By Mathew K Jallow
The verdict was not unexpected and when it came, it demonstrated a familiar pattern in political repression. The court proceedings were quintessential Kangaroo trials that quickly degenerated into lectures in jurisprudence from an eminent lawyer, party leader, Hon Ousainou Darboe, to a visibly shaken Nigerian judge, whose legal proficiency screams embarrassing amateurism. The judge demonstrated minimal understanding of the law and often conducted herself in ways that betrayed her beholdenness to an invisible force that dictated her overt courtroom partiality. And not unlike Amadou S Janneh’s courtroom dramas, and the state’s strenuous legal gymnastics in the effort to reach a predetermined verdict in that 2012 case, Gambians are again more disgusted than shocked by the recent sentencing, which reflects the judge’s loyalty, not to the spirit of Gambian law, but to Yahya Jammeh. The judge exposed her patent incompetence and small-mindedness in her abuse of the constitution and the rule of law, further compromising the integrity of the Gambia’s judicial system. The criminalization of what is legal and constitutional, in the Gambia, since 1994, condemns the country to a state of lawlessness; a place where the brutal exercise of power and unrestrained abuse of the law interface as an overarching state policy. The judge’s violation of the Gambian constitution, by sentencing UDP opposition leader, Ousainou Darboe and officials of the party to illegal incarceration, challenges the Gambian people to further examine why the impossible, improbable and unlikely has become the norm in the Gambia’s political system. The underpinnings of political chaos and social alienation, planted over many years of blinding indifference to the constitution and laws of the land, will have grave social and economic ramifications that will be hard to escape and even harder yet to ignore. Yahya Jammeh truly embodies a kaleidoscope of caricature characters; each exposing his criminal incompetence, and each mired in the vicious cycle of violence that prefaces his story of political illegitimacy and moral and ethical decadence. In Hon Ousainou Darboe and other incarcerated UDP supporters, Yahya Jammeh has once again demonstrated his pretexts for curbing citizen civil liberties as a political tactic to delay his inevitable demise.
Perhaps more chilling than the incarceration of the entire UDP leadership is Gambians’ scathing inability to revolt against the injustice that prejudice Gambia’s legal system as primary custodian of peace and stability. And, since December 2014, diaspora efforts against the regime have somewhat flamed out and succumbed to the despair of diaspora amateurism and intransigence of the political establishment at home. At the center of the political debate is the blurred line between self-interest and altruism, which has exposed the insidious individualism masquerading as selfless nationalism. The court ruling against UDP, juxtaposed on the criminal ineffectiveness of the struggle, at home and abroad, again tests Gambians’ pathetic ineptitude in responding to the state’s constitutional overreach in the jailing of UDP officials for legally exercising their constitutional right to protest. The dysfunction of the political establishment and civil society are at the center of everything that has gone so terribly wrong over the last twenty years. The intersection of state brutality and the impotence of the moral majority showcase the puerile sensibilities that continue to thwart the collective Gambian effort at regime change. Clearly, the visible surface tranquility of everyday life in Gambia hides the character of a society with a long history of contrarian views that are hamstrung by powerlessness in forging a common consensus among the various political parties and diaspora civil society groups. The age-old tradition of coalescing around issues of common interest has failed to materialize in Gambia, but this pathology of sustained unease and mutual suspicion borders of rivalry and infighting amongst individuals, parties and civil society organizations who all share a common purpose. In the end, Gambians left a long trail of years of empty bluster and political amateurism, which has only prolonged Gambian’s suffering. What is happening in the Gambia is borderline controlled chaos as a dis-organized civil society and political establishment disunity continue to mar progress towards a political solution to Gambia’s political crisis. The litany of failures of many of those who lead the charge for political change include the perverse anti-intellectualism which reinforces the false narratives that have played a significant role in creating divisions that obstruct the unity of purpose, which has eluded Gambians for so long.
In spite of the monumental failures of the past, not everything in the struggle is colored in dark hopelessness. Last year, 2015, witnessed notable changes to the monotonous political script. For the first time in two decades, Gambians created room for political dissent and diverse political opinions, but this victory came at a huge cost; UDP party activists sacrificed, which includes loss of life, rape, torture and imprisonment. The terrible price Gambians have paid for holding political views antithetical to the minority military regime, includes ritual sacrifices by the regime and political amnesia by a terrified citizenry. The self-inflicted failure of civil society and the political establishment aside, the regime is believed to discreetly support establishment of a new party in an effort to recast itself as democratic in its practical application of the election process. The two recent developments that perplex political watchers, deviate from the political norm; the rapid installation of the Gambia Democratic Congress, and the much publicized resignations from the AFPRC to the GDC. And, as accusations of GDC leader, Mama Kandeh, as a sidekick for Yahya Jammeh gather storm, the unresolved status of a unified opposition against elections in December deepen the anxiety of proponents of elections boycott. The new GDC political phenomenon that has suddenly obscured every opposition party, also throws into doubt the party’s willingness to unite against Yahya Jammeh in the event such solidarity is necessary; even imperative. Meanwhile, party leader, Mama Kandeh has become the new target of criticism, with accusations of tribalism, by pessimistic and cynical diaspora elements shaken .by the new party. But, the surreptitious rise of the GDC and Mama Kandeh is not an anomaly, considering the political vacuum created by the ineffective communications strategies of the existing political parties. Clearly, the insurgency of GDC has rattled some and suddenly eclipsed other long established political parties, as the Fulas rush to coalesce around the new party, dragging with them voters from every existing political establishment. But, it remains to be seen whether the GDC, in its current composition, has the intellectual dexterity and moral fortitude to take on the hard task of leading a political party. One of the nagging question in everyone’s mind is whether GDC can join a coalition in elections boycott, and rally behind a popular uprising for change. For now, GDC may hold the key to Yahya Jammeh’s future in the event elections boycott are determined by the moral majority. GDC has a lot to chew on between now and the scheduled December elections. A lot.