By Mathew K Jallow
Even the dead will have no rest. And the living, distraught and in disbelief, are stunned by threats of the improbable becoming the likely. It is easy to script a parody of Yahya Jammeh, based on his tragic history, and digging up the graveyard bones of the long ago dead, as spooky as it sounds, would be an ideal starting place. Notwithstanding his legendary perfidiousness, Yahya Jammeh imagines himself as an icon of African liberation, but what he is, is more like the definition of confusion of historical characters, some good, and most not so; Rasputin, Idi Amin Dada, François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture, Jean Bedel Bukassa, Sekou Toure. Lacking a sense of limit to his authority, Yahya Jammeh, last week, brazenly triggered a proverbial stand-off with the Gambia’s Christian community over the three hundred years old designated cemetery. This stalemate mirrors the ugly vindictiveness of a tyrant who is subscribed to the idea of total subjugation of Gambian society. Already, Gambia’s Muslim leaders have, over the years, cynically allowed Yahya Jammeh to chip away at their rights of worship, to a point of decreeing how they practice their Islamic faith, but the Christian community, unlike their Muslim counterparts, is unlikely to just roll over and tolerate intrusion into the practice of their religion, and the hijacking of their faith. Yahya Jammeh’s recent efforts to test the resolve of the Christian community is a familiar pattern that, over two decades, permitted him the pleasure of gradually seizing on citizens’ perceived weaknesses, exploit their fears, in his perennial quest to leave his stamp on every aspect of Gambian life. This has resulted in the alarming integration of the military regime and Islam as an institution, altered the constitutional secularity of the state, and evolved a mutual relationship that is purely political in nature. Islam in the Gambia has effectively been turned into an accessory of the state, with Muslim leaders assuming, willingly or forcibly, preeminent roles in the harmful subjugation of citizens, and psychological wrecking of the collective Gambian psyche. Evidently, Yahya Jammeh has taken his control of the institution of Islam in the Gambia to the extreme, very often obliging Muslim clerics to participate in his ritual idol worship, to the chagrin of young Muslim scholars.
The heads of Islam in the Gambia; Imam Ratib, Cherno Kah, of Banjul Mosque, and Chairman of the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council, Imam Momodou Lamin Touray, Gunjur, have morphed into cheerleaders for Yahya Jammeh, and appendages of the regime, having long ago succumbed to coercion into silence, and detachment from the state sanctioned crimes against the Gambian people. Until recently, Christianity as an institution has been the Holy Grail of Gambia’s rabid politics of divisions, but the recent burial of eminent dissident radio journalist, George Christiansen, at the Banjul cemetery, has again awoken the evil in Yahya Jammeh and triggered his challenge of one of the oldest and most powerful institutions in Gambia; the Church. George Christiansen’s burial, which Yahya Jammeh is deceptively using to exert influence and hold on power over the Christian community, was preceded by similar denial of the burial on Gambian soil, of three distinguished dissidents; Buba Baldeh, Phoday Makalo and Kukoi Samba Sanyang. But, Yahya Jammeh’s mutation from ignorance to insanity will not exculpate him from his heinous crimes, and his newly hatched devious plan to flex a degree of muscular control over Christians’ practice of their faith, exemplifies the pure gruesome Machiavellian ruthlessness with which he has sunk Gambia into the depths of social, political and economic devastation. To most Africans in the diaspora, the story of Yahya Jammeh seems like fiction novel, and harder yet for other Africans to understand, is why Gambians have permitted Yahya Jammeh to stay this long in power, under conditions of extreme suffering of Gambian citizens, and his cannibalization of Gambian politics. In the developing rumpus between Yahya Jammeh and the Gambia’s Christian community, many powerful Muslim voices have offered their unwavering support for the idea of secularization of the Gambia’s political system, and non-interference in religious affairs. And, not unlike exiled Imams Baba Leigh and Ba Kawsu Fofana, who returned to Gambia, Christianity is not without its champions for secular Gambia; the Rev. Fathers, Edward Gomez and Peter S Lopez. Their sermon is unambiguous; “diminishing the rights of any citizen, diminishes the rights all citizens.” This realism is firmly etched in universal truth.