Similar Process, Different Objective: South Africa’s TRC and Gambia’s TRRC

Early 1900 witnessed horrific violent conflicts in Africa; from civil wars, genocide, apartheid to dictatorships. The underlying causes for these conflicts varied as the conflict occurs when forces behind people’s interest are pulling in different or opposing directions, these interests are divergent, ranging from over recourses, overpower, over identity, over status, or overvalues. The aforementioned are all recipes for conflicts. While South Africa’s case presented a stark racial injustice between minority White South Africans and Black in South Africa. The former was the ruling party that subjugated the latter in collaboration with few South African Blacks. Blacks in South Africans lived in hell on earth in their own country; they were marginalized, terrorized, and terrified by minority white South Africans who happened to be the ruling party at the time. This marked the era of apartheid in South Africa. It started between 1948 and 1990 when the ruling government institutionalized racial injustice, land segregation, deprived black South Africans of their civil liberties, political rights, and freedoms.

In defiance to this, there was resistance from the South African blacks, some South Afrikaans, and other non-Afrikaans. This was confronted with police brutality, massive arrests, detention, torture, abductions, and muzzling of freedom of expression with intimidations. (US Institute for Peace 1995). As this continued, several international sanctions were made to the ruling party, hence negotiations ensued between the government and African National Congress (ANC). With the increasing internal dissent, international pressure, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the apartheid government was forced to enter into negotiations with the ANC. This saw the collapse of apartheid and the ushering in of democratic rule in 1994 (South Africa History Online). The democratic elections were held in 1994, and an interim constitution was passed, the Truth and Reconciliation were set up by the newly elected parliament, The Promotion of National Unity Act.

Comparatively The Gambian citizens were basically ruled by presidential decrees after the seizures of power through a so-called bloodless coup. Henceforth, Human rights, dignity, and fundamental freedoms became a privilege only a few enjoyed in the country. The right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly, political pluralism all were stifled. The media was censored and opposition leaders were attacked, persecuted, detained, and enforcedly disappeared unjustifiably. As South Africans were divided and ruled on racial lines by minority whites, with the aid of other South African Blacks, The Gambia’s dark days began after a few disgruntled armed men took it up themselves to overthrow a legitimate government, and ruled the country with laws they deemed fitting to themselves with the help of lawyers, technocrats, security apparatus, and religious leaders. This later became a one-man show – who manipulated, monopolized, and perpetuated dictatorship to serve his ultimate self perpetuated leadership interests at the expense of the masses. This persisted all through the 22 years of his reign, (which most only came to light to Gambians during testimonies of witnesses during the commission’s public hearing). Until December 2016 Presidential Elections, which consequently gave birth to newfound freedom in the Gambia – democracy.

The following year, 2017, The Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Commission Act was passed into law by the newly elected National Assembly of the Gambia. Mandated to provide historical, comprehensive, and impartial records of human rights violations and abuses from July 1994 to January 2017. The creation of the Gambia’s TRRC is not only to bring Gambian people in harmony with their horrific past but also recommend institutional reforms which include but not limited to ending impunity. Herein lies the sharp difference as far as the goal of South Africa’s Truth and Reparation Commission and that Gambia’s TRRC is concerned. The former was solely and wholly created to promote national unity as stated in the act. A year after Nelson Mandela’s election as South African president, this debate shaped and reshaped the legislation – The Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act – that authorized the TRC’s creation and charged it to administer a public amnesty process, attend to the interests and needs of victims, and create as “complete a picture as possible of the causes, nature, and extent of the gross violations of human rights” that occurred between 1960 and 1994 (Wikipedia).

While South Africa’s TRC was aimed at restorative justice rather than retributive justice – The Gambia’s model aims to achieve total reform anchored on transitional justice which includes deterring the repetition of such dark days in the country’s history. It is the worst history Gambians had ever lived since they gained independence. Thus, December 2016 Presidential election became the death kennel when the dictator regime got defeated in the most credible election throughout twenty-two years of dictatorship in The Gambia. The TRRC is expected to provide closure to enable the Gambia and Gambian people to move past the horrors of dictatorship. Similarly, South Africa emerged from the shadow of apartheid and confronted the question of how to deal with a bitter legacy of violence, social-political division, and material inequality. However, the goals of the two may differ, but there process are the same and one.

The South Africa TRC was divided into three commissions; Human Rights Violations Committee, Amnesty Committee, Reparation and Reconciliation Committee; Likewise The Gambia, the commission was divided into four special committees; Human Rights Committee, Gender & Child Sensitive Committee, The Reconciliation Committee, and Amnesty Recommendation Committee. Also, both Commission’s made public hearings to hear testimonies of witnesses which are televised and broadcasted worldwide. Although, South Africa’s TRC revelations were more terrifying, horrific, and heart-tearing compared to Gambia’s, the magnitude of pain, distress, and trauma of truth commissions’ revelations are pretty much very insidious. How power and authority had been misused and abused by our compatriots with indignity and impunity is a bitter pill to swallow.

However, It is important to note that, one must fundamental concern of truth commissions worldwide is that, their recommendations are often partially implemented. A bright example is South Africa’s TRC, in which over three hundred apartheid-era-related crimes such as deaths, abductions, sexual assaults, and enforced disappearances remain unsolved decades after its recommendations were submitted to the government. Gambians must be wary of such, and make sure that does not become our fate. This ultimately rests on the shoulders of the government to implement the recommendations to the letter, most importantly the Gambian citizens, especially members of the civil society must hold the government accountable in ensuring the full implementation of the TRRC recommendations for a meaningful transition to take effect.

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