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The promulgation of the "Programme of Ratification and Transition to Democratic Rule" by His Excellency Captain Yahya A.J.J.Jammeh, Chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) and Head of State on 24 October 1994 and, more particularly, the inclusive Timetable specifying four years of military rule received a mixed reception among all sections of the Gambian community. In addition, the donor agencies that contribute substantially inter alia to our balance of payments support and development programmes were surely troubled by the prospect of a long period of military rule and their reactions were swift in having adverse effects on our tourist trade; in accentuating and already serious problem of underemployment; and in slowing down the general economic life of the country.

It was in these circumstances that the AFPRC decided to create a National Consultative Committee (NCC) charged with the following responsibility of the general public nation-wide as well as those of our development partners on the AFPRC's Programme of Activities and Timetable; to deliberate particularly on the Timetable for the return to democratic constitutional rule taking into account the views of the people and our development partners; and finally, to make such recommendations as are appropriate and based on the studies mentioned above.

In planning its Method of Work, the Committee gave very serious consideration to the complex nature of the task to be accomplished and the short duration of some five weeks in which it had to be completed. A short list of guidelines for consultation was prepared and several sub-groups with set itineraries were created top cover all 35 districts of the country in the five divisions and Greater Banjul. In addition, the Chairman and one other member of the Committee were scheduled to have discussions with local representatives of our development partners. Although subjective in nature, the consultations involving pople in all walks of life were very positive as there was an overwhelming desire to participate in a very emotive debate with bearing on the political evolution of the country.

There appeared to be widespread support for the overtrow of the previous regime and, there was a demand for those who had allegedly looted the coffers of government to be the subject of enquiry at the Commissions of Enquiry set up for the purpose.

The important question of the duration of military rule was a central theme in all the consultations. In summary, those in favour of a period of military rule of two years and below were more than those supporting a duration of four years and above. Our development partners were clearly against delaying democratic constitutional rule for four years but appeared to be willing to accomodate a reasonable degree of flexibility with regard to the time-frame. They supported their stance by citing The Gambia's past record on democracy and human rights and on the catastrophic effects that military rule would have on the overall economy of the country.

In its review of the AFPRC's Time table, the NCC gave support to the continuance of the Commissions of Enquiry, the establishment of a Constitutional Review Commission and an ad hock Electoral Review Committee. The concensus was against a Referendum on the Constitution per se having regard to the large illiteracy rate in the country and supported the setting up of a Constituent Assembly to undertake this task. There was also support for an Independent National Electoral Commission, a review of the Constituency Boundries by a special commission, and for great circumspection to be attached to the registration of voters and display of the Voters' Register for public scrutiny.

High on the list of Recommendations was a Timetable of two years starting from 22 July 1994 as an appropriate period of time for the transition to democratic civilian rule. Other important recommendations include the establishment of a Constitutional Review Commission, an Independent National Electoral Commission, an ad hoc Electoral Review Committee and Constituent Assembly is preferred to a Referendum as a means of giving validity to the draft Constitution. An office of Ombudsman or similar institution which should be independent and not subject to government manipulation is considered long overdue.

There was a proposal for the formation of an interim government of National Unity headed by a civilian primister who, assisted by a civilian Cabinet appointed by him, will be responsible for the day to day running of the government whilst the Head of State and his deputy as well as the Ministers of Defence, Interior and Local Government will remain military personnel.
Another proposal from the general public considered by the NCC, was the establishment of a Provisional National Assembly composed of Gambians with clean public records, required knowledge and experience.



  2. At the launching of the "Programme of Rectification and Transition to Democratic and Constitutional Rule" on 24 October 1994, the Chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) and Head of State mentioned that the Programme would be subjected to critical review by the Gambian people and their development partners with a view to enabling his Government to better respond to the people's "..... productive economic and social life." That pronouncement and, more importantly, the inclusive Timetable prescribing four years military rule, received a mixed reception from all sections of theGambian community. Furthermore, the nation's development partners expressed grave concern resulting in adverse effects on our tourist trade and a slowing down of the economic life of the community. It was in response to these circumstances and in line with the Head of State´s challenge to the Gambian people and their development partners that the AFPRC decided to undertake a nation-wide consultation involving both the people and the countrie's development partners.

    In launching the National Consultative Committee ( Annex II ) on the 13 December 1994, the Chairman of the AFPRC and Head of State said inter alia that the members of the Council were not elected by the people even though their gallantry of 22 July 1994 received widespread popular support. this notwithstanding, however, the prevailing situation in the country had prompted the resolve to set in motion a antion-wide consultation of the views and opinions of the Gambian people to be undertaken in their local settings in all 35 districts of the country. Even though the modus operandi would be largely subjective in nature it was felt that the results of this wide spectrum sampling would give a representative picture of the nation's desires and sapirations to which the AFPRC had promised to give serious consideration.

