This year 2016 is the year of decision. The Gambian people are to go to election on 1st December 2016 to choose a President to preside over the affairs of the country until 2021. This would be the end of the second decade of the new millennium. The 21st century should have witnessed the end to monarchies, one party states, self perpetuating tyrannical rule, ethno-linguistic and religious loyalties and prejudices, civil wars and revenge killings, failed states, refugees, internally displaced persons, detentions without trial, torture, murder, genocide, disappearance of people without trace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, human sacrifice, witchcraft and all vestiges of despotism and obscurantism that had characterised tyrannical governance and stone age traditional or cultural practices which prevailed for the greater part of human history. This is the era to ensure the consolidation and consummation of democratic values, instruments, institutions and normative practices in democratic governance which would inculcate awareness in the minds, implant freedom in the hearts and deposit power in the hands of the sovereign people; put guards and fences to restrain the exercise of entrusted public power in the hands of the executive, legislature, judiciary and the law enforcement, the security and military apparatuses; demystify and humble authority and compel it to concede to the just demands and aspirations of the sovereign people.
Despite the reasonable and justifiable hopes for a better society in the 21st Century, those members of the human race who do not believe in democratic values of the Sovereign Republic have been left to be the actors and have been allowed, by commission or omission, to plunge their countries into a vicious cycle of unbridled impunity where young people are given no value other than to serve as fodder for explosive devices while the rest remain spectators or victims of ignorance, deprivation and hopelessness thus leading them to undertake perilous adventures towards perilous ends.
It is now the duty of all those who value human life and freedom of the human person to take a stand and begin the process of rolling back impunity and take centre stage to prosecute the second phase of the National liberation struggle to its logical conclusion. This would ultimately result in the attainment of the final liberation of the people from alienation, marginalisation, powerlessness, poverty, hopelessness and helplessness and ensure that they become the architects of their own destiny and be the embodiment of sovereignty, liberty, dignity and prosperity in a Secular Sovereign Democratic Republic.
This is the challenge of the 21st Century for the world and Africa, in general, and Gambia, in particular.
DIVERTING THE ATTENTION OF THE PEOPLE FROM DAILY CONCERNS
It is a postulation of the wisdom of the ages that if one unremittingly presents a wrong as right, long enough, one may succeed in convincing an ignorant and gullible person that wrong is right and right is wrong. This will not be the case in The Gambia.
In his New Year message, President Jammeh made mention of an Islamic Republic. He has his freedom of speech. Any one is free to look at the moon and say that it is the sun and vice versa. What is however wrong and improper is his continuous projection of sovereign citizens who happen to belong to a given religion as a minority needing protection which is against the letter and spirit of the Constitution of the Republic.
These types of statement which divide the Gambia into majority and minority groups is completely alien to the values of the Republic.
Rhetorically, if one could argue that Gambia is an Islamic Republic because the Muslims are the majority then one could use the same logic to declare Gambia as the Republic of an Ethno-linguistic group or a male or female Republic based on numbers.
We strongly call on the Gambian people not to give any credence to the declaration of The Gambia as an Islamic Republic. The President has not articulated what the Republic he is proposing entails in terms of instruments, institutions and practices. There is no Bill in the Gazette on such a matter. He has not overthrown the Republic or suspended the 1997 Constitution. The status quo still remains. The 1997 Constitution is still the fundamental law of the land. The President’s reference of Gambia as an Islamic Republic has no basis in law or religion. It is in fact a threat to the integrity of the 1997 Constitution and misleading to those who are Muslims.
In short, if one calls Gambia an Islamic Republic while one maintains that the status quo remains, meaning that there would be no attempt to introduce an Islamic Republican Constitution or law guiding the affairs of the state, one would be calling a state Islamic which is not guided by Islamic law and has no Islamic attribute. This would be misleading to Muslims. It could breed dissent and dissidents and invite instability.
In the same vein, to call Gambia an Islamic Republic when the 1997 constitution calls it a sovereign Republic which does not permit political parties to be formed on ethno-linguistic, religious, regional and sectarian or sectionalist basis is a threat to the integrity of the Constitution.
