Monday, February 5, 2018

It'd be a grave error to misread the national mood

Sidi Sanneh 
The arrest and detention of Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, a political science lecturer at the University of The Gambia, for expressing a personal view that the Barrow administration found unpalatable, is the latest in a series of unforced errors that has refocused the spotlight on the human rights of Gambians.

The furor that accompanied the universal condemnation of the arrest was a strong signal to the government that Gambians cherish their restoration of their inherent freedoms and will resist any attempt to return the country to dictatorial rule.  We've been there once, we are not going  to travel that road again.

It appears that it is because of the strength of the reaction from local and international human rights activists and ordinary citizens that resulted in his release of the University of The Gambia lecturer.  Whether it will result in a lasting change and commitment to democratic norms, the rule of law  and cessation of operational command being conducted from State House instead of from Police Headquarters.

Public reaction to Generals Ansumana Tamba and Umpa Mendy's surreptitious entry into the country has been equally ferocious.  The two military officers, who are closest and among the most trusted of Jammeh's  inner circle, elected to join the ex-dictator into involuntary exile in January of 2017 only to resurface in Banjul without notice or being detected at the port of entry despite being well known military personalities.

This serious security breach, and others before it, of course, raised eyebrows and raised a dust storm, followed by probing questions as to how the two could have slipped into the country unnoticed.  Investigations, we are told, are still ongoing and, we expect, the results and the remedial measures will be shared.  The Gambia people demand it.

Recent security lapses are constant reminders that very little has changed since Gambians voted the transition government to power because administrative/institutional structures built purposely to prop up the 22-year dictatorship and the personnel trained to maintain a repressive and corrupt system  are still intact and discernibly operational.

The appointment of a political operative and convicted drug dealer by President Barrow as his Youth Adviser was, again, so out of touch with the mood of the country that it invited more public scorn and criticism of the continued torn deafness of the government. 

It is this current state of play that probably led the PDOIS (political party) leader to tell an East London audience last October that even though a regime was changed has occurred at last December 1st 2016 presidential elections, there's yet to be a system change; an observation that some found to be an unfair critic of the government. 

Nothing has changed, the sentiment goes, except Gambia replacing Jammeh with Barrow as president.  In a recent BBC interview, the Gambian Information minister was hard pressed to list Barrow's achievements in its first year at the helm.  And when he listed freedom of speech and association, the interviewer retorted that these were inherent rights that Gambians were bound to exercise even if Barrow put both hands in his pockets and did nothing.

Gambians' patience is being tested to the limit by a government that seems more interested in cutting deals and getting entangled in procurement processes that is, in our opinion, beneath the dignity of the highest office in the land.  The focus should be on kick-starting an under performing economy to improve the livelihood of 2 million inhabitants who are among the world's poorest.  The impatient mood with the Barrow administration is not only with Gambians but with our development partners.