By Mathew K Jallow
The Gambian military regime long ago concluded that spreading terror had the desirable effect of pacifying the population and neutralizing dissent, and has never looked back. What the regime never quite understood, however, is that even fear has a finite shelf life. And last week, when the long simmering frustrations collided with the broader community environmental and ecological interest, the characteristically quiet coastal village of Kartong lost its fear induced inhibitions, and erupted into surreal defiance of the tyrannical regime. The rebellious actions of the unflappable village youth suddenly turned the secluded community into the latest casualty of state underhandedness, but it may not be the last. At last count, thirty-three youth environmentalists from the sanguine village on the southern Senegalese border were under arrest, and reports of torture have since blanketed the online media. Not unlike many communities around the country, Yahya Jammeh’s usurpation of power and seizure of property has quite often incited crippling interfamily disputes that have escalated into dangerous power struggles in local communities touched by state heavy-handedness. Yahya Jammeh’s frequent meddling in the internal local politics has altered the balance of power in many communities.
The politically motivated dislocation of traditional authority has often ignored the local power structures, which in many communities, dates back to the founding of thuse communities. But, rifts have also developed into animosities between friends, families and neighbors, and degenerated into serious security risks. Only four years ago, less than eight miles south of Kartong, the coastal town of Gunjur, with a significant number of highly educated citizens, also suffered misfortune owing to Yahya Jammeh’s meddling in the internal affairs of their community. Without consultations with community leaders, he, unilaterally, first banned and then destroyed a decades old religious shrine, which was a source of foreign and regional tourist revenue, seized the property, and with sponsorship from Middle Eastern benefactors, began constructing a mosque, which Gunjur villagers never asked for. These two incidences of regime shadiness are not the exception; far from it. They are the rule. And understandably, many Gunjur religious leaders harbor visceral animus for the way in which Yahya Jammeh held up Friday prayers at the Gunjur mosque, beyond the time permitted, way back in 2011. That singular incident will go down in Gunjur history as Yahya Jammeh’s most arrogant demonstration of disrespect for their faith. More, Yahya Jammeh’s immersion in Gunjur politics also had quite a few twists an turns, but which, in the end were overshadowed by Yahya Jammeh’s motorcade tragically running over a child, in a classic human sacrificial ritual.
All across the country, Yahya Jammeh’s belligerence and undying need to control every aspect of Gambian life, left a bitter taste in communities around the nation struggling desperately to avoid state victimization as they shift through effective countermeasures that have the potential to hinder the greed that underpins Yahya Jammeh’s parochialism. Yahya Jammeh’s sickening unilateralism also has Africans and non-Africans alike, notably, Senegalese, questioning Gambians’ collective commitment to changing the arc of history in order to end the political nightmare, which poses an existential threat to both national and regional stability. The illegal arrest, detention and torture of so many young Kartong environmentalists has clearly opened a window of opportunity and created a precedence that will likely define the way Gambians relate to the dying regime. Without a doubt, the Kartong 33 have pioneered a movement, which, moving forward, should challenge the national conscience into reaffirming the reality of Yahya Jammeh’s dementia and willful ignorance. Kartong village long ago established its preeminence as a regional economic powerhouse, providing easy access to southern Senegal and Bissau, but also as a gateway for the free movement of people, to Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and beyond. To add accolade to its unique standing in Gambian economic and political life, Kartong has defined the ways in which Gambians must leverage their extraordinary political power in order to change the Gambia’s pathetic political circumstances.
The bone of contention surrounding the detention of so many Kartong natives centers on the disastrous exploitation of the community’s coveted beach sand, which Yahya Jammeh has exploited for years, with the help of foreign and local business interests. But, the environmental and ecological disaster that sand-mining is causing to the area, will have far reaching consequences in the communities surrounding Kartong and beyond. This inevitable ecological devastation may cause irreparable damage to the environment, degrade the quality of life in the surrounding communities, depress the tourist visits to the area, which are a source of village income, and suppress the fishing industry, with severe economic and health consequences. Besides, like Karang, Sare Ngai, Kerr Ayub, Nyamanari, Misera, and many other communities that dot the nearly thousand miles Senegalese border, Kartong village offers easier access to freedom from the Kanilai dingbat, whose stay in power continues to be source of profound frustration for Gambians. Kartong’s pristine coastline and wide expanses of sandy beach, are marketable delights; a local and foreign tourist nirvana, off the beaten path. Kartong’s Atlantic Ocean coastline is a national treasure worth fighting for, and in light of Kartong’s widely publicized environmental protestations, the ditz, whose embarrassing legacy of antidivulian idiosyncrasies are drowning the Gambia into a permanent state of misery and despair, may well have fostered the eruption of a national rebellion. For West Africa’s worst military regime, the writing is on the wall..