LESSONS FROM GAMBIA: THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION

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I am of the view that Guyana needs several Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to investigate difficult periods in our history. There is a large swathe of the populace who remain hurt and pained by experiences under various regimes. As a consequence, there needs to be a chance for citizens to bare their souls and receive justice in the process. The trauma of the 1960s still lingers. The Burnham years need proper prosecution. The subsequent 28 years of a plethora of deadly abuses of the state need ventilation. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions can be therapeutic and possibly remedy the omnipresent psycho-pathology which afflicts the various generations. In service of this interest, Gambia offers valuable lessons.

Guyana is prudently seeking advice and guidance from Ghana which is a relatively new oil and gas economy and due to the fact that its economic, political and constitutional structures are similar, this is a no-brainer. However, there is another West African country that may be worth our attention insofar as the reconciliation of the society is concerned. The lessons on offer by Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC) which was established to address the diabolical reign of President Yahya Jammeh (1994-2017) are inestimable. The commission was tasked with unpacking twenty years of complete horror of an evil rule which included political enemies being fed to the President’s pet crocodiles. In doing so, their work has left an exemplary template on how to operate commissions of this nature.

Brief Background
After thirty-nine years of governance led by President Dawda Jawara from 1965-1994, Gambia enjoyed the rare experience of being a West African nation devoid of coup d’etats and earned the moniker, ‘The smiling coast of Africa’. Subsequently, par for the course of African politics, smiles turned to frowns with a dispute over term limits which was not anticipated by the country’s Constitution. This resulted in a row within the ruling party which metamorphosed into a political crisis and paved the way for a military coup d’etat. That illegal seizure of power was led by the irrepressible Yahya Jammeh. As expected, the coup leader did the old two-step by promising to transfer power back to the civilian authority within two months. Twenty-two years after, the promise was only comforting to a fool. From 1994 to 2017, the guardrails of the country’s democracy were smashed and dashed. The Constitution was changed five times to bend to the whims and fancies of the strongman and the Jammeh Administration retreated from the international community and became intensely authoritarian. It all came to a halt in 2017 when the people elected Adama Barrow who promised to investigate the twenty-two years of Jammeh’s rule.

Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC)
It is often argued, with a considerable posture of conviction, that South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 1995 remains the holy grail of commissions of this nature. Indeed, it remains the great exemplar of prosecuting a nation’s sordid past in pursuit of closure and some semblance of justice. I suspect one of the main reasons why South Africa’s TRC of 1995 is frequently cited, may have much to do with its bipartisan nature. Here, Guyana needs to pay much attention. A key feature of Gambia TRC is national and bipartisan efforts which led to its establishment was consultative and bipartisan nature of the process. It was not fraught with partisan political bickering or the par for the course Presidential Commission of Inquiry. The first fact that must not escape our attention-the Gambia Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established by an Act of Parliament in 2017. Note: it did not come into existence by a Presidential fiat designed to achieve a short-term political objective. A nation cannot embark on seeking truth in the vortex of political competition, such an approach immediately defeats the supreme purpose of such an exercise. Added to this, the TTRC came into being after careful planning with the civil society and the international community. Once that stage of the process was completed, Gambians were consulted on the TTRC process. In the next phase, the Attorney General and Minister of National Security, Mr. Abubacarr Tambadu proceeded on a fact-finding mission to Sierra Leone and South Africa to gather information on best practices. Other exemplary actions worthy of a commission of this nature included; the appointment of a selection panel for Commissioners, the nomination of Commissioners was put to the populace (including the diaspora), each region received a commissioner who did not have an explicit connection with a political party and the guideline for selection of commissioners demanded representation from all interest groups. These measures provide a good working example of what commissions of some national consequence ought to possess.

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There is much to learn from West Africa, Ghana for oil and gas lessons, the Gambia for reconciliation lessons.



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