In the colonial era, the colonialists were afraid of gatherings which they always saw as a threat. They were afraid that if the people came together and were organized, their voices would carry more weight and thus give their cause more power.
For this reason, they did everything possible to prevent large gatherings. This is how they got into the bad books of Edward Francis Small and he, in theirs. They described him as a constant thorn in their flesh.
One of the things we learn from this is that the people are the real wielders of power. The State just has more instruments and is more organized. But an organized people have the power to remove any government and replace it with one of their own.
Governments realized this early on and as such made attempts of legislating gatherings. It is in this kind of environment that the Public Order Act was born. Governments use the vaguest of phrases national security reasons to prevent gatherings in many parts of the world.
The truth is that some things which go on in some of these countries, if unchecked, are even a bigger danger to national security than a gathering of a few hundreds or thousands of ordinary people.
This type of law is used to varying degrees by different governments depending on how democratic or otherwise they are. In the previous government, we saw this law being used and abused in so many different ways that no one could even imagine a gathering of a few tens of people. For one, you would have known that the police will deny you permit anyway.
We all [including some officials of the present government] called this a bad law. We denounced it as one of those instruments used by Jammeh and his government to suppress the people and continue to entrench themselves in power forever.
We sought to fight it in every way. The understanding of many (myself inclusive) was that when we defenestrate Jammeh, this will be one of the first few bad laws we will ditch. Well, fast forward nine months into the Barrow Administration, the law is still there.
Of course, some will claim that the constitution is being reviewed and it cant be done piecemeal blah blah blah… but the truth is, we have succeeded in changing the upper age limit and one or two others. Why not a law that we all agree is a bad law?
The least we could have done in this case was not to use it. While it is there awaiting its removal we could have avoided using it all together.
The #OccupyWestfield protesters have said that they have been denied a permit to protest based on the same old story about keeping the peace. For me, this is not reason enough to stop the protest. The police could simply have given them permission and then provide the necessary security.
Failing that, they could have instructed them to change the time, say, date or venue. Conversely, they could have insisted on a static protest instead of a moving one. That is what we call democracy.
A beautiful spectacle of this was displayed in Ghana a few years ago. Incidentally, it was also about electricity. The electricity problem became so bad that the citizens could not bear it any longer. They marched in their thousands and stormed the streets carrying banners and placards.
The President of the Republic of Ghana, along with some ministers, joined the protesters. The president was given parole and when he spoke, he showed his own frustration with the electricity company.
The crowd calmed down and dispersed peacefully without any incident. That is democracy. What an excellent example! Permit them to protest, peacefully!