By Mathew K Jallow
This article title, the opening lines of preeminent Irish poet, W B Yeats’s beautiful poem, ‘The Second Coming,’ pretty much sums up the Gambia’s tragic political quagmire. It would have been laughable if it were not such a gross misuse of fleeting political popularity, at the expense of the entire country. The congenital failure to rationalize the Gambia’s apocalyptic political crisis, as a moral aberration, demonstrates the opposition leaderships’ moral incompetence in recognizing the urgency and gravity of the political crisis. And as the talks of coalition building drag on, an unlikely phenomenon has seeped into the political discourse; the ostentation party leaders exude, in complete disregard for polite diplomatic humility as a necessary convention in a political consensus. The grandiosity, to which some political party leaders hold themselves, in a broken political system, is antithetical to the efforts of solving the vexing political indiscipline that has frustrated every previous attempt at coalescing common objectives around a single unifying vision. But, efforts at reaching consensus in these talks of coalition building are predicated on selfless commitment of individual party leaders to the broader national interest, but no one is under any illusion that it would be as easy as a walk in the park. On the contrary, significant historical evidence belie the Gambia’s chilling familiarity with failures in opposition political unity, all of which point to the schism and borderline contemptuousness that always saddle unity efforts, dating back to 1996. And realization that the mindsets of too many politically active Gambians are riddled with ignorant insensitivity to the political crisis in the country, spawned a more sobering appreciation of the urgency of the political nightmare in the Gambia, as a flash point ripe for political upheaval. And judging from the widespread resistance to the tribalization of Gambian politics, in the diaspora, as a clear departure from Yahya Jammeh’s devastating twenty-one years of tribal bigotry, most Gambians are compelled to push towards bridging the strategical divide among party leaders. But, more damaging than the differences in political strategy, the overbearing hubris that pervades in the Gambia’s political establishment leadership, is perhaps a much more tedious challenge to the logic and rationality of a necessary political coalition.
In the ongoing efforts at gluing together a political coalition, the languid proclivity displayed by some party leaders, often triggered by open diaspora hostility towards individual party leaders; in particular, Dr Isatou Touray and Mama Kandeh, is counter-productive to the cause, with the effect of thwarting meaningful political dialogue. As natural as the fear and resentment of competition are to the human instinct, some of the baseless and antagonistic innuendos of a vocal few slant towards the usual crippling tribal sectarianism. Frankly, lingering on the periphery of Gambia’s political discourse, is an unnerving narrow-mindedness that must be purged from the political consciousness, as it harms the process of homogenizing Gambian society across tribe and culture. There is startling dissonance from reality in what politicians perceive as the overarching social and political necessity in Gambia in these difficult times. This ambivalence has compelled three major opposition contenders, Dr Isatou Touray, Mama Kandeh and Amadou Barrow, and their political stalwarts, to preemptively declare the untested abilities to electorally defeat the regime. A common underpinning manifests in the comparative similarity of each of these political leaders to Yahya Jammeh’s insensitivity to the core political issues Gambia cares about. The contenders’ unsubstantiated confidence in winning the elections, challenges the pervasive national desire for coalition, and rather than try to convert a recalcitrant public to their confidence, it will, instead, plunge the hope of a people into distress, and more seriously, into severe political paroxysm. Despite political contenders placing importance on their pathetic competition for leadership, the Gambia is in unique position to bring about change; a reality conditioned on presidential contender’ appreciation that the suffering of the people supersedes their individual interest. Besides, any coalition leadership must be founded on a transitional basis; a government of not more than three years; ideally, two and half years. In a relatively functioning political system, not marred by open conflict, there is political necessity to ascertain that a transitional government is strictly time limited, and its job description restricted to preparing the country for multi-party elections.
