The Gambia: Inviting radical strain of Islam, the rise of political activism, and overdue political change
By Mathew K Jallow
Pushing citizens against the wall has historical precedence that has often tested the extremes of their tolerance levels, and sparked mass resistance and rebellions. The backlashes frequently incite fearless expressions of discontent that spiral into political skirmishes, and result in an oppressed people’s liberation from state terror. These spontaneous outbursts of grassroots activism have spawned unrests and metastasized into political movements for freedom, which grow beyond the ability of the state to either control or manipulate. If this scenario seems familiar, it is because the Gambia is living this reality at this material time. Many things are happening simultaneously in Gambia, all revolving around a political system that for two decades has unleashed the disdain and rejection of its citizens, both on political and moral grounds. The Gambia has evolved a new political system, which mirrors Yahya Jammeh’s contempt for the customary political and governance conventions, by willfully circumventing the instruments of effective governance, as enshrined in the Constitution. This intractable mockery of the systems of governing tantamount to ridiculing the sacred document of the Constitution, casts Gambia as a nation of lawlessness, and shock citizens by the illegal regularity with which Yahya Jammeh has singlehanded promulgated laws that seek to further entrench his odious military regime. The practice of frequently amending the Gambia’s Constitution by fiat, in complete disregard of the power and authority of the Gambia National Assembly, also inadvertently suppresses countervailing attitudes towards the laws of the land, particularly, the imperativeness of a nation-wide referendum for the purpose of amending any part of the Constitution. A case in point is Yahya Jammeh’s recent declaration of Islamic state in the Gambia, a move that is already manifesting simmering resentment from the powerful Christian community. The rejection of attempts to divide the Gambian people based on Yahya Jammeh’s false faith and fake religiosity, illustrates his deceptive mindset, and has nothing, whatsoever, to do with the divine context of faith and religious beliefs.
To be clear, consequences of illegally declaring Gambia an Islamic state are far-reaching, and threaten the existence of the Christian belief system in a multi-religion secular society. Christianity has for several centuries been the vanguard of intellectual and economic development in the Gambia, and attempt to legislate it out of existence is unworthy of the Gambians people, and is roundly rejected across the differentiations of tribe and faith. Yahya Jammeh’s palpable fear of the spread of Islam by Islamic terrorist operating in the region, far outweighs his moral obligation to Gambian, by disassociating himself from the fatal religious intolerance he is foisting on Gambian society. Yahya Jammeh’s comical Islamic state will not likely survive him, and will, by popular demand, be rapidly abrogated so Gambians can return to the peace and unity of their secular roots. Injecting religion in Gambia’s body politics also has other sinister motives that, though political, do not at first glance seem nearly as apparent. But nothing has irked Gambians more than Yahya Jammeh’s recent promise to substitute the Gambian Constitution and English jurisprudence, with Sharia Law and the Quran as the basis of Gambian law. This may seem extreme, and even far-fetched, but it fits perfectly into his political doctrine of reducing Gambians into the type of subservience found only in religious scripture. As Gambia’s economy is disintegrating, and the level of poverty is skyrocketing, the exploitation of religion to insulate himself from the wrath of a disillusioned population may seem like a good idea, but reality may catch up with Yahya Jammeh as demands that he steps down reverberate across the land and far beyond. At no time has the pure hatred of Yahya Jammeh and his cabal of corrupt crooks, been as virulent and dramatically demonstrated as in this year’s struggles for electoral equity, and the open defiance showcased on the opposition campaign trail. And as the public urges a recalcitrant opposition into some form of political unity to boycott the impending December elections and create a transitional unity government, the momentum is growing to cancel the elections, as echoed in communities where Gambians reside across the globe.
This year, the clamor for change through opposition unity self-consuming for many, is echoing in every corner of the country, as it alone can guarantee the likelihood of political change. For far many Gambians, the realization that Yahya Jammeh is a greedy murderer, who is plundering the Gambia’s meagre resources, is only now beginning to dawn on their collective consciousness. And ostensibly, the death of fear in the Gambia has propelled the growing nation-wide rebellion that promises change, regardless of the apprehension and timidity of the largely moribund opposition political establishment. As Gambians take back the freedoms denied them for twenty-one years; freedom that truly belongs them, both constitutionally and by nature of their citizenship, their control by the political parties will be diminished, as control over their own lives becomes their focal interest. In the recent past, both UDP and the new GDC have helped spring into life, a side of Gambian society that no one knew existed, and systematically helped channel their supporter’s anger into solidarity for political change. This year, it is stating the obvious that if elections are free and fair, and the opposition collectively coalesces around a common unifying political objective, Gambians would most likely do something very radical, and which may also seem miraculous; to electorally unseat Yahya Jammeh from power. Overwhelming evidence suggests that this year, Solo Sandeng’s martyrdom and the subsequent detention of the main opposition UDP’s senior leadership, including party leader, Ousainou Darboe, have snowballed into open popular rebellion that has forever removed the element of fear that for two decades consumed and paralyzed Gambian society into mind-numbingly indifference to the catalogue of state sanctioned political assassinations, murders, tortures and terror. This year, the political orthodoxy has forever changed, and it is imperative that the paradigm of ritually voting for Yahya Jammeh’s regime also comes to a screeching ends. Gambians will once again have the freedom to make their choices without the coercion of outside interference, in particular, from Yahya Jammeh personally and AFPRC military regime’s political party.
