By Mathew K Jallow
After more than twenty years of tyranny, the single consequential blow-back on the Gambia’s murderous regime, under Yahya Jammeh, was the regional body; ECOWAS’s rejection of an observer status to the Gambia’s predetermined presidential elections. That was back in 2011. The Hon. James Victor Gbeho, then President of ECOWAS, personified the kind of moral rectitude desperately lacking among Africa’s institution leaders. In that instance, Mr Gbeho became the instant hero in the Gambia’s relentless search for political liberty. For a people sold to the idea of an African Union hopelessly wedded to the irrational impulses of indifference and moral myopia, Mr Gbeho embodied sagacity and fortitude, and in the process, conferred on the Gambian people, a break from the all-consuming pathology of despair and helplessness. As the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights again convenes yet another meeting in the Gambia, the human rights body’s insensitivity to Gambia’s relentless search for freedom, is pretty much established. If Gambians are baffled by the ACHPR’s frequent congregation in the Gambia, it is because the organization’s paradoxical relationship with the Gambian military regime borders on the absurd. The blight of moral courage that the ACHPR exhibited, since Gambia strayed into dark depths of military rule, has direct correlation to Yahya Jammeh’s effortless ability to bolster the crippling image of his undeniably internecine regime. The rationale and justification for the ACHPR’s continued presence in the Gambia, as Africa’s premiere human rights body, contradicts the spirit of the AU Human Rights Charter, but equally importantly, it manifests the recklessness of the ACHPR’s cover for a regime which, over the years, willfully perverted the ECOWAS, AU and UN protocols, to which Gambia is a signatory. As the flagship of the AU’s human rights promotion across the continent, the reason for the ACHPR’s domicile in the Gambia, has been overtaken by adverse political circumstances and turned into a spectacle that demonstrates a moral aberration unworthy of an organization with such laudatory objectives.
If the AU and ACHPR institution leaders seem predisposed to hero-worshipping Africa’s political leaders, the grounds for establishing the ACHPR as custodian of the human rights in Africa, will be called into question. The silent majority, the bedrock of African society, from the coast of the rippling, blue Atlantic, to the tsunami prone Indian Ocean, and from the shark infested waters of South Africa, to the unforgiving dune of the Sahara, have, for decades, lamented the cluelessness of their political leaders. In Gambia, the adversarial nature of the relations between the governed and governing showcases a deep divide that has generated a dangerous political crisis, marked by Yahya Jammeh’s appropriation of total power, and assumption of imperial authority, in complete disregard for the Gambia’s republican constitution. And over the past two decades, the ACHPR’s lack of empathy has robbed Gambians the wrong way, and caused lingering disinterest in the organization’s irreverent activities, even with its headquarters in Banjul. The failure of the AU to enforce human rights for Africa’s political dissident and desperate poor, reinforces a perception of the institution and its ancillary bodies, as charades undeserving of the task of overseeing the preservation of human rights across the continent. The AU’s inability, perhaps even lethargy, in discerning between the self-interest of Africa’s political leaders, and the marginalized African majority, has never been as evident and as deeply worrisome. The AU’s embarrassing failure in the Gambia’s ongoing political quagmire, for instance, is only a microcosm of its broader moral bankruptcy. In so many ways, the AU’s detachment from critical national issues, and its low standards of diligence, may have prompted the emergence of civil unrests across West Africa, Central Africa, and the economic looting in Angola, Equatorial Guinea, and elsewhere. The corruption, human rights violations and massive economic pillage, on one hand, and the abject poverty of the African people, on the other, are in constant conflict, and this tension has caused so many African countries to slide into constant threats of civil unrest. This friction is the hallmark of the toxic political situation in Gambia, where the smoldering bitterness over the sustained state-sanctioned killings, executions, mass incarceration, tribal bigotry, among so many other extreme infractions, combine to make the Gambia one of Africa’s premiere human rights violators. Even as these crimes happen in the Gambia, under the nose of the ACHPR, the human rights organization’s deafening silence is at once both incomprehensible and an unforgivable dereliction of responsibilities.
Furthermore, the legendary ad hominem attacks on the Gambia’s dissidents in the US, UK, Germany and Scandanavia, where 70% the country’s university graduates and professionals live and work, have further stained Yahya Jammeh character and diminished the Gambia into a pariah nation. Apart from his murderous sprees, Yahya Jammeh tribal cleansing of the civil service, and unapologetic tribal divisions, are more likely than not, to cause the two decades of simmering resentment to manifest itself in a bitter political and cultural realignment, after Yahya Jammeh’s regime fades into oblivion. The inability of the AU and the ACHPR to enforce political sanity and adherence to a human rights agenda in dictatorial regimes, goes far beyond the borders of the Gambia. The drowning of young, able-bodied African immigrants desperately seeking escape from the dearth of opportunities, grueling poverty and political tyranny, and their willful rape, murder, torture, and enslavement in countries, from Mauritania, across North Africa and throughout the Middle East, has shed some light on the AU’s criminal indifference to the welfare of Africa’s long suffering people. The failure of the AU, its ancillary bodies, and organizations such as ECOWAS, with tangential relations to the work of the AU, is rooted in the new African individualism, which has given rise to the political chaos and economic cannibalism that continues to tear Africa apart. The lack of patriotism and sense of African nationalism among Africans, as opposed to the greed and individualism of its people, is at the heart of so many of the continent’s political and economic grievances. Yet, even as a few African political leaders attempt to change the social compact and political paradigm, for the good, so many more, as in the Gambia’s case, continue to languish in the pit of despair, even with the ACHPR headquartered in Gambia. The ACHPR’s response to the murders, executions, mass incarceration, and tribalism in the Gambia, are the endless meetings, which yield only anemic reactions and soaring rhetoric memorialized in resolutions that no one cares about. Unless the ACHPR ignites a sense of fidelity to justice, a country like Gambia, where the organization is based, will most likely lurch towards civil unrest, all because there was no one to put Yahya Jammeh in check, as he murdered, pillaged the economy and divided the Gambian people along tribal lines.