Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: We are not out of the woods yet of trying to resuscitate the 2020 Draft constitution ushering in a Third republic era of the sovereign Gambian people. Today’s dailies headline is one filled with sarcasm and humor, but perhaps not surprising to some of us at least. According to The Standard, “Abuja Constitution Talks Collapse.”
It is quite clear that the Abuja Draft constitution parley of opposing Gambian political actors has been exhibiting ambivalence over the direction they want to take in the consultative process with former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s efforts to a new life into the Draft constitution. The list of proposed Draft constitutional “amendments clauses” highlighted at the negotiations on its face seems not to have broken the deadlock on the procedure for bringing back alive the 2020 Draft constitution rejected by the National Assembly.
However, Dr. Jonathan’s mission is to help facilitates the constitutional transition process that remains in deadlock. The move is meant to support the country’s ongoing constitutional review process and facilitate the process of forging a workable national consensus for a new constitution.
Essential among the contiguous issues highlighted for consensus is the retro activeness of the Two Term Limit of the President, Citizenship, Residency to contest elections, Age Limit, Recall Clause of National Assembly Members, etc.
Fatoumatta: Political narratives make a unity of purpose possible among human beings with multiple shades of differences in perspective and opinion in their natural freedom of thought. Furthermore, that is what makes a narrative a potent political tool. In the hierarchy of ideas, a narrative has a shorter half-life than an ideology, mainly because a narrative is reactionary; it relies on agitating against an unpleasant reality or concept for relevance, while an ideology relies on its guiding value alone for relevance. A narrative is increasingly useful in modern politics, where governance is complexly multifaceted and challenging to explain in a simple to understand way. Politicians who need to avoid explaining their agenda in a way that would be subject to scrutiny, and politicians who wish to comprehensively wrap their opponents in a single unpopular detail of their person or governance, real or perceived, find narratives very convenient.
A political narrative is like a dye. It colors everything doused in it. Narratives also politicize things that are meant to be apolitical. Moreover, the politicizing stain of a narrative on an apolitical concept can endure and accompany it throughout its relevant life. However, unless we remain vigilant, many of the inconspicuous ideas earlier sneaked into the Draft constitution ( the contentious retroactive clause of the two term-limit) have returned and legitimized as part of the foremost constitutional consultative process to the Draft constitution.
Fatoumatta: There are severe contradictions in the 2020 Draft constitution. The laws cannot be made retrogressively. Therefore, the counting of current President’s tenure, Mr. Adama Barrow, cannot begin in 2017. In the interest of the rule of Law, the counting should begin in 2021. The term, if we follow the Law, has to commence in 2021. Retrospective legislation is undemocratic as its effects tend to fall before the actual democratic process, making it incompatible with the values of a democratic society.
It is, of course, too early to take any firm positions at this stage of the Abuja parley between opposing sides in for a constitutional armistice. We need to see the Abuja constitutional talk parley’s amendment clauses and draft resolutions calling for the resuscitation of the 2020 Draft constitution, effectively repealing the 1997 constitution before digging in. When those draft amendment resolutions and clauses are in the public domain, we should all go through them with our fine tooth-combs.
Draft resolutions and amendments clauses that are self-serving (like challenging the elongation of the current President’s tenure, a principal contentious retroactive clause of the two term-limit ) should be pronounced dead even before they arrive.
Dogmatic as this position would first appear to be, there is a simple reason for taking it. The Gambia is currently in turmoil. One undeniable explanation for the uproar is President Barrow’s (yet intended to serve beyond 2026) decision into the Presidency. It will be irrational (and, in fact, suicidal) to side-step this controversy and move on to create another one.
Fatoumatta: The President and his supporters genuinely believe that the 2020 Draft constitution discriminates against the President to run for another term. Fine! Mr. President should run in 2021 based on his performance to-date. His political opponents should not plunge the country deeper into crisis by doing anything that even remotely implicates drafters of the constitution bias and in a back-door exclusionary legal plot of denying President Adama Barrow not elongating his one-term limit.
To acquire consensus, a constitution must not generate a political outcome that may be unnecessarily undesirable to the political protagonist. Although retrospective legislation may be seen as a ‘necessary evil,’ especially under abnormal conditions, there are no such conditions in The Gambia to warrant such arbitrary legislation.
Fatoumatta: The only way to uphold the principle of fairness is to desist from changing the rule in the middle of the game. Imagine, with less than eight months to another presidential election. We suddenly get it into our heads to resuscitate the Draft constitution talks centered on the contentious retroactive clause of the two term-limit among others.! Who is kidding who? It is objectionable to give retrospective effect to Section 102 of the constitution, which will have an impinging effect on the term limit of the current President. Retrospective application of Law will unfairly impose liability on individuals where no such liability existed. This is contrary to the Rule of Law, as individuals should not be penalized under ex post facto laws.
The 2020 Draft constitution is not perfect. Which country’s constitution is perfect anyway? The Draft constitution’s primary limitation is its elite bias and its failure to reflect the People’s wishes and aspirations. That flaw will not be removed by the process now contemplated by the Jonathan Draft constitutional mediation. For one thing, the constitutional talks are a creature of the Presidency, not of the Gambian People. Second, unless its resolutions for constitutional mediation and amendment begin with what I would call the First Amendment, the proposed “amendment” would be no different from the previous–elite-driven–amendments. By the First Amendment, I mean one that shifts the center of the constitution, makes gravity from the government to the People, and explicitly provides contentious constitutional issues settled by plebiscites/referenda. The F Fatoumatta: First Amendment would naturally have to be duly moved, debated, and passed by the National Assembly. The People should also participate actively in the amendment and consultative process.
For now, let us keep our eyes peeled and our senses alert! The price of liberty is vigilance! A narrative thrives on acrimony. There are necessarily victims and villains in a narrative’s world, which can create where there may be none to make itself and its champions relevant.
A political narrative is intolerant to nuances and diversity of opinion. It is a ruthless tool for unifying people and emphasizes unity over sincerity. This unity is seen as the weapon to defeat the undesirable antagonist, and anyone with misgivings about the narrative is a sympathizer with the enemy. Narrative champions tend to be totalitarian, surrounded by yes people; or themselves, the yes people uncritically loyal to the narrative’s leading champion.
Fatoumatta: A political narrative is paranoid and becomes murderous or violent when confronted with the prospect of defeat. It also justifies acts of cruelty and lawlessness, which are seen as necessary for its thrift and triumph. Narratives are contestant in nature but do not accept defeat. Narratives make people impossible to converse with; irreconcilable, energized, and united with like-minded ones to fight to the death for the common cause, with firm but poorly reasoned conviction. Furthermore, yes, narratives kill and cost lives, no doubt.
Alagi Yorro Jallow