of security before narrating and drawing relevant lessons to address the event in a judicious manner in the quest to prevent a recurrence.
The security land scape and the Kanilai incident.
State security has scope and scale in terms of gravity and weight.
The reaction of a state to incidents which may have security concerns should depend on the scope and scale of the security threat, or otherwise which is determined by the weight and gravity of the actions concerned. In short, to every action that has to do with state security, there should be equal and opposite reaction which aims at warding off any threat and prevent its recurrence.
For example, when soldiers or armed civilians move to the state house and other corridors of power with arms to overthrow the head of state and the government that would be considered as the height or zenith of a security threat. The state must mobilise loyalist forces to defend its legitimacy. This is the basis of most civil wars in Africa.
On the other hand , rebel movements may also enter a country without gaining any strong ground, and a mass uprising may occur which opens up the seat of government to a visible threat of overthrow. Here too the army and other security forces may have a major role to play to ward off the threat by only using the minimum force necessary to achieve their purpose to prevent, or minimise loss of life and damage to properties.
It stands to reason that when demonstrators aim to express grievances in a peaceful and spontaneous manner, near or away from the corridors of power, without any destruction of life or property, or posing any threat to the seat of government, then the action should be seen as civil disobedience and a threat to public order and not a threat to state security.
A threat to state security requires the combined forces of armed and law enforcement agents. On the other hand, a threat to public order requires the presence of only the law enforcement agents. Their method must either be to escort to prevent any damage of property, or confrontation with other opponents, or disperse the perpetrators if threat to life and property becomes eminent. How then do we classify the Kanilai incident? Is it a threat to state security or civil disobedience, or a threat to public order?
The Classification of the Kanilai incident.
The answer to the question is simple. The fact that those arrested are charged under the Public order Act, rather than with treason and other state security offences, confirms that the incidence was a matter of civil disobedience and Public order, which should be handled by the police and not a matter of state security, which should be handled by a joint force of military and law enforcement agents. The police should know when and what to do to escort and defuse civil disobedience without any arrest or commotion, and when to disperse by using minimum force without any loss of life or property. This should be a by-product of appropriate training and experience in dealing with such matters.
Origin of conflict, Claims and Counter Claims.
Kanilai is the home town of ex –President Jammeh, who left the country under an agreement with the UN, AU and ECOWAS negotiators for him to leave in a haste by getting assurance that his properties and supporters would be protected. The UN, AU and ECOWAS negotiators did not proceed to sign a document with President Barrow to get him to also commit himself to the declaration of intent of the negotiators.
Hence two claims are being made why Gambian and ECOMIG forces are in Kanilai.
Some Claim that the Gambian soldiers and ECOMIG forces were stationed in Kanilai to protect the properties of the President. Others, especially residents of Kanilai, claim that they are an occupation force which is making it impossible for them to live a normal life.
Hence on Friday 2nd June 2017, residents of Kanilai and their sympathisers gathered at the Kanilai carpark in a public demonstration to ask the state to remove military forces from the village, so that they could live normal lives. They then moved with banners towards KAM FENDA. Many Newspapers were called to go and cover the March. Since most do not have regional reporters, they arrived late.
However modern technology does provide sketchy details.
What is clear is that the Marchers did pass the encampment of Gambian soldiers without incident. However when they came to the encampment of ECOMIG soldiers, they were blocked. The reports did not indicate any injury of ECOMIG soldiers due to the use of traditional weapons. What is evident is the use of live bullets and the injury of 9 persons, one of whom eventually died of bullet wounds. This is how matters stand by way of facts.
Lessons that the Kanilai incident is the final attempt by the Jammeh forces to show their degree of organisation and preparedness to restore his rule, and such people are calling on the Barrow administration to take the incident as a threat to state security. Interestingly enough, despite the shooting and arrest of Kanilai residents, the rebels, often alluded to, have not retaliated for the sake of kinship or ethnic ties. One is therefore left to wonder who will be using arms to support the demonstrators to bring Jammeh back to power. The Nation needs to be enlightened if someone has the facts; fiction cannot provide the raw materials for policy making, or for devising strategies and tactics.
Others have argued that the use of live bullets on demonstrators, six months in office, is a signal of a return to a past marked by intolerance of dissent which gave rise to the April 10th and 11th killings and that of Solo Sandeng. They have started to give the Barrow administration a similar type of rating like that of Jammeh. Where do you stand? If the nation takes sides, the issue of the Kanilai incident would be reduced to a Barrow versus Jammeh affair.
