THE HON. FATOUMATA JAWARA IS A THREAT VECTOR TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Public policies that are formulated to address important social, economic, and political problems largely result from the influence and application of democratic principles, such as freedom of expression. Free speech is an underpinning principle of democratic governance because it gives citizens—particularly, politicians—great latitude to engage in open debates and deliberations on issues of public interest, promoting the cross-pollination of relevant ideas, which policymakers distill and use for nation building. Similarly, political debates or speeches offer the electorate the opportunity to make informed choices about which party to support based on the soundness of the policy position a party takes on public agenda issues, such as the economy, agriculture, tourism, and migration.

However, the paradox is that freedom of expression does not give anyone—including the “powers that be”—the license to orchestrate an ostentatious campaign of distortion, disinformation, and division through making political speeches laced with invectives. The purveyor of hate-filled messages intrinsically becomes a threat vector to democracy, given that hate speeches pose an existential threat to civilization, peace, and social harmony.  Therefore, politicians are duty-bound to guard their statements.

Most importantly, the urgency of policy matters, rather than personal matters, should direct the locus of political debates, except for situations in which discussing certain private lives directly bears on promoting the collective public good. It is normal for politicians to poke holes in their opponents’ policies and use such shortcomings for political capital, but moving from policy debates to character assassination, hoping to gain an edge over their opponents, shows intellectual shallowness and political debility. By default, they sow the seeds of discord, hatred, and fear among the populace. Individualized political attacks are meant to distract the public from demanding to know what has been done for them or what should be done for them. Unfortunately, this politics of insult has become a common pattern in The Gambia. Politicians, from both sides of the aisle, devote very little attention to addressing the problems facing the citizenry.

Rather than selling their policy agendas or updating citizens about their developmental achievements, political actors engage in a politics of insult, denigration, lies, and pandering. The recent attack at a political rally on lawyer Ousainou Dabo, the leader of the United Democratic Party, by a sitting national assembly member, The Hon. Fatoumatta Jawara (former UDP Stalwart, now purportedly in the camp of President Barrow following her expulsion from the UDP) is a painful reminder that the corrosive politics of yesteryear, commonplace during the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh, is alive and kicking. Ordinarily, an attack on political leaders rarely draws public attention, but, when something of this nature comes from a lawmaker, the situation becomes a matter of public concern.

As a policymaker, a woman, and a mother, to whom many look for guidance, The Hon. Jawara should observe decorum in the public sphere. Granted, she has the constitutional right to support any political party of her choice, but she does not have to stoop so low as to objectify another political stakeholder to gain validation from the Barrow camp. Calling lawyer Darboe a drunkard, a womanizer, a traitor, and a selfish person adds no value in the civil discourse, other than turning The Hon. Jawara, a member of Parliament, into a threat vector of democracy. As such, all politicians must be reminded of the vital need to focus on policies, not personalities. Politics is a marketplace of ideas, in which arguments, premised on facts and logic, resonate with the masses. Politicians must think outside the proverbial box to determine solution-based policies that lead to social change, instead of taking the route to self-destruction by framing and lying about each other. Gambians are now wide awake and will not let a chauvinistic, malevolent, run-of-the-mill politician tinker with their sensibilities.

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