Human Rights Opinion

On Presidential Attack on Rights Activist Madi Jobarteh, Every Gambia Must be Concerned

Hatab Fadera

Every Gambian must be concerned and forcefully condemn the scathing attack launched against the person of Rights Activist Madi Jobarteh by no less a person than the Head of State. Before the country’s religious leaders, President Adama Barrow dishonestly and misguidedly branded the activist as an arsonist whose only interest is to render the country unstable or set it ablaze.

The Head of State went as far as wondering why the media continue to give such a person a platform. The crux, and the most alarming part of this presidential threat, is Barrow’s declaration that his government will tackle Madi. By making this statement, the Head of State has declared Madi an official State enemy. This is not only outrageous but abominable, coming from a supposedly democratic leader presiding over a supposedly democratic dispensation, in a civilized society. The tone, the demeanor, the arrogance, the composure, the energy, and the anger with which the Head of State exhibited these threats shows he probably has a premeditated plan against Madi. Gambians must rise and say enough, Mr. President. Barrow’s threats are reminiscent of Dictator Yahya Jammeh.

In the four years that I covered Jammeh’s State House, these kinds of threats were all too familiar on a day when the nation was supposed to be reconciliatory and discuss issues of greater importance. In one of those Eid meetings, Jammeh had vowed to execute Gambian inmates and declared he would “drink alcohol and eat pork” if those executions were not carried out. What ensued was Jammeh making good on his vow, lining up poor inmates to a firing squad. It is therefore chilling to see President Barrow made threats that are as serious as those of Jammeh. President Barrow must be contained by Gambians.

The President must develop a thick skin and realize that Gambians aspire to live a democratic system where freedom of expression and speech is guaranteed, where citizens will uphold the public servants accountable for their deeds, where citizens will expose the vices that shroud government operations, where citizens will be active participants in the way and manner their government is run. This is what Gambians aspired when they voted in a change. They did not vote to be governed in Dictatorship 2.0 where their lives are threatened at a presidential pulpit for merely wanting democratic values to be adhered to. President Barrow’s statement today confirms the general apprehensions Gambians have when he surrounded himself with the vestiges of the dictatorship, on whose fountain of schemes he continues to draw his inspirations for governance.

Madi Jobarteh & President Barrow.
Picture credit: James Lewis

These vestiges would not advise a supposedly democratic Head of State on democratic values because they either have no clue about those values or are brazenly indifferent to them due to what they can take from the State. I implore on the National Human Rights Commission to unequivocally condemn this President for his continued threat to the democratic path that Gambians sanctioned in 2016. To date, President Barrow continues to be the single-biggest provocation to not only our democratic order but to national security. This Gambian leader continues to engage in activities that are enough to cause ordinary Gambians to rise against him.

Here are some of this leader’s actions:

One, this President threatens instability by appointing as legislative leaders two principals of the dictatorship whose collective efforts created more than 40,000 Gambian refugees, the first since the 1981 coup. Today, these are the men charged with the responsibility of transitioning the Gambia to a democratic path given how crucial the National Assembly is to that process. We already heard the new Speaker vowing to undermine the new draft constitution if it’s brought to parliament.

Two, this President, inspired by his greed for power, rallied a minority in the National Assembly to scuttle the draft constitution, a process that would have given the nation a new start.

Three, this President turned a blind eye to public sector corruption by failing to prosecute economic crimes committed by public servants. To date, no corruption case has been exhaustively completed.

Four, this President has never visited the Victims Center or even invite them to State House to commiserate with their miseries and ordeals. Yet, he dines and wines with the perpetrators, appointing them to positions of national prominence. Fifth, this President has never visited the over 5000 Gambian refugees currently being displaced because of the war along the southern border.

Now, Gambians, between Madi and President Barrow, who is the greatest agent provocateur to cause Gambians to revolt? What Madi is doing is to play his civic and constitutional right by holding the government accountable.

One tends to ask; what are the President’s fears such that he wants to cage Madi? What is Barrow after, really? How is Madi an arsonist? What this President is attempting to do is creating a chilling effect for both Madi and the media, thereby shrinking the space for free speech and of expression. By saying all that he said about Madi and wondered why the media continue to give him a platform, Barrow is effectively extending a warning to the media.

Given the above, I call on TANGO as the umbrella body for the CSOs and the Bar Association to emulate the Gambia Press Union with a strong reaction against this unwarranted threat. Each of these organizations is concerned with this. Madi is both a journalist and activist (this concerns TANGO and GPU), whose rights are being threatened by the President (this concerns the Bar Association). Gambians should remember that Jammeh’s dictatorship didn’t just start like that, he gradually built it by taking on the key voices. Barrow is on the same line. He needs to be stopped.

Let that sink. #LetsRise

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