A new start, a new Gambia: President-elect addresses the nation

It’s a new start for The Gambia, says the president-elect of this nation of fewer than two million people in Western Africa popular for its cheap holiday packages and notorious for being ruled by a dictator for decades.

President-elect Adama Barrow in an address to the nation on Thursday evening guaranteed Gambians righteous government that will protect their rights and liberties, unlike his predecessor.

“It is important to assert that this administration intends to give Gambia a new start. It will respect the rule of law, especially the supremacy of the constitution before, during and after assuming state power,” Barrow said.

The country’s outgoing President Yahya Jammeh has been accused by right groups of crimes against the state, corruption, tortures, killings and enforced disappearances. Jammeh was eccentric and took the country from being the champion of human rights to its worse abuser.

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President-elect Adama Barrow said there is a smooth transition process as he assures Gambians of greater freedom, reforms

Jammeh ruled The Gambia for 22 years and during his reign, he crackdown on dissenting voices, especially political opponents, rights campaigners, journalists and pro-democracy activists.

But President-elect Barrow in his address to the nation said democracy will be enlarged and consolidated; respect for human rights shall be the cornerstone of the system of justice of the country; good governance shall be enhanced by constitutional, legal and institutional reforms “that would safeguard the delivery of services to address the needs and aspirations of the people.”

Special paramilitary forces answerable to only the outgoing president has been accused of carrying out most of the regime’s dirty work, including arresting of Gambians late in the night to avoid without warrants.

Human rights activist Imam Baba Leigh was abducted, held incommunicado and tortured at the National Intelligence Agency headquarters, Banjul, in December 2012. He fled Gambia when he was released in May 2013. PHOTO: HRW
Human rights activist Imam Baba Leigh was abducted, held incommunicado and tortured at the National Intelligence Agency headquarters, Banjul, in December 2012. He fled Gambia when he was released in May 2013. PHOTO: HRW

Imam Baba Leigh was one such person. He was arrested in the wee hours of the morning and taken to an isolated prison, where he was buried to his neck and tortured for condemning the illegal and secret executions of nine inmates by firing squad as unIslamic.

Human Rights Watch said that throughout his detention, Leigh had no contact with the outside world and the government denied having him in custody. He was never charged with a crime or brought before a court. He was finally released in May 2013.

In neighboring Senegal, arrests are outlawed at night. Barrow is likely to follow suit. In his address, the president-elect said he will translate his campaign commitments into action and preside over a country where arrests would not take place without a warrant.

Jammeh was a classic Idi Amin who would uphold one’s right to free speech or assembly but would not guarantee your right not to get arrested for exercising them.

“Neither speech nor non-violent civil disobedience would lead to the imprisonment of any Gambian citizen under the administration of the Coalition. All laws that criminalize speech or non-violent civil dissent will be repealed,” Barrow said.

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