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Legality Versus Morality

In former army Major Alhaji Kanteh’s testimony before the Truth Reconciliation and Reparation Commission, he described the July 22, 1994 military coup d’état as a fluke. Then Captain (now General) M. O Cham corroborated this and stated that one of the leaders of the mutiny, then Lt. Edward Singhateh told him that they have succeeded in dislodging the government but didn’t know what to do next.

Mutiny leaders; Lt. S. Sabally, Lt. E. Singhateh, Lt. Y. Jammeh, Lt. Y. Touray and Lt. S. Hydara

Those old enough to remember the incident can recall that the announcement clarifying the events unfolding in the country came very late in the day and were not very clear at that. Sir Dawda, who at the time was head of state, had abdicated by early afternoon. Those succeeding hours after his departure were moments of uncertainty even for those involved much less the general public. Judging by those facts and the witness testimonies, which included testimonies of drunkenness of the ring leaders; one can conclude that in fact the coup was indeed a fluke.

The question then arises as to why a constitutional order should suffer and be overthrown under such circumstances.

From the first testimonies of the commission to now, a lot of reactions seem to denounce the inhumane treatment of fellow citizens within the service but also blame the rest of the army for capitulating to a bunch of undisciplined, rowdy and drunk miscreants with no clear purpose for destabilizing the country. As the testimonies unfold, expert observers may be able to see where serious lapses occurred or what the chances of success for any counter insurrection would have been. Clearly though, it seems few of the officers acted to contain an already irreversible situation from escalating into a catastrophic one.

In his testimony, Gen. M.O Cham deliberated on his movements, along with a couple of other officers in trying to find a structured authority from whom to take orders and coordinate an effective response. With limited means of communication it seemed there was no command structure left and the few loyal soldiers who could have been mobilized to counter the mutiny were neutralized in some form or other. The political leadership of the country, which was a counter stabilizing force was completely decimated, and so fell the constitutional order of the country.

Here we were, saddled with a mutinous army and a completely broken down political order. The loyal forces were outgunned and immobilized, lawlessness was progressing.

The right thing to do LEGALLY was to completely dissociate oneself from the events as much as possible and defend the constitution, but to what end since the political leadership had abdicated? Would it be easy for an active officer of the armed forces to remain neutral in the situation of July 22, 1994 as it unfolded?

Morality is usually premised on principle or some moral code of ethics, for example obeying the law is a form of morality. But sticking to principle is not always pragmatic or realistic. Yes, it is both illegal and immoral for a national army to decide to usurp constitutional authority for themselves, it is treasonous. Now that they have; what next?

Then Capt. M.O Cham was among the officers who took up, what they deemed moral responsibility to ensure there was order and structure in the affairs of state. In essence, they sought to make the most out of a very precarious situation by instituting a mechanism of state administration to ensure continuity and avert a complete breakdown.

This was the calling that many at the time faced. There was a breakdown of law and the institution of state; if there was no early intervention to restore some structure, general order too would have completely broken down and the stories we would be relating today would have been much different.

What could have happened had Jammeh and gang been confronted at Denton bridge? What could have happened had the police headquarters been the last stand to put up an armed resistance? What if the various commissioned officers who had been out of the loop until the fateful day decided to take a stand for the republic and refused to join in? We can leave the possible scenarios that might have unfolded to expert assessment.

If engagements online are anything to go by, Gambians for a good part are motivated by sentiment and subjective perspectives rather than facts of matters. As I pen this article, I am engaged in one such discourse which chooses to ignore or disregard all the facts and to stick to personal conviction, so for such instances we can just state the facts and move on. Those who choose to wallow in self-conviction despite the facts, are almost impossible to convince otherwise but nonetheless facts should be stated and efforts made to assess them objectively.

By all indications we have officers and men of integrity with high moral convictions like Gen. M.O Cham, amongst others. They may not get everything right but we can rest easier knowing men like him still have a say in national affairs as regards the military. If we went along with the cliché term that he was a “Jammeh enabler” without having the insights we do today, we would have sidelined a man who did what he thought was best under the circumstances without deliberately seeking to repress citizens or undermine our sovereignty. The same may be true of others we dub “Jammeh enablers.” Let’s hear their stories and make an objective assessment thereof, the facts will stand out.

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