All Gambians need to rebuild their country, even members of the old regime

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By Sait Matty Jaw

Guardian Newspaper

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How do countries with no history of political transitions survive one when it comes along? How will Gambians endure their transition from authoritarianism to democracy? What is at stake at this critical moment? Can Gambians survive the post-Yahya Jammeh era? Are they ready to move on into a new Gambia? And what would this new Gambia be like?

 
These are some of the questions in the minds of Gambians and those who have followed the political impasse in the country since 9 December last year. With former leader Jammeh currently exiled in Equatorial Guinea, Gambians have started discussing the future of this tiny nation as new President Adama Barrow forms his new government. Some of the discussions are interesting; others leave me concerned.

A few days ago, sitting in my room in rainy Bergen, Norway, I logged into Facebook and read through several posts from Gambians at home and in the diaspora. Many were criticising the appointment of Masaneh Kinteh as Barrow’s military aide. His appointment resulted from the actions of the Economic Community of West African States Mission in Gambia (Ecomig). The presence of Ecomig forces, led by Senegal, has been perceived by some as an invasion in all but name under the Economic Community of West African States banner. To coordinate efforts between Gambian Armed Forces and Ecomig, Barrow deemed it necessary to hire an aide to advise him on security matters during the volatile transition period.

The perceived problem here is that Kinteh served under Jammeh as ambassador to Cuba and chief of defence staff of the GAF, and was seen as an “enabler” of the former president’s quest to stay in power. Most criticisms centred on the letter he wrote to Jammeh after the failure of the 30 December 2014 attack on the State House.

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The attacks on Kinteh’s past engagement, mainly by prominent members of the Gambia democracy movement, paint a scary picture. Gambians have sworn never to live under dictatorship again, after 22 years of Jammeh. Hence the need to scrutinise every action of the current government at the earliest stage, in the hope that this will prevent it from becoming dictatorial.

What the Gambia needs is a reconciliatory process to heal our wounds and redirect our attention to nation-building

 

However, we must be cautious in the exercise of these freedoms we fought for. People who have the knowledge, skills, institutional memory and capabilities to serve the current government should not be pushed out simply because they served the past government. Some have been calling for a clean slate, with Barrow’s government removing all Jammeh’s former enablers. This could be the biggest mistake that the new president could make, in an attempt to please the people. Weeding out those associated with the past regime may not just derail the transition efforts, it may also plunge the Gambia into a protracted conflict.

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The need to bridge the divides fostered by Jammeh should be the focus of the new government. Expunging so-called enablers will further entrench the divides and make it practically impossible for Barrow and the coalition government to govern effectively. Most of these people, like Kinteh, have both the institutional memory and expertise to contribute meaningfully in the new Gambia. Isolating them will create a huge vacuum in our institutions and it might take years to fill. In fact, if such people created the Jammeh phenomenon, are they not well-placed to transform our country and culture under a better and more transparent leadership?

Isolating them would run counter to Barrow’s call for all Gambians with useful skills to return home and contribute to development efforts. What the Gambia needs right now is a reconciliatory process that will heal our wounds and redirect our attention to nation-building.
If all these people are removed from their positions, Barrow and the coalition government would have broken their promise of “no witch hunts”. People such as me will see a bloodthirsty government that is out for revenge for the ills of the Jammeh regime. It has been said that revenge cannot develop a country. The evils of divide and rule should end with Jammeh. We have demanded and voted for change, and now that we have achieved it, we should make it count.

This does not mean that people should go unchecked. For those found wanting in the execution of their tasks, especially in line with the constitution and for the public interest, the necessary legal steps should be taken. The National Intelligence Agency and the GAF, in particular, must be revisited and reformed to create a stable environment for rapid socio-economic development.

For me and the numerous Gambians in exile, we are looking forward to returning to a new Gambia. I have already started counting the days left in my beloved Bergen, and very soon I will return home to play an active role in the transition process. While I call on all Gambians to be focused and look ahead, I hope that we see Jammeh as a lesson from which we can learn, as we try to build our future.

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