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Is Barrow Tolerant and a Democrat? -Madi Jobarteh

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Screenshot of some posts by a prominent Barrow supporter who has never been questioned by the police.

By Madi Jobarteh

As you read this article Ebrima Dibba continues to languish in a police cell without any legal reason. The Police issued a press statement on Friday May 31 to confirm his arrest and detention together with one Bakary Sillah. They only added that,
“Details regarding their arrest and the ongoing investigation will be communicated in due time. The public is advised to allow the police to conduct their work with due diligence.”

How can the public allow the Police to conduct their investigations after they have arrested citizens and then claim to investigate? Are the Police saying there is not even a hint or a preliminary reason they could give for the arrest? When did the so-called investigation start? Today marks 72 hours since their detention.

What is clear is that Ebrima Dibba is not an armed robber, a coupist or a criminal of any kind. Rather he is a mere unarmed opposition politician living in a supposedly peaceful and democratic country led by a President characterized as tolerant, democratic and peaceful. Therefore, why arrest him?

The arrest of Ebrima Dibba follows a long list of similar arrests since 2017 when Pres. Barrow came to office. Those arrested include political opponents, journalists, activists and other ordinary citizens. What they share in common is that they either express divergent and dissenting opinions or protest issues about the Government and the President. Dibba’s case like the rest before him truly raises the question as to whether Pres. Adama Barrow is a tolerant man who truly believes in democracy or not.

For example, in April 2024, we saw 8 youths arrested for merely sitting in the pavilions at Memorial Arch in Banjul to express their grievance at the poor ferry service, after they were first denied a permit to stage a protest in Banjul. The IGP gave the flimsy excuse that the Gambia was to host the OIC conference!

In fact, as early as February 2017, one month after Barrow assumed office, one Fatou Badjie of Jabang was arrested and charged with using abusive language against Pres. Barrow. In March 2017, a set of 24 APRC supporters were also arrested and charged with assaulting a Coalition envoy in Kanfenda. In August 2017, Mamma Kandeh was ‘invited’ by the Police for questioning. In October of the same year, it was the turn of Fabakary Tombong Jatta to ‘visit’ Police headquarters. Seedy Njie followed in January 2018 for questioning. Dr. Ismaila Ceesay had his turn in February 2018, while in December 2022, Momodou Sabally and Sonko Gambia were also arrested for merely expressing opinions.

Apart from these politicians, the Barrow Government has also arrested a number of journalists and activists for their comments. reportage or protests. For example, Comedian Alh. Borra was arrested in October 2023 for merely expressing his opinion about coups in Africa. Before him, Journalist Bakary Mankajang was also detained in September 2023. Before that, rapper and activist Killa Ace was also arrested in November 2018. My humble self was arrested in June 2020 as well as in October 2023 for merely holding Pres. Barrow and his Government accountable. In May 2022, Barrow in fact singled me out a national arsonist on national television.

In most of these cases of arrests, the Police would come with concocted charges to impose on victims such as sedition, false information and broadcasting, incitement to violence or breach of peace among others. Yet since 2017 to date the Government could not successfully prosecute anyone for these charges because they are all politically motivated charges to protect the President. Rather they inconvenience citizens by forcing them to be reporting unendingly at Police stations only to either drop the charges or simply ignore the issue eventually. This is a classic case of state harassment and abuse of power. Yet Pres. Barrow condones it.

Still, apart from these arrests, we have also seen a consistent pattern in which the Barrow Government either denies citizens to stage protests or when the Police grant a permit, they do so in a way as to render the protest weak and ineffective. For example, they either confine the protest in the bush or limit it to a short distance of a few hundred meters or to a short duration of 3 hours at most – all intended to undermine the ability of citizens to express themselves and hold the Government accountable.

But where protests take place, the Police are ready to use unnecessary and brute force against protesters. We have recorded police brutality during the deadly 2018 Faraba protests, the 2019 OccupyBAC protests, and the 2019 Serre Kunda protests which erupted because of the torture and death of a market vendor, Ousman Darboe at the hands of the Anti-Crime Unit. Similar police violence was also recorded in the 2021 Sanyang protests.

Apart from deaths and injuries at protests, one can also record the incidence of police brutality against individuals such as the case of Ebrima Sanneh of Kotu who was physically assaulted by the Anti-Crime Unit commander leading to severe injuries. Yet, until today no one is held accountable for the killing of UTG student Kebba Secka or the death of Haruna Jatta in Kanilai by security forces.

During the Three Years Jotna protests in 2019/20, not only were Home Digital and King FM radio stations illegally closed but also their journalists were illegally arrested. In addition, the Government went ahead to illegally ban the Three Years Jotna organization. These are all blatant violations of the Constitution perpetrated by the Government which is said to be democratic and led by a peaceful and tolerant President.

In all these cases, we have never seen or heard Pres. Barrow tell the Police to stop and protect the rights of citizens who disagree with him. Instead, what is on record is that not only has the President attacked his opponents directly, but he also said he would order the IGP to arrest his critics. He said even if the courts granted them bail, he would still order their re-arrest, complaining that there is ‘too much democracy’ in the country. He also said he will order the IGP not to grant a permit to anyone to protest. Evidently, these facts only show that Pres. Barrow is neither tolerant nor a democrat.

Therefore, I think it’s high time that Gambians recognize that this country is led by an intolerant and an undemocratic President who is leading an equally authoritarian regime. The evidence of this assertion lies in the uncountable instances of arbitrary arrests, illegal detention and acts of police brutality on citizens for merely exercising their fundamental rights to freedoms of expression and assembly which are guaranteed in the Constitution. It is evident that Pres. Barrow does not wish to have anyone criticize him or disagree with his Government.

The intolerance and tyrannical tendencies of Pres. Barrow are all too open to see. In May 2024, he told his supporters to fight their political opponents and he would defend them because he is the President, and their party is the Government. Therefore, it is important for citizens to recognize that contrary to the general view that there is a tolerant and democratic President in the Gambia, in fact he is a dictator.

Yet it was this President who convened a so-called National Dialogue in February 2024. In his opening remarks, he said,
“My government holds the view that we should always try to forge a national consensus on national issues that generate divergent views. Such divergence must not result in enmity or disunity. Instead, it should be tapped into as a source of strength for us to tolerate, appreciate, and empathize with one another. In this way, all citizens would have the opportunity to contribute to sustaining peace and stability nationwide.”

Why therefore is President Barrow so intolerant to divergent and dissenting opinions such that he will always order the IGP to harass citizens who criticize him?

We do not have to experience summary executions and widespread torture to accept that we live in a dictatorship. Since 2017 the instances of disregard of the rule of law, the flouting of court rulings, the violations of the Constitution and systematic abuse of human rights amidst rampant corruption and abuse of power perpetrated by the Government are all too glaring to ignore. These are the indicators that show the presence of dictatorship in a country.

Why is Ebrima Dibba in custody? Why is he arrested in the first place? What has he said that Pres. Barrow himself has not said already? Listen to the words of Ministers and NPP supporters including the presidential advisors to hear the uncouth, tribalist and insulting words they rain on their political opponents, journalists, activists and ordinary citizens all the time! Yet the IGP has never arrested any of the President’s supporters and Ministers. Is this how a tolerant and democratic President leads a country?

As Gambians we must be fed up and angry at the gross violation of our human rights. We cannot and should not live in our own country where our own Police can just prance on anyone of us for merely disagreeing or criticizing our own Government and President. Yet the President and his supporters can insult and criticize anyone without any fear of arrest. See screenshots of one of President Barrow’s leading public insulters!

If this country is to be a True Republic, then we must put it to Pres. Adama Barrow that he must respect, uphold and defend the Constitution without ill-will or favour, first and foremost. As the President of this Republic, Adama Barrow must refrain from running to the IGP to illegally order him to illegally arrest citizens who criticize or disagree with him. Rather he must have the courage and conviction to face his critics and opponents publicly to defend his policies, decisions and the actions of his Government. He has three spokespeople as well as Ministers, Advisors and GRTS and all the media in the Gambia to utilize to respond to anyone. Why is he not using those channels instead of running to hide behind the IGP?

Pres. Barrow must be told that he must refrain from attacking his opponents. He must stop his supporters and advisors from insulting opponents. He must ensure that Gambians enjoy their fundamental rights in full. This is not a favour, but a legal, political and moral duty imposed on him by the 1997 Constitution, which he had sworn to uphold and defend. The day of reckoning shall come.

Free Ebrima Dibba and Bakary Sillah.

For the Gambia Our Homeland

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