In light of these political circumstances, elaborating a long-term plan ought to not be the mandate of a government of transition. The vested national interest and that of political parties, is to rapidly restore party rule and plug the vacuum created by lack of permanent party-led government. The national interest in restoring multi-party rule is more than just a theoretical exercise; it is the substantive interest in securing of a permanent party-led government, in two five year term limit. The impetus of selecting an independent candidate as a unifying coalition force, is based on the opposition’s inability to select a party leader as opposition leader; reechoing an earlier point, a coalition leader must be impermanent, short-lived, with limited duties. Ideally, the transition’s duty is limited to writing a new constitution and preparing parties for elections. Due to the short transition duration, party leaders are urged not to stand in the way of national interest in working towards finding a consensus. The overarching interest of parties is to install a transitional government, without putting their emphasis on leading a coalition. After decades of human rights abuses, Gambia has a lot of healing to, essentially meaning that citizens, politicians, civil society, with the international community must work together to take stock of the bloody past twenty-one years tyranny. Gambia is not ready to return to regular party rule yet and pretend that the last twenty-one years never happened. The national obligation is to review the past twenty-one years; come to terms with its sordid history, and vow never to repeat it. The challenges ahead are more complex than any presidential candidate has ability to imagine, but it is a process that must be navigated in order to normalize life in the country. In the contentious search for a unifying coalition leader, we are reminded that transition rule must be pegged at between two and three years partly to incentivize wary party leaders to agree on a unity coalition an candidate. Ghana, Nigeria and other African countries are benefitting from an explosions of development activities as diaspora citizens voluntarily return; some permanently, and others, not, but all driven by a patriotic desire to bring development back home. As for us in Gambia, we are hopelessly foreshadowed by the opening lines of great 19th century poem “turning and turning in a widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer, mere anarchy is loosed upon this “country.”
By Mathew K Jallow
The vast majority watch from the sidelines with hopeful anticipation. Some, in true journalistic fashion, assess the evolving political lay-of-the-land with strict neutrality and uncommon candor. But typically, it is the crass vulgarity of the few that is reverberating across the vast emptiness of the net; the internet, that is. It is impossible to conjecture the motivations behind the tactless vilification of the Gambia Democratic Congress and its leader Mama Kandeh, but it is safe to concede that it is tasteless, beyond being impetuous. Yet, in spite of the non-ideological political disagreements and the bitterness of sectarian divisions, Gambians face an urgent life and death situation in these imminent elections. In achieving the goals of an elusive political change, unity, not separation, is key and of overarching necessity. The episode, last week, relating to the ongoing task of forging lasting political homogeneity, exemplifies the challenges Gambians face, and the opportunities these cross-party consultations present. It would be absolutely preposterous to write the obituary of a coalition yet, but first, some rough edges need to be smoothed out, and a new perspective of moving forward, delineated, but not in arbitrary slapdash fashion. It is worth nothing that these political coalitions are not rare concepts; in fact, a cornucopia of coalitions exists in the political configurations of many governments around the globe. Recently, thirteen opposition parties in Kenya did the unthinkable; merge into a single unity party. Of course, the defunct NADD was born out of this oxymoronic assembly of divergence, but the peculiarity of NADD was in its deceptive impartiality as coalition broker. But Gambians are once again challenged to rise above the narrow sectarianism and boring brashness, to imagine a united coalition built around empathy with hardship of our people and the necessity to return the Gambia to the sanity of a civilized nation.
This year, the challenge Gambia confronts is still daunting, but unlike the historical experiences, a unique opportunity also presents itself; the nexus between possibilities and surmountable conflict. It is evident that the provincial unsophistication of political gate-crashers has done more to inflict harm to unity efforts than the philosophical divergence of political leaders themselves. Motivated by antediluvian agenda, which in its true form dispels the essence and concept of the ideological blending of political parties, surrogates of various political inclinations demonstrate a total lack of political finesse. The political terrain and efforts to forge a coalition, given all the divided interests, requires non-agenda driven intervention and input, in a complex and volatile political climate. With the incarceration of UDP’s Hon Ousainou Darboe, the groundbreaking emergence of GDC’s Mama Kandeh, and the independent candidature of Dr Isatou Touray, the new realities of the opposition’s status realignment has shocked the sensibilities of many of those unable to rationalize these changing political dynamics. In other to put the Gambia’s particular circumstances in perspective, it is imperative to examine what on the surface, appears like an impasse in the ongoing effort at coalition building. The inter-party document outlines the modalities of unity, agreeing on an independent candidate in the event no party candidate is agreed upon. This resolves the hardest question to tackle; the gaping political chasm among the parties of the past. A path to unity of purpose and the supremacy of parties dialogue in continuing the tricky talks of identifying a unifying opposition candidate that opposition parties can coalesce around, seems more assured by the political protagonists in coalition discussions. Dr Isatou Touray, who is eminently qualified, has presented herself as Independent candidate, but her candidature, far from preordained, depends entirely on the only constituency she has; the amalgamation of opposition parties.
