By Mathew K Jallow
The tripartite report implicitly exonerates protestations against the unbearable oppression, and, by extension, concedes the prevalence of politics burdened by the state’s crushing overreach, but fell far short of acknowledging the twenty-one years of violence, which underpins Gambian politics. The report is also a rehash of the African Union and ECOWAS old playbook; aligning with Yahya Jammeh and his cabal, rather than with the traumatized Gambian people. In general, the report is a calculated blunder for its absolute lack of a sense of urgency equivalent to the gravity of the Gambia’s ongoing political crisis. More noteworthy, it is carefully crafted in the customary civil diplomatic language, which is attuned to normal functioning governments; not a tyranny, which time and again, has ignored the AU and ECOWAS on key regional and continent-wide issues designed to harmonize policy. The tragic mistake regional and international institutions continue to make is confer the status of normal government on a regime whose reign, stylistically, harkens back to the mediaeval dynasties. There is historical precedence and anecdotal evidence, which suggests that Yahya Jammeh’s unflattering adversarial nature, predisposes his disregard of the joint report, if it fails the litmus test of serving his exclusive interest. After years of unchallenged tyranny, no one expects Yahya Jammeh to suddenly find religion. In a more direct way, Yahya Jammeh has made his intentions of ruling the Gambia for one million years crystal clear, but this arrogant proclamation has only further entrenched the hostility of a people desperate for political change.
But equally fascinating, is the way the report veers away from the critical issues of the day; the detention and tragic torture, rape and murder of opposition protesters. This deliberate omission further speaks to the lack of moral courage in addressing the issues, which challenge the most vicious regime in the ECOWAS region. And as long as Yahya Jammeh is incapable of seeing politics outside the prism of his self-interest, some individuals and regional and continent-wide institutions that lack moral fortitude will always continue to defer to him, despite the reign of terror that has existed in the Gambia for the past two decades. It takes little effort to stir Yahya Jammeh’s passion for reptilian urge, and his retribution is often fatal, apart from being characteristically un-Gambian. This rage came into sharp focus two weeks ago when legitimate protesters were confronted with merciless brutality, in total disregard of the law. This reaction was not entirely unexpected; what was unexpected was the way other opposition leaders reacted. The absence of a strong show of solidarity with Ousainou Darboe and other UDP victims of Yahya Jammeh’s sadistic political culture, is inexcusable and frightening. The UDP tiff with Yahya Jammeh is more than the usual party politics; it has taken on a national dimension, and, therefore, requires collective national reaction. Numerous opportunities to boldly confront Yahya Jammeh and demand his exit from power have come and gone without Gambians lifting a finger in anger over the deaths of one innocent citizen after another. This is a national embarrassment.
Throughout the years, opposition leaders have shown a shocking level of unwillingness to discharge their duties as politicians, and in the process emboldened Yahya Jammeh to a point where the killings of the innocent became frequent and commonplace. Political leadership is less about the simple desire to lead and more about the courage and wisdom to show the way, but the reticence of the Gambia’s political leaders to show some guts is more about their paralyzing fear of Yahya Jammeh even as he integrates a way of life in Gambian society that condones the culture of killing, torture and maiming of citizens. In the recent tragedy over demonstrations for electoral reform, the opposition met with IEC officials to discuss ways for fair and peaceful elections in December later this year. Frankly, elections are the last thing on most Gambians minds, preferring, instead, that the combined opposition, for once, put the interest of the Gambian people ahead of the chronic desire to lead, by boycotting the elections and forcing Yahya Jammeh out. There isn’t a single Gambian, most people will tell you, who can tolerate five more years of Yahya Jammeh, and no matter what electoral reforms the regime allows, the opposition will lose the elections, hands down. The electoral machinery, under Yahya Jammeh, as an arm of his regime, will reactivate to deny the opposition the free and fair elections everyone carves. But for now, it is unclear whether contesting elections that the opposition knows they cannot win, is motivated more by expectation of substantial funding from the western countries. If it is, it will be the ultimate betrayal of the Gambian people, a betrayal that is almost unforgivable.