As the year 2016 ended, thousands of Gambians, home and abroad, are aspiring to breathe the perfume of their stolen civil rights and liberties in 2017. While the just-ended year 2016 will be commemorated in the political history of the Gambia as the year that marked the demise of the 22 years of dictatorship, in which the people were treated as subjects, the subsequent year 2017 will be equally celebrated as the year in which Gambians reclaimed their status as citizens.
Theoretically, the concept of state conflates automatically the notions of citizenship, as the state is nothing but a reflection of desires and interest of people who are governable. The existence of a state stipulates parallel existence of autonomous citizens who can participate in political life, and from whom government derives its legitimacy to rule.
However, in practice, the legal requirements of the existence of a state: people, territory, government, and sovereignty can be fulfilled; yet, the sovereignty of the people could be usurped by governments who base their legitimacy to rule on divinity or tradition. In this case, the notion of citizenship is replaced with the notion of subject.
Unlike citizens, who are free men and autonomous participants in political life, subjects are not free; rather they are subjected to the will of the government.
In the view of this, in the Gambia, as a nation state, the inhabitants became citizens with the development of full-fledged political institutions. Since its independence in 1965, Gambians enjoyed both civil liberties and rights as demonstrated in their free participation in political life without any interference from the government. This continued to prevail until the advent of the First Republic in 1970, in which the PPP government led by Sir Dawda K. Jawara, also cherished rights and freedom of the citizens as the constitution remained the legal framework that guided state-society relations until the demise of the reign of Jawara in 1994.
The installation of the APRC led-government in 1994 paved the way for eclipse of the notion of citizenship from the political landscape of the Gambia. Despite the fulfillment of the legal requirements of the state, the Gambia has been ruled by a government that, despite being elected on several occasions, claimed the divinity as source of its legitimacy.
In the spirit of this, the head of the government, President Yahya Jammeh, treated the people, not as citizens rather as subjects. This became more apparent in the second of half his reign as he transgressed in length and scope. It was manifested through his flamed statements that he represents the divine will on the earth as he will not eavesdrop to human beings or ready to please them.
While on his throne, the State House, he subtly merged executive, legislative and judiciary powers together, whereas he coopted different segments of the population through financial largess. In both cases, the views of the people remained a footnote item as he continued to squander public money according to his biddings.
The mismanagement of the scarce resources of the country went hand in hand with the subjection of the civil servants as slaves and peasants in his farms while the school children, security personnel, religious leaders and local rulers were not immune from his subjugation. Forced enslavement of women folks in his farms accompanied their exploitation as tools for his erotic pleasure.
This was compounded by his barefaced exploiting of his position to lure foreign investors to join in business ventures hence his business stretched across the Great Banjul Area.
This was ensured through the stringent application of stick and carrot policies that muzzled media houses and critics, which also permitted his parrot singers among the Army, NIA, and APRC members to carry out atrocities against the innocent people in exchange for a greater privilege.
Under this circumstance, the Gambians remained properties of the government without any evocative mechanism to express their rights as citizens, whereas elections remained formalities to safeguard the continuation of dictatorship for another term.
Gambians were bind only by virtue of their psychological identification with the country that they called their home as many remained detached from the government, who treated them as subjects.
Against all odds, and with the help social media, Gambians raised to their feet to put an end to 22 years of subjection by voting out the APRC party in the December 1, 2016, election.
Thus, 2016 marks the end of subjection, while in 2017 Gambian will re-claim new status as citizens in a new Gambia, which is fasting its belt to be commenced on January 19, 2017.
Under the leadership of the President-elect Adama Barrow, Gambians envisage to claim and enjoy constitutional protection of their opinions and property from arbitrary interference by the government. To this end, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religious belief and freedom from arbitrary arrest and punishment are highly expected to be guaranteed.
There is a high projection among the Gambians that legally guaranteed benefits that are provided by governments to citizens, such as good education, healthcare, and decent living standards will be more effective under the new government.
To ensure the realization of these changes, coalition partners should incorporate into their government human stocks who will serve the country rather than their parties, constituencies or families; who will subsume their personal interests into that of public. In the view of this, higher qualification and rich experience should matter less in vetting candidates for executive positions. Rather, selecting people in politically appointed positions should be guided by the extent to which candidates sacrificed their life for the liberation of the Gambia in the past years.
This should be sufficient, in addition to minimal education level and experience, to determine the self-abnegation of candidates and their readiness to give their service to the country. This even more acute when we put into account that Institutional Economy Model, that puts emphasis on informal institutions of people, has recently credited for ensuring economic growth relative to New Growth Theory, which favors knowledge for economic growth.
It is further attested by the pattern of employment under Yahya Jammeh, who imported relatively well educated and experienced Gambians from abroad to be recruited in executive positions, yet their education and experience did not prevent them to connive with Yahya Jammeh, directly or indirectly, to subjugate Gambians.
Alieu Manjang is a Ph.D. candidate in Gulf studies Program, College of Arts and Science, Qatar University. He is currently working as Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant at Qatar University’s Social and Economic Survey Research Institute. Manjang is a holder of M.A in Gulf Studies and Public Policy.