As of now, one of Dr Touray’s primary tasks remains to block-out the noise from the diaspora and lobby her only constituency; the political leaders at home, in order to convince the opposition of her worthiness to represent their visions and goals for political change. Clearly, the prospects of bringing Dr Touray’s successful candidature to fruition, lies entirely in the hands of political leaders and a united opposition; otherwise, her only option remains to contest as a stand-alone independent candidate, a very legally tedious adventure, which also contradicts the impetus, objectives and purposes of her candidature. In order to enucleate Dr Isatou Touray’s opportunities and challenges, it is crucial to revisit the inter-party’s agreed upon methodology of selecting a unifying candidate, which requires opening the opportunity up to every qualified Gambian in civil society. As an unregistered political establishment, Dr Touray’s relies on opposition party leadership support to give credibility to her candidacy, and her main task, at this juncture, is to convince the opposition on the ground of her viability as the emissary for political change. But first, there is need to challenge certain aspects of Dr Touray’s rollout, and bring her aspirations into compliance with prevailing political norms. By their very nature, all transitional governments are temporary, of short duration, and lack a sense of security inherent in permanent government establishments. In government, the tentativeness of transitions has its inherent shortcomings, vulnerabilities, and a sense of weakness, which does not augur well with the security and stability required of a nation. As a consequence, in transitional governments established by political party partnerships, the stop-gap characteristics of such transitions should not ideally exceed the three years mark. The objective is to make the uncertainty of transitional government and its mandate limited entirely to laying the groundwork for the return to political certainty through the rapid pursuance of elections and prevention of the inherent risks in transitional rule. This is designed to comply with the necessity of limiting the duration of the political vacuum created by the transitional government models.
As indicated, Dr Touray’s issuance of a five years development plan in her Manifesto is not in line with the tasks ordinarily sanctioned for transitional governments; which is the expedited return to multi-party rule. Consequently, Dr Touray’s governing Manifesto ought to have been a transitional Manifesto that outlines only two primary tasks; first, the establishment of a new Constitution outside the influence of any political party, and second, preparation of political parties and the nation for the approval of the constitution through a referendum, and free and fair multi-party elections that return the country to party rule and multi-party democracy. A long duration development governing Manifesto, as that presented by Dr Touray, is outside the ambit of transitional government that Dr Isatou Touray seeks to head. In order to make her candidature more in line with political norms, and easily sellable to the combined opposition, Dr Touray ought to revise her political Manifesto to reflect the required short duration transitional period of not more than three years, and limit her job description as transitional head to two tasks; first, the writing of a new Constitution, and second, to prepare the nation for free and fair elections that will exclude her from contesting. It is against prevailing political convention for the temporariness of a transitional government to rise to a level that turns the tentativeness of the transitional governing arrangement to regular government mandate, as a five years transitional term does. Moreover, the fact that Dr Touray’s seeks a transitional government that extends to a full presidential term of five years, makes it fall under the category of the insecurity inherent in the impermanence of transitional government rule. One of the objectives of creating a transitional government is primarily to choose an agreed upon temporary candidate, first from the political establishment, and if that fails, agree on an independent candidate drawn from civil society. In the end, no matter who the united opposition ultimately selects to lead the political coalition, the political dynamics on the ground must drive the opposition’s deliberative selection process, untainted by the customary tribal bigotry and other similar walls of political subterfuge and resistance to unity.
The Gambia: A time of reckoning; Gambia’s challenge and inevitable opposition unity for political change
By Mathew K Jallow
Fever pitch euphoria, hope re-born, pride restored, and a country no longer in the grip of terror. Welcome to the Gambia, a nation on the cusp of profound political changes. Galvanized by the promise of a new dawn, Gambians are again experiencing one of the most electrifying electoral seasons of the past fifty years. After decades of state expropriation of citizens’ freedoms and liberties, this political season is not unlike the archetypal political sentiments, which pervaded the infectious independence era rupture, marking the end of colonial rule. In political terms, the last half of 2015, and the first eight months of 2016, offer an earth-shaking glimpse into the Gambia’s slowly changing political paradigm. The 2015 demonstrations for electoral reform, which claimed the lives of UDP stalwarts, and the illegal incarceration of party leader, Hon Ousainou Darboe, and fifty senior party officials, launched the new revival of the long vanished political traditions of a nation in crisis. The promise of citizens’ constitutional and inalienable rights to freely express themselves, voice grievances, and make their own choices, absent the coercion and intimidation by the state machinery; alkalos, chiefs, commissioners, NIA, police, military and renegade civilian and the murderous paramilitary outfits, the jugglers, is lifting the political torment off the backs of the Gambia’s once vibrant population. It’s a truly remarkable tour de force, and stinging statement of public scorn, amidst the blundering banality of the state’s fatal failure of leadership. But first, it’s the infusion of courage that transcends every narrow cultural and political boundary, and challenges the norms imposed by the dying regime, which has refined, rather than obliterate the morally degenerating cultural schism that permeates every sector of Gambian society. This is a period of opportunity that offers a sharp contrast to the past systemic deference to a regime uninhibited by moral and ethical propriety, from imposition of brutal authority in the perpetual pursuance of an unfree and unjust society. But, an emerging new political paradigm unequivocally demonstrates the fading away into irrelevance and oblivion, of the old political establishment, for shrinking their primary task of defending citizens from the draconian rule of a madman.
