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The Constitutional law of The Gambia – A book Review. by Lamin J. Darbo

Book Title: The Constitutional Law of The Gambia, 1965-2010                                 AuthorHouse Publishing Bloomington Indiana, USA.                                                  377 pages

Author:      Ousman A S Jammeh

Review by Lamin J Darbo

To a request from a potential buyer for a concise summation of The Constitutional Law of The Gambia, I responded that the book combines a historical and current account of our republican constitutional law and jurisprudence interspersed with a passionate articulation for executive restraint within the rule of law if we are to stand any chance of maintaining sustained ‘peace’ and uplifting The Gambia’s political economy.
In this seminal work, Ousman A S Jammeh – ‘Master’ as popularly known in legal circles – provides the first systematic general survey of the constitutional landscape of The Gambia with particular focus on the republican period from 1970. Granted an argument may be advanced that discussing the 1970 Constitution is of no practical significance considering its suspension in 1994 and wholesale abrogation in 1997.
It is nevertheless incontestable that the 1970 Constitution provides useful comparative material with the second republican constitution that came into effect in January 1997. In light of the underlying justifications for forceful governmental change in 1994, the jurisprudential backdrop of rights enshrined in the 1970 and 1994 cardinal documents of Gambian governance is significant if only to better inform ourselves of comparative judicial vibrancy under the two dispensations. Although Master provides the principal raw material for reaching a judgement on the issue in Chapter 4, First Republican Constitution 1970-1994, and Chapter 5, The Second Republican Constitution -1997, the question and its discussion is diffused throughout this excellent work.
A corollary determination and readers are invited, albeit without explicit statement, to reach their own judgements on the significant question of whether a constitution can effectively function outside the contours of a prevailing dominant political culture. Stated differently, can a constitution’s beauty alone suffice in ensuring a beautiful, i.e., democratic and accountable political dispensation. Answering this question necessarily entail a comparative analysis of the cultural perspectives of the apex leadership in Gambia’s first and second republican dispensations vis-a-vis the thorny issue of subjugating transient executive power to the majestic glory of transparent and accountable law.
The Constitutional Law of The Gambia is not a mere regurgitation of provisions enshrined in the governing instruments of 1970, and 1997, but a compelling and authoritative discussion of generally accepted legal principles and how they are implemented, not only in The Gambia, but in other parts of the common law world. The architecture of these broad principles, discussed in Chapter 2, Foundational Principles of Constitutionalism, clearly demonstrates Master’s enviable appreciation of such finer principles of constitutionalism as the separation of powers, the role of the judiciary, and the supremacy of the philosophical tenet that promotes the  subjecting of power to the control of law.
Indeed, it is in this chapter that Master demonstrates his nuanced understanding of constitutional law and jurisprudence not only in pre-eminent domestic rule of law jurisdictions like the United States and the United Kingdom, but also in culturally nearer “emerging” countries like South Africa, Mauritius, Ghana, Botswana, Nigeria, Kenya, and Zambia (p. 15). Master effortlessly discusses cases decided by American jurists in the mould of Justice Marshall, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court – and some of their sublime legal principles that stood the test of centuries of rigorous ventilation – as he is at home discussing some of Gambia’s critical constitutional cases over the decades spanning its first and second republics. But there must exist an enabling political environment!
In analysing a Marshall pronouncement, Master contends, at page 15:
When reduced to its barest proposition, a constitution is like a deed of trust, between each citizen, with public power entrusted in the trustees charged with exercising it on behalf of, and in the general interest of the citizenry. As such, this trust is either lawfully  and justly discharged, or abused in breach of trust. Between the two options, there  is no middle ground. The experience in Africa tends to obscure this proposition through declarations of adherence to the rule by law, instead of the rule of law, whereby weak institutions shield formal constitutional authority, through legal formalism, but which in reality is at variance with every acceptable norm and fundamentals of constitutional trusteeship.
