By Mathew K Jallow
Despite Yahya Jammeh’s excessive power, criminal regime, and illegal lawmaking authority, the expectations of periodic elections in the Gambia are almost an article of faith. The management of the electoral process, in all its tediousness, fulfills a cardinal democratic benchmark, which, in the Gambia, is all but democratic. As the 2016 elections draw closer, at stake is not necessarily who will occupy Gambia’s State House, but how the democratic process holds up in the face of Yahya Jammeh’s absolute contempt for the integrity of the process. In July this year, Yahya Jammeh made a knee-jerk decision to increase the fees for opposition presidential contestants in the 2016 elections, to GMD one million or $25,000, up from GMD 50,000 or $1,250, in 2011. This illegal form of taxation, apart from assaulting the citizenship rights of every Gambian, also stifles the democratic process in order to pave the way for one party state in Gambia. The Gambian National Assembly, renowned less for any meritorious accomplishment, and more as the quintessential rubber-stamp representation of the people, passed the measure as a Bill, without giving regard to Yahya Jammeh’s ultimate goal of decimating the democratic process and obliterating the last visages of our democracy. But, last week’s proclamation of an Islamic state awoke Gambians to a new reality; Yahya Jammeh’s efforts to overthrow the Gambia’s republican constitution and foist the dreaded Islamic state upon the people. Clearly, historical evidence is replete with cases of Yahya Jammeh’s public demonstrations of contempt for the Gambia’s colonial heritage and western way of life. There is no line he will not cross to display his puerile tantrums and gibberish rants against what he perceives as colonial handiwork. Far scarier than that, Gambians have for long grappled with Yahya Jammeh’s slow march to absolute power by systematically weakening Gambia’s National Assembly and the Judiciary. Yahya Jammeh ultimate goal is to eventually abolish any impediment to his creeping rise to absolute power, and unilateral imposition of the Islamic state, is a means to that end. It is his blueprint for achieving unfettered power,
Unfortunately for Yahya Jammeh, Gambian cultures, regardless of tribe, are antipathetic to the idea of government by theocracy and its application of Sharia Law. The Wahabist tradition of Sharia Law, exercised with such inhuman brutality, is a misplaced concept in Gambian society. But, Yahya Jammeh’s ostentatious disdain for democratic institutions is routinely and methodically expressed in the ways he has often bypassed the Gambia’s law-making body, the National Assembly and promulgated laws that harm the separation of powers clause enshrined in the constitution. The unilateral Islamic state decree clearly establishes Yahya Jammeh’s indifference to the concept of tripartite system of government, above all, it brings into focus the weaknesses of the National Assembly and the Judiciary, as bulwarks to the erosion of citizen rights and citizens as the center of political power. The National Assembly has, historically and inexplicably, deferred to Yahya Jammeh, even in cases of clear violation of the Constitution. Yahya Jammeh’s reckless determination to thwart the laws of the land by consistently undermining the democratic system of checks and balances in government, is designed to extinguish every effort to hold him accountable for his atrocities and ruination of Gambian society. Even more than that, the Gambia is culturally and traditionally antithetic to the concept of Islamic state, and the country’s status as a secular state, is, in the eyes of its citizens, sacrosanct and immutable. Yahya Jammeh’s unilateral declaration of Gambia as an Islamic state is a criminal subversion of the republican constitutions and a serious felony crime of treason, not unlike to any armed insurrection. The consensus among Gambians across religion, tribe and geography, unanimously reject the Islamization of life and politics in Gambia. Yahya Jammeh’s Islamic state, like his established tribalism, is detrimental to national security, and has absolutely no foundation in ECOWAS and Africa Union principles; set up to guarantee civil rights and economic justice The open rebellion against the imposition of Islamic state in a country with a long secular tradition, impugns Yahya Jammeh’s authority to make law, and sneers at the Gambia National Assembly for acting like incurable dumbasses in allowing Yahya Jammeh to get away with defacating on our most sacred document; the constitution. The disastrous Islamic state idea, unlike any other since 1994, has excited passions and spawned the collective rejection of Yahya Jammeh’s efforts to create religious divisions, in a volatile region of Africa.
Over the years since 1994, Gambians have consistently coalesced around events and incidences that have tested the limits of their tolerances; the December 2014 incidence, the Mile 2 Prison prisoner executions, the 2009 witch-hunting, the 2006 executions, the 2000 student massacre, the November 1994 executions, but the Islamic state declaration has sparked unanimous rejection rarely witnessed in Gambia. The bold and loud rejection of the silly Islamic state idea is particularly intense, considering the ways in which religion has historically degenerated into civil conflicts across many African countries. Not unlike Yahya Jammeh’s disastrous tribal agenda, religion too has an overwhelming ability to engender chaos and lawlessness, and Gambians cannot permit this to pile up in a country already strained by Yahya Jammeh’s tribal bigotry. This is not lost on Ousainou Mbenga, head of DUGA, a Gambian human rights organization, who was uninhibited in his criticism of Yahya Jammeh’s frivolous Islamic state scheming. “This regime has lost all legitimacy, and this division of Gambians by religion. is dangerous and alien to the lost cultural homogeneity Gambians hope to bring back. Yahya Jammeh’s purpose is to create more acrimony and conflict among people who have lived as one family for generations, Mr Mbenga said. We already see the effects of Yahya Jammeh’s tribalism affecting so many Gambians in ways that have the potential to create problems for us in the future, added Mr Mbenga.” Tijan Massaneh Ceesay, a leader in the Washington, DC, area Gambian Catholic community, was philosophical in his condemnation of the idea of divisions by religion, quoting a revered pioneering African statesman, Sir Dawda Jawara. “We will be able to demonstrate to the world how a group of people from different religious backgrounds and different origins can live together in peace and harmony.” “What sets Gambians apart, adds Tijan, is that as a secular state, Gambians don’t care who is Muslim and who is Christian or pagan. This Islamization of the Gambia should never come to fruition.” The consequences of Islamizing the Gambia are enormous, both psychologically and materially. Among others, it will cast the influential Christian community as less than equal, downgrade them to second class citizen status, discriminate them in jobs, economic opportunity, and a slew of other areas. Clearly, Gambia’s Islamization idea is a flashpoint for discord and civil strife, which Gambians don’t deserve or desire. The unanimous decision by Gambians is very loud and clear in its simplicity: Islamic state; “Not in our Name.”