By Mathew K Jallow
The verdict was not unexpected and when it came, it demonstrated a familiar pattern in political repression. The court proceedings were quintessential Kangaroo trials that quickly degenerated into lectures in jurisprudence from an eminent lawyer, party leader, Hon Ousainou Darboe, to a visibly shaken Nigerian judge, whose legal proficiency screams embarrassing amateurism. The judge demonstrated minimal understanding of the law and often conducted herself in ways that betrayed her beholdenness to an invisible force that dictated her overt courtroom partiality. And not unlike Amadou S Janneh’s courtroom dramas, and the state’s strenuous legal gymnastics in the effort to reach a predetermined verdict in that 2012 case, Gambians are again more disgusted than shocked by the recent sentencing, which reflects the judge’s loyalty, not to the spirit of Gambian law, but to Yahya Jammeh. The judge exposed her patent incompetence and small-mindedness in her abuse of the constitution and the rule of law, further compromising the integrity of the Gambia’s judicial system. The criminalization of what is legal and constitutional, in the Gambia, since 1994, condemns the country to a state of lawlessness; a place where the brutal exercise of power and unrestrained abuse of the law interface as an overarching state policy. The judge’s violation of the Gambian constitution, by sentencing UDP opposition leader, Ousainou Darboe and officials of the party to illegal incarceration, challenges the Gambian people to further examine why the impossible, improbable and unlikely has become the norm in the Gambia’s political system. The underpinnings of political chaos and social alienation, planted over many years of blinding indifference to the constitution and laws of the land, will have grave social and economic ramifications that will be hard to escape and even harder yet to ignore. Yahya Jammeh truly embodies a kaleidoscope of caricature characters; each exposing his criminal incompetence, and each mired in the vicious cycle of violence that prefaces his story of political illegitimacy and moral and ethical decadence. In Hon Ousainou Darboe and other incarcerated UDP supporters, Yahya Jammeh has once again demonstrated his pretexts for curbing citizen civil liberties as a political tactic to delay his inevitable demise.
Perhaps more chilling than the incarceration of the entire UDP leadership is Gambians’ scathing inability to revolt against the injustice that prejudice Gambia’s legal system as primary custodian of peace and stability. And, since December 2014, diaspora efforts against the regime have somewhat flamed out and succumbed to the despair of diaspora amateurism and intransigence of the political establishment at home. At the center of the political debate is the blurred line between self-interest and altruism, which has exposed the insidious individualism masquerading as selfless nationalism. The court ruling against UDP, juxtaposed on the criminal ineffectiveness of the struggle, at home and abroad, again tests Gambians’ pathetic ineptitude in responding to the state’s constitutional overreach in the jailing of UDP officials for legally exercising their constitutional right to protest. The dysfunction of the political establishment and civil society are at the center of everything that has gone so terribly wrong over the last twenty years. The intersection of state brutality and the impotence of the moral majority showcase the puerile sensibilities that continue to thwart the collective Gambian effort at regime change. Clearly, the visible surface tranquility of everyday life in Gambia hides the character of a society with a long history of contrarian views that are hamstrung by powerlessness in forging a common consensus among the various political parties and diaspora civil society groups. The age-old tradition of coalescing around issues of common interest has failed to materialize in Gambia, but this pathology of sustained unease and mutual suspicion borders of rivalry and infighting amongst individuals, parties and civil society organizations who all share a common purpose. In the end, Gambians left a long trail of years of empty bluster and political amateurism, which has only prolonged Gambian’s suffering. What is happening in the Gambia is borderline controlled chaos as a dis-organized civil society and political establishment disunity continue to mar progress towards a political solution to Gambia’s political crisis. The litany of failures of many of those who lead the charge for political change include the perverse anti-intellectualism which reinforces the false narratives that have played a significant role in creating divisions that obstruct the unity of purpose, which has eluded Gambians for so long.