In Chapters 6, 7, and 8, Master discusses the respective constitutional roles allocated to the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial arms of The Gambia government. Although material herein may be accessed by consulting the actual text of the 1997 Constitution, an astute professional’s explanatory and user-friendly analysis comes in quite handy. Master fulfills that role spectacularly, particularly in the case of constitutional stipulations dealing with the Legislature, and Judiciary. Indeed, he exhaustively treats the legislative process from conception in the policy councils of a pertinent ministry, through the office of the parliamentary counsel in the Attorney General’s Chambers, to eventual enactment by the National Assembly with the required assent of the President (pp. 153-161).
Master highlights that it is not unknown for the National Assembly to act in excess of its legal powers but because of the “weak institutions” earlier mentioned, laws are still on the books, including in the Constitution, notwithstanding judicial decisions invalidating them. A good example is Kemeseng Jammeh, No 2, entailing “the amendment of an entrenched [constitutional] provision without a referendum” (see p. 162). Again, without an accountable political system, a constitution, no matter its exquisite crafting in letter and spirit, cannot protect the rights of the individual. All government needs to do is ignore judicial decisions adverse to its short term interests. An exemplification is Kemeseng Jammeh, No 2!
Chapters 9, 10 and 11 are of particular significance in that they deal with the various mechanisms for enforcing the 1997 Constitution. Here again, Master draws from a wide range of sources to articulate a reasoned case for enforcement of constitutional rights in the courts. Overall, there is no denying that the quality of the jurisprudence on difficult if straightforward constitutional disputes is varied, and the reader is again invited to comb through the decided cases for a view on where to root the likely causes of differential judicial attitudes to constitutional rights in the courts.
As the consummate scholar, and without emotion, Master provides a clue:
Whatever perspective or predisposition one may have about the ideals of Constitutionalism, and by extension the rule of law, it is important to realise that Constitutions are designed to endure with time if not to outlive generations yet unborn.
The legal basis for a Constitution is to establish a foundational law on which existing and future laws receive validity. One undeniable merit of an enduring constitution is one that ensures among other things, certainty, consistency, continuity and a degree of permanence. Invariably, these attributes have proven over time that the founding fathers of the United States including the indefatigable Federalists and the anti-Federalists, are indeed selfless and inspired visionaries. (pp 348-349)
The Constitutional Law of The Gambia is a book for all active participants in the ventilation of issues of public concern. Although of practical significance to practitioners and students of law, it is quite useful for politicians, journalism professionals, civil society, and other observers and commentators on the political economy
I wholeheartedly commend The Constitutional Law of The Gambia to all who are concerned in, and with, public affairs in our country. Master’s professionalism ensured a well-researched, well written, and well argued work.
The book is available online from the publishers AuthorHouse USA/UK; Amazon.com, and at Timbuktu Bookshop, at Garba Jahumpha Road, in The Gambia.
Lamin J Darbo
About Ousman A S Jammeh
Ousman Jammeh was born in Bakau, in the Kombo Saint Mary’s Municipality of The Gambia in 1963. He attended primary and secondary Schools in The Gambia, before joining the Gambian Judiciary, in 1984. He attended Universities in Guyana, Malaysia, and Barbados, West Indies. He is a member of The Gambia Bar and a foundation member of the National Council for Law Reporting. He also served as Secretary to The Gambia Law Foundation, and the Judicial Service Commission, as well as a part-time tutor in Para-legal studies at The Gambia Technical Training Institute, GTTI. He was a stipendiary Magistrate, Master and Registrar of the Supreme Court, and of the High Court of The Gambia, from 1994 to 2001. He practiced law in The Gambia, as Senior Partner, with Temple Legal Practitioners, TLP, from 2002 to 2005. He joined the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in Tanzania, in 2005. He is married to Madame Fatou Marenah – Jammeh, and they have three children.

