AD249: Gambians expect Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission to heal the nation but want human-rights violators prosecuted

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Sait Matty Jaw

The departure of Yahya Jammeh in 2017 marked a new beginning in the Gambia. But the legacy of his two-decade authoritarian rule, characterized by gross human-rights violations and a society strained by political and ethnic divisions as well as poverty (Tambadou, 2018), continues to challenge efforts of the new government to consolidate democracy. 

In December 2017, the government of President Adama Barrow, in a bid to fulfill its electoral promise, established the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC). The TRRC is part of a broader transitional-justice process aimed at addressing past human-rights abuses and building a stable democratic future through justice moored to respect for the rule of law and human rights. In addition to the TRRC, the government established a Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and initiated security-sector and civil-service reform processes.

The TRRC is not without controversy. According to Executive Secretary Baba Galleh Jallow, the TRRC gets “pushback from the supporters of Jammeh on social media and publications in the media” (International Center for Transitional Justice, 2018). The former mayor of the Kanifing Municipality and national mobilizer for Jammeh’s party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, has described the TRRC as a “witch hunt” aimed at the former president (Bah, 2018). 

Given the contested nature of Gambia’s transition, how do ordinary Gambians view the TRRC? What are citizens’ key expectations from the commission? 

Afrobarometer’s inaugural national survey in the Gambia finds that citizens have varying expectations of the TRRC, including both national healing and justice. More than one-fourth of Gambians say they or a member of their family suffered at least one form of human-rights abuse at the hands of Jammeh’s regime, and a majority of citizens say that irrespective of the TRRC’s work, the perpetrators should be tried in court. However, opinions are divided on whether to seek extradition of Jammeh to face justice in the Gambia.