In spite of the monumental failures of the past, not everything in the struggle is colored in dark hopelessness. Last year, 2015, witnessed notable changes to the monotonous political script. For the first time in two decades, Gambians created room for political dissent and diverse political opinions, but this victory came at a huge cost; UDP party activists sacrificed, which includes loss of life, rape, torture and imprisonment. The terrible price Gambians have paid for holding political views antithetical to the minority military regime, includes ritual sacrifices by the regime and political amnesia by a terrified citizenry. The self-inflicted failure of civil society and the political establishment aside, the regime is believed to discreetly support establishment of a new party in an effort to recast itself as democratic in its practical application of the election process. The two recent developments that perplex political watchers, deviate from the political norm; the rapid installation of the Gambia Democratic Congress, and the much publicized resignations from the AFPRC to the GDC. And, as accusations of GDC leader, Mama Kandeh, as a sidekick for Yahya Jammeh gather storm, the unresolved status of a unified opposition against elections in December deepen the anxiety of proponents of elections boycott. The new GDC political phenomenon that has suddenly obscured every opposition party, also throws into doubt the party’s willingness to unite against Yahya Jammeh in the event such solidarity is necessary; even imperative. Meanwhile, party leader, Mama Kandeh has become the new target of criticism, with accusations of tribalism, by pessimistic and cynical diaspora elements shaken .by the new party. But, the surreptitious rise of the GDC and Mama Kandeh is not an anomaly, considering the political vacuum created by the ineffective communications strategies of the existing political parties. Clearly, the insurgency of GDC has rattled some and suddenly eclipsed other long established political parties, as the Fulas rush to coalesce around the new party, dragging with them voters from every existing political establishment. But, it remains to be seen whether the GDC, in its current composition, has the intellectual dexterity and moral fortitude to take on the hard task of leading a political party. One of the nagging question in everyone’s mind is whether GDC can join a coalition in elections boycott, and rally behind a popular uprising for change. For now, GDC may hold the key to Yahya Jammeh’s future in the event elections boycott are determined by the moral majority. GDC has a lot to chew on between now and the scheduled December elections. A lot.
The Gambia: Impeding the democratic process; Yahya Jammeh’s regime predetermines elections 2016 results
By Mathew K Jallow
The polemics are often expressed explicitly, and at other times, in more subtle ways; in either case, one underlying truth remains to expose Yahya Jammeh as the quintessential carpetbagger whose bigoted anthropological knowledge of the Gambia, is the hallmark of delusional rewriting of its history. Yahya Jammeh’s fabrication of Gambian history is dangerously twisted, and outright lies that have the capacity to inject bad blood among the various tribes, and undermine the cultural homogeneity that has defined Gambian society for centuries. Under Sir Dawda Jawara, tribalism was not officially sanctioned, even though its existence and practice was stark, and interwoven into the political system with a binary effect as an aberration and inconvenient stain on the pristine character of an otherwise peaceful, tranquil era of democracy and rule of law. But, Yahya Jammeh has pushed the boundaries of tribalism in the Gambia to a frightening level of absurdity, and in the process affirmed his unapologetic ignorance as a complete opposite of what the venerable Sir Dawda Jawara, is. But, most disturbingly, Yahya Jammeh subscribes to an ideology permeated by his undeniable urges for tribal prejudices, as clearly evidenced in the overwhelming, across the board, Jolanization of every level of the Gambia’s civil service, as well as access to a broad spectrum of opportunities. The tyranny of the Jola minority in the Gambia is real, and Gambians unwilling to cast light on its numbing effects, do so out of senseless denial of the naked truth. It is ethically relevant and morally justifiable to aggressively expose Yahya Jammeh for foisting on Gambia society, an apoplectic degree of tribalism; tribalism that is so severe in its total exclusion of the Gambia’s majority other tribes; demeaning and socially and economically catastrophic to its victims and to Gambia’s economic development. Without fear of embellishing the evident truth, it is safe to emphasize that Yahya Jammeh’s feckless use of tribalism to suppress and oppress the Gambia’s majority tribes, is unique in its viciousness, and found nowhere else on the African continent.
