Millions of persons on bended knee each night pray for peace in Africa particularly in The Gambia, Nigeria, Libya – and millions more without a sense of spiritual expression hope for and just as earnestly beg for peace.
I am confident that AU, UN and ECOWAS, having had sufficiently sorrowful experiences with Liberia, Sudan, Libya, Ivory Coast with blank checks does not now want to start writing undated checks, checks that can be paid only by horrible suffering on the part of all the Gambians.
That right to declare war imposes upon us the duty of trying to prevent war. It imposes upon us the duty of participating activity in the preparation for war and imposes upon us the further duty of avoiding those conditions which might lead to a needless or an unjust war.
Countries which are deliberative in their war processes do not find their armies constantly on the march. But nations which have forsaken the deliberative process find their armies at the beck and call of those whose minds see only the self-aggrandizement and glory of the conflict. They will not see; do not want to see, the dire results of such conflict upon those who must carry the burden.
Let me examine, in the light of the last few years, how this matter of determining that a state of war exists is decided. Let us see if all wars are treated alike when one man has the power to determine for the Gambian people if war exists.
According to African thinking, a war certainly would exist when a hostile army marches into another land and kill its inhabitants, shatters its homes, and plunders its people. But the President to whom we would give almost unlimited powers apparently does not think that these things constitute a war. They have been going on in Sudan, Ivory Coast, Libya, Liberia for years, have horrified the civilized world, but our government has not been able to see that a state of war exists in the Gambia.
Similarly we have had in Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh perpetrated acts which to any normal thinking could be nothing less than war. Yet war, according to our Gambia President Yahya Jammeh, has not been waged.
The existence of these facts cannot be denied. Nor can it be denied that when we confer war powers upon one man we run the danger of his being at least partially blind to the existence of war-blind to the existence of war when it pleases him not to see it, but keen-eyed when he is interested in it.
In many countries the ideals of democracy have been repudiated or are in jeopardy. Men are enunciating the dangerous doctrine that the sovereign are not fit or capable of governing themselves.
They openly are challenging the basic tenet of state independence that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the fundamental rights of man; they deny that men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and for the right of each individual to rule his own destiny, they would substitute a groveling type of totalitarianism that demand spineless obedience to the wishes of a dictator and weal-kneed subservience to an all-powerful state.
The declaration of state independence brought a new sort of community into life. A western civilization had broken away from the last traces of absolutism and empire. It wiped out monarchy and the castle system.
It made a clean start in political thinking and practice such as never had been witnessed before. It was, as Jefferson put it, not so much on attempt to find new principles as to reaffirm old ones in common-sense language, it became, in short, an expression of the African mind.
Democracy was a system of government wherein the present generation goes through increased difficulty and confusion for the sake of the peace and liberties of the future. But the job of people who are responsible for the perpetuation of constitutional democracy into the future has got to be to see to it that the price to the present generation does not become too great for it to bear. I have said that man never gives up the struggle for freedom (Nigerian Government should give close attention to Biafra Agitators) He never does, but before freedom must come bread and a reasonable security. in other words, the preservation of freedom implies necessarily the supplying of a solution to unemployment, lack of infrastructure (Educational Centre, schools), unnecessary poverty, mismanagement of national resources, the solution need not and cannot be perfect-for this is democracy where nothing is perfect, nothing complete, nothing final-but the solution must be at least pretty good.
Hence to my mind the most irresponsible and dangerous type of demagoguery that is abroad in the land today in Africa particularly in Nigeria-the giant of Africa is the attempt of some people to make the African people believe that constructive attempts to make our government more effective and better able to reduce inequalities and deal with unemployment, monopoly, and corruption are steps toward dictatorship because forsooth their democracy, to be constitutional, must be synonymous with inefficiency, lack of planning, and governmental ineffectiveness in dealing with economic problems. Such, I am convinced, does not need to be the case.
Sincere Gambian, no one who believes in human liberty or the worth of the human soul, no one who cares a straw about the generation of the future will pray that Gambia should go into civil war.
Democracy is expensive because it imposes upon itself certain limitations which the dictator can and does completely disregard. A democratic state exists for the sake of its citizens; a totalitarian government exists for its own sake-or, rather more accurately, for the sake of the clique, cabal that happens at the moment to be in control.
A totalitarian government, on the other hand, is limited in the duration of its policies only by the possibility of armed revolt against it. By disposing of political opponents at frequent intervals, the immediate likelihood of such revolt can be removed even though the certainly of its ultimately taking place is no doubt increased measurably by such tactics.
