Gambia’s Path to a New Constitution Interests Religious Groups across the Country
The Gambia is drafting a new Constitution that will replace the 1997 Constitution which has been amended more than fifty times by former President Yahya Jammeh in an effort to prolong his stay in power. The former President’s rule was characterized by detention without trial, disappearances without a trace, torture, inhuman treatment and various forms of human rights violations.
President Adama Barrow unveiled the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), comprising of eleven Commissioners, on 4th June, 2018. The Commission is established by an Act of Parliament mandated with the responsibility of drafting a new Constitution for the country that will represent the views and aspirations of all Gambians irrespective of tribe, region, religion or political affiliation.
The CRC has since commenced its job of drafting a new Constitution, completed its first round of national consultation, received and analyzed position papers, and is on its final national consultation.
However, the national consultation has triggered a national debate on various provisions of the draft Constitution and this has drawn the attention of the majority Muslim community on the rights to marriage (Section 52  ) and the inclusion of the word “secular” while heightening concerns among the minority Christian community on the inclusion of the word ‘SECULAR’ in the preamble of the draft Constitution.
Alhassan Demba, a student at a Quranic Memorization Center in Jarra Soma added his voice to the debate on rights to marriage provision on the draft Constitution. He called on the Commission to explain section 52 (1) (2) of the draft Constitution as well as the issue of public mosques located on government offices.
The draft Constitution describes the “Right to Marriage” in Section 52 (1) as men and women of full age and capacity have the right to marry and found a family as well as in Section 52 (2) which states ‘Marriage shall be based on free and full consent of the intended parties.’
“We are ready to defend our religion at all costs even if it means to sleep in thatched houses, eat bad foods with our families but we will not allow anyone to introduce anything in the Constitution that is against the wish of the majority Muslims. We have started seeing and hearing a lot of comments, some even suggesting that all mosques located at government departments and institutions should be grounded, this should not be allowed to happen in this country,” Demba disclosed.
According to him, the Commission should expound on their interpretation of section 52 (1) (2) to clear doubts, arguing that leaving these sections open will give room for the growth of ‘homosexuality’ and related vices in Gambian societies. He added that SECULARISM is a Western philosophy meant to demystify Islam and give ways for paganism and homosexuality in the country.
Demba called on the Commission to pay heed to the wishes and aspirations of majority Gambians in the draft if the Commission’s work is to be endorsed by majority Gambians. He argued that if homosexuality and secularism is allowed in the Constitution majority Gambians will reject the new Constitution.
Pastor Moses Sonko, a member of the Gambia Christian Council is a keen follower of the Constitutional building process and has followed the Commission from Banjul to Basse to add his voice to the process.
He told The Chronicle that even though the word “secular” has never been inscribed in the preamble of The Gambian Constitution, Christians in the country are anticipating the insertion of the word secular into the draft Constitution in a bid to protect the minority Christian community living in The Gambia.
“There is a hidden agenda of slowly Islamizing this nation, if all those clauses are there to protect different beliefs, why are they (CRC) insisting on not inserting the word SECULAR in the draft Constitution,” Pastor Sonko argued.
“The CRC is not a religious organization, it is not a political organization and it doesn’t represent any particular interest groups, it represents the interest of every Gambian and everything about The Gambia,” said the CRC Chairman, Justice Cherno Sulayman Jallow, QC.
He added that: “Everything you have suggested is written down and I can assure you that we will properly consider them. What we told everybody across the country is that everything that has been said cannot all go into this Constitution and anything that is not captured into the Constitution will be reflected in our recommendations.”