It is true that the lessons of Rwanda have preempted discussions of tribalism in the Gambia as a particularly sensitive issue, and an anathema to a significant number of the Gambian people, but ignoring the consequences of Yahya Jammeh’s social engineering, and the remaking of the character of Gambian society, lends itself to an appropriate characterization as hypocrisy and moral cowardice. Ambiguity and abdication of citizen responsibility does not equate maintaining cordial relations, on the contrary, it reinforces Yahya Jammeh’s highly divisive politics, and further perpetuates the tyranny by the Jola minority. Willfully refraining from confronting the challenges facing the Gambia under Yahya Jammeh’s bloody tyranny, is simplistic as well as a convenient copout from the political undercurrents unleashed by Yahya Jammeh and designed to wreck centuries old tribal cohesiveness, and dangerously threatening the integrity of Gambian society as single unified organism. It is evident that Yahya Jammeh’s tribalistic policies underpin his visceral hatred of the Mandinkas in the Gambia, and by extension, the singling out of the United Democratic Party and its leader, Hon Ousainou Darboe for harassment, and UDP activists for arrest, torture, rape and murder. The Mandinkas, in their Hon Ousainou Darboe representation, present an unyielding impediment to Yahya Jammeh’s political ambitions of perpetuity in power, and as the butcher of the Gambian people. Significantly, Yahya Jammeh’s core belief system is Darwinian in its conceptualization and vision of Gambian society, and mirroring Darwin’s evolutionary theory of species preference, but Yahya Jammeh’s pugilistic bellicosity towards the Mandinkas is not theory; far from it, it has real consequences detrimental to peace and stability in the Gambia, and more broadly, the sub-region. Yahya Jammeh’s efforts to exploit old tribal animosities that are now receding as a dim point of light in the distant past, is a consecration of his desire to stagnate the Gambia into a permanent state of turmoil. The effort to paralyze Gambian society in order to justify his continuous rule, and the victimization of the Mandinkas to achieve his goals, is the tipping point, even for opponents of the UDP as a political establishment
The melodrama Yahya Jammeh created around the Mandinkas, and his Machiavellian bent, has once again put the Gambia under the international spotlight as a pariah nation and a liability to regional peace, which ECOWAS and the AU seek to embody. But, the issue surrounding the Gambia, in this elections year, has an additional dimension, which challenges Gambians, ECOWAS and the AU in real, life-altering ways. The entire leadership of the United Democratic Party, the single largest Gambian opposition, including its leader, Hon Ousainou Darboe, have been held in incommunicado detention for more than sixty days, as their illegal detention and Kangoroo trial proceeds at a snail’s pace, under an absolutely laughable and unqualified mercenary ‘so-called’ judge from Nigeria. With elections six months away, and the main opposition unable to participate in the election process, and the smaller parties impaired and immobilized by public disinterest, which is focused on securing the unconditional release of UDP officials, it is not hard to see how Yahya Jammeh is undercutting the opposition’s effectiveness, in the effort to preordain the 2016 election results. But, the electoral process is confounded by an ethical dilemma facing the Gambian people and the smaller opposition parties; to participate or not, in the 2016 elections. In this, Gambians are faced with the continued detention of the entire main opposition leadership, and their inability to participate in the electioneering process. Two question, therefore, arise; whether the remaining opposition parties should participate in elections, in the face of the continued detention of UDP party officials, and the regime’s refusal to entertain the idea of electoral reforms, as demanded in 2015, by a united opposition. But, even with the release of opposition all the UDP leaders, there is no upside in participating in elections that are being rigged as we speak. The challenge the smaller parties collectively face, is the ethicality of participating in elections at a time the entire main opposition leadership is in detention, and the combined opposition demands for electoral reforms, in order to equalize the electoral process and ensure free and fair elections, have been out-rightly rejected. But, no matter what happens, one thing is certain; five more years of Yahya Jammeh is worst than going to hell. Yahya Jammeh, therefore, has to Go. Twenty-one years of living in hell is more than the Gambian people can put up with. It is time to rise up in a mass popular Balangba, to free Gambia from the twenty-one years of tyranny under Yahya Jammeh.
By Mathew K Jallow
The admission to Solo Sandeng’s murder last week was surreal; like an out-of-body experience. Even in death, Solo Sandeng is making headline news as his memory casts its long, dark shadow over the doomed and down-ward spiraling military regime. More than any other victim of Yahya Jammeh’s political and tribal purges, the indomitable figure of Solo Sandeng still looms large, but it is also attached to Yahya Jammeh like a cancerous cyst that will not go away. This time around, the Gambian people have truly turned the proverbial corner. Their incapacitating fear of Yahya Jammeh, which, for more than two decades, lulled Gambian society into a state of moral numbness and self-preserving egoism, has finally lived out its life. The twenty-one years of fearful bending to the will of Yahya Jammeh is, at last, fizzling out as Gambians reclaim their constitutional and God-given rights to participate in the political process in a more vocal and inconspicuous way. The emerging political attitude on the streets of Banjul has less to do with Yahya Jammeh, and all to do with rebelling against the blighted politics of fifty years ago, and the unjust laws promulgated by fiat, and, therefore, lack legal standing. What Yahya Jammeh dictatorially outlawed during the various stages of his rise to absolute power, has again returned as right of the people, as guaranteed by the Gambian constitution. The unconstitutional ban of lawful public assembly, criticism of the regime, public demonstrations, and use of public address systems, designed primarily to limit the political space, have come crumbling down under the weight of a growing popular resistance movement on the muddy pot-holed street of the capital, Banjul. The regime’s fixation with controlling every aspect of Gambian life is dead, and so too is the fear Yahya Jammeh has used effectively to control the population and prolong their grinding misery under his iron fist rule. In hindsight, it is unbelievable that for twenty-one years, Gambians had to obtain permits to hold public gatherings, and even for something a benign as the use of a public address system. This year, Gambia’s terrorist leader, Yahya Jammeh, has become the terrorized, and paradoxically, even in death, it is Solo Sandeng who still spearheads the effort to forever overturn the disastrous politics of the last twenty-one years. The use of fear and terror as instruments of political control were the weapons that kept Yahya Jammeh’s AFPRC killing machine in power for so long, but as that fear is dissipating, so too is Yahya Jammeh’s ability to continue his political oppressive and genocidal tyranny.
