By Mathew K Jallow
Since 2000, elections in the Gambia have been a recurrent exercise in futility and deception, with grave, real life consequences for the Gambian people. The last four elections cycles, and the efforts to present a united opposition character, have routinely been marred by Faustian duplicity; completely disregarding the Gambia’s monumental political and economic failures. Among Gambia’s opposition leaders, are those constrained by paradoxical relations with Yahya Jammeh, which has crippled all efforts for his removal through the democratic electoral process. But, inconspicuous tinges of tribalism and hunger for political power, also subscribe to the broader opposition failure to coalesce around the national exigency for political change, and Yahya Jammeh’s ultimate removal. Faced with these daunting challenges, what seems most remarkable is the opposition’s selective amnesia, for its surprising incapacity to recognize the degree to which its combined popular support has gradually atrophied, over the last four election cycles. If the results of the last several election cycles are to be believed, there has been a significant loss of opposition support since the UDP’s Ousaunou Darboe, representing UDP, PPP and GPP, in the 1996 elections, almost carved out a surprising victory over Yahya Jammeh’s AFPRC military party, carrying 32.59% chunk of the popular vote, to Yahya Jammeh’s 38.64%. But, given Yahya Jammeh’s gradual usurpation of power, those memorable elections are now beside the point. And in the ebb and flow of contemporary Gambian politics, the one constant still remains the degree to which Yahya Jammeh has taken possession and ownership of the Gambia’s political system, even as the political opposition, judiciary, National Assembly, and the military, have criminally failed to protect the sanctity and supremacy of the constitution, ceding power, instead, to Yahya Jammeh, to make laws, disregard the constitution, and defy laws that stand in the way of his exercising absolute authority. It is mind-numbing how, despite Gambia’s adverse political environment, the main branches of our government have consistently failed to exhibit a sense of urgency; hamstrung by fear and surrender to own egos, or straightjacketed by inflexible party loyalties. But, what makes Gambia’s situation that more puzzling is the fascinating dichotomy between the opposition’s change rhetoric and its electoral validation of Gambia’s political abomination, Yahya Jammeh.
After repeated blundering in every presidential election cycle, over a sixteen years period, it is apparent that Gambia’s opposition is lagging far behind the emerging political paradigm; allowing itself the safer luxury of self-constraining politics of fear. The depth, to which the Gambia has sunken politically, is as much the opposition’s fault as it is to the nation’s judiciary; an institution steeped in unimaginable corruption and absolute incompetence, as well as the totally ignorant National Assembly, whose unwavering loyalty to their demigod, Yahya Jammeh, is an uncharacteristic anomaly that only fiction novelist J K Rowling can capture with any degree of accuracy. Unlike the Gambia, a country still stuck in the moribund politics of the 1970s, the rest of the African continent is making significant strides in their bold march into the global arena of changing political perspectives. In South Africa, right now, the deafening calls for that country’s walking billboard of indignity, corruption and incompetence, President Jacob Zuma, to resign, have grown louder and shriller as serial revelations of his ties to the bloodsucking Gupta family, and his criminal abuse of power, continue to rock the country and blunt South Africa’s international standing; apart from further sinking Africa’s image as the hotbed of corruption and incompetence. And in Cameroon, last week, the opposition leader, John Fru Ndi, threatened mass protestations in the face of dirt-bag Paul Biya’s unwillingness to cede power, even after 34 years in office. These startling scenes of political defiance are new to Africa, and unlike previous years, African citizens are using every constitutional means to force political change, and to oblige perpetual political leaders to relinquish power to the people. But, Africa’s political character also proudly showcases positive signs of remarkable fortitude and enviable moral superiority. In Senegal, President Macky Sall, through national referendum, has effectively reduced his term in office by four years, following Constitutional amendments designed to contract the presidential term-limits from seven to five years. As if not to be outdone, Benin’s newly elected dynamic President, Patrice Talon, also seeks to limit his country’s presidential term to five years, from its current ten years. These shifting sands of global politics that are slowly engulfing the African continent, also threatens to leave the Gambia far behind, in the dustbin of history.
Almost twenty-one years since Gambians were rattled by the assassination of civilian Finance Minister, Koro Ceesay; the November 1994 executions of ten military officers, and the massacre of twenty high school students, the terror of those moments still inhibit the Gambian people from exercising their constitutional rights. Even political campaigns are conducted with lethargic simplicity, borne of a terrifying aversion to antagonizing Yahya Jammeh’s military regime. With the objective of self-preservation and insulating oneself from Yahya Jammeh’s wrath, every Gambian has stooped low in order not to provoke knee-jerk retribution from a person who has reached the apex of absolute power in Gambia. In order to make a clean break from this psychologically deleterious fear of Yahya Jammeh, the Gambian people, led by the politicians and National Assembly members, must resolve to fear Allah or God, more than they fear Yahya Jammeh. Presently, over the past weeks, Yahya Jammeh’s adversarial politics have been in full display, as the Senegalese-Gambian border remains closed, once again, due to Yahya Jammeh’s persistent meddling in the economic activity and the free movement of people and goods between Senegal and the Gambia. In previous years, Yahya Jammeh habitually exploited the weakness of the senile octogenarian, ex-Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wada, but it now apparent that President Macky Sall has a short fuse for Yahya Jammeh’s insanity and violent politics of coercion. And as the border closure squeeze begins to spawn signs of mass popular discontent, Yahya Jammeh, now out of solutions, is resorting to unconventional means; organizing the Senegalese people of the Casamance province against their own government, for something Yahya Jammeh himself has created. The endless border closures, due to Yahya Jammeh’s meddling in Senegal’s economic activity, have become very banal, yet their grim consequences for Gambians have never aroused political revulsion in Gambian politics; thus illustrating the scope of control Yahya Jammeh has over the minds of Gambians. The murders, executions, torture and mass incarceration, in the Gambia, since 1994, long ago disqualified Yahya Jammeh from ever holding public office, and this year the opposition has a unique opportunity to let Gambians know this. And as Yahya Jammeh’s political nihilism continues to challenge established order, this year, Gambians are presented an opportunity to end Yahya Jammeh’s malignant shenanigans.