Understanding democracy is essential

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

If there is anything that Barrow’s government deserves a thumps-up, is democracy and freedom of expression.

It’s been 22 years that no one dared say something openly against Yahya Jammeh or his government and goes free. Even those who were viewed brave enough and had attempted to stand up with Jammeh, were either tortured, imprisoned or fled the country – and that is what made the little Gambia unsafe for everyone.

But let there be no doubt that the freedom of expression is different from the freedom of the press because The Gambia still has draconian laws that still militate against the liberty of the press. These laws make it virtually impossible to hold government accountable to the people; for no democracy works without the media taking it rightful position in the whole broader governance.

That is why many regard the media as the Fourth Estate. Because in democracy, where the three organs or arms of government – the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative work in conjunction to check on each other – there will be no perfection if the Fourth Estate is impeded to play its rightful role as the fourth official in such a game.

But in as much as there is democracy and freedom of expression, the context and its interpretation has to be understood so that we do know our limitations to avoid abusing such rights. At the beginning of this NEW Gambia, it was the beauty of the new found freedom that everybody embraced with open hearts, but in actual sense, not everybody understood what it was all about.

At the beginning of this journey, democracy was mistaken for so many things; for example, freedom in criminality; unjustifiable actions and putting the law in one’s own hands and use it to disadvantage others. But today, the work of National Council for Civic Education (NCCE) is paying dividend. Their rigorous sensitisation of communities to making sure that they truly understand what democracy is all about and how they can actively take part in the democratisation processes.

Essentially, there cannot be democracy and good governance without citizens actively taking part in the democratic dispensation, and for people to do that; they must first of all understand its interpretation. The fact that democratic principles and ideologies are not universally binding; as they differ from country to country, it’s the business of the government to lay out these principles upon which our democracy is based on.

Since NCCE is a government organ, their role in reaching out to the citizens over democracy and good governance is essential. Sensitisation is key because it serves to avoid misinterpretation of certain terms such as democracy which has been existing for centuries, but very new in our country in practice.

“Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on.”

Thurgood Marshall