The Gambia Bar Association: The Pragmatic, the Dumb and the Vacillators

By Mathew K. Jallow
The seminar on legal issues in The Gambia was the rage of the week. Lawyers and legal practitioners met to address serious issues of delivering justice in a nation where injustice has run amok, and the justice system is tainted with endemic corruption, manipulated by a ruthless dictator, and lacking in empathy. At first, my attitude was one of in-difference, but a rush of emotions; joy, disappointment and incredulity, either colored my judgment in hope, or further eroded my confidence in a system straddled between a rock and a hard place; an unjustifiable fear and criminal incompetence. Everyone’s favorite lawyer, Hawa Ceesay-Sabally got it, with her pragmatic view of the role of legal practitioners. But, Mrs. Amie Bensouda’s disappointing vacillation encapsulates a missed opportunity to draw a line in the sand to address Yahya Jammeh’s disregard for the separation of powers clause. Her remarks that “the bar was not a political body” are bound to a false conceptualization of the role of the judiciary; and it sounded like a measure of her insensitivity to the plight of the suffering people of our country. Our lawyers like everyone else, also exist within the four corners of the ideological bends that shape them. The Gambia Bar Association is not an expressed political organization, however, the sentiments and emotions members impress in the course of their work and lives, is derived from philosophical beliefs that portray the political nuances, which guide their thinking processes in matters of life and death; ethics, morality and justice. Any lawyer, who cares about the fair dispensation of justice, never looks the other way when decisions motivated by political considerations hijack the law of the land in the furtherance of set political interests. But, the fact that our legal practitioners have stood timidly by as the state coerced and usurped the authority of the judiciary, is a fact of defeat that continues to impose a terrible burden on defenseless citizens in our country. One of the greatest challenges to a free, fair and functioning legal system in any country is the overreach of government, and countries where practitioners of the law have a clear and unambiguous understanding of their roles in civil society, the blurring of the lines between the executive and the judiciary, is resisted with the ferocious nationalistic fervor it deserves. Jammeh’s usurpation of the authority of the judiciary, and his insidious use of the law as a weapon of suppression of dissent and abuse of the rights, is a tacit acknowledgement by our legal practitioners that the protection of the sanctity of our laws and our Constitution are not elemental precept worth protecting from the state’s egregious power. More baffling still, the silence of The Gambia Bar Association even as citizens are executed or locked away for trumped up charges, poses a tantalizing question about the nature of the role of our legal practitioners within the context of a regime which displays arrogant contempt and blatantly disregard of the law. Less than two years ago, it was lawyers who understood the morass that Pakistan’s legal system was descending into that led the charge to dislodge dictator, Pavez Mussaraf from power and sent him packing. As for lawyer Tambedou’s comment “people tend to unfairly look on to lawyers to stand for them” was ignorant for a person who calls himself a lawyer, and his cluelessness casts light on the quality of lawyers, judges and magistrates in our judiciary system. But, under the surface of the ostentatious desire to commit to doing the right thing by our people, the central issue remains how to size up to Yahya Jammeh and halt any further erosion of the rule of law, and social and economic decadence in our country. While both Lawyer Amie Bensouda and Lawyer Tambedou, contributed nothing of material significance in the new debate about the future of our country, the gathering itself presents us with an emerging new sense of national identity worth fighting for. For an escape, both lawyers engaged in a contingent of superfluous arguments that betray timidity and lack of principles. Clearly, the legal seminar presented a moment when Jammeh’s epic rule and historic opportunity intersected, but like many other instances, it became another missed opportunity. The on-going firing, arrests, detentions and incarcerations of innocent Gambian are never going to stop, because they represents the evil that fits the nature of Jammeh’s character. Until now, The Gambia Bar Association, our judiciary, and our political establishment, have all mostly pursued courses of actions that bristle with incredible indifference, and senseless ambiguity. This could be the moment when reality and rhetoric crest simultaneously, if O.J’s recent admonition, Ousainou Darboe’s drum-beat, Halifa’s dire warnings and Hon. Hawa Ceesay-Sabally’s challenge to her colleagues can be the barometer with which to measure the political temperature in our country. We may be shifting to a new paradigm in the political conversation, and the individual battle cries echoing in Gambia’s political wilderness, are an incredible force of nature that must be harnessed to create the political storm our country so desperately needs. After all fifteen years of callous indifference, it is time The Bar Association, the judiciary and the political establishment become bound to the wishes of the people of our country. This is the time to bridge the chasm between our people and their institutions. And now there is a sense that a ground swell of commitment to our nation is percolating around our political and judicial establishments, and as lawyer Hawa Ceesay-Sabally, warned, it is no time to abdicate our responsibilities to our country and allow dictatorship to continue ruining the lives of our people.
Next Time.
As we head for another election cycle, we are open to a ruling council of five, headed by Ousainou Darboe, but to include: Omar Jallow (O.J), Halifa Sallah, Buba M. Baldeh and Dr. Isatou Touray for a period of two years, but not more than three years. It is the ONLY way we can bring the Fulas, Wollofs, Serahules, Jolas, Manjagoes and others tribes under an Ousainou Darboe leadership. This is not a tribal insinuation, but the political reality. I will elaborate further next time.
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