The fact that the President continues to say that the Gambia is an Islamic Republic confirms that the provisions of the Constitution which the president has sworn to uphold and defend are either not fully understood or are being honoured with utter disregard.
ISLAM, CHRISTIANITY AND OTHER BELIEFS, UNDER A SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC
PDOIS stands for and will consolidate the values, instruments and institutions of a Secular Democratic Republic. Since President Jammeh has introduced the issue of an Islamic Republic, it is important for us to prove that he has no capacity to build an Islamic of secular Republic.
First and foremost, history has shown that Sudan, Somalia, etc whose leaders sought to build Islamic states found it impossible to have a Baital Mal where wealth would be deposited to provide enough for those in need to prevent them from stealing and thus deter the cutting of hands. Now the Sudanese leader cannot even leave his country to travel freely because of the atrocities of war in Darfur where Muslims live.
Having been classified among the least developed countries in the first Republic and among the heavily indebted poor countries in the second Republic, Gambia now has a Gross Domestic Product of 42 Billion dalasi. Domestic debt of is 20.7 Billion dalasi. Its external debt is 56 percent of GDP or 23. 5 Billion. Hence the debt burden of the country is more than 44 Billion dalasi. This is more than the GDP of the country. Hence at birth each Gambian carries a debt burden of more than 24,000 dalasi.
The interest paid on debts amounts to 2.8 Billion in 2014, 3.7 Billion in 2015 and 5 Billion in 2016.
Suffice it to say that the budget deficit is increasing. In 2015, it is 3.6 Billion. In 2016 it will be 3.9 Billion. The internal imbalance is growing.
In the same vein, the trade deficit has grown from 8.7 Billion in 2013 to 11 .8 Billion in 2014.
Hence the external imbalance is rising. Interference with the exchange rates shows that Government is not committed to the flexible exchange rate policy which has resulted in the withholding of grants. Consequently, the external reserves of the country have dropped to less than three months of imports.
The Gambia is facing the danger the PPP faced in 1985 of not being able to meet its external obligations. This is the first point.
Secondly, despite the high sounding appellations and celebrations regarding FAO awards, Agriculture has not recovered under vision 2016. The Finance Minister has reported that agriculture registered a decline of 7.2 percent in 2014 compared to a decline of 1.8 percent in 2013 leading to GDP decline from 23 percent in 2013 to 20 percent in 2014.
The First Republic made Agriculture the main sector of the economy. The Cooperative Union was to be the driving force and GPMB should have provided the permanent link to processing. The Union collapsed and its officers were taken before a commission of inquiry before the 1994 coup. The GPMB which in 1977/78 had external reserves of over 100 Million and an annual turn over of 150 Miilion Dalasi began to collapse. It received stimulus packages of 83 Million, 30.7 Million and 13 Million in 1986/87: 1987/88 and 1988/89 respectively. However by 1991/92 it could purchase only 2,200 tons of groundnuts. In 1992 prospectus for its privatisation was prepared and was eventually sold for 20 Million Dalasis. The Gambia Commercial and Development Bank which used to finance subsistence and production credit to farmers also collapsed and the Asset Management and Recovery Company/Corporation was established to recover 300 Million Dalasis of its debts .
The overzealous coup makers tried to repossess GGC from Alimenta by force and ended paying more than 11 Million US Dollars to Alimenta.They eventually presided over the demise of the Cooperative Union which ended up with a deficit of 183 Million Dalasi.The Asset Management and Recovery Corporation never gave report on the final outcome of the 300 Million. GGC still rely on precarious sources to fund the purchasing and processing of groundnuts.
Hence Gambia has not established any sustainable agro industrial base to process materials and generates manufactured goods and employment
We had said that vision 2016 was wishful thinking instead of a realistic policy. Total rice production is estimated at 57 metric tonnes for 2015. In 2014 we imported 140 .4 thousand tonnes of rice at a cost of 1.9 Billion Dalasi and produced only 46 metric tons.It is estimated that we need 200,000 metric tons per annum.
