By Mathew K Jallow
Last week, two different reports focused on separate aspects of the Gambia’s political quandary, yet the reports are similar in a major way. Human Rights Watch’s blistering criticism of the two decades of political tyranny and administrative mayhem, and the Standard Newspaper’s shocking revelations of the mind-boggling state of mental health in the Gambia, encapsulate the tragic human devastation in a country that continues to veer dangerously towards utter instability and self-destruction. But the Gambian regime’s denials of brutal human rights abuses, repeated with amazing frequency by Yahya Jammeh’s lapdogs, has not hindered international institutions from delving deeper into the reign of terror that continues to scream loudly for regional and international attention. In addition, the Standard Newspaper report on a critical health issue that has evaded media and public scrutiny for so long, adds a significant new dimension to the core issues confronting the Gambia. The public executions, killings, tortures, forced disappearances, mass incarcerations, and arbitrary arrests and detention, which haunt a traumatized population, combine to make the Gambia a living hell; a place where citizens, vulnerable to severe social, political stress and psychological violence, have become easy victims to the ravages of mental illness. The Standard report of 91,000 mentally ill citizens roaming the streets and alleyways of Greater Banjul, apart from being an alarmingly high number, shift blame for the agonizing human tragedy to the monumental dehumanization of citizens by a regime steeped in Machiavellian ruthlessness, and numb to the social, political and mental catastrophe it has created. Put together, Human Rights Watch and the Standard Newspaper reports confirm the online media characterization of Gambia as a massive gulag prison camp; not unlike North Korea, but the reports also provide a palpable sense of how two decades of political repression and hopelessness underlie the severe mental health crisis in the Gambia. The loss of human capital to state-sanctioned killings and mental illness, are a withering indictment of the regime, besides, providing adequate housing and mental health services to such a large population of mentally ill citizens, in a country with an acute lack of mental health infrastructure, and financial and professional resources, is exceedingly difficult, if not, downright impossible.
In its damning country report, Human Rights Watch may not have made any new revelations that have not already been addressed by the Gambia’s unyielding online dissident media, and other human rights institutions sympathetic to the dissident movement’s cause over the Gambia’s political debacle, but by adding voice to the ceaseless political disaster, Human Rights Watch will help further raise the profile of the Gambia as a bastion of riveting human rights abuses. If the regional body, ECOWAS, or the continental organization, the African Union, had done half as much as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Media Foundation for West Africa, among many others, to address the festering human tragedy in the Gambia, it could have made a tremendous difference in seizing power from the end of the barrel of a gun, and restoring it to a traumatized citizenry. To the vast majority of Gambians, the Human Rights Watch report was the rave of the week, but Gambians are mindful of the arduous diplomatic offensive launched by quacks trying desperately to misinform the public and sway international institutions that have taken bold, unbending positions on the Gambia’s human rights catastrophe. But a recent case that is so baffling as to be incomprehensible, an email addressed to Omar Faye, in Washington, DC, sought to clarify HRW’s position on the issue of withholding of funds from the Gambian regime. Clearly, withholding funding and the imposition of a travel ban on Yahya Jammeh and his cabal of sanguinary hoodlums, is an objective of the Gambia’s dissident movement, and supported by many rights organizations. Consequently, Corinne Dufka, HRW Associate Director for West Africa’s email to Omar Faye, is unprecedented in the sense that it tries to explain and placate the fears and apprehensions of regime officials, who are complicit, by proxy, in the regime’s crimes against its citizens. Human Rights Watch must not be seen as playing footsie with such a national tragedy, and the Gambian dissident movement and many rights organizations unequivocally support the demands to withhold western funding to the Gambia’s murderous regime, in addition to imposing travel bans on regime officials. This is both a necessary and imperative punitive measure against a regime that continues to defy the international community. As it is, a small cabal of dissident turncoats, whose judgement is clouded by self-interest and self-preservation, and who also have a propensity to deny reality, recently launched a sustained campaign to counteract the dissident activities, in a massive Soviet-style misinformation and indoctrination campaign, generously funded by the Gambian regime.
The futile attempts to conceal the atrocities in the Gambia, include, first and foremost, the use of financial and material bribery, which defectors in the Diaspora and supporters of the regime are generously rewarded with, in the enduring effort to buy silence and indifference to the Gambia’s political tragedy. The HRW’s 81-page, jaw-dropping report, catalogs, in detail, the level and the extent of human rights violations in the Gambia, but as comprehensive as the report is, the specifics of the gruesome and deadly human rights abuses across the country, largely remain swathed in mystery. A universally known fact about the horrifying rights abuses in the Gambia, however, is that tortures, forced disappearances, executions, killings, terror and mass incarceration, pale in comparison to what is unknown to Gambians and the rest of the world; particularly, human and child sacrifices, female body mutilation, and feeding human corpses to Yahya Jammeh’s crocodiles and other animal collection in his private zoo. And as incredible as it might seem, all these acts of crime are part of an elaborate human sacrifice ritual said to have the powers to prolong Yahya Jammeh’s hold on power, despite the pervasive public clamor for regime change. The human sacrifice rituals are part of a shamanism belief system, so primitive and unthinkable, that the Gambian online dissident media is still reticent to cover and put emphasis on the issue, for fear of looking ridiculous before an international audience often very skeptical of the fantastic, but true claims rooted in primitive African cultures and traditions. But the human sacrifice rituals conducted by Yahya Jammeh, are real, and individuals, institutions, governments, western media and tourists, who continue to support the Gambia’s return to civilian rule, should believe in the veracity of stories about Gambians’ human sacrifice rituals, as a verifiable fact. But more, Gambian defectors in Senegal, US and across Europe, some of who participated in some horrendous acts of violence against citizens, are available for interviews and to confirm Gambian media allegations of Yahya Jammeh’s human sacrifice practices as the primary motivation for the state-sanctioned killings and executions of innocent citizens. And apart from that, the Standard Newspaper report shows how two decades of systemic oppression in Gambia have saddled the country with a staggering mental health crisis. Clearly, the AU and ECOWAS’s apparent negligence of the human rights crisis in Gambia, for so long, borders on detachment from reality. But, now that Human Rights Watch has added its voice to Gambia’s imperious military misrule, hopefully, ECOWAS and the AU will begin to pressure the regime to restore the two-term limits it illegally struck out of the Gambian Constitution, and further, to step aside to allow transition to civilian rule as the guarantee to peaceful political change. For one person to remain in power for twenty-one years, is ridiculous; and to ignore the executions, murders, disappearances and the mass incarceration of innocent citizens, is absolutely insane. And, in light of the fact that legal and constitutional political change is totally impossible, ECOWAS and the AU have an obligation to intercede on behalf of Gambian population. Clearly, twenty-one years of one man rule is crazy to even think about. Yahya Jammeh must GO, now.