This year, a dynamic popular movement, arising from the torture, murder, rape and detention of United Democratic Party (UDP) opposition politicians, has locked the Gambian people and the international community against Yahya Jammeh’s tyranny, in a vicious struggle for the soul of a nation. The march towards restoring democracy and the rule of law in the Gambia is a turning point that will not fray, regardless of whether the regime decides to move the political detainees to Mansakonko or Bamako, Mali, for court hearings. And in Solo Sandeng’s particular case, his illegal arrest, torture and murder has been apparent to Gambians for weeks, as evidenced by his continuous absence from the sham Kangaroo court trials of the UDP stalwarts. But, this week, any lingering doubts about whether he is dead, went out the window as Yahya Jammeh, who ordered his murder, and Sheriff Bojang, who vehemently denied his death, are compelled to admit their respective involvement in the murder and subsequent and cover-up of Solo Sandeng’s killing. Yahya Jammeh’s admission of complicity in the murder of Solo Sandeng, under NIA custody, hit Gambians like a thunderbolt. Of the hundreds of Gambians and non-Gambians killed on Yahya Jammeh’s orders, since 1994, it took intense public pressure around Solo Sandeng’s disappearance, torture and murder, and the continued illegal detention of opposition UDP supporters, to break the regime’s silence and end the unbearable hubris of the past twenty-one years. The regime’s admission to Solo Sandeng’s murder under security services custody, is also another turning point in the search for the truth surrounding the deaths and disappearances of hundreds more citizens and foreign nationals, but it also confronts Gambians with unique insight into Yahya Jammeh’s textbook denials of complicity in Gambia’s politically motivated mass murders of the past twenty-one years. The ugly truth about Yahya Jammeh’s undeniable involvement and guilt in the forced disappearances and murders of so many Gambian citizens and non-citizens, is already well established beyond a shadow of doubt. Apart from Yahya Jammeh’s admission to the commission of a capital crime as in the Solo Sandeng case, the incommunicado detentions of forty-five UDP bigwigs, most of them Mandingoes, seems like the enforcement of the edict Yahya Jammeh made threatening to eliminate Mandingoes, in fulfilment of his goal of prolonging his reign, and altering Gambia’s demographic character. Clearly, everything in Yahya Jammeh’s past political behavior truly personifies an existential threat to Gambia’s tribal cohesion, cultural homogeneity and regional peace, a steep price to pay for his insane lust for political power and commitment to Jola domination.
The nefarious social construct going on in Gambian society, in particular, the massive influx of Jolas from the southern Senegal region of Casamance, is a Yahya Jammeh policy that has the hallmarks of internal destabilization likely to threaten regional peace. Yahya Jammeh’s sinister machinations will have deleterious effects on intertribal synthesis, with consequences that will last generations. More than any country in modern African history, Rwanda understands the perilous ramifications of tribal bigotry, and last week something profound happened. From the capital, Kigali, the New Times of Rwanda, in an editorial, screamed out loud on the paper’s lead front-page story, for the protection of Gambian Mandingoes, following Yahya Jammeh’s ad nauseam attacks and ominous threats to kill and bury them nine feet deep. The Kigali newspaper’s fear of deja vu prompted an editorial that was received with laudatory reviews around Gambia’s international dissident circles. Since August 2012, Gambians have learnt not to disregard Yahya Jammeh threats as empty bluster. Similar threats made by Yahya Jammeh in 2012, resulted in the execution of more than a dozen Mile Two Prison inmates, many of whose trials were still proceeding in Gambia’s Kangaroo court system, under mercenary so-called judges from Nigeria and Cameroon. Gambians’ perception of Yahya Jammeh’s frequent and irrational bursts of anger, followed by senseless accusatory tirades, have drastically changed over time. And Yahya Jammeh’s capacity to descend into the gutters of senseless brutality is not in doubt; but what is also not in doubt, is the willingness of the Gambian people to finally challenge Yahya Jammeh’s twenty-one years impunity; arrests, tortures, executions, murders, disappearances, and plunder of the Gambian economy. But, the ongoing gentrification of the Gambia, which began shortly after the military took power in 1994, was, in the case of Yahya Jammeh, both predetermined and premised on a peculiar African institution; tribalism, which continues to wreak havoc across parts of the continent. Yahya Jammeh’s imaginary Jola hegemony, which should have extended to Guinea-Bissau, was preempted by President Machy Sall’s election in Senegal, but not before Yahya Jammeh assassinated Guinea-Bissau’s political leaders; President Nivo Vierra and Gambian-born Guinea-Bissau Army Chief, General Ansumana Manneh, and politically destabilized Guinea-Bissau for a generation. This happened in tandem with the Yahya Jammeh’s purging of Gambia’s other tribe’s from the civil-service; the Wollofs, Mandingoes and Fulas, as revealed by an exiled Manjago man who participated in the harassment of members of these three tribes. If anything else, Yahya Jammeh’s recent Mandingo threats have brought the decaying inter-tribal compact in Gambia to the forefront of the political discourse, but mitigating the chances of another Rwanda in Gambia, will require collective action to remove Yahya Jammeh, NOW; not later.