The recent, but unpredictable domination of the political space, so rapidly, is an indictment of the old order, and exemplifies the ravenous craving for political change, which the new sheriffs in town, Mama Kandeh, Dr Isatou Touray and Amadou Barrow symbolize in their sudden rise from political nihilism into the publics’ sensibilities. The historic significance of these unfolding political events is symptomatic of both the rousing public support that recognizes the urgency of political change, but also the historic propensity of Gambians to trample upon and obliterate a string of successive iron-clad opportunities for change. This is not lost on the broader voting population. And now, the wildly popular GDC party, which took Gambia by storm, is predisposed to the unflattering criticism by a sub-segment of diaspora activists for having worked with Yahya Jammeh, or who have an agenda that has nothing, whatsoever, to do with party leader, Mama Kandeh’s political qualifications or lack thereof. In the same vein, UDP’s nomination of a presidential candidate has confirmed the party’s predictive flat-lining arising from the obscuring shadow cast by party leader Ousainou Darboe’s absence, compounded by the mellow demeanor of party leader Amadou Barrow. The independent candidate Dr Isatou Touray excites a section of the diaspora activists, even as traditional and religious opponents challenge the new social norms that give license for female candidates to indulge in every sphere of public life. As the weeks unfold, the antipathy towards Dr Touray’s presidential aspirations will be tested by her superior academic standing and expansive work exposure, but her ability to overcome this antediluvian resistance is predicated on her preponderant strength, which paradoxically is also her controlling weakness; her gender. The primitive closemindedness of religion is still a major barrier to gender equity in Gambia, a western concept, which is at variance with the local social norms of primarily Islamic nation, and whether other antithetical counter-forces can mitigate the binary spectacle of myopic cultural norms and less than gratifying religious hyperbole, remains to be seen. But, if there are three things on which there is consensus; it is the festering toxicity of the Gambia’s polarized political system, perennial inability to subvert narrow party interest for the public good, and inveterate paralysis of the diaspora to influence political events at home.
The malleability of citizens, exploited by the regime, exists in tandem with the contradictions of citizens’ quintessential political resilience, which Gambians now express in political rallies, unhindered by fear and unafraid to exercise their rights as free people. And in spite of the ideological rigidity of the religious indoctrinaires challenging Dr. Touray, and the searing animus underpinning the scathing invectives against Mama Kandeh, neither will budge from the political limelight, even with the steep opposition by sanctimonious religious zealots and familiar ethnic biases. Beyond that, it is stating the obvious that Yahya Jammeh’s caricature also validates the reality of his self-serving political bigotry, for which he often launches gratuitous attacks designed to malign his opponents; real or imagined. But the underwhelming and simplistic bluster; the centerpieces of Yahya Jammeh’s grim reign, no longer have the terrorizing effect they once did, in past election cycles. Paradoxically, as the battle-lines are drawn by surrogates of Mama Kandeh and Dr Isatou Touray, on the other side of the political continuum, the proponents of coalition still seek to build bridges, as the last best hope for political change. But, the key to the momentum of turning aspiration into real change lies in the hands of a newly empowered population and Yahya Jammeh’s capricious slippage from ignorance to crippling madness, will no longer deter the march towards a new political dawn. As citizens’ determined to cast aside the amour of self-preservation for the pride of liberty, what seems so overwhelming, is the pragmatic shift from the convenience of ephemeral refuge from state terror, to the reverence of personal dignity. It is a well-established fact that Yahya Jammeh is not adverse to resorting to riveting cruelty, all because Gambians long ago surrendered to the impolite ramblings of his small-mindedness, creating a flashpoint in the midst of West Africa, which turned Africa’s most stable democracy into a pariah state. This year, democratization of electoral politics has come to the Gambia, and the need to demonstrate religious fidelity to the political process is a patriotic calling. For this year, like previous election cycles, Gambia’s overarching task remains the creation of enduring political unity among parties, and not unlike past elections, the challenge is to change Gambia’s pathetic political circumstances. It is a national duty; a collective responsibility, but first Gambians must overcome the boondoggle that threatens to tear apart the cause of liberty, even before electioneering takes off in earnest. Again, this year, the patriotic task before every Gambian is too sacred to squander on petty quibbles and nonsensical political melodramas.