The Global Democracy Project Supports the ADPS project for crisis resolution in Mali

(Suite au coup d’Etat survenu au Mali le 22 mars 2012)
La crise que le Mali traverse touche au fondement même de notre jeune démocratie, et menace la cohésion nationale ainsi que l’intégrité territoriale. Elle interpelle toutes les forces démocratiques, progressistes et patriotiques.
Face à cette situation, un regroupement de partis politiques et de mouvements  a été  créé, dénommé Alliance des Démocrates Patriotes pour la Sortie de crise  (ADPS)  dont l’objectif principal est la recherche d’une stratégie efficace et durable de sortie de crise qui soit compatible avec la Constitution du 12 janvier 1992 et susceptible de remettre le Mali dans la trajectoire d’un rétablissement rapide et durable de la démocratie en harmonie avec l’ordre politique et constitutionnel issu de la Révolution du 26 mars 1991.
Cette Alliance est ouverte à d’autres formations politiques, aux organisations de la société civile et à l’ensemble des forces démocratiques et progressistes dans le but de faire triompher l’intérêt supérieur de la nation.
L’ADPS propose l’adoption du schéma politique et institutionnel ci-dessous qui s’inspire des principes démocratiques et des objectifs majeurs ci-après :
1.    Transmettre le pouvoir d’Etat à un organe acceptable pour toutes les parties prenantes sous réserve de validation par la Cour Constitutionnelle en vertu de l’article 85 de la Constitution ;
2.    Restaurer la confiance de la population dans l’Etat et renforcer la paix sociale ainsi que la concorde nationale ;
3.    Renforcer les mesures de sécurité des personnes et des biens, redémarrer et redéployer l’Administration, les activités économiques et commerciales et ré-ouvrir les frontières ;
4.    Assurer la liberté d’expression et de presse ainsi que l’égal accès à tous les média d’Etat ;
5.    Obtenir le cessez-le feu immédiat au Nord du Mali en vue de la libération totale du territoire national, du retour des réfugiés et de la quiétude des populations dans la partie septentrionale de notre pays ;
6.    Eviter l’isolement du Mali sur le plan régional et international et obtenir l’appui de la communauté internationale pour la mise en œuvre du programme de la Transition ;
7.    Lutter contre tous les trafics illicites, le terrorisme et toutes les formes d’insécurité sur le territoire national ;
8.    Reformer et remobiliser les Forces Armées et de Sécurité en les dotant de moyens adéquats pour la défense de l’intégrité territoriale et de l’unité nationale ;
9.    Préserver l’intégrité physique et morale de toutes les personnes arrêtées lors des récents événements, libérer celles contre lesquelles il n’existerait pas de charge, garantir le respect des droits humains ainsi qu’une justice équitable pour tous les maliens ;
10.  Organiser des élections démocratiques, libres, crédibles et transparentes dans un délai réaliste ;
11.  Restaurer l’autorité de l’Etat.
L’ADPS lance un vibrant appel à toutes les forces démocratiques, progressistes et patriotiques à se joindre à elle en vue de l’adoption rapide et de la mise du présent schéma politique et institutionnel de sortie de crise.
Bamako, le 26 Mars 2012

Le Directoire de l’ADPS
Prénoms et Noms du représentant
Convention Nationale pour une Afrique Solidaire (CNAS-Faso Hèrè)
Front Africain pour le Développement (FAD)
Nouhoun SARR
Moussa MARA
Parti pour l’Action Civique et Patriotique (PACP)
Abdoulaye KONE
Aguibou kone
Convention pour la Renaissance            (CR FASO GNETAGA)
Mohamed BAMBA
Parti Citoyen pour le Renouveau (PCR)
Farafina Dembé Mali
Réseau Malien pour le Développement (RMD)
Django CISSE
Alliance des Mouvements pour la Conscientisation et la Formation des Jeunes (AMCFJ)
Mouvement des Jeunes pour le développement du Mali (MJDM)
Ousmane DAO
Association jeunesse de l’avenir du Mali (AJDA-Mali)
Ibrahima TIMBO
Union Soudanaise RDA (US RDA)
Abdoul Salam TOURE
Assistance Express Association
Moussa KEITA



