Historian Ceesay explained that on 24 April 1970, Gambian voters went to the polls in a second Republican Referendum in less than five years to decide if the country, independent from Britain 5 years earlier, should be a Republic within the Commonwealth or not.
He continued that on that day 84,968 Gambians voted YES to Republic, while 35,813 voted No. “This was indeed a resounding victory. In 1965, much fewer people voted yes which was why The Gambia did not become a Republic in 1965,” Ceesay disclosed.
He went on that: “soon after the votes were declared over Radio Gambia on 25 April, preparation for the swearing-in of late Jawara as our First President. It was prompt, so not many foreign guests came to attend this historic swearing-in ceremony of the first President of The Republic of The Gambia at the McCarthy Square in Bathurst, now Banjul. Sir Phillip Bridges, Chief Justice at the time, swore in Sir Dawda Kairba Jawara as president on 26 April 1970. Then Sir Alieu Sulayman Jack, who was acting governor general, handed over the instruments of Republic to Sir Dawda.”
Shedding light on reason why Sir Alieu became acting governor general, historian Ceesay explained that “in late 1969, when the PPP top brass wanted to have another try at Republic, they suspected Sir Farimang Singhateh, who was governor general who did not want the idea. But the PPP had no evidence. They were suspicious. Of course, he did not want to lose his job. So the PPP decided to send him on indefinite leave in Las Palmas with his family. So that he cannot interfere with the PPP campaign for YES vote. The PPP move, may be wise by removing Sir Farimang from Gambia to the faraway island. He only returned in May 1970, many weeks after The Gambia had become a full Republic’.
Expatiating on what it means to Gambians, he explained: “Well, independence means freedom. But the freedom had certain missing links. Like Jawara who was elected leader as Prime Minister in 1962 and 1966 had to consult Queen Elizabeth II through the Governor General Sir Farimang for certain decisions like cabinet reshuffles. Sir Farimang was always cooperative with Jawara. But the PPP wanted full and total control to be able to realize the development agenda they had.”
He continued that people who opposed The Gambia becoming a full Republic in 1970 like JC Faye, P.S Njie were patriots; they feared that former President Jawara would become a dictator if given presidential powers; they saw what Sekou Toure was doing in Guinea, killing Guineans, and so they thought Jawara would do the same.
“Luckily for us, Jawara built a Republic of Rights and not a Republic of Terror,” Hassoum Ceesay affirmed. “In addition, Jawara Gambianised the economy by promoting Gambian business people like Modou Musa Njie, MS Tambadou, Malick Lowe and others after the European companies like UAC, Maurel et Prom, which used to import basic commodities left after 1970,” he added.
He also noted that “the PPP also reinforced our Republic by establishing our own currency called Dalasi. The Dalasi remains one great symbol of Gambian sovereignty. Jawara and his government also promoted community development self help through ‘Tesito’, promoted education, and advanced health through the primary health care programme and promoted human and people’s rights.”
Looking into the future as a historian, Hassoum Ceesay said he has reason for optimism. “Our Republic has survived coups, droughts, economic recession and the impasse. Our Republic remains solid and strong and stable. Gambians are taking up the national call seriously and are getting more community spirited. Moreover, we are enjoying our rights to expression and assembly. The talents in arts and culture are impressive. Also, salaries are being paid monthly and on time. This is great news and deserves our pride as Gambians 50 years since our Republic was built”, the historian said.