(JollofNews) – It is confusion. It is anxiety. It is what do we do next? This is the new dilemma for Gambians. Since December 2, 2016, when the announcement was finally and officially made that Adama Barrow ‘is duly elected to serve as president of the Republic of the Gambia’, celebrations erupted throughout the country. The feeling and the mood was nothing short of a freed people who have been imprisoned for decades. And indeed Gambians have been imprisoned for decades.
They endured two decades of brutal and gruesome torture, unlawful arrests, repressions, and deaths under dictator Jammeh. And so when it became apparent that this evil leader is voted out of office-something that shocked not only the Gambian electorate but the entire world- the Gambian people; in this celebratory mood, cannot think of anything but to expect to see their new president at State House the next morning in charge of the affairs of the country.
For the first time in the 52-year political history of the country, there would be a peaceful transfer of power from an incumbent to a president-elect. Until his overthrow in 1994, former President Jawara never lost an election in the thirty- years that he was President. President Jammeh never lost an election in the more than two decades that he ruled the Gambia. Clearly then, Gambians have all the reasons to be confused and anxious in the moment of unprecedented reality. What then could be done?
There is a constitutional arrangement in place. Notwithstanding it’s procedural flaws, Section 62(2), provides the guide. It stipulates that “The person elected President shall assume office sixty days following the day of his or her election, and in any case where the candidature of a person contesting the election is unopposed, such candidate shall be declared unopposed and elected to the office of the President on the day following the making of such declaration.” By this interpretation/arrangement, president-elect Barrow shall assume office on the, 2nd of February, 2017.
Perhaps graciously or utter ignorance about this constitutional framework, President Jammeh in his concession speech announced that he would hand over power to president-elect Barrow in January. What is not clear is what day in the month of January is this going to be? What is clear however is, President Jammeh was last sworn in on the, 19th of January, 2012. One could only hope thus that he would hand over on the, 19th of January, 2017.
This transition period allows the new administration to form with the president-elect having the opportunity to make the necessary cabinet appointments. It similarly allows the outgoing administration to reasonably conclude any unfinished businesses and continue working on existing files. In essence, it avoids bureaucratic panic and confusion.
For the good of the nation: stability, peace and security, and the mutual coexistence of all citizens, this fundamental provision must be upheld and respected. To suggest or do otherwise, could only add to the existing confusion and possibly plunge the nation into chaos.
Since the declaration of the results, almost on a daily basis, there is endless and unsubstantiated rumors of one thing or the other; from a coup plot to arrests of various individuals. These need to stop and the only way to do that would be the leaders of the opposing parties to address their supporters and the nation at large. This election is one of the most important things to ever happen to the Gambia. While it heralds the beginning of a new and prosperous nation, it has significantly and positively catapulted the country’s international image to greater heights. Gambians must not underestimate the earth-moving changes that they effected in this election and the exemplary character and recognition that they created for themselves. To do anything that would even slightly erode this significant step would be a historical mistake.
Both president-elect Barrow, and the incumbent, Jammeh, need to address the nation IMMEDIATELY. They need to clearly explain this constitutional arrangement in place that would peacefully transfer power. The IEC chairman, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court should equally make similar pronouncements. Information is the only food and water that can feed and quench the thirst of a politically hungry and thirsty population. Unless such steps are taken, the Gambia risks the possibility of an unrest.
Elections always leave a country divided between and among various supporters, and only the leaders of the contesting parties could address their supporters to come to terms with the new reality. The nation must be seen to be bigger than any one individual. Cynicism and bigotry must be condemned and dismissed on both sides of the political aisle.
Representatives from the current government and from the incoming one must meet as respective transition teams and hammer out ways to effectively and smoothly transfer power. They must be ready to work with mutual respect for one and the other.
Gambians must now start to accept and act on the fact that our collective interests should always supersede our individual interests. The country must always be seen as bigger and important than any one individual or group. We can have our policy differences and intensely debate them out in an open, free, and level playing field, but when the action for the common good calls, we must all be ready to put aside our personal or party preferences and answer to that call. Government officials must have and maintain a set of work ethics and demonstrate professionalism and dedication to their work. They must expose any form of undue influence that they are exposed to or threatened with. They must exercise independence and dignity in their work and devoid of bias. For far too long, governments in Africa are motivated and driven on this idea of self service or self-enrichment to the detriment of the many. While it’s not a unique character to Africa, its more prevalent and acute in Africa than almost any other place in the world.
The new government must be held accountable to its promise of making significant changes to repressive laws, government and electoral reforms. We cannot, and must not allow our public officials to act with impunity. Our past two administrations-Jawara and Jammeh- are both guilty in this. From henceforth, the press must continue its work of acting as a watch-dog over the executive and legislative branches of government. Now that the election is over, that work must start in earnest.