An Army belongs in the Barracks and the border—not the streets of Banjul or Serrekunda
Some very dark, ominous clouds are looming on the horizon, over Gambia, in relation to the “3 Years Jotna” saga. Army Commander Momar Cham’s assertion on National TV, at the very least, is very troubling. General Cham said that the Army is ready to crush any protests. When it comes to quelling a demonstration, the Police are better equipped to handle that–not the Army. After 22 years of a brutal dictatorship, the Army’s preoccupation should be: teaching soldiers their role in society, which is to guard the country against a foreign invasion; train them to become doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers, you name it. I keep on using Senegal as an example. The Senegalese Army ran a clinic during the Confederation, which was staffed by military doctors and nurses. That is what we expect of the Army!
The Gambian population does not want to see soldiers on the streets with guns—Again! We have been through that and know it is not pleasant. Until and unless a foreign invader attacks the territorial integrity of our country—we do not want to see the military playing the role of Police officers. Further, the Army should uphold Democracy and support to strengthen our Institutions. Demonstrations should be allowed in a free, Democratic society. They are a way of citizens expressing their dissatisfaction with an issue, which needs to be addressed, in their view.
Elections are another avenue for citizens to show or express their views, in support for, or against, a candidate or an issue. These are the fundamental differences between a Democratic society and a Dictatorship. Look at demonstrations and elections as the safety valves on a pressure cooker; they let the steam out, to avoid an explosion, when it is overheated. The lack of those safety valves in a dictatorship is its major weakness, which inevitably always leads to its downfall, in most cases, violently. However, the demonstrators should not destroy property or human life. Nothing is as precious as a “Human Life”. If God were a merchant, his most valuable commodity would be Human Beings; therefore, no one has the right to destroy it, but God himself.
Our country is still reeling from the disastrous effects of the dictatorship; as a result, the economy is still very fragile. The last thing our economy needs is a negative shock of instability. That would send a bad signal to foreign investors and tourists, whose money the country badly needs. In this age of smart phones and computers, it takes seconds, for foreign investors, to withdraw their money from a country. Financial transactions can, literally, be done at the speed of light. We live in a totally different era; we should be mindful of that!
We should build upon the progress the economy has made, not jeopardise it. When your youths are dying in the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, to reach Europe, your number one priority should be “Job Creation”. Besides an unprofessional and an undisciplined Army, the greatest threat to Democracy and the stability of a country is a large group of unemployed youths, especially males. Most of us are witnesses to what took place in Sierra Leone and Liberia, in the 1990s, where unemployed youths took up arms and destroyed their countries.
Another area of concern is that the unlawfully seized properties should be returned to their rightful owners. Some owners will spend a lot of money on repairs, because in most cases, the illegal occupants could not care less about maintaining the houses, because they did not lay a brick on the foundation. The government should also consider giving the victims of the dictatorship a partial payment, on the expected reparations from the TRRC. Some of these families lost the primary earner and have suffered enough, already.
Citizens have a right to demonstrate, but it should be done responsibly! There should be no damage to property and human life. General Cham got the blessing of the President before he appeared on National TV, alongside the President’s spokesperson, to make those remarks. I do not think the 3 Years Jotna group poses an existential threat to the government; therefore, dispatching the head of the Army to issue the threat, on National TV, is a bit over the top, and reminiscent of the days of the Dictatorship. Leadership is about diffusing a tense situation, not inflaming it. I mentioned Shakespeare’s quote in a previous article: “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. It means leadership is not easy and is about making tough decisions.