Human Rights News

Irresponsible Exercise of Freedom of Expression Retreat Democracy in Crisis and Give Rise to both Benevolent and Malevolent Dictatorship?

Fatoumatta: As we exercise our God-given right to freedom of choice and expression, we must not do not forget that temperance, proper judgment, the skillful economy of words, strategy, deep insight, and not burning the bridge of tomorrow are all marks of correct choices. As we support or oppose the Government or the political leaders of our options in light of our aspirations and dream of a better Gambia, we must not forget that there is a difference between interests in democratic values and irresponsible or obstacles to exercising our inherent democratic values.

Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdon Sir Winston Churchill is rated one of the most significant figures of the 20th century. He once said this about democracy “Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that Democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”. Plato, a Greek philosopher who lived more than 1,000 years ago, could not hide his reservations about Democracy.

He said, “The laws of democracy remain a dead letter, its freedom is anarchy, its equality the equality of unequal .” Democracy seems to be the best system of Government for modern man, but I doubt if it is the most successful; maybe we have not reached the apex of our political thoughts as mortals. Unfortunately, some members of civil society organizations, particularly so-called activists, human rights defenders, and citizen journalists, are pretenders; others are unserious clowns. Unfortunately, some so-called activists do better on social media than in realpolitik.

Fatoumatta: However, every Gambian must reaffirm their commitment to promoting the fundamental principles of freedom of expression. John Stuart Mills wrote what is known as the “harm principle” as an expression of the idea that the right to self-determination is not unlimited. An action that results in harming another is not only wrong but wrong enough that the state can interfere to prevent that harm from occurring.

However, societies are built on good governance, strong civil society, and open and accessible media that are prosperous, stable, and secure. Freedom, human dignity, and how people should be treated humanely as our values. The harm principle says people should be free to act. However, they wish unless their actions cause harm to somebody else. The principle is a central tenet of the political philosophy known as liberalism and was first proposed by English philosopher John Stuart Mill.

Fatoumatta: Let us endeavor to respect authority. After all, we gave our consent to create it. At the same time, we entrusted fellow humans, not angels, to wield it in trust. This is Political Science 101. The original purpose of creating authority or Government was to enable humans to live peacefully. In other words, to live better in the circumstances devoid of chaos. Without authority, we would be in a Hobbesian scenario, and you all know it. As United States 32nd President Franklin D Roosevelt once said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us.”Authority is, therefore, the vehicle of our delegated will. It is an expression of our sovereignty.

Authority is undoubtedly not something that fell from the skies or something that a cat dragged in unexpectedly. While it is acknowledged that authority is always a work in progress, the construction does not always have to use heavy equipment. Sometimes, we have to use sandpaper, not the wrecking ball. Given our gains over the last 56 years, what our nation-building project needs is finesse more than it needs a jackhammer.

Fatoumatta: Should you, however, decide to disrespect authority, and we expect authority to be challenged occasionally due to its institutional weaknesses and the miscalculations of individual citizens, be prepared to face the full consequences of such actions. One of the founders of Rolling Stones, Keith Richards, once remarked: “If you kick authority in the teeth, you might as well use both feet.” Alternatively, as the late George Christensen of Radio One FDM once put it, “If you rattle a snake, be prepared to be beaten by it.” Authority is powerful. It is powerful by design. After all, it is the embodiment of all our strengths wielded into one big bolt of power.

The upshot of all these is that you should think long and hard about your personal life when you decide to challenge the authority legitimized by a large segment of people, both internally and externally. Only when authority threatens the citizen directly should it be challenged. Never should it be challenged for the sake of it. Authority should not be challenged or undermined because your grandfathers challenged it and lived to tell the tale. This is not a lion hunt. You are not culturally programmed to do it. Try one of your village buddies, not authority, if you want to arm-wrestle. To argue this way is not cowardice. It is common sense. There is an African proverb. A dead brave man is, shall we say, a dead brave man, but a dead man nevertheless.

Fatoumatta: I am saying this because we have a lot of bright young men with no legitimate grievances but with incredible futures. They stand at the cusp of ruining their futures in their vain attempt to look relevant. They are overwhelmed by their short-termism and a near-congenital ignorance that forces them to take unnecessary risks. This is undoubtedly not the anticolonial war and the struggle to restore Democracy. We are not fighting over the piece of hut or the breast tax. Neither is this the Gambia of 1994-2016. The Gambia has already been liberated twice over. We have a living constitution that is the most progressive and has an independent judiciary and independent-minded justices.

Every imaginable right is enshrined in this constitution, and all Gambians acknowledge the sanctity of those constitutional rights. A fight over the interpretation of the constitution should not be a violent fight. It is an intellectual fight. For if you fight, when will you read the constitution? Learn to count your blessings. You would, of course, be excused if you were a fanatic, for as someone once said, a fanaticism consists in the redoubling of one’s effort when one has forgotten the aim.

Therefore, we must always ask ourselves these simple questions: What was the objective of all the historical fights and protests that we have had in the past? Freedom! Who can now say we have no freedom in this country? I watched the events in the Ugandan Parliament over the last couple of days where President Yoweri Museveni sent Ugandan “GSU” to remove Ugandan legislators forcibly.

I thought about Gambian MPs who disrupt parliamentary sessions when the President is IN the house and will not be forcibly removed. Fatoumatta: Whichever side of our political divide you are on, you will agree with me that we are not where Uganda is, although it is clear some of us want to go there in Yahya Jammeh days when some of you never dare to say a word. Some of us aspire to literary join Uganda and or return to Yahya Jammeh’s kind of rule. I am sure you might have heard of a section of Gambians that has launched a new resistance against Adama Barrow and his Government, akin to the pro-democracy struggle waged against Yahya Jammeh and his APRC regime.

In other words, they want to move from the frying pan into the fire. I am amused whenever Gambians get arrested when attempting to commit suicide and are charged with endangering their own lives. The Gambians behind the struggle are not any different. They deserve to be saved from themselves, except that we have undermined our authority so much that our authority suffers from an extraordinary chilling effect. We have succeeded in tying our authority up in knots. This is what I would like to say in conclusion. No one is born a dictator. It appears to me that dictators are made by citizens, specifically by the behavior of citizens.

They are either “hounded” into authoritarianism or “worshipped.” We will likely end up with either kind of dictator after 2017, far more brutal than Yahya Jammeh’s dictatorship. Fatoumatta: No, can we see it as an allegory? Is it also not time for the Janjaweed’s and Muhajedeens on social media to keep their peace? Instead of grumbling, murmuring, and complaining about everything, can they instead begin to wish the new Government well, pray for those in authority, and give constructive advice? Instead of caviling about our combined security forces and the security challenges, can they begin to applaud them for their exploits and say, ‘God bless our security forces?’ Can they see the many good works that Democracy is doing for the country and not just wail about the shortcomings? Heck! There is no perfect.

Fatoumatta: One of these fine days when we have successfully slid back into dictatorship, do an honest thing. Pop some Champaign and celebrate your role in creating a dictator by using your freedom irresponsibly to undermine authority to see how far you can push the boundaries. Then, you can go and stage your Aluta bullying tactics in front of Janjanbureh prisons to prove your bravery and offer yourself behind for martyrdom. In the words of my brother, bravery is different from bravado”. Do not overeat yourself. Be warned!

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