By Mathew K Jallow
Even the dead will have no rest. And the living, distraught and in disbelief, are stunned by threats of the improbable becoming the likely. It is easy to script a parody of Yahya Jammeh, based on his tragic history, and digging up the graveyard bones of the long ago dead, as spooky as it sounds, would be an ideal starting place. Notwithstanding his legendary perfidiousness, Yahya Jammeh imagines himself as an icon of African liberation, but what he is, is more like the definition of confusion of historical characters, some good, and most not so; Rasputin, Idi Amin Dada, François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, Jean Bedel Bukassa, Sekou Toure. Lacking a sense of limit to his authority, Yahya Jammeh, last week, brazenly triggered a proverbial stand-off with the Gambia’s Christian community over the three hundred years old designated cemetery. This stalemate mirrors the ugly vindictiveness of a tyrant who is subscribed to the idea of total subjugation of Gambian society. Already, Gambia’s Muslim leaders have, over the years, cynically allowed Yahya Jammeh to chip away at their rights of worship, to a point of decreeing how they practice their Islamic faith, but the Christian community, unlike their Muslim counterparts, is unlikely to just roll over and tolerate intrusion into the practice of their religion, and the hijacking of their faith. Yahya Jammeh’s recent efforts to test the resolve of the Christian community is a familiar pattern that, over two decades, permitted him the pleasure of gradually seizing on citizens’ perceived weaknesses, exploit their fears, in his perennial quest to leave his stamp on every aspect of Gambian life. This has resulted in the alarming integration of the military regime and Islam as an institution, altered the constitutional secularity of the state, and evolved a mutual relationship that is purely political in nature. Islam in the Gambia has effectively been turned into an accessory of the state, with Muslim leaders assuming, willingly or forcibly, preeminent roles in the harmful subjugation of citizens, and psychological wrecking of the collective Gambian psyche. Evidently, Yahya Jammeh has taken his control of the institution of Islam in the Gambia to the extreme, very often obliging Muslim clerics to participate in his ritual idol worship, to the chagrin of young Muslim scholars.
The heads of Islam in the Gambia; Imam Ratib, Cherno Kah, of Banjul Mosque, and Chairman of the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council, Imam Momodou Lamin Touray, Gunjur, have morphed into cheerleaders for Yahya Jammeh, and appendages of the regime, having long ago succumbed to coercion into silence, and detachment from the state sanctioned crimes against the Gambian people. Until recently, Christianity as an institution has been the Holy Grail of Gambia’s rabid politics of divisions, but the recent burial of eminent dissident radio journalist, George Christiansen, at the Banjul cemetery, has again awoken the evil in Yahya Jammeh and triggered his challenge of one of the oldest and most powerful institutions in Gambia; the Church. George Christiansen’s burial, which Yahya Jammeh is deceptively using to exert influence and hold on power over the Christian community, was preceded by similar denial of the burial on Gambian soil, of three distinguished dissidents; Buba Baldeh, Phoday Makalo and Kukoi Samba Sanyang. But, Yahya Jammeh’s mutation from ignorance to insanity will not exculpate him from his heinous crimes, and his newly hatched devious plan to flex a degree of muscular control over Christians’ practice of their faith, exemplifies the pure gruesome Machiavellian ruthlessness with which he has sunk Gambia into the depths of social, political and economic devastation. To most Africans in the diaspora, the story of Yahya Jammeh seems like fiction novel, and harder yet for other Africans to understand, is why Gambians have permitted Yahya Jammeh to stay this long in power, under conditions of extreme suffering of Gambian citizens, and his cannibalization of Gambian politics. In the developing rumpus between Yahya Jammeh and the Gambia’s Christian community, many powerful Muslim voices have offered their unwavering support for the idea of secularization of the Gambia’s political system, and non-interference in religious affairs. And, not unlike exiled Imams Baba Leigh and Ba Kawsu Fofana, who returned to Gambia, Christianity is not without its champions for secular Gambia; the Rev. Fathers, Edward Gomez and Peter S Lopez. Their sermon is unambiguous; “diminishing the rights of any citizen, diminishes the rights all citizens.” This realism is firmly etched in universal truth.
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.