Madi Jobarteh

In December 2009 Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara published his autobiography ‘Kairaba’. In Chapter 21 – ‘Forging ahead to greater things,’ Sir Dawda hinted that indeed the Gambia was not independent on 18 February 1965, rather, as he acknowledges, “while we had a democratically elected parliament and government since independence (1965), formal power was still vested outside those institutions in a distant monarch with a representative in the person of the governor-general.”

According to Jawara, “on 13 May 1969, the National Executive of the PPP responded decisively to the constant enquiry of the mass of people who desired that the government should raise the issue again for a republican form of government.” This was four years since our so-called independence!

Jawara continued to explain that his government was keen to pursue republicanism and in campaigning for a second referendum for that purpose, he addressed a rally somewhere in Baddibu in October 1969 where he told them, “my government is not seeking power (i.e. referring to the call for a referendum for a republic), rather it is the completion of the Gambia’s political evolution and independence. If it was just power there would have been no need to proceed from self-government to independence.”

From Jawara’s own account it is clear that the Gambia did not gain independence on 18 February 1965. Rather we became an independent country on 24 April 1970 after we had two referendums for that purpose.

Dominion Status

The Imperial Conference of 1926 described Great Britain and the dominions as “autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.”

A dominion is therefore a self-governing territory under the British Empire. This territory would have all the paraphernalia of a nation-state or independence yet it is not independent. A dominion is effectively a constitutional monarchy just that the monarch is the British Monarch.

The first dominion under the British Empire is Canada which attained that status on 1st July 1867 until today. The other original dominions of the British Empire were Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland and the Irish Free State. Other dominions came into being as India, Pakistan Ceylon among others in the 1940s. Except Canada, Australia and New Zealand all other dominions later fought for independence and became republics. However even in Canada, Australia and New Zealand there are several movements and campaigns calling for the abolition of dominion status and seeking independence and the transformation of those countries into republics.

The Gambia therefore obtained dominion status on 18 February 1965. But given that we bear no historical or cultural affinity with the British, the Gambia cannot therefore be said to be part of that empire as an equal member. Certainly Gambians were never asked to be a part of the empire and Gambian citizens never enjoyed the same rights and benefits that British citizens enjoyed under that empire. How therefore can we be independent under the British Empire? Indeed this is a contradiction in terms!

Independence Process of the Gambia

The Gambia had been a full-fledged and direct colony of the British Empire since 1902 when all the resistant kings and communities were finally defeated and the entire territory came under the firm control and dominance of the British.

The Gambia’s road to independence did not take the path of a war of liberation such as in Guinea Bissau or Kenya. Rather we gained independence through legal and constitutional processes. Series of constitutional conferences were held between Banjul and London with various constitutions, laws and ordinances passed by the British Parliament at various times to determine the legal and political status of the Gambia.

These processes reached their climax in 1964 when Jawara and our political leaders went to Lancaster House in London for independence talks where they were informed that the Gambia would be independent by 18 February 1965 with the condition that the Queen of England would be the Queen and Head of State of the Gambia and secondly that the Gambia would seek Commonwealth membership.

Thus on 18 February 1965 a huge ceremony took place in Banjul where the Union Jack was lowered and the Gambian flag raised amidst other changes to the governance structures of the Gambia. This date therefore marked the end of the Gambia as a direct colony and to become a dominion as a constitutional monarchy under the British Empire. Since then the Queen of England appointed Sir John Paul as the Governor General of the Gambia who was then replaced by Sir Farimang Singhateh in 1966. Singhateh remained Governor General until 1970 when the position was abolished when the Gambia became an independent nation.

It is clear that when a nation is independent then that nation cannot have a foreign monarch to appoint governors for those people. The fact that the British Monarch could appoint officers to look over the Gambia on her behalf clearly indicates that there is a foreign power over and above the Gambian people. Yet some of us want to ignore that reality by claiming that we were independent first in 1965 and then became a republic in 1970. A clear contradiction in terms!

Independence and Republic

There is lot of confusion around these two words, ‘independence’ and ‘republic’. Any political territory can be independent or under domination. Independence is when a territory is self-governing without any foreign power over and above it. The people rule themselves through their own representatives – elected or selected or otherwise.

Hence independent nations can be a monarchy such as the UK or Saudi Arabia or they can be republics such as the USA or Senegal and even the Gambia. A Republic is a nation where the sovereignty of the country resides in the people. In a republic, citizens elect their representatives as their governors. There is no monarch in a republic. It is the people who rule themselves. A republic is naturally an independent nation.

Therefore what happened on 24 April1970 was that the Gambia became a republic which means we had shed off all elements of foreign domination over us, hence we became independent on that date. On 18 February 1965 we were not independent because we had foreign domination over us. The Queen of England was our Queen and Head of State even though she was a Caucasian person and we are Africans.

There is no cultural, linguistic, social, historical or political affiliation between Gambians and the English. We belong to different continents, different races and with different cultures. Hence the only way an English queen can be a queen of the Gambia is through domination and control. How therefore can we claim to be independent on 18 February 1965 with a foreign monarch as our head of state? This is indeed another contradiction in terms!

Way Forward

The Gambia must rewrite her history by certifying 24th April 1970 as the date on which we overthrew the yoke of colonialism over our heads and became sovereign people. It is true that the present day borders and country of the Gambia was not created by Gambians, yet within the context of those borders we finally obtained our independence on 24th April 1970 when we cut off the formal domination and control of the Gambia by a foreign power.

Therefore it is necessary that the National Assembly place a bill for the establishment of the correct date of the independence of the Gambia, i.e. 24th April 1970 before the parliament for enactment. Failure to do that Pres. Barrow can bring such a bill before the parliament to that effect. If both the parliament and the president fail to correct this gross anomaly then citizens must raise the campaign until we make the State recognize 24th April 1970 as the date of independence of the Gambia.

For the Gambia, Our Homeland.