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Why citizens should monitor and hold the state accountable

Madi Jobarteh is a Gambian human rights activist

By Madi Jobarteh

Why do you think there is so much poverty in the Gambia? Why do you think there was a group called Junglers under Yaya Jammeh? Why do you think there is so much freedom and prosperity in Sweden? Why do you think Khashoggi was killed and cut into pieces in the Saudi embassy in Turkey? Why do you think there was a president called Hitler or Saddam Hussain? Why do you think US Pres. Trump sacked the FBI director in America? Why do you think there is ‘backway’ journey in the Gambia? Do you ever sit to ponder over these questions and many more in order to understand how and why that is the case?

But for a start, consider this? When a man and woman marry in any normal country the State is aware because they register the marriage with the State. Few months down the line when the woman gets pregnant the State knows because she goes to clinic; be it public or private clinic, the State knows since the State collects all such records. When that woman delivers a bounding baby girl the State knows because the baby will have a birth certificate provided by the State. If that child goes to kindergarten and then to primary, secondary and high school and even proceed to UTG the State knows because the State knows the school enrolment in the Gambia.

Now when that young girl graduates and gets a new job or opens her own business the State knows because she will pay income tax, social security or register her business. When she buys a new car or a new home the State knows because she will get car license and number plate or obtain a title deed, pay compound rates and apply for electricity and water supply from the State. When the time has come for that young woman to also marry the State knows even the name of her husband because they will register their marriage. Even when she dies the State knows because there is a death certificate. Above all the State conducts census and they know each and every family, home, village, town and citizen in this country and what we do.

So, what is in your life that the State does not know? Whenever you travel out or return to this country by land, sea or airport the State knows since there are immigration, police and intelligence officers at the border posts. Even as you read this piece the State knows who is reading it because the State has all of the institutions, tools, personnel and resources to monitor each and every individual and activity in this country at any time.

Therefore, if the State is that powerful do you think as a citizen you should just ignore that institution or take it for granted or just believe anything they say? Remember, all of the power and resources of the State are derived from the citizen. If that State is in the hands of honest men and women of integrity it means the State will become a great tool to secure the freedom, prosperity and security of citizens. This is why some society progress. But when that State is occupied by unscrupulous men and women without conscience then the State becomes a weapon of untold suffering as we saw in many societies including the Gambia under Yaya Jammeh.

As a Republic our Constitution says that the sovereignty of the Gambia resides in the citizens and we give legitimacy and authority to the State. State institutions perform their functions in our name and for our welfare. This is why State officials are called Public Servants. The State comprises three main organs – National Assembly, Government and Courts. Together they are expected to put in place laws, institutions and processes through which they protect our rights and fulfil our needs. How the State utilises those resources and enforces the laws in exercise of its power and obligations must be checked lest we allow abuse to take place.

For example, the Executive has the institutions to deliver our social and economic needs and protect our civil and political rights. The Parliament is mandated to check the Executive to ensure that they perform those functions according to the law. The Courts make sure none of them violate the law in the performance of their duty. Hence if all of them act according to the rule of law and the standard set out in our Constitution there cannot be poverty and injustice in the Gambia. But then why is there so much poverty and injustice in the Gambia?

When the Americans were creating the laws and structures of their union, i.e. the United States, one of the founding fathers noted that if men and women were angels there would be no need to make laws because those men and women would do the right thing for the public good. But unfortunately, men and women are not angels therefore we need laws and rules to guide their decisions and actions. One founding father also suggested that there can only be a good Republic if the people could keep it, i.e. take care of it by fulfilling their duties to check elected and appointed public servants. Thus, if the Republic fails it is because the people have failed to take care of it.

What I am trying to draw from the beginning is to say that the State is a powerful tool – that can be used for great good or harm citizens. This is because the State is the only institution that has all of the information because everyone reports to the State. The State is the only institution to which everyone contributes money as taxes. The State is the only institution that has the guns, prisons, courts, police, intelligence and the military. The State is backed by law which they make in Parliament and interpret in the Courts and enforce by the Executive. So how can you escape that State?

Therefore, if we go back to the original questions that I raised at the top one will realise that the only reason we have poverty, violations, corruption and injustice in society is because the State has failed to perform as required by law to protect and deliver. But why does the State fail to protect and deliver? The State fails simply because citizens usually fail to monitor the State. In fact, in many instances citizens would support, condone and defend the State even when the State is failing and abusing its powers. In that case everyone becomes a victim.

Elected and appointed public servants in charge of the institutions of the State are not angels. They are mere mortal men and women like you and me. Some are indeed decent, honest and hard working. But there are also some who are the incarnation of Satan Itself – Thugs and Gangsters! Remember Yaya Jammeh and his Junglers and civilian officials who abused their powers, plundered public resources and failed to deliver but inflicted sheer violence on the people.

Therefore Gambians, the choice is in our hands. This Republic will make or break depending on where we stand as citizens. If we go to sleep or fail to critically think and fail to take the necessary position to check the State, rest assured our lives are in danger. The only relationship we have with the State is not to praise the President or Minister or National Assembly Member of Governor for the good job they do.

That is what we elected and appointed them to do in the first place. Our only job is to check every step of the President and all other elected and appointed public servants. This is the only path that will secure our liberty, prosperity and happiness in our lifetime, i.e. taking care of the State. #Accountability.

For The Gambia our Homeland

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