Chief Justice : Africa Lost its human rights champion

Tuesday, September 03, 2019




Your Excellency Adama Barrow, President of the Republic of The Gambia,

Madam Speaker of the National Assembly,

Your Excellency Lady Chillel Jawara and Lady Njaimeh Jawara, Dawda Jawara members of the Jawara family your Lordships of the Superior  Courts,

Honourable Ministers, Honourable members of the National Assembly, Excellencies members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Distinguished Guests.

Two days ago with the passing away of Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, the first President of the Republic of the Gambia, our nation lost its founding father, Africa lost its human rights champion, the global community lost a great humanist and a man of peace.

And as if to demonstrate their solidarity with a community in mourning the skies have since then opened their gates and relentlessly poured  out tons of rain, perhaps also to cool down and soften the earth to which Alhaji Sir Dawda, and indeed all of us, are destined to return.

On behalf of the Judiciary, which Sir Dawda respected so much, and on my own personal behalf and on behalf of the family and Talibes of the late Sheikh Alhaji Bubacar Zaidi Jallow of Bansang I wish to convey our deepest condolences to His Excellency the President, Her Excellency Lady Chillel Jawara, Lady Njaimeh Jawaraa nd the Jawara Family, to the whole Gambian nation and to his many friends here and to which he abroad for this loss. 

May Allah SWT grant him Aljannah, continue to guide and protect his family and the nation that he loved so much and to which he gave so much.

I have had the privilege and honour indeed of working with Sir Dawda as Attorney General and Minister of Justice for precisely ten years-from July 1984 till July 1994.  In that period I have come to benefit from his excellent qualities as a Statesman, as a leader and as a great humanist.  Sir Dawda is one of two personalities whose qualities have influenced me significantly, the other being my father and spiritual mentor, the late Sheikh Alhaji Bubacar Zaidi Jallow (RA) of Bansang.   They knew each other and respected each other immensely.  May Allah SWT be pleased with both of them and grant them the highest status in Jannatul firdaussi’ Aamen.

In the 95 highly productive years of his life Sir Dawda has achieved important milestones for the Gambia and the wider International Community.  He led the struggle for the emancipation of the Gambia from colonialism into independence and sovereign nationhood.

As a teenager I was privileged to witness the culmination of this struggle at the McCarthy Square in Banjul when at midnight of 18th February 1965 the Union Jack was lowered, the Gambia national flag hoisted and the instruments of independence handed over by the Duke of Kent, an envoy of Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth the Second, to the then Prime Minister Dawda Kairaba Jawara.  At the time many were sceptical of the chances of this improbable states surviving as an independent nation, given the challenges posed by its size, its geography and the paucity of its resources.  But Sir Dawda made us confident; he made us believe in ourselves and in our ability to do so.  Fifty four years later that supposedly improbable nation is a firmly established and respected state member of the global community, Sir Dawda’s confidence and leadership inspired us and indeed enabled us to prove the sceptics wrong.

The Gambia continues to be a developing country, given the level and nature of our resources and hence faces many social economic challenges.  But those of us who have experienced both the colonial and post-colonial period recognise the tremendous progress the Gambia made in all spheres education, Agriculture, health, infrastructure, justice etc. in the period between 1965 and 1994.  The record is there too for those who do not have the benefit of that experience.

  It was never a perfect administration, challenges continue to confront us, the business of development is however a continuous process with no end in sight; But Sir Dawda and his Government did indeed take this country very far from the modest means and conditions inherited on 18th February 1965, very far along the road of progress and prosperity.

But it was not only a question of or a focus on survival as a nation, Sir Dawda and his successive governments injected a quality of governance into our national fabric which was remarkable and rare at the time in Africa.

Sir Dawda’s most significant contribution to this nation did not however lie on the material side, important as that is and significant as are his achievements in that regard.  At a time when dictatorship, one party rule, violations of human rights in the name of national unity and progress seemed to be the order of the day in Africa, Sir Dawda almost alone amongst his peers at the time one can count Botswana and Senegal as exceptions too, -Sir Dawda stood for a different philosophy and policy of governance.  Sir Dawda stood for and made the Gambia known for good governance based on respect for the rule of law, respect for the human rights guaranteed by our constitution, the independence of the judiciary, freedom of assembly and association, political pluralism and regular holding of free and fair elections.

