The Chronicle Gambia

Fafa Mbai and the Gambian Character

Fafa Mbai testifying at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission

Listening to Fafa Mbai testify before the TRRC reminds me of Robert Heinlein’s famous quip: “Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.” Mr. Mbai, an erudite legal luminary, is no fool. He joined the cabinet of the military junta with eyes wide open.

He thought Jammeh and his henchmen had good intentions to serve the Gambian people. Therefore, he could help contribute to nation-building and lessen the potential for abuse and violations of human rights. That is Mr. Mbai’s story, and he is sticking to it.

We Gambians must ask ourselves: when did Fafa Mbai realize that his service was used as a weapon against the people he claimed to love?

When did he know that he was no longer a bulwark against the junta’s excesses but was directly complicit in providing the legal scaffolding for the massive violations of human rights that took place under his watch and continued long after his dismissal?

Is being called “Mr. Human Rights” or the “Attorney General for Human Rights” all it took to soothe Mr. Mbai conscience? Is the Gambian conscience this cheap or debased?

One cannot help but recoil at Mr. Mbai’s mental contortions when he tries to distinguish between being the Attorney General during whose tenure the state promulgated repressive decrees to being the legal draftsman enlisted for this task.

If the attorneys working under your ministry drafted the laws, you own the work product and are responsible for them. Otherwise, the honourable thing to do is to resign from the cabinet. Furthermore, Fafa Mbai cannot explain away repressive decrees as if the only problem was their implementation. That Mr. Mbai fails to appreciate this simple fact is puzzling, for it betrays a shocking degree of moral blindness for a man of his intellect and discernment.

In 1994, after a decade in the US, I travelled to the Gambia to visit my family. The refrain “give the boys a chance” could be heard in respectable circles among the political elites and those aspiring to replace the PPP apparatchiks. I, a stranger now, with no dog in this fight, did not buy the hype. The conduct of Chairman Jammeh and his gang all seemed like a bad Hollywood movie.

I did not know much about the junta members, but I knew one thing: unchecked power is abusive power. That was all I needed to know. That is the elementary lesson Mr. Mbai has yet to learn, even when it engulfed him.  Sadly, his example has become all too common.

Cherno M. Njie is a real estate developer based in Austin, Texas. He is the author of the Sweat is Invisible in the Rain – A memoir of an African Childhood, An American Life, and My Quest to Topple a Dictator.
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