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The Meaning of a New Constitution

Madi Jobateh
Human rights Activist

This nation, The Gambia has had three constitutions since Independence – in 1965, 1970 and 1997. It was the British Government that wrote both the 1965 and 1970 constitutions which were passed in the British Parliament and the Gambia House of Representatives, respectively. The citizens of the Gambia were not consulted to determine the kind of country they wished.

In 1996, when the draft constitution was presented to the military junta led by Yaya Jammeh, they removed, modified and added provisions that suited them and then presented it to a referendum. Since its coming into force in 1997 that APRC Regime spared no effort in further amending that constitution multiple times just to suit one person.

Consequently, when Gambians decided on 1st December 2016 to remove that authoritarian regime and ushered in a new administration on 19 January 2017, it was obvious that the country needed fundamental system change in order to establish true democratic governance. In its Manifesto and MoU, the Coalition leaders vowed to review the 1997 Constitution to cleanse it off of all provisions which are inimical to democracy and the rule of law. Hence transform the country from a Dictatorship to a Democracy.

Therefore, when the Constitutional Review Commission was established by an Act of the National Assembly in 2018 to write a new constitution, it went all round the country and abroad to talk to citizens as to the kind of Constitution they want. Bearing in mind that the constitution of a country is the basic law that practically determines how they live in their society, it was therefore necessary that none other than citizens must determine that constitution.

This is quite pertinent given that the Gambia is a Republic in which the supreme power and authority of the country are the sovereign citizens. The CRC Act made it quite clear that the new constitution should uphold all the hallmarks of democracy and republicanism and Gambianness. Not only did the CRC consult with Gambians as individual citizens, organizations and communities but it also gave audience to specialized bodies like the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary as well as political parties among others just to obtain their own kind of idea about the kind of Gambian they wanted.

The culmination of these consultations is the Final Draft Constitution which was presented to the President on 30 March 2020. What this means is that the final draft is indeed the general opinion of all Gambians as to the kind of society they want. In that society they have specified the kind of State they need and the ways and means in which that State should operate. They imposed checks and balances to restrain power and ensure transparency and accountability just to ensure that the citizen is best served, protected and empowered.

In essence the people of the Gambia have expressed the lessons learnt especially under the Dictatorship that they now need a society in which freedom, justice and equality will reign. With all of its inadequacies, the Final Draft Constitution is the first of its kind that was developed in the most participatory and inclusive manner in the country’s history.

On Monday September 14 the Final Draft Constitution was placed before the National Assembly. At this stage what is expected of NAMs is to facilitate the transmission of the document to the IEC, untouched, so that a referendum could be held on it. With the background in full view, it should not be difficult for one to understand that no one should touch or delay this Final Draft anymore.

No institution or person should feel so empowered as to touch it because by doing so it is to elevate oneself above the supreme power of the country, i.e. the people.

Much as NAMs may feel they have the legal authority to touch the document, they must realize that they are subordinate to the will of the people. They had their chance to share their opinions with the CRC at the drafting stage hence there is absolutely no justification for anyone to edit this document.

This Final Draft Document is the instrument that will usher in the Third Republic of the Gambia. It is the constitution that will lay the foundation for system change and create the environment for lasting and durable democratic governance in the country. This Final Draft is essentially the product of the intentions of the Coalition Parties and the President for which they should be the greatest supporters of the document.

Therefore, any attempt to edit it with the intention to dilute or to kill it tantamount to truncating the destiny and future of the country. That would constitute the greatest insult to the people of the Gambia and a huge waste of public resources for which history will never be kind to those that cause such harm to the nation. But by passing this Final Draft, both Pres. Barrow and the Coalition Parties would have fulfilled a fundamental promise to salvage this country.

It is obvious that not all NAMs will agree with everything in the Final Draft Constitution. But this is the case for each and every other citizen. No constitution in the world fully meets the expectations of each and every person of that country. However, NAMs and citizens who oppose any item or the whole of the Final Draft have a right to lead a ‘No Campaign’ in the referendum.

Therefore, let us inform NAMs that they have a historic and patriotic duty to perform by approving this Final Draft as it is and cause it to go to a referendum soonest. Failure to do so, and causing this historic document to collapse on the floor of the National Assembly would be an immense disservice to the nation that will haunt the Gambia for a long time to come.

For the Gambia Our Homeland

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