Missions : Autorité suprême de la période de Transition démocratique, le CSR prendra en charge les principales missions suivantes :
  1. Préparer le retour au cadre constitutionnel de la IIIème République ;
  2. Les questions sécuritaires, en particulier dans les régions du Nord ;
  1. L’amélioration de la démocratie et des conditions d’organisation des élections : fichier électoral biométrique, dispositif d’organisation, acteurs impliqués, moyens financiers, etc. ;
  1. La relégitimation de l’Etat : des actions majeures de lutte contre la corruption et l’insécurité alimentaire, d’amélioration des services publics et de transparence dans la gestion des ressources publiques ;
  1. Des actions importantes de redressement sur l’école, l’emploi des jeunes, la reforme du secteur de la défense et de la sécurité, la question foncière, etc.
Composition :        
Le CSR est composé de 30 membres désignés comme suit :
–       7 membres choisis en leur sein par les Forces Armées et de Sécurité ;
–       18 membres désignés par la classe politique ; et
–       5 membres désignés par la société civile.
Le Président du CSR est le Chef de l’Etat de la Transition. Il est élu parmi les membres du CSR à l’exclusion de ceux représentant les Forces armées et de Sécurité sur base d’un vote devant recueillir au moins les 2/3 des voix.
Le CSR légifère par voie d’ordonnances, lesquelles doivent faire l’objet de délibérations préalables par le Gouvernement et de contrôle de constitutionnalité ou de légalité par la Cour Constitutionnelle ou la Cour Suprême.
La composition du CSR doit tenir compte de l’équité du genre.
Pouvoirs : Le CSR joue le rôle de parlement de la Transition et de direction politique du pays.
Règles de base :
Aucun membre du CSR ne pourra être candidat aux élections présidentielle et législatives qui clôtureront la période de la Transition ;
Les membres du CSR doivent être des personnalités reconnues pour leur patriotisme, leur attachement à la République et à la démocratie ainsi que leur bonne moralité.
Le siège du CSR est à Bamako.


Mission : Il élabore et exécute (après approbation du CSR) le programme politique de la phase de Transition.
Composition : Le Gouvernement de Transition comporte, outre le Premier Ministre Chef du Gouvernement, 25 ministres.
Le nombre de ministres formant le Gouvernement est reparti comme suit
  • Forces armées : 5
  • Classe politique : 18
  • Société civile et indépendants : 2
Le Premier Ministre, Chef du Gouvernement est nommé par le Président du CSR après consultation des membres de celui-ci.
 Il ne peut être révoqué que par une motion de censure présentée par au moins le 1/3 des membres du CSR et approuvée par au moins 3/4  des membres de celui-ci.
Les ministres sont nommés par le Premier Ministre.
Le Premier Ministre est responsable devant le CSR.
La composition du Gouvernement doit tenir compte de l’équité du genre.
Règles de base :
Aucun membre du Gouvernement de Transition ne pourra être candidat aux élections présidentielle et législatives qui clôtureront la période de Transition.
Les membres du Gouvernement de Transition doivent être des personnes compétentes et de bonne moralité, reconnues pour leur patriotisme, leur attachement à la République et à la démocratie et  n’ayant pas été associées à la mauvaise gestion des pouvoirs précédents.


Mission : Le CNC concourt au suivi et à l’évaluation du programme de la Transition en tant qu’instance consultative de la société civile.
Composition : Il est composé de 55 membres désignés par les centrales syndicales, les collectivités territoriales et les organisations faitières de la société civile. Les membres du CNC doivent être des personnes compétentes et de bonne moralité, reconnues pour leur patriotisme, leur attachement à la République et à la démocratie et  n’ayant pas été associées à la mauvaise gestion des pouvoirs précédents.
Le CNC élit en son sein un bureau permanent de 7 membres y compris son Président.
Il se réunit en sessions ordinaires tous les deux mois pour une durée  qui ne saurait excéder 3 jours.
Les membres du CNC doivent tenir compte de l’équité du genre.


