halifa sallah pdois leader and presidential candidate
Halifa Sallah PDOIS leader and presidential candidate

(JollofNews) – The Gambia is at a crossroads. We either take the route towards escalating tensions or the other route towards an inclusive secular democratic republic. There is no middle road. What then are the challenges? What is the way forward?

The Danger Of Ethnolinguistic Profiling
The republic requires a transition from a country of ethnolinguistic groups to a nation of equal citizens who share equal rights and duties in determining their manner of government and in participating to run the affairs of the country. Hence no Gambian citizen should utter any derogatory remark to ridicule or debase any other citizen based purely on religious, ethnolinguistic, gender or any other status.

In the same vein, no citizen should attribute the action of another citizen to a whole group based on religious, ethnolinguistic affiliation or any other affinity. Any close monitoring of the recent diatribes against different ethnolinguistic groups would not fail to acknowledge the danger of provoking ethnolinguistic hatred and fury. These raw remarks against ethnolinguistic groups may have gone unnoticed if prominence was not given to them by the person occupying the pinnacle of state power.

At his Ebo town meeting, President Jammeh left no stone unturned in claiming that it is the mandinkas who look down on other tribes and want to provoke violence in the country. It is best not to publish the remarks which may incite anger.

The remarks very clearly indicate what constitutes ethnolinguistic profiling. It amounts to attributing the conduct of one person from a particular ethnolinguistic origin to all others who share a common origin. Hence if the act of the person is evil the whole group becomes demonised. In that case there is collective indictment of an ethnolinguistic group, collective castigation, collective guilt, collective punishment and stigmatisation. These lead to discrimination and exclusion at best, in the absence of war and genocide, at worst, during war times. ethnolinguistic profiling should stop. It is offensive to innocent citizens and very menacing to those who are susceptible to intimidation.

President Jammeh
President Jammeh

No head of state, leader of a political party, public figure or private citizen, should utter any remarks amounting to ethnolinguistic profiling. No person is elected to speak for an ethnolinguistic group. One should not refer to presidents as ethnolinguistic representatives and castigate members of such groups for acts perpetrated by them.Such remarks would be unconstitutional, illegal and immoral and would not help us  to cement the relation between diverse people  to prove our common brotherhood and sisterhood.

All advocacy groups against political conflict should work diligently and in a concerted fashion to reverse the process of provoking ethnolinguistic diatribes in the media, at home and abroad.   This prevents citizens from debating issues on how to ensure a life of liberty and prosperity and focus on divergence caused by status at birth or choice of religion. All hands should be on deck to combat ethnolinguistic profiling by state officials or common citizens, at home or abroad. Derogatory remarks against any ethnolinguistic group being Mandinka, Pulaar, Wolof, Jola, Serahule, Mandiago, Serer, etc are unacceptable.

On April 14 and 16 Incidents
The arrest, detention and trial of the UDP leadership and their supporters is a source of political tension. It has been emphasised ad-infinitum that the UDP leadership was driven to peaceful action because of information of the death of a member of the party. Action in good faith is assumed when a person has every reason to believe that a particular development has taken place.

When a political leader acts instantaneously on the basis of conscience, even if it is  later found that the evidence is mistakenly assumed, criminality should not be alleged. Instead any contradiction between the political figures and the state should be taken as political conflict which is managed and resolved through dialogue. This is how matters stand with regard to the April 14 and 16 incidents and their aftermath.

Gambia opposition UDP protest
UDP Leader Ousainou Darboe, fourth from the right, was arrested for leading a protest march.

A state whose security has not been threatened by alleged marches and processions does not need to become belligerent and vindictive. That becomes an act of self defeat. A problem should not be made to be bigger than its size. It should not be blown out of proportion. Those who take to the streets without arms should not be treated as violent opposition. When a government utilises excessive measures to deal with its opponents, it puts it’s own legitimacy to question.

Impunity undermines the legitimacy of a state and ultimately puts dent in the governability of a nation. The reason why the state has received global attention is because of the manner in which the case is being handled. Arrests and detentions are bound by laws and rules. No action is legitimate when laws and rules are honoured with disregard.

In another week, the incidents would have lasted for two months. The failure to bring many arrestees to court within 72 hours creates suspicion of torture, deaths and disappearances. This is what must be avoided at all cost. The best way forward is to discharge and release those on trial and open up dialogue with the state and other political parties to avoid future reoccurrences. This would appeal to the sense of justice of the overwhelming majority of Gambians.

