BabaBy Baba Galleh Jallow

July 23, 2015

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing this open letter to you in direct response to your speech of July 22, 2015 granting amnesty to several categories of people, including those convicted of treason in The Gambia and those members of the Gambian Diaspora who have been in disagreement and/or outright conflict with you and your government. This letter is motivated by pure love of country and a desire encourage what I understand, rightly or wrongly, to be a potential beginning of change for the better for our dear Motherland. My uncompromising hatred for all forms of injustice is only equal to my belief in the human capacity to evolve and improve. In granting forgiveness, I understand from your speech that you desire to be forgiven for crimes committed under your watch, if not by the victims of these crimes, then by God.

Some members of the Gambian Diaspora community who have been in disagreement and/or conflict with you and your government are not liars as you characterized them; nor have they ever committed a single crime in their lives. Their only “crime” has been to criticize you and your government for doing things they believe to be detrimental to the wellbeing of our country, and to offer advice on how best to move our country in the best direction. They have simply been criminalized by the spirit of intolerance that characterized your regime and which, I dearly hope, is about to become a thing of the past. Of course, no one can claim to be infallible and we have staunchly resisted and rejected your claims of infallibility in the past. And should you claim to be infallible in the present or the future, some of us will reject it out of hand; for infallibility may only be claimed by the All Mighty God to whom you make frequent reference. If you do indeed read the Quran everyday as you mentioned in your speech, then this fact is not lost upon you. Human beings are fallible creatures and peace will elude them as long as they refuse to acknowledge that fact and act accordingly. Perhaps your frequent reading of the Quran (in translation I hope) is beginning to bear fruit. Perhaps you are growing increasingly capable of recognizing the error of your ways and making amends to that effect. That can only bode well for our dear Motherland.

I hope you understand Mr. President, that saying you forgive your critics and opponents in the Diaspora does not mean that they will not criticize you where they find this necessary, or desist from advocating the kinds of political changes that they feel is best for our Dear Motherland. Indeed, our freedom of expression and association is absolutely nonnegotiable and inviolable by any leader or government on earth. We reserve the right to condemn unjust laws and object to the abuse of our God-given rights by the State which is our child and servant, or the head of state who is our child and chief servant. We conceive of the Nation as one big family – the Family Nation – in which the people are the parents and the government the children. The head of state deserves due respect as the First Child of the Family Nation. But he/she will be censored if he/she disrespects or in any way unjustly abuses public authority, the dignity of any member of the national family or our national institutions. So will all members of their government. Disagreements are inevitable in any social unit; but disagreements within the Family Nation should never be elevated to the status of enmity; they must be tolerated and resolved where possible. Where it is not possible to amicably and/or legally resolve disagreements within the Family Nation, family members must be content with agreeing to disagree. No member of the family should be forcibly silenced or punished because they disagree with other members of the family. All members aspire to help our Dear Motherland become a universal model of all the beautiful virtues expressed in the Holy Scriptures – from forgiveness, which you just practiced – to justice, respect for human dignity, freedom of worship, and unconditional tolerance of differing opinion within the nation-state space, among others. The task of helping our Motherland become such a model is a perpetual work in progress that we will carry out as long as is humanly possible and that future generations of Gambians will continue after us. And the fact that the Nation is a work in progress means that we and those who come after us bear the responsibility of pointing out faults within our leadership and our political and cultural institutions and seeking remedies for them. In effect, what I am saying is that if you do something we feel is not good for our nation, we will criticize you for it and we will say what we believe, rightly or wrongly, is the best thing for our nation. No Gambian may claim to love The Gambia more than any other Gambian, and it is important for those handling the affairs of our nation to be perpetually and immediately cognizant and respectful of this fact. So while I personally appreciate the fact that you have released political prisoners and other people convicted of various offenses in The Gambia, and the fact that you have decriminalized those innocent critics of you and your government residing outside our beloved country, I believe that there is still much more you can and should do in your own personal interest and in the interest of our Dear Motherland. Below is a very short list of suggestions:

Institute Term Limits: This is one of the most important steps you should take in the interest of our Nation.

