Mr. Chairman and Commissioners of the Constitutional Review Commission,
As you are about to assume your roles of drafting the laws of The Gambia, laws that will hopefully last many decades to come with minimal if any amendments, I would like to add my piece to that effect.
Laws and the rule of law are the prerequisites to any harmonious and stable society. It is the objective arbiter who is blind to individual identities and values. It seeks fairness and redresses grievances; ensure each and every one over whom it reigns is justly treated. As men of law and seasoned experts with a wealth of experience, I am in no position to lecture you on the values of laws in governing societies.
Every society thrives under democratic rule, ours being no exception and we yearn, as we are hopeful to see a fully-fledged democratic Gambia. The cornerstone for that society, the foundation upon which will be built such a democratic society will be the constitution you are about to draft.
Laws, as enshrined in constitutions reflect the hopes and aspirations of a people. It goes without saying therefore that our hopes and aspirations are shaped and influenced by our beliefs and values as shaped by our customs and outlook on the world. A democratic society cannot preclude such value systems and beliefs, it accommodates them. The onus is on you to ensure such values are reflected and accommodated in the law books.
At independence, we inherited laws that were designed to have Her Majesty’s realm reign supreme over our societies and norms. Not all such laws from the colonial period are expunged from our books. The 22 years of tyranny we just emerged from had its impact on our society at the exclusion of many.
It now behooves us all, but especially the drafters of what will hopefully become The Gambia’s new standards, to usher in a Gambia populated by Gambians who feel protected and safe in their beliefs and values. Gambians who will not feel like aliens in the only land they’ve known as home stretching back generations.
Let the constitution be that arbiters that all can rely on to have their rights protected, to have their values recognized and not be forced to embrace concepts they are uncomfortable with or concepts that will force them to abandon their values. In the globalized world we live in, we are not only encroached upon by multi-national corporations but foreign cultures as well.
As an immigrant myself with freedom to live my life as I see fit within the confines of laws of my host country, I cannot with good conscience ask to have our values imposed on immigrant and visitors alike, that will be wrong. But just like I recognize that my host country has values not entirely synonymous with mine, I respect such values as it defines who they are as a people and society.
Who we are as a people is defined by our culture, customs, values, beliefs and traditions. Others may not agree with that but that is who we are and it needs to be respected and reflected in our laws. Not all citizens agree on all things, that too needs to be recognized and it is not the job of the state to regulate how we live our lives, what we believe and uphold or what our value systems should be. The state’s job is to safeguard those choices.
It is obvious a document as important as a new constitution will require general acceptance to be adopted. When that time comes for citizens to vote in a referendum, the adoption of the new document will be dependent on whether the overwhelming majority can relate to and feel protected by it. Not just with their lives and properties, but in their ways, their values and beliefs.
The world is changing fast; we have always been a close knit society albeit our striking differences in language, culture, customs and beliefs. But two decades of tyranny created fault lines and that needs to be recognized. In as much as we cannot rid our society of bigoted individuals, they should not be allowed platforms to incite others along their line of thinking. Hate speech must be criminalized. The technicalities of what constitutes hate speech can be assessed by the courts but it is pertinent that a zero tolerance be instituted against hate speech and systemic discrimination in the Gambia to emerge. That is just one immediate area of concern.
We repose our trust in you and are confident you will take all aspects of our society into consideration in the drafting stages; we will be watching and scrutinizing to determine what the greater impact of provisions contained therein will be on the average citizen.
Wishing you all success in this important national task.