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Ramifications of Gambia’s Justice Minister‘s Resignation

Abubacarr Ba Tambadou

Gambia’s outgoing dynamic and controversial Minister of Justice, Abubacarr Ba Tambadou, is loved and loathed in equal measure, hence his departure was met with mixed reactions.

Since assuming office in 2017, Ba, as he is fondly called, has been an instrumental figure in Barrow’s post-dictatorship government, primarily charged with leading the country’s democratic transition agenda. Ba set in motion a slew of reforms, aimed at enhancing democracy and strengthening State institutions after two decades of dictatorship and tyranny. He  set up a number of commissions, including the famous Janneh Commission which was tasked with probing financial irregularities under the former regime, the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission to dig into the human rights abuses perpetrated by the former regime as well as the Constitutional Review Commission to usher in the nation’s Third Republic  and the Human Rights Commission.

Ba Tambadou rose to international fame earlier this year when the International Criminal Court ordered Myanmar to do all it can to prevent genocide against the Rohingya people, a ruling met by members of the Muslim minority with gratitude and relief. Upon his return home from the Hague where the landmark ruling was made, Minister Tambadou received a hero’s welcome for his steadfastness and staunch stance against the gross human rights violations against the minority Rohingya Muslims.

In announcing Mr. Tambadou’s resignation, the Gambian leader heaped praise on the outgoing Justice Minister, commending his “patriotic and selfless service to the country” and enumerating his enormous contributions to the Government. 

The outgoing minister is commended for his efforts in restoring judicial independence through his judicial reforms. Public confidence in the integrity and independence of the judiciary eroded during the previous regime with the Government accused of hiring mercenary judges who danced to the tune of the former strongman. Through a number of cases that the State lost, it’s clear that the current executive authority does not interfere with the judiciary. 

However, Ba recently came under intense scrutiny over his handling of the recommendations of the Janneh Commission. The White Paper issued by the Government was seen by many as discriminatory in the sense that the sacred cows were spared. Meanwhile, the manner in which the sale of Jammeh’s properties was conducted also raised eyebrows with critics alleging that the sales were shrouded in secrecy.  

Yankuba Touray’s protracted legal case is another example that critics point to as failure on the part of the outgoing Justice Minister who famously said: “We will set an example in Touray’s case”. Mr. Touray was dragged to court for his refusal to cooperation with TRRC over the gruesome murder of the country’s former Finance Minister, Koro Ceesay, in 1995. 

Though the formation of the TRRC has been a commendable move, critics believe that the minister has failed to put emphasis on the judicial aspect of the process, which saw self-confessed murderers freely wandering in the streets or languishing in jail unindicted. 

The Government has recently lost high profile cases in The Gambia’s Court of Appeal, including the famous Yakumba case, in addition to a recent order by the Court for the Government to freeze the sale of Yahya Jammeh’s assets, with critics finding fault with the minister’s handling of those cases. 

With corruption worsening in the country, the much talked about Anti-Corruption Commission is yet to see light.

What prompted Ba’s resignation remains a matter of speculation. Although reports have emerged that the minister landed a key UN job, questions have lingered over the motivation, considering the critical timing of the move, taking into account that the minister has abandoned a lucrative UN job to come home and serve as Justice Minister. The Constitutional Review Commission has already submitted the draft Constitution to the Government with no date set yet for the referendum. As a matter of fact, the Government has voiced concerns over certain sections of the draft Constitution. With Ba’s abrupt departure, the fate of the new Constitution is anyone’s guess.  Meanwhile, the TRRC is yet to wrap up its public hearings to submit its long-awaited recommendations to the Government. Ba has occasionally distanced himself from certain decisions by the Government, such as the closure of two FM radio stations at the height of the Three Years Jotna protest earlier this year. 

There is no doubt that Tambadou’s departure will leave behind a huge void to fill. Acting on his constitutional powers, President Adama Barrow wasted no time in naming Mr. Dawda Jallow as Ba’s replacement. The swift move might signal the President’s keenness to ensure continuity at this critical juncture. Little is known about Mr. Jallow, however, it’s certain that he will have to grapple with major challenges. Reports have emerged that he has a five-year experience in legal practice, which raises serious questions about his ability to man such a sensitive position. Nevertheless, the new minister should not be unfairly prejudged at this moment for time will tell soon whether he will serve as a puppet or an independent-minded technocrat keen on delivering justice at all cost. 

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