Demba A Jawo
Demba A Jawo

I am in the habit of not generally responding to people’s reactions to my commentaries, simply because those are my own views and perceptions of the issues that I write about and I very well know that others also have their own views and perceptions, which may not necessarily be the same as mine.

Therefore, I am of the opinion that each and everyone should be free to put across their own views on the topic without being subjected to innuendoes or insults.

I would however take this opportunity to thank my little brother and very good friend Dr. Cherno Omar Barry for provoking far much more attention to one of my last commentaries than otherwise would have been the case, albeit the fact that he was only concerned about the part which talked about non-Gambians being registered to vote in our elections.

I also wish to take this opportunity to not only thank all those who reacted to the commentaries, both positively and negatively, including those who were calling me all kinds of names for simply stating my opinion about an issue of national interest, but to also try and make some clarifications on some of the things that I said, particularly with regards to the non-Gambians.

I am one of those who feel that our nationality laws need to be revisited and re-aligned to conform with reality. It certainly does not make sense, both on the social and humanity front for someone to be born in a particular country and yet he/she cannot obtain automatic citizenship of that country.

We have had some immigrants who have lived in this country for several years, and some of them for virtually all their lives, and many of them have had children and grand children here who know no other country but the Gambia.

It is therefore grossly unfair to deny those people their birthright, which is to be recognised as citizens of their country of birth. It is also not right to deny other fellow Africans what we usually enjoy in the west because the offspring of our compatriots who live in the west in most cases get automatic citizenship.

Why can we not also adopt such policies so that anyone born in the Gambia obtains automatic citizenship rather than being denied that inalienable right simply because his/her parents are not citizens?

I feel also that the process leading to non-Gambian residents acquiring Gambian citizenship should be simplified so that those who have lived and fallen in love with this country can easily obtain citizenship without having to go through quite a long and frustrating process.

However, my commentary was based on the fact that the law, even though it is bad and unfair, still exists that no matter how long a non-Gambian resides in this country, there is a process to follow before one becomes a bona-fide Gambian citizen.

Therefore, it is illegal for any politician to mobilize those people, help them get alkalo’s attestation and get registered to vote when they have not gone through the legal process to acquire the right to vote in this country. That is the bone of contention.

In my view, as long as the law exists, we should always make sure that whatever we do conforms with it.

Of course we are all looking forward to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) finding a more acceptable solution to the attestation aspect of the electoral process.

In fact even though the attestations are not quite ideal, but the alkalos are not always wrong in their attestations because all that they are required to do is to attest to the fact that the people they deal with were born in their villages, and in many cases, that is true, but being born in a place, according to our nationality law, does not make one a Gambian citizen qualified to vote in our elections.

One other area that I tend to agree with Dr. Barry is that the Fulas have been the most unfairly profiled ethnic group in this country. From the first republic, and most especially during the Yahya Jammeh dictatorship, being fair in complexion and looking like a Fula was enough to attract all kinds of harassment, particularly by members of the Immigration Department. Even indigenous Gambian Fulas did not escape such harassment.

Personally, because of my complexion, I have been confronted on a few occasions by Immigration officials asking for my residential permit. It was not unusual to see those perceived to be Guinean Fulas being humiliatingly rounded up and put in police trucks to be processed for deportation.

In the process, they used to pay large sums of money to buy their way out, but such freedom was usually temporary as they were always the targets of such raids which were quite frequent.

Indeed, during the Jammeh era, the authorities went even further by targeting their properties and cash and in the process, several Fula businessmen lost millions of Dalasis from such officially-sanctioned raids. During that period, the Guinean Fulas, in particular, lived under constant fear and they had no where to complain because it was the very people who were supposed to assure their security who were perpetrating such harassment.

Therefore, it is understandable if the Fulas of Guinean origin would see President Adama Barrow as a saviour and do anything within their means to support him. They had a genuine reason to be skeptical in wanting to see anyone else assume leadership of this country because they are not sure that the constant fear and despondency that they faced under the Jammeh regime would not come back under another leader.

To them therefore, it is like “the devil you know is better that the angel they don’t know”. They have lived in absolute peace and tranquility under the Barrow regime for five years, carrying on with their business without any harassment, and they would certainly do anything possible to see that continue.