As his Attorney General and Minister of Justice and from my  many interactions with him at both the State and party levels I came to realise that fairness, justice, respect for the law and human rights were personal tenets for Sir Dawda.  He did not adhere to them as a matter of political expediency.  He deeply believed in them. He believed that development is a comprehensive concept and process that embraces not only material aspects but particularly all those other non-material things which maintain and enhance the dignity of the human being.  He respected the law immensely and would brook no violation of it, or of particularly the Constitution.  Throughout his tenure he continued to explore ways of deepening and strengthening the governance structure of our nation.  This led to important local initiatives such as the direct election of the President on the basis of universal adult suffrage in 1982, the abolition of leg irons and other instruments on prisoners in the same year.  The momentous step of abolition of the death penalty regarded as a cruel and inhumane punishment followed shortly thereafter.  The attempted coup d’état of 1981 with resultant widespread loss of lives, damage and destruction of property whilst  requiring the declaration of a State of emergency, the detention of persons and the prosecution of the top leaders of the rebellion did not elicit from Sir Dawda a response at variance with his commitment to respect for human rights.  Indeed Amnesty International and others confirmed that the measures taken by the government in this regard were in conformity with International standards on human rights.

The establishment of the Ombudsman to check abuse of administrative authority was also another local landmark initiative.

Sir Dawda indeed made my work as Attorney General considerably easier, with his unwavering support for legality, constitutionalism and good governance.

Sir Dawda’s concern for good governance was however not confined to the domestic sphere of the Gambia only; it became a cornerstone of his foreign policy as well.  That policy saw the Gambia not hesitating to speak out and condemn gross human rights violations, participating very actively within the African Union, the commonwealth the United Nations and other fora on human rights issues and the taking of important initiatives.  These culminated in important developments such as the creation of the Human rights Unit within the Commonwealth Secretariat, the adoption of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights-its official title as the Banjul Charter and the location of its Commission in the Gambia, being a testament to Sir Dawda’s commitment and role in its elaboration and adoption.  The establishment in the Gambia of the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies etc. The Gambia’s domestic and foreign policy earned it tremendous respect and influence beyond the level of its resources.  Its position on various governance and human rights issues was sought and respected.

Fostering national unity and solidarity was a primary concern for Sir Dawda.  Small as the Gambia is both in terms of space and population it is no different from the typical African Country with its diversity.  He strove very actively to weld our diverse tribes into a united nation and encouraged us to rise beyond tribal, religious or other sectional differences.

I saw this in the manner in which he transformed the ruling Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) from a rural, tribal based party into a truly national association, and the manner in which he fostered national unity across divisions and distinctions. I saw this in the way he constituted his Cabinet reflecting gender, age, religion, tribe, geography etc, in his Selection of cabinet Ministers.  I saw this in his interaction with people of all sectors and the trust and confidence they had in him, I saw this too in him eventually in my view become a tribeless person belonging to and enjoying the trust and confidence of all sections of the community.

I remember Sir Dawda for many other things- for his great intellect, his scrupulous punctuality, his courtesy and kindness- he would not be discourteous though he may disagree; his respect for even his subordinates.   Always polite and courteous.  But firm, compassionate and considerate; he was not one to abuse the powers vested in him by the law.

The results of two international Surveys released shortly before the end of Sir Dawda’s tenure in 1994 perhaps best demonstrated the legacy he left for the Gambia.  One included the Gambia amongst the seven best performing economics in Africa.  The other gave The Gambia the highest possible score in the domain of good governance and respect for democratic principles.  That was indeed a strong and laudable legacy he left for the nation.

And he was a man of God.  With a strong faith.  I was struck in this regard particularly by one incident.  During s Ramadhan period he had tasked me with an assignment.  Upon its completion I drove to his residence at Fajara after breaking fast to report to him.  On arrival I found that several occupants of the Fajara residence had arranged themselves in rows ready for the Remadhan Nawafil Islamic prayers.

Sir Dawda was already standing in front of them in the position of the Imam, rosary beads in hand, ready to lead them in the lengthy prayers.  I handed over to him some documents and left.  But not before the thought crossed my mind-this was at that instant moment the President, and the Imam combined.

Several weeks later i related this incident to my father sheikh Elhadji Bubacarr Zaidi Jallow RA. He remarked to me if Sir Dawda was not a president then he would be a sheikh AL Islam

There are indeed many positive things for which to remember Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara ranging from his statesmanship, his achievements to his personal qualities.  We have good reason to say Alhamdoulillah to the Almighty for having given us the benefit of his presence and leadership and guidance for so many decades.

We must however as a nation now not only remember these qualities of the father of the Nation.  We must, particularly in these difficult and challenging times of transition and reconstruction, rededicate ourselves to those values and ideals for which he stood:respect for the law, the rule of law, human rights and democratic principles; the promotion and maintenance of peace, national unity and solidarity; the adherence to tolerance, respect and patience in our relations with each other; an abiding commitment to progress, social justice and prosperity of our community. 

In that way we can each of us and collectively together contribute to the continued success of the Gambia Project launched by Sir Dawda on 18th February  1965, a project for a peaceful, progressive and prosperous  nation.

As we bid audieu to this great Statesman, this  champion of peace this champion of human rights and good governance, and embodiment of noble character and qualities we pray that Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara falls within that category of splendid servants of whom Allah SWT spoke in Surat Bayyinah (98:08 /9) of the Holy Quran