Moreover, it is a step that you strongly promised Gambians that you will take 21 years ago when you took over the reins of our national government. I am sure you clearly remember saying that even ten years is too much for any single person to be in power in The Gambia. Instituting term limits is not, as you recently suggested, an act of pandering to the West, or being a puppet of the West. It is an act that will heal our nation in ways that we can only imagine at this time. Giving ownership of democracy, human rights, term limits or any other aspect of political civility to the West is giving the West power it does not possess or agency it may never lay claim to. Civility is a human virtue, not a Western imposition because the West has no power or authority to impose it. Instituting term limits is simply the right thing to do and I hope you will do it in your own personal interest and in the best interest of our dear Nation. Occasional changes of political leadership propels a nation forward; it allows for experimentation with different ideas as to how best to improve the conditions of a nation. On the other hand, overstaying in power may give the illusion of progress but is actually a recipe for political, cultural and developmental stagnation, if not outright national disaster. The fact that Jawara overstayed in power was among your primary excuses for toppling him. Do not repeat his fatal political mistake.

Annul the 2015 Elections Amendment Law: As a leader who seized power in the name of bringing about political freedom and equality, you have many times abrogated that declared intention. However, with the incredible increase in electoral fees that your government is in danger of imposing, you have literally gone way over the top and reached perhaps the farthest point away (so far) from your initial declared intention of bringing about political freedom and equality. The best thing to do in the interest of our Dear Motherland is simply nip this unjust idea in the bud and leave the fees as they are. It is manifestly unjust to make it virtually impossible for well-meaning Gambians to offer their services to the nation through elected office simply because they are not as wealthy as yourself and cannot afford the fees. Let the Gambian people choose their leaders in free and fair elections, which are already hard enough to conduct within the context of our current political culture.

Consider Alternative Views: Ideas, Mr. President, are the building blocks of a nation. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you as Head of State to seriously consider all ideas proposed in the name of helping our Dear Motherland, regardless of their origin. The Gambian media needs to be free to agree or disagree with you and your government, because they are equally invested in the welfare of our nation. The criminalization of legitimate public opinion is much like cutting your nose to spite your face and represents a violation of the fundamental God-given rights of citizenship every Gambian should enjoy without let or hindrance. Where media or journalists explicitly break the law or commit sedition or libel, let the rule of law take its due course rather than have state agents unlawfully pounce upon them. The practice of punishing journalists and media houses simply because they criticize their own government is utterly counter-productive. Just as parents have the right to criticize and correct their children, so does journalists have the right to criticize and correct their government, whose members are their children and servants.

I understand that our alternative political parties are suggesting a list of electoral reforms for your consideration. It would perhaps be unrealistic to say that you must accept all their suggestions, which may in fact be the best thing for you to do. However, I would urge you to seriously consider some of their proposals if not in recognition of their merit and legitimacy as coming from well-meaning, well-respected Gambian citizens, then in the interest of what is best for our Dear Motherland. Our electoral politics are in much need of improvement and I am sure the proposals coming from our other political leaders have something to offer. You will notice that I do not refer to them as opposition parties because I think the term “opposition” does not adequately capture the essence of our alternative political parties and leaders. We need a rethinking of not only our political culture, but the political nomenclature that is of this increasingly outmoded culture, including terms like opposition, honorable, and excellency.

Finally, Mr. President, I heard you say that you have turned a new page. I dearly hope you have. Let me just say that turning a new page is much more than offering amnesty to convicted criminals and allowing Gambians in the Diaspora the freedom to visit their homeland without fear of arrest or persecution. That is certainly a significant step, but it is only one step – however significant – that you need to take towards bettering the condition of our Dear Motherland. I have outlined a few other crucial steps you need to take in this short open letter. If you have already decided to take these steps, praise be to God. If not, I urge you to seriously consider taking them sooner rather than later, in the best interests of our Dear Motherland. All Power Belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds.

Ends

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