You want to know how democratic a country is? Check not only its political system, the separation of powers and system of checks and balances, the independence of the judiciary, the frequency of power change, the robustness of its accountability and transparency systems. Sine qua non, no doubt.
Measure too the rights enjoyed by its minorities, of religion, tribe, political, sexual orientation, etc; how safe the minorities are in that environment; how equal law is protecting their rights and liberties; how the majority, of religion, tribe, political orientation is respecting the rights and sensibilities of minorities, allaying their fears and feeling of insecurity and protecting their property.
Though the political minority should submit its political will to the political majority, that principle demands that the political majority protects the rights, interests, lives and property of the political minority; the political majority also subjecting itself to same laws.
While equal law protects the rights of all equally in The Gambia, each below and none above the Constitution, attitudes of political majority and religious majority towards political and religious minority have been below par, at least frightening and at worst a show of “majoritarian tyranny”. Yaya and his Government, callous to the feelings of the religious minorities in the country, used their diktat, out of the constitutional pale, to rename our country “Islamic Republic of The Gambia”. The religious majority, Sunni Moslems, or rather their scholars and leaders, endorsed this unconstitutional renaming or “baptism” as a matter of right- there were resistances from some quarters but distant and suppressed. Political stamping of religious majoritarian tyranny.
What about the building of mosques in public offices and property? The presence of a mosque at State House? It is not the function of our State to promote one religion over others, to proselytize on behalf of any religion, to organise or fund religious events, build or sanction the building of mosques in public places on public property. The State is supposed to be for all of us, maximising the greatest happiness of all of its people. Public places are bequeathed to none because they belong to all. Religion is a private matter and it should be private individuals to build mosques, churches and places of worship on their private property. Just imagine the chaos that could emerge if we have a non-Muslim as President but who is a religious zealot and order for the building of houses of worship in public places. A religious tower Babel.
Few years ago, some people in a particular community in Tallinding debarred the Ahmadi community from burying their dead in the communal, public cemetery. A stand off ensued which could have escalated into something unsavoury if not diffused in time. There is open hostility against the Ahmedis, from some Islamic scholars, with few calling for their expulsion from the country- citizens brazenly calling for the expulsion of other citizens because they are religiously different.
And now we have this Taneneh burial ground saga, precipitated by, according to sources, a Muslim man’s claim of ownership over a piece of land which is also a cemetery of a minority tribe and religion. Who would claim ownership of a cemetery? The case may not be tribal or religious but that a deceased member of a tribal and religious minority cannot be given a decent burial because of some claim of cemetery ownership beat my imagination.
The beauty of any democracy is in how it treats its minorities. The strength of any governance structure is tested in the way the rights of its minorities are protected and secured. The tolerance of a society is exhibited in how people disagree without being disagreeable, how its majority are accommodating towards the interest of the minority.
Morality apart, that we need to maintain peace and be tolerant towards others, the State has the obligation to protect the rights of others from violation or transgression, which include the rights of minorities. The State cannot be seen to be pandering to selected interests.
The Gambia is ours and everyone must feel it is a country they can call home, a country whose foundation is equality, non-discrimination, rule of law, accountability, human rights. After all, what other country can we all proudly call home? Nonetheless, our country ought to be lovely towards all of us.