The Gambia: Yahya Jammeh’s divisive and deadly tribal bigotry, and the need for political change, before it’s too late
By Mathew K Jallow
It is a word pregnant with historical innuendos and carries a stigma that correlates to bitterness and suffering. The human devastation it has caused to Africa is unimaginable. In so many ways, it is perhaps the dirtiest word in Africa’s sociological lexicon; still used by political demagogues to resurrect ancient tribal feuds, and foment discord, but don’t tell that to the Gambia’s disreputable mafia capo, Yahya Jammeh. In his twenty-one years of tortures, killings and economic pillage, Yahya Jammeh has persistently used tribalism to create potent, but invisible divisions along lines of tribe, with reckless abandon. Yahya Jammeh’s tribalism is less than subtle; in fact, it is indiscreet, duplicitous and cruel, but also downright repugnant and counterproductive. Last week, when Yahya Jammeh’s blind tribal bigotry again burst out in familiar dramatics and usual antagonistic polemics, he betrayed more than just his loathe of Mandinkas; he also exposed his spinelessness and veil attempts to pit the Mandinkas against Gambia’s other tribes. Yahya Jammeh’s mindless flaming of tribal bigotry is dangerous and cowardly, but most Gambians have by now overcome that pathetic chapter of history riddled with tribal wars and forced subjugation into slavery. On a campaign tour back in 2011, Yahya Jammeh first made his strongest, unprovoked tribe motivated attacks on Hon Ousainou Darboe, and on that occasion, like all the various other times he manifested profound fear of the Mandinkas, he again threatened to kill, in his effort to induce fear, stave off political dissent and remain in power in perpetuity. Yahya Jammeh truly exemplifies an unhealthy obsession with the Mandinkas, and his frequent anti-Mandinka outbursts, are not unlike his banal attacks on the west; in particular, Gambia’s historic partners and benefactors; the USA, UK. and the EU. The residue of inter-tribal quibbles that remains in Gambian society, do so within the parameters of the law, and have never escalated into violence, since the advent of colonialism centuries ago. But, Yahya Jammeh seeks to reverse that peaceful history by foisting acrimony and tensions on the Gambia’s various tribes. Yahya Jammeh’s ignorance is truly emblematic of tyrants whose failures intersect with their insatiable lust for political power, which compels them to reach back into history to revive Africa’s old tribal orthodoxies based on conflict, war and slavery. This disgraceful politics is what is practiced in the Gambia, and it is the bedrock of Yahya Jammeh political ideology; brutal, dangerous and unforgiving.
Yahya Jammeh’s deliberate stroking of inter-tribal rifts in the Gambia, in his determination to stay in power, is not new. The military regime he heads is ideologically premised on exercising the worst form of tribalism known to Africa; guaranteeing his Jola tribe, who barely consist seven percent of the Gambia’s total population, not only all the key positions in government, but over seventy-five percent of the senior positions in government and its ancillary agencies. Gambia long ago unwittingly became West Africa’s face of political embarrassment, but it wasn’t always like this. Two decades ago, only Senegal rivalled Gambia as an oasis of democracy and the rule of law, on a continent first mired in endless tribal strife, and later, subjected to harsh rule of military dictatorships. Today, Gambia is a shell of its former self; an unfolding dystopia still writing its own story, and a history still waiting to be written. The days of multi-tribal conformity to the same values may soon be over, and the romanticism that gave Gambia that name of endearment, which everyone proudly wears on their sleeves, would soon lose its magic. The smiling coast of West Africa, an effective marketing tool, which has attracted the hopeless romantics, beach lovers, nostalgic tourists, and diaspora returning home to kiss the ground of the land they love, is slowly dissipating into obscurity. In the short space of two decades, the Gambia; that “smiling coast of West Africa,” has achieved notoriety as the last remaining hellhole in a sub-region slowly crawling out of the trenches of political catastrophe. In a sub-region once coursed by the prevalence of devastating tribal wars and military dictatorships, West Africa is gradually transforming itself into Africa’s epicenter of democracy and the rule of law; albeit reluctantly adapting to the changing dimensions of modern political theory. But, to a large degree, fear induced ambivalence still predominates in pockets of Africa, and no country exemplifies this quandary more than the Gambia. The degree of resistance to the emerging political paradigm sweeping across the African continent has left Yahya Jammeh mortally petrified, and ECOWAS leaders saddled with crippling moral dilemma. And as Yahya Jammeh guiltlessly attempts to resurrect the Gambia’s ancient tribal animosities, ECOWAS remains stuck between a rock and a hard place; reluctant to confront Yahya Jammeh and help force change, on the hand, and passively watch Gambia unravel and descend into political anarchy, on the other. ECOWAS leaders’ awareness of Gambia’s political crisis and their disinclination to engage Yahya Jammeh, is extremely perplexing in its total lack of objective reasoning.
The deafening silence of ECOWAS and the AU does not portend well for Gambians and ordinary ECOWAS and AU citizens. For, while the group of ECOWAS leaders was meeting in Dakar, Senegal, late last week, for the 49th Extra-Ordinary Summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), across the border in Gambia, Yahya Jammeh was again threatening the Mandinkas with death, causing the deafening uproar of Gambians from across the globe. And as ECOWAS and other international institutions still remain focused on the fantasy of peaceful, free and fair elections, their total ignorance of the Gambia’s oppressive political system could not be starker. The unlawful rigging and denial of access to fair electoral process is entrenched in a recently promulgated law. Besides, the divisive tribal bigotry Yahya Jammeh is propagating, has further cemented the will of the Gambian people to deny him another term of mayhem and catastrophic disruptions; killings, forced disappearances, mass incarcerations, the perils of mass exodus, and continued cannibalization of Gambian society and economy. And recently, Yahya Jammeh, by simple proclamation, unilaterally raised the fees for aspiring presidential candidates by 10,000%, from $250 in 2011, to $25,000 in 2016, effectively pricing the opposition out of the democratic process and the electoral marketplace. But, fact based anecdotal evidence suggests that elections, for this year, are unacceptable, considering the atrocities and need for moral and economic repairing of a country ruined by greed and tribal bigotry. The demands for Yahya Jammeh to step down are pervasive everywhere Gambians reside, besides, most recently, apart from vowing to kill members of the majority tribe, Yahya Jammeh also threatened to ban all public protests, which are constitutionally guaranteed. Yahya Jammeh’s threats of the use of violence against Mandinkas in past instances were mostly clouded in ambiguity; but last week was different, explicit and downright scary, and further reaffirms Yahya Jammeh’s imperviousness to reason. It is not possible to overstate Yahya Jammeh’s ruination of Gambian society, and his dearth of human sensitivity is frighteningly familiar. With his recent assault on the Mandinkas, Gambians have reached the breaking point, and beneath the superficial tranquility, the underbelly of Gambian society is a rumbling earthquake of rage and bitterness. And, the fact still remain that Gambia is a place where dabbling in politics is a dangerous enterprise, and even living in political neutrality is constantly like walking on egg shells; guaranteeing no insulation from state-sanctioned mental and physical harm. In the binary choice between living free and under a tyranny, Gambians will always choose freedom, and for now, as the monotonous chorus demanding no to the sham elections grows ever louder and bolder, and the familiar refrain; “Yahya Jammeh Must Go”, is also pervasive and ubiquitous in Gambian online fora, public media and general population. From the serene shores of Karting, to the grassy hills of Sare Gainako and beyond, the yearning for a Gambia free from the permanent nightmare political tyranny and divisive politics could not be more evident.
