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.