Of course, we all know that there was quite an effective disinformation campaign mounted by the National People’s Party (NPP) to paint the United Democratic Party (UDP) in particular, as a tribalist and anti-non-Gambian party, which, if elected to power would perform worst than the Jammeh regime in terms of their treatment of non-Gambians and members of the other minority ethnic groups.

In their reactions to my commentary, some people accused me of all sorts of things, including the fact that I was bitter because of my removal as a cabinet minister. Some even suggested that I was a supporter of the UDP and that I am opposed to President Barrow and his government.

Let me reiterate here that I have no cause to oppose President Barrow and that when I left the government, some opposition parties had approached me trying to get me to join them but I had always declined such overtures because as a social critic and political commentator, I cannot afford to identify with any parochial group. I have this natural inclination of criticising anything that I feel is not in the interest of the people, and therefore, I want to remain independent so that I can criticise anyone or anything without any emotional attachment.

I have been doing that since the first republic and I had continued with it throughout the Jammeh regime. I would therefore wish to inform those concerned that the one and a half years that I spent as a cabinet minister was not an easy period for me because I used to see a lot of things I did not agree with but as government is a collective responsibility, I had no choice but to fall in line. The only other alternative open to me then was to resign.

In fact on one occasion, I did exactly that when a decision was taken affecting my ministry without consulting with me, and I thought that was unacceptable. I wrote my resignation letter but before submitting it, I consulted with one of my friends in the cabinet and he pleaded with me to give him chance to talk to the president. A few minutes later, he called back to say that the decision had been rescinded and that I should not submit the letter.

I have absolutely no cause to be angry with President Barrow. In fact, I should be grateful to him for choosing me among more than two million Gambians to appoint me as minister in his government. We have heard him repeatedly say that when Coalition 2016 were choosing cabinet ministers, he was the one who personally chose me because he had known me and he had a lot of regard for me.

Therefore, if he later decided that he no longer needed me in the cabinet, then all I should do is thank him for giving me to the opportunity to serve my country at that level. I would always respect him for his humility and level of tolerance. I am convinced that under him, the Gambia will never go back to dictatorship.

Naturally, I am a critic and I am not criticising the Barrow regime because I don’t like him or I am bitter with him for removing me from the cabinet. Far from it.

Those who had known me earlier could recall that I was first arrested and detained under the Jawara regime for an article I wrote criticising the police. I also had a lot of problems in my job at the Gambia Utilities Corporation (GUC) because of my regular articles critical of the government. At one time I even thought of resigning because I was completely sidelined and people with less qualifications than me were being promoted over me.

When I once confronted the managing director about it, he categorically told me that I should instead thank him for still keeping my job because he was under intense pressure from the authorities to get rid of me because of my regular criticism of the government.

Therefore, when the Jawara government had the opportunity to get rid of me in 1993 when the GUC was leased to Management Services–The Gambia (MSG), I was among those retrenched.

Also, under the Yahya Jammeh regime, I had similar problems, all because of my critical articles. I was then working at the Daily Observer as News Editor and when the newspaper was sold to Yahya Jammeh (using Amadou Samba as a front), I was one of those sacked one week later because, according to the management, they were “restructuring the company”.

However, I still continued with writing critical articles and I was once detained at the NIA for a few days under very harsh conditions, no doubt with the objective of stopping me from criticising the government. Of course that did not make me to stop writing critical articles, and even when I relocated to Dakar (not in exile but for employment), I continued writing about Gambian matters.

I would also always join the large number of Gambian dissidents in Senegal to either picket the Gambian High Commission or organise events against the Jammeh regime’s appalling human rights violations.

Despite that however, I used to visit my family in the Gambia, although both my family and friends were always quite agitated whenever I came on a visit as they were worried that I would get into trouble with the authorities.

However, now knowing what we have all heard at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), I consider myself lucky that I was not suffocated to death with a plastic bag being placed over my head, or being ambushed and shot like was done to my friend and mentor, Deyda Hydara.

As you can see, I did not start writing articles critical of the government just after I was removed as a cabinet minister by President Barrow. In fact to me, my removal from the cabinet was just an opportunity to continue with my passion of pointing out what I perceived to be wrong.