    In expressing the unanimous sentiments of the members of the National Consultative Committee NCC, its Chairman said that it was an honour and a privilege to be asked to serve at this critical moment in the nation's demonstration of courage and flexibility at a time of uncertainity and confusion.

    In summary, the Committee's Terms of Reference (T.O.R) in Annex 1 are to present the AFPRC's Programme of Activities and Timetable to the general public nation-wide and obtain their opinions; to ascertain the views of our develpment partners and, thereafter, to make such recommendations as it considers appropriate.



  4. In view of the enormity and complexity of its assignment and the high sense of responnsibilite that its proper execution demands, the Committee debated extensively in an attempt to define optimal ways and means of sounding public opinion nation-wide on a very emotive subject. Sincetime constraints could render the consultative process largely subjective it was nevertheless felt that the high degree of awareness of Gambians as a whole would lend validity to the desired objectives.

    Further, it was felt that discussions in very large gatherings would be counterproductive. Rather, the aim should be to try wherever possible to have a hearth to hearth dialogue with small groups. In this connection, discussions with community groups of all types, with individuals as representatives of groups or with the groups themselves (e.g Kafos, Trade Unions, women and youth groups, professional groups etc. etc.) should be encouraged. the public media should be used extensively and members of the public media should be used extensively and members of the public should be invited to send letters to the committee's secretariat or to have discussions with any of the members.

    To formalise the consultations in the different districts of the country, small groups were established as shown in Annex III (a) and (b). The Seyfo of each Division would be a member of the group operating in his Division. In order not to inhibit free speech in any way, Divisional Commisioners or their counterpatrs in Greater Banjul were discouraged from presiding over any meetings and should they wish to attend any of the meetings they were advised to do so in as inconspicious a manner as possible.

    With the exception of isolated incidents, all Divisional Commissioners, the Mayor of Banjul City Council and Chairman of the Kanifing Municipal Council, cooperated with the members of the (NCC) during the Committee's field trips.

    The amorphous nature of the communities in Greater Banjul Area necessiated a great degree of circumspection in arrangements for meetings. Consequently, it was decided to run off eight meetings (three in Banjul, three in Serrekunda and two in Bakau) on the same day and at the same time. The three members of the Committee directly responsible for the Area were able to solicit support from other Committee members as Greater Banjul was the last locality to be run off. Because of inadequate preparation, the meeting in Banjul South had to be postponed to a later date. When it did infact take place on the 12th of January 1995, eight members of the Committee were able to participate.

    The Chairman of the Committee and Bishop Cleary were designated to hold informal meetings with the representatives of our development partners in the country. In this case, the aim was to put them in the picture about the on-going nation-wide consultations and to obtain their proposed Timetable. Subsequently, the entire Committee met with the Ambasador of the United States of America, the Acting British High Commisioner, the Senegalese Ambasador, the Delegate of the European Union, the Acting Resident Representative of the UNDP and the FAO Representative in the UNDP office on the 16th january 1995.

    Finally, while it was appreciated that it would be impossible to standardise the manner in which the consultations would be conducted by the different groups, it was clear that the emphasis should be on encouraging the public to do the greatest part of the talking after a short presentation by the group members of the Programme of Activities and Timetable of the AFPRC emphasising their economic, political and social implications. All this notwithstanding, however, general guidelines for the consultative meetings (which were not meant to be limitative), were provided. Each group was provided with recording equipment thereby providing tapes for subsquent verification in case of dispute.



  6. Data collection consisted essentially in ascertaining the opinions of the Gambian people and their development partners on the AFPRC's Programme of activities and, more importantly, their Timetable for the return to democratic civilian rule. It involved direct discussions with people in their local settings, with professional groups, with public and private institutions and last, but by no means least, with our development partners.

    As indicated in the different sub-groups ( Annex IV ), the NCC conducted nationwide cosultations in all 35 districts of the country. Throughout, there was an awareness of the extremely delicate nature of the assignment and that it called higest standards of honesty and probity.

    It was in recognition of the delicate nature of its assignment and in an attempt to standardise the method of consultation that the Committee formulated the "Guidelines for Consultations" shown in Annex V.

    Fortunately, there were no major controversies throughout and excercise demanding patience, tenacity and good humour except the minor incidents mentioned earlier in the report. It is important to report that those who had to use the microphone to speak, did so with remarkable degree of openness (especially when it involved comments on the graft and corruption being exposed in the Commissions of Enquiry). However, there was marked reticence on the part of not insignificant number of people perhaps because of shyness or, more likely, because of fear of victimisation.

