The Road To Constitutionality In The Gambia


Commentary Part 3

The Gambia moved into a Colonial Constitutional set up when the French Republic and British Crown came to an agreement on 10th August 1889 to demarcate the border with Senegal. Ordinances followed which provided the rudiments of a Colonial Constitutional architecture. The first Ordinance which was crafted on 27th December 1894 was “The Gambia Protectorate Ordinance, 1894” to ensure indirect rule over the rural areas.

Gambians were transformed into subjects without a homeland irrespective of ethnolinguistic origin, religion, gender or any characteristics.

The 1894 Ordinance was further consolidated by The Gambia Protectorate Ordinance 1902. The Colonial administration continued to build the colonial structures until 1920 when resistance began. Demand for Elected representation was resisted.

In 1924 the Secretary of state for colonies Mr. JH Thomas expressed how they saw the Gambians when confronted with the demand of leaders like Edward Francis Small for elected representation. He wrote “while I sympathise with their desire for elective institutions , I do not consider that education and political thought in the colony and still less in the protectorate (which could not be well separated from the colony in any constitutional arrangement which might be made ) have yet reached a level which would render elective institutions valuable.”

Simply put, the colonialists were opposed to any constitutional change which enhanced the attainment of the right to self-determination and Independence of the Gambian people.
They created a Constitution which established advisory bodies like the Executive and Legislative Councils and appointed prominent residents in the City to assist them.

The resistance to colonial domination led to calls for Gambians to elect representatives in the legislative council rather than allow them to be appointed by the Governor. By 1947 the colonialist surrendered to popular demand by introducing a Constitutional order in council to allow one seat to be filled through the elective principle.

My book, “The Road to Self-determination and Independence” which will be reprinted has explained the increase in representation in the legislative councils. For our purpose it is important to point out that by 8th November 1954, the Constitutional Order-in-Council provided for 14 Elected members of the legislative Council.

The Independence of Ghana in 1957 gave impetus to the demand for self-determination leading to Constitutional conferences in Gambia and the demand for universal suffrage to enable all the people, with the appropriate age, to vote in 1960.

The Constitutional Order-in-Council 1960 gave birth to universal suffrage and a House of Representatives with 27 seats.

The Constitutional Order-in-Council, 1962 provided for an Executive Council Presided over by the Governor with a Premier, 8 Ministers and an Attorney General. The House of Representatives had a Speaker elected by the House, 7 elected members representing the colony, 25 elected representatives from the protectorate, an Attorney general, 2 nominated members, and 4 Chief representatives elected by an Assembly of Chiefs.

On the 4th of October 1963, Gambia attained Internal Self-government and on the 18thFebruary 1965 Independence was declared. A referendum was held on 27th November 1965 to determine whether Gambia would become a Republic or not. It failed as those who did not vote or voted against the referendum Bill were in the majority. Since the people were not sensitized to know that they were voting to chart a way forward for The Gambia to become a Republic which is a state where sovereignty resides in the people and where authority to lead must be derived from the will of the people, the vote for a Republic was lost as a result of ignorance. Demagogues of yesterday like those of today focused on non-issues on both sides of the political spectrum rather than uniting on a national issue and speak with one voice to educate our people on how to take charge of our destiny. I will prove with incontestable facts that the demagogue is among the biggest misleader of the youth of this country and the biggest threat to national tranquility and unity which are virtues that should be cherished and safeguarded by every patriot, despite their affiliations.

Most Gambians did not know the Content of the 1965 Constitution until we published the provisions. I am glad that based on these revelations many Gambians have been telling Gambians that the country did not become Independent in 1965. They should add that we only attained the right Internal and external self -government without attaining the right to Sovereignty. Independence is inconceivable without the right to national sovereignty.

In concluding the historical account, it is relevant to state that The Gambia became a sovereign Republic after the Referendum Bill got two thirds majority support, on 24th April 1970.

Since a Constitution is not a sacred document, the 1970 Constitution was overthrown in 1994. A referendum was held in August 1996. After receiving a two thirds majority vote, the Constitution of the second republic came into force on 17th January 1997. On the 2nd December 2016, Change came through the Ballot box. On 11th January 2018, the Constitutional Review Commission Act came into force. A constitutional review Commission is established to consult Gambians on the content of the Constitution of a Third Republic if need is seen to overhaul the Constitution of the Second Republic.

Now before answering why we are engaged in crafting the provisions of the Constitution of a Third Republic, let me ask basic questions to expose the barrenness of the conceptions of the demagogue on constitutional matters.

First and Foremost, I will quote a text from the various constitutions and pose the question for him to answer.

Section 62 of the 1965 Constitution states: “The Executive authority of the Gambia is vested in her Majesty “

Section 29 of the 1965 Constitution states: “There shall be a Governor General who shall be appointed by Her Majesty and shall hold office during her majesty’s pleasure and who shall be her majesty’s representative in the Gambia”

Section 32 adds: ‘’There shall be a Parliament which shall consist of Her Majesty and the House of Representatives.”

Mr Demagogue, is the 1965 Constitution a sacred text? Is its content derived from a sacred book like The Al Quran or The Bible? Is it a Constitution of a given philosophical dispensation? How did philosophy or religion influence the crafting of the text of the 1965 Constitution?

The fact of the matter is that Gambians were not even involved in the drafting of the 1965 Constitution yet it governed the affairs of the Country until it was replaced by the 1970 Constitution. Since the content of the 1965 Constitution has no affinity to a sacred document or philosophical dispensation, I would pause to ask the demagogue to classify the Constitution for us based on his knowledge base of classifying constitutions. It is common sense that what is not sacred is mundane and what relies on the will of people rather than the will of God is mundane and temporal. What could be amended cannot be sacred but mundane. These facts are incontrovertible and I will come back to them to prove that the demagogue knows very little about constitution building and cannot guide anyone on this matter.

Allow me to go to the text of the 1970 Constitution to expose the bankruptcy of the propaganda of the demagogue and prove to him that it is he who lacks scientific knowledge of the Characteristics of Constitutions and is trying to import his religious values to explain a mundane document derived from popular will, which could be amended by National Assembly members, who are certainly not God’s representatives on the earth in the type of Republic that exists in the Gambia but are people who should serve the National interest and should be held accountable by the electorate who could boot them out as they please.

They are certainly not put into office as imams and priests and do not hold their positions for life. What type of state is our state? What type of Constitution is our Constitution? The answer will become as clear as noon day.

Commentary Part 4