This would be a distortion of the demands of our situation. The question that all Gambians should address is whether the Barrow administration should preoccupy itself with the challenges of a second coming of the Jammeh administration, or that of building the new Gambia.
History has already settled this question. In short, when Ex-President Jammeh refused to leave office, President Elect Barrow had two options. He had the challenge to focus on Jammeh’s refusal to leave office and mobilise protest movements and demonstrations to oust him, or focus on his victory and prepare the ground for addressing the challenges of assuming office when the term of the incumbent expired. He chose the latter and this is why he assumed office in peace and tranquillity. His challenge now is how to build a new Gambia in peace and tranquillity.
The Way Forward
It is indisputable that death has occurred, and when death occurs the matter could no longer be treated as a Kanilai issue or a political or national one. The issue becomes international because of the universal and cherish values of humanity.
It is therefore important that as required by law a coroner’s inquest is conducted and recommendations made by the coroner, implemented.
It is important as Gambians, that we reflect on the incident as a national issue rather than an ethnic, partisan or sectarian issue.It is important for all Gambians to seek the facts and then promote reconciliation.
The Government has taken the posture that in a transitional arrangement, one needs transitional justice. It is important for the Government to utilise this incident as a case study of how that transitional justice which brings about truth and ensures justice tempered by reconciliation. The authorities responsible for crafting the rudiments of a transitional justice system should speed up the laying of the architecture and address the death of Harona Jatta as a matter of urgency. It is also important to clarify the presence of ECOMIG forces in the Gambia. The fundamental objective is clear. The ECOMIG forces are forces of Solidarity, not forces of Occupation. Hence if any sector of Gambian society sees them as forces of Occupation, the ECOMIG forces should look inward and find out why and then make sure that what makes those people see them as forces of Occupation, is actually remedied.
The ECOMIG forces and The Gambian Forces are Republican Forces. Their role is to defend the sovereignty of the Gambia and its people. It is not to take part in an ethnic strife or political infighting. They are to play their part in enhancing the unity of the people. In short, Republican Forces wherever they are based, must provide services to the population.
They must have doctors, educators, technicians and builders who would render voluntary services to the people such as the provision of medical treatment, building facilities and providing water supply and so on and forth in order to endear them to villagers.
Republican forces are forces trained to be servants of the people rather than their oppressors. They are designed to be protectors of the people and not their subjugators. This is why where ever they are engaged in peacekeeping or solidarity campaigns, they must leave behind a legacy of development and good neighborliness instead of a legacy of retrogression and divisiveness. They must be seen as saviors rather than killers. Hence it important for forces stationed in Kanilai and other places, to be given orientation; orientation to ensure that they are guided by Republican and democratic values and the spirit of caring for others. The community in which they find themselves should be able to accept that the security forces protect life just as doctors do.
Furthermore, to facilitate healing, the state needs to issue another statement in order to remedy the damages brought by its original one.
The statement should emphasise reconciliation and healing and call on the people of the area to come together to discuss on the way forward. The statement should call on the National Assembly members of the area, governors, religious leaders, the Alkalolu and elders to become involved in the whole process so that a way out could be found to prevent a recurrence of the incident.
Those who are arrested or are under the threat of arrest.
There is no doubt that peace does not drop from the sky. It is built by giving liberty to those whose freedom are at stake. Justice should be given to victims and reorientation to those who need the trust and confidence of the community.
It is believed that if trust is built, those young people who are running away from Kanilai will have the courage to go back and live normal lives in their village.
It’s is also important to look at the issue of prosecution. It is better to utilise the transitional justice system under the current circumstances. The Public order Act is currently under scrutiny. There has been incidents under the last government which involved opposition leaders who were also charged under the Public Order Act and there are many Sections of the law that are now being challenged at the supreme court so that Gambia becomes the democratic country that will allow freedom of expression and freedom of association, with greater tolerance.
Since there are many questions, it’s better to utilise the transitional justice system to ensure that we all have a new start in the new Gambia.
We are convinced that once these measures are taken, the Kanilai incident will be a matter of the past, not as an end in itself but as a means to promote national reconciliation and teach others how Gambia did overcome a major crisis in a manner that ensures that we maintain the path that we have chosen for ourselves, a path of democracy, rule of law, good governance; a path of National unity and a path of One Gambia, One Nation, One People.