The Dakar Conference On Gambia
Many people in the Gambia are informed that the opposition were to assemble in Dakar to form a coalition. The International Civil Society Forum on the Gambia invited prominent Gambians to debate on the current situation.

The West Africa Civil Society Forum is affiliated to ECOWAS and has branches in many West African countries. Over the years, cases of deaths, torture and  detentions without trial have found their way to  the ECOWAS court and were widely reported by human rights groups thus leading to advocacy programmes being initiated to support victims.

The declaration of the Gambia as an Islamic state, the amendment to the Elections Act which increases the deposits to stand as candidates for elections and other restrictions and the tensions developing in the aftermath of the events of 14th and 16th April and the call by a sector of the Gambian community abroad for change by any means gave an early warning signal of a deteriorating political situation. The debate was necessary to be able  to predict the political climate and its possible outcome.

The Outcome of the Dakar Meeting:
The Dakar meeting should finally make it evident to all Gambians that the future of the Gambia is in the hands of the Gambian people.
It has become very clear to all that if the Gambian people do not know what they want and how to pursue it to fruition no one would be able to give any meaningful solidarity.

It became evident to all that the advocacy and solidarity that the Gambian people need from the UN, AU, ECOWAS, EU  and USA to facilitate good governance, democracy and  promote  respect for and protection of human rights has reached its peak.
Hence it is the Gambian people who should know what they should demand for and  the type of advocacy and solidarity they want from the region and the world. The type of action plan that is needed should be connected with, dependent on and determined by the will of the Gambian people.

On my part as a resource person I made it clear that the sovereign Gambian people have gone beyond the politics of resistance which belongs to the civil rights movement and should now embrace  transformative politics which calls for strategies and tactics to empower them to vote governments out of office ,when they are guilty of impunity, mismanagement and misrepresentation.

Although views do not change automatically participants have seen the need for sincerity in reviewing strategies and tactics adopted by different stakeholders and consider approaches which would earn Gambians the respect and support of all stakeholders at home and abroad.

The Gambian people want a country where human rights, democracy and good governance could be promoted and genuine elections held to give rise to genuine results. Some still have doubts whether elections could bring about change but are yet to give concrete strategies on how to effect change acceptable to the international community without elections.

Hence those who wish to engage in advocacy should urge The Gambia to meet its obligations under the ECOWAS Treaty and AU Constitutive Act and the numerous protocols so that fundamental Human rights would be respected and political expression and association protected to pave the way for genuine elections. Needless to say, a self-respecting government would not wait to be influenced by its peers to comply with international treaties and protocols it has signed and ratified.

UDP supporters outside the Banjul High Court
UDP supporters outside the Banjul High Court

 The Way Forward
Political parties could best serve the country by establishing an effective and efficient Inter-party institution that would  engage in dialogue  to create a level ground for free, fair and genuine multiparty contest. They should work in partnership with the IEC, the CSOs and the International Community in order to put in place an electoral system which will deliver results that would be acceptable to all stakeholders.

The Gambia opposition and its supporters in the Diaspora should take note of the terms established by the protocol on democracy and good governance; that to run a government unconstitutionally, or take over a government unconstitutionally, are all unacceptable.

Hence, they should be able to catalogue all unconstitutional behaviour of the government and negotiate with the government to provide remedy and seek solidarity and advocacy from partners of the country to exercise persuasive influence or exert pressure to achieve results as provided for by the existing protocols.

The Gambia opposition should sit and evolve a coalition strategy and tactic that would enable them to establish a formidable opposition force without which the excessive power of the government could not be objectively criticised or effectively scrutinised and restrained.

Civil society should become partners in promoting a non-partisan programme to consolidate democracy, human rights and good governance and facilitate the holding of free, fair and genuine elections. The media should distinguish legal opposition from violent opposition, identify the strategies and tactics that would make the opposition to attain the respect and clout meriting respect and recognition as  a partner by the UN, ECOWAS, AU, and the international community. Whenever, a government is confronted with challenges which weakens it an alternative should become visible. This is the challenge before the opposition in the two months ahead. Will it be able take up the challenge? The future will tell.

Halifa Sallah,  Secretary General and Presidential Candidate of the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism.