The Joint Communique and the National Assembly Debates
It deserves pride of place in the record of great parliamentary days as the dramatic debate on the “Promulgation” and “repeal” bill of the Draft Constitution (the Draft) and the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia (the Constitution) Gazetted on 28 August 2020 gripped the attention of Gambians here and in the Diaspora.
Characterised by high drama and sublime contributions from the Honourable National Assembly Members (NAMs), it was a day and climate to celebrate. Slowly but surely the nation travels the democratic track. The debates were conducted in an atmosphere of admirable civility and the NAMs are encouraged to continue on that trajectory and to do what in their individual considered estimation represent the best interest of the country.
In light of the stakes, the drama spilled over from the floor of the house to the larger populace following it on the different platforms anchored by the extraordinary technological revolution of modern times. As the NAMs debate so the citizens to influence their votes and with it the direction the country. Regardless of the outcome, it would represent a national victory.
Indeed the drama was so intense a powerful segment of the international community got in on the act and issued a highly charged “Joint Communique” thus:- “The European Delegation, the United States Embassy, the British High Commission and the German Embassy urge members of the National Assembly to vote the draft Bill on the revised constitution to progress to the final stages of parliamentary scrutiny… In order to consolidate the hard won democratic gains in recent years, it is vital to the credibility of the current transition to truly democratic, accountable government that the people of The Gambia themselves are given the opportunity to vote in a referendum on the new constitution. Denying them that opportunity is to deny one of the most demanded objectives from the 2016 election …”.
Although the Communique itself is contested in that parliamentary scrutiny remains on track and squarely within the contours of the delineated legal framework, the larger difficulty with the joint statement lies in its arguable transgression against the UN Charter.
Under Article 1, paragraph 2 of the Charter, it is clearly articulated that “the Purposes of the United Nations are:- To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”.
The events in the NA triggering this Joint Comminique are part of normal democratic conversation in a sovereign parliament and cannot therefore displace the Charter principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country. There is a lesson here and it is enmeshed with the issue of governance and the great haste with which The Gambia must tackle the urgent issue of economic independence.
Even now there are spirited discussions in western capitals around the issue of Russian interference in American and other European elections.
In the USA high-level careers were destroyed due to those allegations and the fallout came close to overwhelming the inner sanctums of the White House itself.
This Joint Communique swings the windmills of international diplomacy against the accepted norms and I hope the parliamentary system is allowed to operate on its normal rhythms.
The Gambia values the great friendship of the Joint Communique nations but how about giving chance to the philosophy that a people deserve its government.
Lamin J. Darbo