18 September 2012

The Gambia continues downward slide on governance ladder

By D. A. Jawo
It is indeed hard for any right thinking Gambian to imagine why President Yahya Jammeh, who is already under intense local and international scrutiny over his unwise decision to execute nine death row prisoners under very cloudy circumstances, would yet still go ahead to arbitrarily close down media houses simply for not singing his praises. Any reasonable person would have thought that under the circumstances that he presently finds himself in, he would have done everything possible to deflect rather than attract more negative attention on his regime.The arbitrary decision to send NIA operatives to both The Daily News and The Standard on Friday afternoon and verbally ask them to immediately cease publication, without any court order or yet still without any document to that effect, tantamount to the worst form of arbitrariness ever seen in a country that claims to be practicing modern  democracy. That was exactly what they did to the Gambia’s most popular radio station, Teranga FM, about three weeks ago.
This action by the Gambian authorities and the crude manner it was done shows how far down the governance ladder this country has degenerated and the almost total lack of adherence to the most basic tenets of the rule of law being practiced by those in authority.  It is hard to understand how in this 21st century, any government can just send people to legally registered media outlets and verbally ask them to cease operations without any legal document to that effect. This is indeed the height of arbitrariness ever witnessed in our sub-region, and a clear manifestation of the almost total lack of regard for the welfare of ordinary Gambians.
It is now quite evident that such arbitrariness and lack of regard for the rule of law has become a daily occurrence in The Gambia, often done in complete disregard of the provisions of the law and natural justice. Just a few days prior to the arbitrary closure of The Daily News and The Standard, for instance, we had seen how two journalists were detained for more than the legal limit of 72 hours for merely applying for a police permit to demonstrate, which is quite a normal occurrence in any civilized society.
As if that was not enough violation of the law, we were also told that rather than going through the legal channels of arresting and detaining them, the two journalists were tricked into reporting to the police station when they were told that their application for permit had been approved and that they were required to report to the police for it, only to be detained when they went to report.  It is hard to imagine that a responsible government would be engaged in such amateurish behavior.
We are also told that the police had to search the homes of those two journalists, no doubt without any search warrants, and that they even had to break open the door to the room of a brother of one of the journalists, which is not only illegal but tantamount to burglary, which would have been a big scandal in any civilized society.
While the arbitrary closure of Teranga FM, The Daily News and The Standard seems to have robbed the masses of ordinary Gambians their most reliable sources of news and information, it has also rendered several people out of employment.  It is quite hard to justify the decision by this regime, which makes so much noise about its concern for the welfare of Gambians, to use their arbitrary powers to close down media houses which action has suddenly rendered so many Gambians unemployed without any justifiable reasons.
The question on everyone’s lips is whether President Jammeh indeed has any advisers or whether he listens to any advice. He does not seem to know that by using arbitrary powers to close down genuinely registered media houses, he is forcing more and more Gambians to turn to the online publications for news and information about The Gambia. There is no way that he can force Gambians to consume lock, stock and barrel the propaganda and deception being churned on a daily basis by the GRTS and his other propaganda outlets when they can easily get the correct information from other sources.
Therefore, by using arbitrary powers to deny them access to the correct information through the local media outlets, Gambians will now resort to the online media and other sources to get the information they need and there is nothing the government can do about it. We have certainly passed that stage in our country’s development when the regime can determine for the people what information they should consume as if the regime is dealing with robots.
We have all heard the defensive posture adopted by members of the regime in the aftermath of the prisoner executions, with the Attorney General even saying that he would resign if anyone showed him any errors in the way and manner the executions were carried out. However, it is hard to see how anyone can prove to him the illegality of the executions when his regime has clearly shown that they have no tolerance for divergent views and opinion. We are however now waiting to see how he and all those who were making such noises would react to this arbitrariness and lack of adherence to the basic rule of law to close down these media houses. As the legal adviser to the government, this arbitrary and illegal action is enough reason for him to resign if it is not reversed; otherwise, his own credibility as a legal luminary is at stake.
It is therefore quite an embarrassment to most Gambians to see our once peaceful dear country rapidly slide down to a bastion of mal-governance with little regard for the rule of law, and gradually transformed into the laughing stock of the sub-region.
Another big embarrassment to most Gambians is the submissive behavior of our traditional and religious leaders, who are always in a haste to rally round the regime’s actions without regard to the wishes and aspirations of the overwhelming majority of the people, apparently in return for the crumbs and other generous gifts that President Jammeh often lavishes on them on such occasions like Ramadan and similar events. Therefore, until our religious leaders, in particular, muster the courage to tell President Jammeh the truth, in accordance with their religious mandate, this country’s governance profile will continue its downward slide.

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