The Chronicle Gambia

Secularism, term limit, citizenship… Lawmakers on autopsy of the Draft Constitution

The adoption process of the Constitution of The Gambia 2020 Bill has entered its second reading on Wednesday. Term limitation, citizenship, secularism, the use of local languages on official endeavours have come up to be of keen interest to deputies some of whom have unreservedly expressed their dissatisfaction after the draft Constitution failure to sanctify the national languages. 

The deputies are debating the general merits and principles of the bill. A vote by three quarters of the members will be required before the bill can be proceeded to the next stage of the process.

Non recognition of local languages, a problem to NAM for Basse

In the draft, it empowered lawmakers to speak ‘local languages’ during sessions within the first five years of the enactment but it did not list the various national languages.

First to criticize the omission was Muhamad Magassy, national assembly member For Basse. He says recognizing the national languages is the beginning of everything.  “What we are looking for is freedom. Our linguistic freedom, our linguistic independence. All these we are talking about regarding democracy or whatsoever should have a beginning and the beginning of everything to my understanding is our national languages. “… At the end of the day, this is going to be our power to get up and to move. But it’s a wrong step. It will be very difficult to have the power to move with this as far as I am concerned,” he said, calling it ‘unfortunate.’

Maggasy said language policies of any country are laid in the Constitution, which both the current 1997 Constitution and its potential replacement failed to capture. In his comparison, Senegalese Constitution has made French official language but also clearly outlined the national languages specifically mentioning Mandinka, Wolof, Serer and Pularr.

Constitutional recognition of the national languages will help the Ministry of Education to come up with a better language policy. But still we don’t have it in the Constitution and that means we don’t have language policy in this country”, Maggasy said. According to him, he has been making active advocacy for the recognition of national languages both in the national assembly and during the consultation done by the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC). “But it is unfortunately not captured.”

Sidia Jatta wants a de jure citizenship for those born in The Gambia

For Sidia Jatta of Wuli West, the term local language is in itself, linking it to colonial expression. “It’s absolutely important that we begin to speak our languages for our people. The Constitution must make it an obligation otherwise where is our freedom? Where is our identity as a people? Without language we don’t have any identity. The more we are speaking English the more we are developing English to the detriment of our national languages. This is what must stop,” he said during his intervention in the parliamentary debate.

Meanwhile, Jatta has also frowned at the manner citizenship has been captured in the draft Constitution. He argued that people who are born in the country should be granted citizenship, calling it a ‘reciprocity’ game as Gambians have been enjoying it elsewhere including the Western world.

People have been living here for over forty years, their children were born here and they are not Gambians. This is terrible. They have been paying all sorts of taxes here for decades and yet the children they have here are not Gambians. Where should they belong?” Sidia Jatta queried.

According to the veteran lawmaker, the international standard dictates that where a child is born can acquire that country’s citizenship. “Why can’t reciprocate that? Our people are enjoying that and we don’t want to give that to other people to enjoy.”

Bakary Camara: “Term limitation protects the people”

Bakary Camara, the member for Kiang Central says the draft has captured the aspirations and wishes of Gambian people and hailed the Constitutional Review Commission for the extensive consultation.

The essence of the review is to improve the current Constitution that we have and I want to believe is one of the reasons we have seen the emergence of new independent institutions in our draft. You have the Anti-corruption commission, the National Human Rights Commission… we cannot strengthen our democracy in the absence of such institutions,” he said.

He added that the Teachers’ Service Commission and the Health Service Commission are all new elements that are captured in the draft to care for people that are affected in those sectors. He said it has also exhausted the Public Service Commission in terms of transparency and accountability to ensure democracy. He also outlined the significance of the presidential term limit as a measure to protect the people, put an end to dictatorship and stopping corruption.

What I believe is that when you overstay in power, the probability of you being corrupt is there and it’s very huge. I think we are one of the very few countries if not the last country in the entire sub-region where in our current Constitution we don’t have presidential term limits. We must not only have a presidential term limit but we must entrench this particular provision in the Constitution to an extent that nobody will be able to amend it to go for a third term of whatever.”

He said the autonomy of the National Assembly has been extensively looked at by the draft Constitution as an oversight institution.

Halifa Sallah: “Secularism should be written in the constitution”

Halifa Sallah, representative of Serekunda said secularism should be declared in the Constitution. He said although the Constitution talks about the principle of secularity, it’s not written directly.

The principle of secularity of the Gambia is not written there directly but if you look at [clause] 88 that was the problem we had in the past where the president would just get up and say I’ve declared Gambia as an Islamic state.”

He emphasized that all faiths must be respected. Sallah requested a committee meeting with the drafters to review to consider possible additions and omissions.

The objects of the bill are to seek the promulgation of the Constitution of The Gambia 2020 and to repeal the Constitution of The Gambia 1997.


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