La période de Transition pourrait durer douze mois (12) à compter du 5 avril 2012.


  1. Le présent document de sortie de crise doit être adressé à toutes les parties prenantes nationales (CNRDRE, partis politiques, la société civile, toutes les confessions religieuses etc.) et internationales (CEDEAO, UA,ONU, UE, etc.)
  2. Une conférence de presse doit être tenue à la Maison de la Presse ou en tout autre lieu.
  3. Le document doit être diffusé à  travers l’AFP, Reuters, RFI et tout autre media de renommée locale, régionale ou internationale.
  4. Une lettre ouverte relative au schéma de sortie de crise doit être adressée aux  partenaires extérieurs (politiques, techniques et financiers).
  5. Tous les organes  dirigeants des partis et organisations de l’Aliance doivent relayer le document auprès de leurs bases pour une forte mobilisation et un soutien ferme à l’aboutissement de ce plan de sortie de crise.
Bamako, le 26 mars 2012
                                                                                                                                                                          LE DIRECTOIRE

Colonized waters of West Africa

As the nations of La-Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Bissau, Gambia, and Senegal are mired in proxy internal conflicts, much of them fueled by their former colonial masters, their rivers and shorelines become a haven for illegal fishing trawlers from Europe (Portugal, Spain, France, UK, Greece), China, Japan, and South Korea.

5.25.2012 source: Al-Jazeera

Inland fresh water and ocean intruded salt water fish provide a valuable source of revenue for local artisanal fishermen and nutrient-rich fish for the populations of these nations. Generally in the multi-ethnic nations of West Africa, trades and industry follow along ethnic and tribal lines. The riverbanks, islands, and archipelagos are dotted with villages of these professional tribes whose sole occupation and livelihood revolves around harvesting fish and other seafood. As these waters become depleted of their fish and other aquaculture, more and more turn to farming on land risking poorer and poorer harvests inured by seasonal droughts and over-used and inadequately or poorly fertilized soils. Despair, induced by unemployment and hunger, leads to base notions of internecine conflicts. An ominous vortex that can threaten the very social fabric of even the more sober of these nations. The UN then busies itself with food aid, humanitarian aid, and all manner of listlessness. The political life of the weak democracies is joined in eternal vortex, softened up for justified but undue meddling and colonization by the more ambitious predator nations.

The predators brazenly violate the international waters and rivers of West Africa in much the same way as they do Somali waters. In Somalia, the last resort of the fishermen tribes is and remains piracy on the high seas because instead of assisting the locals with protective navies that can effectively ward off seafood thieves and bandits, the criminals charge piracy to allow them the requisite impunity to further destitute the fishing communities. More and more, the fishing communities of West Africa are having to rely on themselves to protect their livelihood on the waters inland and offshore. This, as the local economies of Portugal, England, Spain, Italy, and Greece contract into hallmark recessions.

Drug-running and pirate fishing provide feasible means to plunder former colonies in cycles of despair and decrepitude for relief in the colonial enterprises. Under the guise of foreign investment for development, some of these enterprises have negotiated fishing licenses in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Benin, and Senegal where a facsimile of structured government exists and in the failed-states of Gambia and Bissau, front companies and criminal enterprises set up shop while fleets of their boats ravage the rivers and shores. The looted fish is carted further offshore to waiting refrigerated vessels from Europe, Korea, Japan, China, and Latin America where they are offloaded for onward shipment overseas. Increasingly, the markets of Asia and Europe are awash with a confounding variety of West African fish from grouper, snapper, sardines, shrimp, salmon, squid, mullet, to lobster. Some of these companies do engage in properly and legally-negotiated fishing licenses, but the local authorities do not have the means or capacity to regulate the allotments of these licenses. The result is that state revenue from these legal fishing licenses become inadequate to compensate local artisanal fishing villages much less to improve the local industry. In addition to the loss in billions of dollars in fisheries revenue, when the governments are handicapped by internecine conflict and comprehensive decrepitude, any effort to monitor or administer fishing licenses falls by the wayside.

