Justice or Reconciliation; will one suffice without the other?

Prior to the commencement of the TRRC, Hon. O.J Jallow has been advocating for reparations and reconciliation as a better approach than seeking to punish perpetrators of past crimes. He has always been an advocate for reconciliation and still holds that position strongly. O.J himself was a victim of numerous violations of his rights and one of the most high profile victims of the past tyranny. Citing him is based solely on the assumption that given his status, everyone concerned would have heard his line of argument and so we use it as basis to present the views here as one supported by a former victim.

Part of his rationale was explained giving examples of past tyrants like Charles Taylor and Laurent Gbagbo who are serving sentences in highly comfortable prisons in the western world while their victims still nurse their wounds. In his view, offering financial reparations could go a long way in helping the victims heal, like some of the wheelchair bound victims of April 10th and 11th 2000 who could improve their livelihoods through such deserved windfalls. “How would jailing Jammeh bring any healing to them?” he quizzed.

He also cited the likes of Ghana, where former President Jerry Rawlings is a free man living in and contributing to his country even though he has perpetrated many rights violations during his reign as military ruler of his country, some of those violations arguably worse than Yaya Jammeh did in The Gambia. “We are all related in this country” he further argued.

A lot of us opposed his position and believe justice must be done; we argued that “he is speaking in the all too familiar voice of Maslaha.” We see blatant injustice and instead of holding people to account, we start preaching reconciliation in the name of kinship and social harmony while the perpetrators go scot free; that’s the concept of Maslaha that a lot of us believe serves to embolden wrongdoers in our midst. Some among us even went as far as saying he is attempting to court the members of the former president’s party; the APRC by speaking in such reconciliatory tones. We say the same about the nonchalant President who goes on indulging his political appetite in the face of gruesome revelations at the TRRC with complete lack of concern. One would think that after such a high profile witness as Sanna Sabally appearing, the president would have some comforting words to say to the nation, but oh well…

Watching the testimony of the former Vice Chairman of the former military ruling council Sana Sabally, a lot of hearts were touched and the perceptions of him changed in some quarters because of the ordeal he subsequently went through at the hands of his former brothers in arms. A video in circulation online showing former Vice Chairman Sana Sabally meeting one of his victims, former army Corporal Alhagie Kebbeh who was shot in the leg point blank by the team headed by Sana Sabally upon the arrest of Kebbeh in what the authorities then claimed was a foiled coup attempt of November 11, 1994. That is a further moving encounter. In his testimony, Sana Sabally also revealed that he had reconciled with former Deputy Inspector General of Police Ebrima Chongan, another of his victims whom he met personally on several occasions.

The Gambian’s capacity to forgive and empathize (maslaha) is enormous, but isn’t that in fact ammunition to sinister characters among us to do wrong and get away with it? As a country of laws, when do we revert to the law for recourse if arbitration is all we advocate for?

It is true that being such a small country with so much openness, we are all related albeit not biologically but we have fostered relationships that are stronger than familial bonds in so many instances. Sana Sabally for example is related to former Vice President Fatoumata Jallow Tambjang, who also is related to O.J. The same Sana Sabally under whose watch O.J’s rights were violated several times and who in fact was accused of directly being involved in physical abuse against O.J.

Sana Sabally’s case is one of many cases both as perpetrator and victim of the same system he birthed, but will the need for reconciliation trump the need to uphold the law? Would O.J’s strategy work better in amending the wrongs of the past or do we build a society of laws where we uphold the law regardless of who fell afoul of the law?

Hon. O.J Jallow is not alone in his views and the aftermath of Sana Sabally’s testimony goes further to affirm that. We are all affected by the tyranny of the 22 years of Yaya Jammeh’s rule, but some more directly than others. So far we have on record 3 of Sana Sabally’s direct victims according him forgiveness. We can only speak for our own pains and if they deem it fit to forgive, we should not vilify them. Other victims may not have and that is their prerogative and neither can be wrong. Only those impacted directly own the greatest share in according forgiveness or not to the perpetrators and we should respect their positions.

But what would justice entail in these numerous cases of violations?


1 thought on “Justice or Reconciliation; will one suffice without the other?”

  1. Great observation Mr Mass .
    As Gambians, we easily forgive and forget. We don’t learn from our mistakes, that is why is very easy for a Gambian to do bad to other Gambians and at the end of the day he or she will not be prosecuted or even if he or she is prosecuted will not serve long.

    We should get rid of this Maslaha thing as people and let justice guide our actions.


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