recognition of The Gambia’s first president, Dawda Kairaba Jawara, as part of
great African leaders by the African Union at its 29th summit of heads of state
was thoroughly deserved, justified and commendable. But it was a little too late.
It has taken the AU 22 solid years after Jawara left power to fully grasp the fact that the man had indeed contributed tremendously to the ideals and values that underpins the formation of the Organisation of African Union, the forerunner of African Union.
Admittedly, the contribution of Jawara at home and at continental level may not have been publicly known as other great African leaders like Nkwame Nkurumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, and Leopold Sedar Senghore of Senegal for several possible reasons but his contributions were no mean.
Jawara made The Gambia to know what democracy is all about. He took the country from colonialism and introduced and entrenched democracy and good governance principles.
The fact he entrenched democracy in the small like The Gambia at a time when most African leaders were autocratic and tyrannical on their own people was no mean feat that deserves recognition.
His respect for human rights, which AU also stands for, made it possible for The Gambia to be chosen as the headquarters of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. Jawara had made particular efforts to promote the observance of human rights by entrenching human rights provisions in the first republic constitution of The Gambia, the 1970 constitution.
He created a national human rights institution that in 1989 became the continental civil society flagship, the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies.
On the area of peace, due to his love for a peaceful Africa, President Jawara played a particular role, during his chairmanship of the West African bloc, ECOWAS, to constitute and deploy ECOMOG to Liberia which eventually led to the restoration of peace and stability in that country in 1990.
The establishment and deployment of ECOMOG represented the first credible attempt at a regional security initiative since the erstwhile OAU attempted with an African continental force to intervene in Chad in 1981.
Recognised at last, but even if not, Jawara has left an indelible footprint not only on The Gambia or West Africa, but on the African continent as well.
To the AU, we say it is better laid than never and to and the beauty is that the recognition is not a posthumous one for the man is still alive and kicking after more than 90 years.
“Let’s learn to recognise and celebrate our heroes while they are alive than heap them undue praises when they are gone for good.”