It is therefore clear that growth in agriculture, industry and services are declining. Hence, there is little prospect for growth in employment and income while inflation increases, causing poverty to rise.
It is against this backdrop that President Jammeh is calling for an Islamic state when Gambia is trapped in a world of interests or ribat.
Our position is that he is trying to divert the attention of the people from the demonstrated incapacity of his administration to deliver liberty and prosperity.
PDOIS wants to put things right. First and foremost, we would like to allay fears that a Secular Democratic Republic would be a threat to the upholding and practicing of religious beliefs.
What then is the place of religion in the Secular Democratic Republic?
Political Science teaches that the Republic is the highest form of the Democratic state. While Constitutional monarchies could have democratic institutions they always fall short of making monarchs equal to other citizens. Sovereignty always resides in the monarch even if it is ceremonial in nature. The Republic however eradicates the monarchy and makes Sovereignty to reside in each citizen. It establishes the sovereign equality of all citizens. It means that no individual citizen is superior in citizenship to any other citizen. This is why each citizen is entitled to one vote and has a right to cast that vote in secret. Hence one does not cast that vote based on one’s religious, regional, ethno-linguistic or gender identity.
As a sovereign citizen who is equal in sovereignty with all others one’s religion, gender, ethno- linguistic origin, colour, etc becomes a mere demographic identity and has no effect in the exercise of rights as a citizen.
In a sovereign Republic there is freedom of association. Hence one could join any religion without being seen as a minority. This is why Section 25(c) of the Constitution states: “Every person shall have the right to freedom to practise any religion and to manifest such practice.”
It is in fact the President who tried to tamper with this right by compelling people to pray on the same day.
One could vote and occupy any post. This is why Section 33 of constitution states
“(1) All persons shall be equal before the law.
“ (2) Subject to the provisions of subsection (5), no law shall make any provision which is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect.
“(3) Subject to the provisions of subsection (5), no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any law or in the performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority.
“(4) In this section, the expression “discrimination” means affording different treatment to different persons attributable wholly or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another such description are not made subject, or are accorded privileges or advantages which are not accorded to persons of another such description.”
Hence, where every citizen is fully imbued with the values of the Republic, no one would dare threaten the members of a given religion or would be barred from entering a country since citizens of that country could not be barred from entering their own country as has become a subject in the US elections.
In a genuine secular Republic no one would caricature the religion of another and laws would be enacted to enable victims to seek redress through civil suit so that those found culpable could be ordered to stop an act, apologise and even pay compensation. Religious institutions would be seen as national monuments requiring state protection.
PDOIS intends to protect all religious groups and serve as an interlocutor so that leaders of faith groups could get maximum solidarity from their international communities to build houses of worship, build cooperatives to provide an economic base for survival, build decent residential facilities and conference halls which they could share with the community.
Muslims in the Gambia should bear in mind that there is no compulsion in religion. Weak leaders and suicide bombers who hide behind Islam are not its ambassadors but its grave diggers.
Needless to say, feuds between countries claiming to be representing Islam is not helping.
Take the case of the execution of Shiekh Nimr Al- Nimr for terrorism by Saudi Arabia. He is taken as a leader by the Shiites.
47 prisoners were executed with him who are supposed to be Sunni. Hence the Islamic state is also taking sectarian forms, thus leading to wars of their factions in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Some African countries are even planning to send troops who will fight others bearing the name ABDOUSALLAM ABDOU KARIM, etc. If each holds on to the five pillars they would never wage war.
THE FUTURE IS FOR US TO MAKE
PDOIS is conscious of the fact that with a GDP of 42 Billion Dalasi distribution of wealth would only put 23,000 dalasi per annum in the hands of each Gambian. Hence PDOIS’ strategy of development is not to make every one poorer by increased taxation or propagating equal distribution of the small national cake and leave everyone to starve . This is a utopian strategy.