There is an ominous risk of profuse piracy and conflicts on the high seas in West Africa and we encourage more democratic nations and the FAO to help empower local fishing villages on the archipelagos and islands in the Peninsula of Guinea, Bissau, and Sierra Leone to avert the impending dangers. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Greater employment which can earn more livable wages for these and neighboring communities can be provided by more robust coast guards, navies, and riverkeeper mechanisms that will both ward off illegal pirate fishing vessels and protect the local artisanal fishing industry. Outboard motors wont cut it. This will have the attendant effect of reducing internecine tensions and cyclical rushes to humanitarian and food aid.

The GDP Team.

Further reading: http://af.reuters.com/article/guineaBissauNews/idAFL5E8E9AOZ20120315?pageNumber=3&virtualBrandChannel=0&sp=true

ECOWAS – A coming of age

Economic Community of West African States


A coming of age

The Global Democracy Project (The GDP) extends its appreciation to ECOWAS for the sobriety and vision for a better community worthy of her citizens that ECOWAS has displayed in some key areas of community life. Among these, are:

  1. The strengthening of the ECOWAS court of Justice
  2. The pivotal role ECOWAS played in the ominous vortices of La-Guinea since the passing of President Lansana Conte(PBUH) up to the healthful climax of the first democratically elected president Alpha Conde in the country’s 50-year history. Special commendation goes to President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso for his role as ECOWAS mediator in that matter.
  3. The critical role ECOWAS played in the negotiations between all sides of the Ivory Coast divide prior to and after the election of President Alassane Ouattara. Special commendation is due Nigeria and Presidents Ya’Ardua(PBUH) and Goodluck Jonathan.
  4. The insistence of ECOWAS for free and fair elections in Gambia, in the absence of which to decline participating as observers in the Nov. 24th, 2011 election in Gambia. This comes on the heels of the contempt with which the President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh views his more sober peers and the institution of the community.

ECOWAS has demonstrated that a paucity of resources can be overcome by a preponderance of goodwill, collegiality in justice, and considerate life. It is significant to recognize that this transformation has accrued at the same time that each member nation of ECOWAS experienced greater democracy and momentum from such conscienergy has helped guide their actions. We are reminded that when we clean our own homes, we are empowered to help our neighbors clean their homes.

Although it took a little while for the ECOWAS community to be on the right side of history in the Libya affair, it could be forgiven for deferring to the continental body, the AU, which was derelict in its duty to expedite and perhaps negotiate the more peaceful and benign exit of Gadhafi and his family during the early days of the Cyrenaica (Souk Turak) Uprising. With ECOWAs leading the way to circumspect, we are hopeful that the regional communities will inevitably help to center the AU.

Even as we commend ECOWAS for a renewed spirit of good-neighborliness and sober stewardship, we encourage the community to invest itself in the permanent resolution of the separatist MFDC expedition in southern Senegal, to remain engaged in Liberia’s fragile peace and to undertake proactive conflict prevention efforts rather than reactionary conflict resolution. With limited resources, conflict prevention is a far superior consideration to conflict management and peacekeeping after the breakout of internecine conflict. We had ample experience in West Africa and in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda that when seemingly inconsequential neglect and injustice is ignored, it has the potential of undermining the entire community, if not in full-blown and intractable carnage, certainly via a series of festering tumors to ravage the community’s peoples. Further, we encourage ECOWAS to harness goodwill from environmental co-ordinations such as the Mano-River Union, Sahel-Cills, OMVS, OMVG, The Niger River Authority, The Great Green Wall project, and other similar cultural and environmental reserves of bonds. After all, multinational rivers and ranges, are ready conduits of both prosperity and conflict to include arms and contraband.

Du Courage. God Speed.