Dr. Isatou Touray has called for reconciliation and pledged to rebuild the image of the country’s security forces, during a speech addressing the nation this weekend, streamed online.
Touray, who is seeking opposition support for a coalition to swiftly win a critical winter election before a mid-November nomination dateline has also called for reconciliation, which may seem difficult for some who have lost loved ones unjustly or had them unlawfully detained by President Yahya Jammeh’s regime.
The 61 year old rights defender turned ‘development politician’ was herself persecuted by Gambian authorities with her campaign manager but said as a way to move forward, she has forgiven the current administration for their involvement in her politically motivated trial.
“We must forgive to move forward though we will not forget. It starts with myself and I spoke to Amie Bojang about this and we decided to forgive,” she said.
Touray may be following in the footsteps of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, who supported a truth and reconciliation committee to heal his country at the end of apartheid.
She indicated plans for a similar committee to facilitate reconciliation among Gambians to express their feelings, heal, forgive and reach consensus and “open a new chapter for a healthy and peaceful co-existence on how to forge ahead.”
Gambian security forces, especially an off the record elite presidential guard unit called ‘jungulars’ have been accused of many killings and disappearances. An indemnity law passed at the start of the new millennium, protected security forces from the country’s paramilitary police and presidential guards for killing 14 student protesters.
The law continues to promote impunity by protecting security forces who kill citizens “in the name of national security,” says rights groups.
Jammeh, 51, has been accused of going on a witch-hunt and land grabbing spree by freezing the assets of former officials of the 30 year PPP regime of Sir Dawda Jawara. Thousands of lands and properties are said to be his and guarded by his loyalist army.
Some criticized Touray’s plea for forgiveness but according to her campaign, Touray’s call for reconciliation will not sideline justice and will fix abnormalities.
“A justice and impunity a panel with a panel on constitutional and land reforms are to be constituted to address these situations,” said Touray.
The independent presidential candidate who is also the country’s first female presidential hopeful promised to build a respectful image for the security forces and help them transition into civilian society with relevant work skills such as civil engineering and construction and “any other fields they have interest in.”
A member of The Gambia’s army who wishes to remain anonymous said the transitioning to become a civilian with skills will allow him and his colleagues to earn a decent living after service instead of the waiting on handout, which is affecting many junior soldiers whose service terms have ended.
Touray said the role of the military is to defend the country, help in emergencies and contribute to international peace efforts. She promise to have them help in especially infrastructure construction and maintenance.