By Pa Louis Sambou
I think one would be hard pressed to find anyone who in 2017 foresaw any cataclysmic defeat of the primary pillar of the Coalition agenda: the draft Constitution. Well, even if one existed, any such projection would most certainly have invited valid accusations of madness on the part of the maker / author. I’m sure there’s no short supply of voodoo artists who would today with a very straight face claim to have had a ‘prophetic’ sight of such an event through their crystal ball and in ways no rational being would comprehend. I speak of the marabouts of course but perhaps we should park their superstitious subject for another day.
Now, how has the most popular and lauded public policy of pedestal public appreciation become the first casualty of the very people who championed, the team captain (President) Barrow included? I am sure the vested interest lobby will blame everyone and everything else but themselves and their unsophisticated approach. However, the average nonpartisan, apolitical citizen with knowledge of the facts and developments will take a completely contrary view. I self – identify with the latter and hold the same contrary view.
I will be the first to concede that the 1997 Constitution leaves a lot to be desired but, is the solution to such, the institution of a gravy train edifice disguised as a Commission? Well, I guess the results speak for themselves: D116 million spent and, no goods delivered but, it’s perhaps not as simple black and white as that, I get it. In my view, the existing Constitution could have quite frankly been amended by a cross-party National Assembly committee with technical support by appropriate learned Gambians and consultants. This would have been much more cost effective, democratic and the result would have been much more acceptable to the National Assembly as a body, likewise the Executive. The decision to adopt the approach which led to the establishment of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) was a terrible error thanks to our learned emotion-driven former Attorney General who always gave the impression that he was fighting a ‘jihad’ against not just the former regime but, everything which it left behind no matter how insignificant.
One important lesson to draw from the defeat of the draft Constitution is, that the formulation of a major public policy framework such as a new superior legal order requires moderation and cool heads in every respect. However, the high stakes strategy adopted by the CRC to strongly skew every aspect of the discharge of their mandate towards the interests of the majority at the colossal expense of others was extremely dangerous. Such was not only dangerous in terms of the unprecedented and unhealthy tension it triggered between Christians and Muslims but risky in terms of the toxic partisan atmosphere it generated in addition to the aforementioned. In my view, if there’s any victory to celebrate from the defeat of the draft Constitution, it is the restoration of sanity and the end of an era of toxicity initiated, inspired, enabled and disgracefully driven by the CRC and fellow citizens whom were once-upon-a-time very respectable and honourable.
Having voted for or facilitated the coming into office of this government, advocating for its biggest policy agenda to be made historical was the last thing on our minds. Having weighed the options between the need for reform on the one hand and, the need for the safeguard of fundamental human rights of the Christian minority, women and vulnerable citizens, most like me opted for the latter and for good reason and without any regrets whatsoever.
Those of us who feel victorious for the extermination of the draft Constitution must however not be naïve into thinking that this is the end. It certainly isn’t. Besides it was not voted down for reasons other than human rights. After Jammeh was sent packing, I doubt any of us anticipated the arrival of another Jammeh in the guise of a legal luminary in lockstep with the same fringe minority determined in their objective to lay down the temple of what would have been the infancy of an Islamic State.
After yesterday’s verdict, it is vital that we all take stock, leave the division behind us and coalesce around a consensus in order to seek the pursuit of the constitutional reform objective but, without the draft and without its divisive architects and those drivers of the poisonous atmosphere. As for ownership of the failure, the bus driver (President Barrow) is of course a low hanging fruit for most to pinpoint, however, truth be told, the CRC had the latitude, the independence and a blank cheque to discharge the duty but, they were so scandalously inadequate, we should be demanding every butut of our money back. Their return was repugnant, it stank to the high heavens at every level and, as their lobby strictly instructed the National Assembly Members not to “touch it” (amend it) so, in the absence of a surgical operation, democratic extermination remained the only alternative. Therefore, the CRC must and should own the failure of their ‘sacred’ draft Constitution which in light of events, I will humbly advise they donate to the Gambia National Museum for historical archiving and for good. It’s good enough for our history but, certainly not our future.