By Mathew K Jallow
When vote count announcements ended abruptly, after mid-night, there was a sense that sinister shenanigans were at work behind the deafening silence. And sure enough, they were. The Gambia, plunged in massive social media blackout, compelled diaspora citizens to utilize alternative platforms of accessing information from the motherland. By early morning, however, evidence of a political earthquake in The Smiling Coast of West Africa left Gambians and non-Gambians alike completely speechless. The Coalition of political parties had won the elections. Gambia was at last free. And in so many ways, it felt like Berlin revisited; or better still, Abidjan, 2011. The invisible wall of political tyranny in the Gambia came tumbling down, crashing to the ground like the thunder of thousand ocean swells. And before long, the overflowing streets and alleyways turned into a giant canvas of groggy and sleepless mass of humanity, celebrating a rare, but well deserved victory, in a land of pain and unfathomable misery. The celebrations of coalition electoral victory quickly transformed the reveling crowds into a rhapsody of jubilation, where joyous citizens absorbed the significance of the political quake, which heralded in the sudden end to Gambia’s cruel autocracy and totalitarian regime. As total strangers hugged, embraced, kissed, wept for joy, just stood dazed, or stared listlessly into each other’s faces, the dawn of new life in Gambia, suddenly turned years of hope into a moment of joy and bliss. The political nightmare in Gambia had come to an abrupt end. A nation subverted by political acrimony and self-serving tribal divisions, was again on the path to self-redemption. The sights, sounds, and smells of the new Gambia permeated the sensibilities of a people long lost to the dementia of tribalism and political hostilities. And on the alleys, streets and avenues of Greater Banjul and the large Serekunda metropolis, the symbols of tyranny; the larger than life billboards and stone statues of Yahya Jammeh’s image were plunged to the ground and broken into a thousand little pieces, or incinerated to ashes and into total oblivion. In a strange kind of way, Banjul was reminisce of Bagdad, where the nauseating sight of marble statues of Saddam Hussein, pelted and crushed to the ground, forever disappeared from the consciousness of history.
One would be excused to think that the verdict of history always has an incontrovertible finality, but Gambians soon learnt otherwise. On second thought, the loss of power and the fear of the unknown, were both burdensome and a monumental shift in policy, which the Gambian regime was unwilling to surrender, despite the enshrined constitutional clause that required it. When Yahya Jammeh tried to reverse his decision to cede power to the duly elected Coalition candidate, it was the last straw for many Gambians and friends of the Gambia around the world. Almost instantaneously, Gambia began a slow slide into political chaos and crisis, with a likelihood of sanguinary consequences, which could easily destabilize the Senegal, Bissau and the Gambia region, and fracture their populations. The looming showdown between Yahya Jammeh and the Gambian people, is a deadly serious soap opera made for Senegal, the ECOWAS, the African Union, United States and the European Union, who, sensing the gravity of the situation, and incredulous over Yahya Jammeh’s reversal of concession in his defeat by the President-elect Adama Barrow, demonstrated concern and determination to act as neutral arbiters and enforcers of the provisions of the Gambian constitution. Yahya Jammeh’s decision to challenge the election results, after conceding defeat, was the joke of the decade. To begin, Yahya Jammeh lacks the legal standing to challenge the results, having voluntarily and willfully conceded defeat publicly; secondly, this is not the first time registered Gambians have failed to vote in elections. In the 2011 elections, more than 277,000 registered Gambian voters did not cast their ballots, and thirdly, ballot recounting and reassigning to the proper candidates, is, in fact, a normal practice globally, but has never resulted in the overall nullification of any national elections. Evidently, out-going Yahya Jammeh’s lame pretext for deciding to contest the elections, lacks legal merit, and constitutes a defiance that is borderline rebellious, and, therefore, treasonous in its gravity. What is clear is that if Yahya Jammeh fails to surrender power on January 18, 2016, according to the constitution, the incoming government of President-elect, Adama Barrow may deem him a rebel in the commission of treasonous act of undermining the security of the state, ask him to willingly surrender, failing which the President-elect can issue a warrant for his arrest and trial for the charge of treason.
The December, 1, 2016, electoral victory, which ushered in a sense of political freedom, and second political independence for the Gambian people, will endure as a lesson to African nations yearning to be free from authoritarian rule and bondage under Machiavellian autocracies. And as African leaders converge on Banjul, as the mediators in the developing political crisis, Yahya Jammeh has little option but to surrender to the dictates of the Gambian constitution, and the will of the Gambian people. For far too long, Gambians have lived under the radar of concern of the international community, as the state-sanctioned mass killings reduced, a once free and cheerful people, under the democratic experiment of Sir Dawda K Jawara, into a land drenched in the blood of its innocent citizens, and a population that has suffered in almost total silence. For visitors to the Gambia, the superficial dimensions of life on the wide open beaches and the smiles of its people, do not betray the banal subterranean culture of political violence; the state killings, torture, executions, staged vehicular accidents, forced disappearances and the mass exodus of citizens. The yearning for freedom in the Gambia is not without basis, and for a regime that has forced its will on its people, for so long, freedom gained, cannot be freedom lost; not now, not ever. The laws and the constitution are on Gambians side, and this time around, the Gambian people are determined to hold Yahya Jammeh to the sacred instruments of political order and stability; the constitution and the laws of the land. Clearly, Yahya Jammeh’s long history of habitually disregarding the constitution and the laws of the land, have made him believe that Gambians, after fighting so hard for this freedom, will again roll over and let him walk over them. Big mistake; not this time. Since Yahya Jammeh’s 1994 coup, Gambians have witnessed six major instances of mass executions ranging, from twelve innocent Mile 2 Central Prison, prisoners to forty-four transiting Ghanaian immigrants; citizens from countries as far as Nigeria, and as close as neighboring sister Senegal. If the mediators from ECOWAS and other international bodies need better understanding of life in Gambia, under Yahya Jammeh, and why Gambians finally voted him out, two instances of bloodbath stand out as a neon to the rest of the world; the massacre of forty-four Ghanaians immigrants on a false pretext, and the barbaric execution of twelve Mile Two prisoners, some before their appeal cases were exhausted in court.. In the elections, last week a significant number of Yahya Jammeh’s voters are his tribesmen/women from the Senegal region of Casamance, and ineligible to vote in the Gambia. But, Yahya Jammeh has always done whatever the hell he wants to do, regardless of the Constitution and the laws, of the land, but it ends now. Yahya Jammeh never thought this day of sea political change would one day come. It has; finally.