By Mathew K Jallow

It is one more addition to the venality of the demonic regime; an old story observed and reviewed through new moral lenses. And it is the scathing criticism of a military regime whose catastrophic reign of terror is reassessed through the prism of ethics and morality. The conversations, last week, centering on Yahya Jammeh’s abuse of Gambian girls, and the elevation of this long-running debauchery to a higher level of national conversation, is, again shining new light on an age-old moral dilemma. The sexual exploitation of Gambian girls, by the system, which runs the gambit; from Yahya Jammeh, the notorious NIA, and the rank and file of the military and security forces, is unprecedented in scope, gravity and pervasiveness. This new, still unfolding story is more than just the customary wool-pulling over innocent girls’ eyes; it is the sexual exploitation of poverty; above all, it is the criminal abuse of power by a regime uninhibited, either by moral introspection or by the laws of the land. And beyond the sexual exploitation itself, this practice diminishes girls’ self-esteem, and increases their likelihood of succumbing to state control of their lives. For a regime that cynically lacks the capacity to function as the people’s institution, nothing is scarier than the inability to anticipate the social and economic ramifications of the state’s prostitution of girls,’ and more broadly, its effect on Gambian society in years to come. On the surface, it appears as benign sexual gratification of some regime officials, but the silent streets of Greater Banjul tell a far different story; a story that poignantly illustrates the dark side of this moral decadence. Evidence of unwed mothers and public prostitution in the Gambia are visible everywhere one looks, and the consequences of the lawlessness and state exploitation of innocent girls, will soon begin to manifest in many catastrophic ways. Recently,  the sexual abuse of girls began to take on a new turn, with the media’s renewed focus on both the gravity of the abuses and the continued hiring of innocent girls for the purposes of their sexual exploitation. The media’s accentuation on the humiliating stories of sexual exploitation, as told by girls who have escaped Gambia’s state-sanctioned sexual violence, confirm the willingness of victims to share their harrowing experiences, and the obligations to tell the world about the shocking sexual slavery masterminded by Yahya Jammeh and senior members of his regime.

The recent media revelation of the regime’s lewdness, has precedence dating back to the coup in 1994. In short, it all began when Yahya Jammeh started his endless celebrations of himself, in his native Kanilai village, at which open invitations were extended to the public. It did not take long before Kanilai village became synonymous with the massive state commissioned sexual orgies. And due to the frequency of the Kanilai events, they soon evolved into jamborees designed mainly as escapades to satisfy the sexual appetites of Yahya Jammeh, the cabal in power, as well as the compliant military and security forces. Later, the regime began inviting guests from as far as Guinea-Bissau and Senegal, and offered them sexual favors with Gambian women and innocent girls. This is still happening on a scale unheard of anywhere on the African continent. While the sexual jamborees lasted, the sacred institution of marriage. in parts of the Western Division region and the Greater Banjul area, went out the window, resulting in broken marriages, and all the attendant challenges innocent children are forced to face.  The recurrent Kanilai sexual festivities have set a standard of diabolical indecency that Gambians are all too familiar with; a situation the country will grapple with for years. The possibly criminal, but certainly immoral, sexual enslavement and abuse of women and girls in Gambia, is an affirmation of declining moral values, and runs parallel to the general insensitivity to the murders, disappearances, tortures, the  arrests and detention and other crimes. It exposes the lack of the principles that is wrecking havoc on Gambian society, by a regime that adheres to low standards of morality that will make even the devil green with envy. And not unlike the often fraudulent, but always forced acquisition of properties of Gambian families in economic distress, the child and human sacrifices, the killings, forced disappearances, the mass incarceration, the arrests and tortures, the executions, hirings and firings, and the Jolanization of the political and administrative process, the institutionalization of prostitution, by the state, had a slow start, but has since developed into a national embarrassment. Today, prostitution is the primary commodity in, and attraction to Kanilai village, and the only people unaware of its existence on such a massive scale, are the unsuspecting tourists drawn there by sheer curiosity. Over a decade ago, Yahya Jammeh threatened “to deal” with civil servants who refused to permit their wives to travel and participate in the weekly Kanilai sexual orgies hosted by Yahya Jammeh. Thus, now,  embedding sexual abuse and legal prostitution within the regime’s politics and administration, is a fait acompli, even as Gambians articulate their disgust and opposition to this immoral practice.

The growing moral decadence in the Gambia, as a result of the sexual abuse of innocent girls and the diminution of their self-esteem, will have far-reaching consequences. Through it all, what seems apparent, is Yahya Jammeh’s sense of his imperviousness, as so often demonstrated by his frequent criminal and unconstitutional disregard of the law. And when, last week, the regime’s mouthpiece, The Daily Observr, stooped to a new low with publication of a legal deposition of Ms Fatu Camara, it pinned itself in a corner as a partisan hack, unworthy of the respect of a journalistic institution. The Daily Observer’s below the belt hit job on Mrs Camara, is indicative of a media institution devoid of plausible excuses; an apologist news outlet blinded by complete lack of objectivity to acknowledge Yahya Jammeh’s litany of crimes against the Gambian people. In addition, a contributor to The Daily Observer, on August 27th, launched a tirade of criticisms against the diaspora media for what he characterizes as lopsided criticisms of Yahya Jammeh and his regime. What the author of that piece did not say was that the vast majority of tragic news and events that happen in the Gambia, are never reported by the home media, out of fear of Yahya Jammeh. Cases in point are the over five hundred deaths in Mile Two Prison, the mass incarceration, the disappearances of Chief Ebrima Manneh and many others, the assassination of Deida Hydara, and the abuse of women and girls by Yahya Jammeh among hundreds of other stories. This is information Gambians need to know, and someone has to do that job. And if the media at home will not, the  diaspora media, will, regardless of how anyone feels about it.  As the face of the regime, The Daily Observer is left only with vengeance, retribution and slander of citizens, rather than facts, to prosecute the regime’s agenda, exculpate it, and shield it from the vigilant diaspora media. Allegations of sexual exploitation of girls by Yahya Jammeh is nothing new, but The Daily Observer never once got to the bottom of any of these charges. For years, Freedom Radio has been running shows with live interviews of girls narrating their terrifying ordeals as captive sex slaves of Yahya Jammeh. But the new sexual abuse stories from sidisannehblog, Faturadio and others, last week, and the failure of The Daily Observer to investigate these charges, are, for now, the least of Gambians worries. First, Yahya Jammeh’s grip on power needs to be dealt as an urgent matter. A weak political system and timid opposition have allowed this level of criminal political ineffectiveness to thrive. The diaspora has done everything in its power to help the political opposition to take back their power, but their collective lack of courage is an impediment to the political progress. Truly, the unflappable Senegalese opposition has a lot to teach the Gambian  politician opposition across the border.