PDOIS will do what previous governments should have done. It will mobilise national and foreign expertise to do prospecting and identify all mineral, oil and other resources available to generate sovereign national wealth for investment in production and infrastructural development.
We will sign performance contract with Public enterprises and free them from all external interferences so that they would develop to their fullest and pay dividend to government coffers.
Instead of 250 Million dalasi being spent on National celebrations within a span of three years, such moneys and those from minerals and dividends would be deposited in a Cooperative bank to enable it to finance family farms and cooperative marketing enterprises to ensure the regular and timely purchase of farm produce at fair prices.
Land is the major means of production in the Gambia. Hence, PDOIS will ensure that all family farms receive sustained support from cooperative banks to have seeds, fertiliser, farming implements and markets for their produce.
Investors on the land must include owners as shareholders in their businesses with the land given a value to serve as a family’s share in a farming , ecotourism or real estate business.
We will promote the availability of labour saving devices to encourage food security by enhancing self reliance in processing grain, etc for subsistence and for the market.
We would encourage banks which engage in the buying and selling of 1.6 Billion Dollars worth of foreign exchange to partner with the private sector to control areas like Hotels and tourism promotion, etc so that foreign exchange could be earned and employment generated.
Micro Financial institutions would assist small companies. We will engage in tax review, assessment and reform to know the potentials of small companies before formulating tax policies, regulations and tribunals to punish deliberate defaulters. Public works in the form of building wharves for river transport, etc, would be undertaken and GTTI and poly techniques would provide training for concrete job areas.
Every village will have a Sovereign wealth fund. Cooperative banks will sponsor and assist them to have income generating projects such as village farms, fishing vessels, orchards, etc where applicable.
Royalties will be paid to villages from earnings from minerals, oil, timber or the erection of electricity or telephone poles or the digging of bore holes, etc, for village development.
We will open up the state media for coverage of divergent views and dissenting opinions and create state subsidies or tax exemption for established media houses as institutions of public service to assist in their expansion to provide individuals with employment, people with more health, environmental and civic education, government with more information for policy making and businesses with more room for advertisement and exposure.
We will introduce state funding of parties which meet all legal obligations and all monetary restrictions to the registration of political parties or participation in elections will be removed. We will make it a legal requirement for the President not to conduct any business while occupying the presidency and should put any business owned before becoming president under trusteeship.
We will put an end to all detention without trials or bail and all disappearances without trace .We will re-orientate the law enforcement, security, intelligence and military apparatuses to be committed to democratic principles and the values of the Republic and be ever ready to protect and serve people and country.
We will ensure 30 percent gender parity in the composition of Cabinet, parliament and councils. We will introduce one term limit if a PDOIS member happens to be President after Jammeh and a two term limit of four years for subsequent Presidents.
We will establish special service commissions to appoint judges and remove them only through impeachment. Magistrates will be appointed and removable by an impartial and Independent Judicial Service Commission with no official representation.
We will ensure that educational institutions would prepare the next generation for self determined development and for sovereign citizenship. We will establish an Academy of Science, Arts and Technology and mobilsed experts and academics to preside over the production of books and other learning material and inventions which could be relied on to ensure self reliant and determined development for sovereign citizens of a secular sovereign Republic. The First and Second Republic have failed . Let us now focus on the third Republic.
The road to change is clear. The wisdom of the ages holds that power concedes to no one without demand. Power concedes only to superior power. Might belongs to the people. State power is just borrowed power. Political parties should select their candidates and put them before the people as soon as possible. PDOIS is currently engaged in the fitst phase of its primaries which is the broadest consultative exercise in its history.
Hence ,if candidates of all parties and Independent candidates hit the trail and there is electoral reform unity could be sought in the second round, if not those interested in change should galvanise around the candidate who is most ideal to win and honour the mandate of the electorate.
This is the demand of reason and common sense. Our destiny is for us to make. We must either be the architects of a destiny of liberty, dignity and prosperity or be its gravediggers. We have to choose. History will be the judge.