The Road to Democracy
Profound changes have been taking place in the Gambia since the coup of July 22, last year, which ousted the People's Progressive Party from power. Not only did these changes trigger unusual domestic reforms, they also generated tremendous international reaction.
On Monday March 20, the military government implemented the biggest cabinet reshuffle since its inception. Fafa Mbye, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice who was keen on a quick return to civilian rule was replaced by Mustapha Marong, who, until recently, was a state counsel in the Attorney General's chambers. External Affairs minister, Bolong Sonko is replaced by his former Permanent Secretary, Baboucarr Blaise Jagne. Bala Garba Jahumpa, the recently appointed Finance Minister after the departure of Bakary Darbo was moved to the ministry of Trade, Industry and Employment. He was replaced at Finance and Economic Affairs by Ousman Koro-ce Sessay.
Before the above changes, there was an abortive coup - on November 11 last year. This was another landmark in the country's political history, not only because of the unprecedented killings, arrests and detentions, but also because of the huge domestic and international outcry it provoked. It was a turning point for the military regime and made them think again about the country's destiny. As a result, they decided to embark on a programme to rectify their shortcomings. A national consultative committee, drawn from all over the country, was set up to work on a new timetable for the return to civilian rule. Emphasis was laid on the need to complete the work of the five commissions of enquiry into assets and properties, government departments, public corporations, land administration and the donated crude and refined oil before the military relinquished power. Many villagers are extremely passionate about these issues. They claim that large amounts of money were embezzled under the overthrown government. Many agree with the military demands that every Butut stolen from the government coffers by members of the previous government should be recovered and those found culpable severely punished.
Committee members also consulted the country's development partners as directed in their terms of reference. It is common knowledge that a huge part of the Gambian economy depends on the donor community which provides loans, grants, and technical assistance. Like the majority of the Gambian people, the country's development partners have made it clear that they consider a four-year transition to civilian rule too long.
After careful deliberation the committee finally recommended a timetable of two years, starting from July 22 1994, as appropriate for the transition. This proposal was resisted, though, by another attempted coup on January 27 - the day the consultative committee was to present its report to the military council. The then Vice-Chairman, Captain Sana Sabally, a colleague, Captain Sadibou Hydara together with a group of junior officers plotted the coup at the State house in Banjul. The coup however failed and both captains are currently being held in the notorious Mile Two prison.
The committee's report suggests a series of fundamental reforms, amongst which is the establishment of a Constitutional Review Commission. It would be the responsibility of this commission to look into the limitations of the powers of the president and the parliament, the incorporation of a bill of rights into the constitution and the improvement of the judicial structure. The committee members argue that the constitution should provide for an independent National Electoral Commission and an ad hoc Electoral Review Commission, backed possibly by the UN and comprising lawyers, politicians and former polling officers. This ad hoc committee would have the role of eliminating electoral fraud.
The committee called for the quick completion of the work of the five commissions of enquiry and demanded that any politician found to be obstructing this work be banned from politics for ten years.
The question of fraud remained paramount as this was one of the reasons given for the ousting of the previous government. It was suggested that a national audit system be introduced to ensure greater accountability by public officers.
Finally, it was agreed that the fate of the members of the military government in the post-transitional period could not be ignored. Five of them are soldiers. One cannot imagine the Head of State and his military ministers returning to the barracks where as captains, they would surbodinate themselves to officers who only recently had to obey their orders. Consequently, it was recommended that an appropriate committee be set up to look at the question of immunity, gratuities, scholarships etc that members of the military government will merit.