    Besides the enthusiastic participation of the Gambian public at meetings, there was a plethora of letters sent to the Committeeee's secretariat from citizens of all ages (including school children) all walks of life. In addition, all newspapers fetured numerous columns of suggestions, proposals and advice to the Committee.

    The meeting with our development partners at the UNDP office on 16 January 1995 was positive in the sense that it showed that most of them demonstrated some flexibility as regards the time frame for the return to a civilian government. Their basic reasons for a bias against four years of military rule are that The Gambia had a record of being one of the beacons of democracy on the African continent alongside Botswana and and Senegal; that our human rights record as well as our voting system had been sources of admiration; and finally, that there would be disastrous repercussions on the overall economy of the country. There was also the feeling that the AFPRC would in all probability find it difficult to get funding for its priority projects. Last but by no means least, it was felt that serious crises from whatever cause in The Gambia could have spill over effects on the people of our sister Republic of Senegal.

    While most Gambian citizens clearly welcome the change of regime, there is a wide divergence of views concerning the AFPRC's timetable for the restoration of democratic constitutional rule. As the histograms in Annex VI clearly demonstrate, the majority of those consulted in the country as a whole favour a period of two years or less.

    Finally, mention must again be made of the fact that the Committee received numerous correspondence both for and against the creation of different types of interim governments to be headed by a civilian. Among these were suggestions for the formation of an interim government of national unity and the establishment of a Provisional National Assembly to assist the AFPRC during the transition period.

    The arguements for these two proposals were that they would, among other things:

    - restore international confidence and aid immediately and strengthen efforts for the return to democratic civilian rule in the shortest possible time;

    - facilitate the establishment of lasting legal, constitutional and related frameworks of good governance of the country;

    - ensure an efficient and uninterrupted lifting of the face of the country's civil society.

    Those who opposed the formation of an interim government and a provisional national assembly, argued, among other things that:

    - the coutry is devoid of any blocs or factions competing for control of government giving cause for the formation of an interim Government;

    - sucharrangements are financially expensive, legally and administratively complicated, etc.

    - the Arrangements would only ensure temporary stability as was the case in some African countries.



  8. Item (c) of our T.O.R. requests the NCC to "study and review the AFPRC's Timetable for the return of The Gambia to democratic constitutional rule taking into account the views of the people and The Gambia's development partners." In pursuance of this mandate, the Committee reviewed the Timetable in extenso and the salient points that emerged from the review are described briefly hereunder.

    The Commissions of enquiry have already started their work. They enjoy popular support and must continue to be prosecuted with enthusiasm and vigour.

    With regard to civic education the general view is that it has already been set in motion by diverse means and that it is impracticable to specify a time frame for it. Civic education like health education is a long and ongoing process which slowly but incrementally brings about a change in behavioral attitudes resulting in the active participation of communities in affairs which they eventually percive as their own and material to their destiny. It should figure prominently in our school curriculums at all levels; it should be an important activity in our information systems using the national radio on a regular basis to provide graphic demonstrations of it in all our national languages; it should be part of our non-formal education programmes and all national NGOs should be actively involved in them.

    The establishment of a Constitutional Review Commission that will work concurrently with an ad hoc Electoral Committee is the central theme of the activities to be implemented. The time allocated to this should not be forgotten, however, that the raw details must be worked out by Gambians but at the end of the day there would be a need for experts in Constitutions and Elections to assist in writing the final draft. This assistance could be solicited from the Commonwealth Secretariat, from one of our donor partners or from our sister nations.

    A referendum on the draft Constitution fetures prominently in the Timetable. It is the view of the Committee, however, that to undertake such an activity in a country with an illiteracy rate of about 70% would be tantamount to an excercise in futitily. Two referendums were held in this country in 1965 and 1970 on the change to a Republican type of Government with an executive President. These were Yes/No referendums; whereas, a Constitution with intricacies of multiple dimentions would be impossible to explain satisfactorily to the people. Therefore, the Committee would go along with the review of the draft Constitution by a Constituent Assembly as is provided for in item 8 of the Timetable.

    The establishment of an Independent National Electoral Commission is long overdue and it should not take a long time to put in place.

    The NCC is in accord with a review of the Constituency Boundries by a special Commission. This is an excercise which should not take more than two months for its execution.

    The regestration of voters and display of the Voters' Register for public scrutiny is an item in the Timetable that calls for great circumspection as it has always been a source of contention in all previous elections.

    The target dates proposed by the NCC for the different items of the Timetable are shown against those proposed by the AFPRC in Annex VII.


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