By Mathew K Jallow
The needless gratuitous assaults, in reaction to diaspora responses to the political nightmare of the last four weeks, raise the concerns of a baffled dissident movement. Halifa Sallah’s frequent snipes at the diaspora movement are counter-intuitive and unnecessary, considering the unwritten compact that binds Mr Sallah’s political organization with the dissident movement. The common objectives that the two protagonist share, makes Mr Sallah’s reiterate tirades at once, both, substantively nonsensical and strategically incomprehensible; and embarrassingly so too, might I add. Mr Sallah’s attempts, at trivializing diaspora efforts, breach an article of faith, and calls into question the prudence of his verbal aggression. It is the opinion of the dissident movement that the objectives the diaspora shares with Halifa Sallah’s political party, far outweighs the divergence of their opinions. Yet, his strident opposition to anything the diaspora does is intermittently expressed in his counter-positioning interjections in diaspora affairs, as he ceaselessly seeks to undermine the dissident movement’s inimitable successes in bringing Yahya Jammeh down on his knees, and in turning his regime into an international political pariah. The incomprehensible absurdity of the statements that Mr Sallah and Sidia Jatta have made against the diaspora movement, at various points in time, reflects their false perceptions of superior understanding of the challenges that Gambia faces. Besides, the pedestrian rants that the PDOIS duo have intermittently aimed at the dissident diaspora, carry a tinge of condescension, but also of doubt about PDOIS’s readiness to pursue the shared interests in bringing about political change. As indicated, this is not the first time Halifa Sallah has taken a swipe at the dissident movement, and it may not be his last either, but while there is justifiable derision over his nauseating dismissal of the diaspora movement’s political efforts, there is, nonetheless, also a preponderating interest in establishing working relations with his Socialist outfit, in pursuance of common ground in the effort to rescue Gambia from the precipice of political catastrophe.
Clearly, throwing darts at the diaspora liberation struggle is a favorite pastime of Mr Sallah, but the vast majority of dissidents cannot be manipulated and molded into PDOIS’s image, the way many gullible young men have succumbed to his organization’s ensnaring. And by dragging the diaspora movement through the proverbial mud-pit, PDOIS will not and never will succeed in casting doubt over the achievements of the diaspora movement. What Mr Sallah will succeed in doing is to spawn widespread skepticism about PDOIS’s true commitment to political change. Over the last decade, PDOIS’s standing among the diaspora has stumbled precipitously, and each time the organization attempts the folly of swimming against the tide, and against the judgment of the Gambian people, its popularity has slid further down into political oblivion. In the last few election cycles, PDOIS rushed into the business of mapping out and articulating an opposition strategy; almost requiring other political parties to model their programs after its prototype, as if PDOIS can dictate what other political parties choose to do administratively. PDOIS’s gimmicks often animate other political parties to dig in their heels and refuse to play ball, in an apparent show of contempt for PDOIS’s tendency of dictating the agenda. By falsely claiming the reservoir of intellect and ideas for all other political parties, PDOIS has, over the years, only succeeded in solidifying opposition to its inclination to put itself ahead of the pack. The pooling together of diverse ideas in the construction of a framework in which every political party can claim ownership, is the most effective way of creating cooperation and willing partnerships; not coercion. The aberration of directly or even subliminally assuming superiority of knowledge, once so deeply ingrained in Gambia’s academic psyche, back in the 1970s, is out of fashion in an era of mass university education. In this computer age, this age of instantaneous messaging and information glut, PDOIS will benefit greatly from reforming its primitive ideological bend, but also its archaic worldview.
The way Mr Sallah and Sidia Jatta have tediously tried to discredit the work of the diaspora, is the least if their worries. Still looming large and overshadowing everything else in Gambia, the case of UDP’s Hon Ousainou Darboe and other UDP party stalwarts, whose murder, rape and detention continues to make headlines in far corners of the globe; UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among many others. This issue of dire political consequences has sucked the energy out of everything else in the country, willingly or unwillingly, as the international community watches and waits to see what the Gambian people do next. This egregious political violence in Gambia has constitutional ramifications, but even as other international institutions struggle to grabble with the enormity of the political violence in the country, Gambia’s political party leaders do not appear bothered by the ongoing injustice against one of their own; perhaps even accepting the unfolding political drama against UDP as the norm. And at a critical time when Gambians are focused on the UDP tragedy, PDOIS, in its mindless fixation with elections, has the nerve and guts to try to deflect attention from the overarching political issue of the moment; the unconditional release of the UDP captives, and release of Solo Sandeng’s body to his family. Also conspicuously absent from the UDP tragedy are the leaders of the PPP, Omar A Jallow (OJ) and NRP’s Hamat Bah. So far, we heard their hyperventilated blusters and long tales of threatening braggadocio, but absolutely nothing else. Gambia’s wimps, for political leaders, have grown comfortable with Yahya Jammeh’s killings, rapes, public executions and looting of the national coffers, and will not lift a finger in protest. For now, depriving UDP of its constitutional rights to protest must remain the centerpiece of the political discourse at this material time, and while the diaspora’s efforts match the gravity of the situation, party leaders accept the simmering political tensions, as just another day in Gambian politics. And despite the handcrafted outrage of the opposition leaders, and their spectacular theatrics in front of the cameras, they each betrays a sickening lack of moral courage. As Ousainou Darboe sits in jail, abandoned by other party leaders, he ought to be thinking exactly what I am thinking right now; that the other so-called party leaders are merely a bunch of goddam wussies.