The cost of any totalitarian system to future generation is bound to be the heaviest. Children grow up under such a system with their minds nurtured not on truth but on propaganda; they learn the stock prejudices, sentiments, nepotism, the stock hatreds, do-or-die politics the accepted salutes. They grow up into a world of fear where the safety of the state hangs by the slander thread of the life of a single man. They grow up to be helpless unless they are under direction and they face in future the certainty of social convulsion and civil conflict.
There are four cemented poles of democracy and if they are protected and kept in good repair, we need have no concern about the soundness of our constitutional form of government.
The first is civil and religious liberty. African democracy is a way of life for the people of the nation-for all the people. It is a way of life in which no man questions the right of another to speak his mind or to go where he wants to go or – and this is most important-to have any religion he may chose. In African democracy there can be no place for the stirring up of religious prejudice or hatred, and certainly there is no place for a cowardly attempt on the part of any group or person to advance to political power over the prostrate form of the constitutional liberties of others.
The second is right of the common citizen; African democracy means the right of the common citizen as well as the uncommon one to own property. It means that the task of government must consist in part in the protection of the small enterprises and the small business from destruction, the encouragement of home ownership, and the prevention of monopoly encroachment on the rights of the little man. But African democracy also means that property, which by its very nature is of vital public concern, shall be subject to proper control in the interest of all people.
Third, African democracy means government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It means a government of men chosen at frequent intervals by the people and subject to involuntary retirement without notice at the will of those same people, it means a government wherein the absolute control of the pulse remains in the Legislature and where the Executive is responsible to the people not only for honest but also for efficient and effective administration of the trust the people have for a brief few years reposed in him. Finally it means government within the framework of a constitution which sets forth basic law and basic procedure for making law and which grows both by interpretation and by amendment with the needs of the people.
Fourth – African democracy means equality of social and economic opportunity like the ideas of the attainment of independence, so this ideal is one that has never been achieved.
Mr. President Adama Barrow, it behooves every citizen and every group such as yours (Gambian) to constantly scrutinize the qualifications and the background of candidates for public office in order that the crook may be unmasked and the self-sacrificing, honest man in public service may be given every possible assistance. Here party lines cannot exist. Public service should beckon and attract young men of character and ability. A career of honesty public service is as sacred as the ministry and should deny the same stalwart principles. Thus, honest citizens everywhere should aid the man who would dedicate his talents to public welfare. Only when two men are equal in character, ability and honesty are party lines, as we know them justified.
Many outstanding leaders have told me that they would not seek public office because of the muckraking and foul, unfair, propaganda, besmirching tactics adopted by those affiliated with vena, witch-hurting, stomach-infrastructure and do-or-die politics. This is indeed tragic. The Nation very frankly is being cheated at the polls when its citizens tolerate and cheer such tactics. It will only be by the courageous outlawing of the mudslinger and rabble rouser that public offices, when contaminated, can be cleansed. More and more the Nation and all of its political subdivisions need career men in politics; men who regard their nation above their own personal desires. I hope indeed that some of the young men of this Continent will some day see their way clear to make their contributions through public service. The African Nation is in great need of the pioneering and patriotic spirit which has helped to make this continent a great and respected one.
Let me appraise further, your duties as a citizen ‘The Gambians’. What do you know about the judiciary in your country? Is it a fountain head of justice and equity, or is it controlled by the entrenched interests? For if the wigs and robes of justice are not clean, then society and mankind are not secure. Africa has been fortunate indeed in the high character of its judges, lawyers and those honest, God-fearing men would be the first to urge eternal vigilance that the bench may be incorruptible and lawyers as well? Or do they seek justice for the society and do they safeguard the interest of the accused by judge whitewashing, or improperly prepared and handle cases?
As never before in Gambia national history, you are to summons her men of character and action. Once and for all we must eradicate from Gambia thought and life those sinister forces which are alien to justice and which are necessary if we are to preserve the nation.
Mr. President Adama Barrow, Gambians needs your patriotic zeal and your services in a crusade to insure her destiny on the chartered sea of democracy.
What we need in this continent is more people who talk about democracy and really mean it – more people who are willing to sacrifice at least some of their pet ideas for the sake of freedom and liberty; more people who will fight as hard against totalitarianism of one, extreme as they will against totalitarianism of the other extreme.
We need people who will take the trouble to sift truth from falsehood and who will refuse to believe fantastic tales put out for propaganda purposes from sources which seek to spread fear, hatred, and prejudice.
We need people who will understand that 95 percent of the people of this country are nothing more nor less than sincere, earnest people seeking, within the framework of our constitution to work out their country’s problems.
We need people who will resolutely determine that the other 5 percent – to whatever group they may belong – are not going to lead the 95 percent into civil war.
Bolaji Ogungbemi Esq.