The most unfortunate argument we hear being made with regards to the military takeover of government on July 22, 1994 is that former President Jawara overstayed in power and hence creating the enabling environment for the military to step in to end his self-perpetuation and the corruption that pervaded the civil service. Since when is that any of the army’s business?
As the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) continues its sittings and more revelations are made of the tortures and extra judicial killings of the men in uniform and civilians alike, it is understandable that we feel anger and regret that the takeover happened in the first place. In typical human fashion, we look back and wish few things have or have not happened to avert that chapter in our national history from ever unfolding.
We can always find ‘convenient’ fault with absolutely anything but fact remains that the only party deserving blame in this case is the army and the 5 rogue soldiers in particular.
EVERYTHING about our current predicament points to one persistent fact, our penchant for letting our emotions take over and a culture of gross indiscipline. Yes, there were many flaws in the first republic, so much was wrong back then, but how we address those wrongs is another matter altogether.
We like to invoke moral arguments where the law will suffice and vice versa. There was nothing illegal about Sir Dawda staying for as long as he did. Yes, it was not ideal for a fledgling democracy but it was not illegal, our remedy lies in amending the constitution. Sir Dawda’s government was no tyrannical government; the democratic process was respected at the very least. We could argue that the system of government was new to us and the level of awareness of the people as to the power they wielded was not ideal, but it still would not justify the military taking over, especially considering the level of maturity of the coup plotters. It can be factually argued that they did not have the ability to properly manage a barracks much less a nation (undesirable elements as Alaji Kanyi referred to them). Under Jammeh’s regime we could argue that all avenues for democratic protest were shut down so inevitably force became the only option available to the citizens, but even under those extreme circumstances arguments against military intervention can be made and still be valid.
No matter how dire it was, the democratic avenue was not completely abandoned much to our frustration. Politicians kept believing and giving us hope that we could effect change through the political process – the legal way.
Late Kukoi Samba Sanyang decried the same conditions in 1981 as did the soldiers in 1994, like the soldiers, he took up arms and soaked the soils of our land in blood all in vain.
That same impulsive indiscipline was what triggered the 1994 coup and look how much more blood was spilled in the ensuing 22 years. How many orphans and widows were created? How much tear was shed? Not even innocent children were spared; how many of them died or were killed?
When the army felt the government failed them, which in fact is a genuine concern they should have stuck with due process as is expected of disciplined professionals. If their frustrations and concerns remained unmet after various forms of protests, of the options left for them to explore, usurpation of sovereign power should not even be one of consideration.
Let’s agree for argument’s sake that we can justify their coup, the evidence emerging before the TRRC is increasingly showing that the coup plotters misled a great majority of their peers and gave the impression to the rest of the country that they were out protesting delayed allowances. The promise that they will only stay a few months (six) may have prevented many others from resisting their advances effectively becoming either negligent or complicit.
So many things could have been done, so many chances passed the nation by to right that wrong but the one undeniable fact in all this is that the soldiers have no business overthrowing constitutional order and excusing that with “Jawara overstayed” is not doing anyone any favors.
This frustration with the lengthy process of following the law and the impatience thereof is why we get many things wrong. No matter ow long it takes, no matter how costly, conforming to the rule of law is the only guarantee to ensuring our freedoms and our larger democracy are maintained.
Where we are dissatisfied with the laws, we can amend them through the applicable processes. Just like emotions, any decision made based on emotions will be very short lived and very consequential, often negatively so. We need to inculcate that sense of discipline and good reasoning in all our affairs otherwise we will keep falling into similar predicaments with regrettable consequences.
Cutting corners does not cut it.