By Mathew K Jallow

In this bruising election season, there is no dispute where the political intensity resides; its anywhere, but Yahya Jammeh’s murderous regime, and its demonic political party, the AFPRC. The public display of political autonomy, this year, gives license to a vast majority of Gambians to exercise their freewill to dissent and shift political loyalties to the newly constituted Coalition of eight opposition parties. The coerced political sympathies that, hitherto, gave latitude to Yahya Jammeh to usurp power, have reached the peak of pervasion, on this long road to hell, and in the process, left behind a trail of agony, blood and tears, in their wake. The blind loyalties and coerced political affiliations, trademarks of Gambia’s twisted political system, are vanishing norms that defined the corrupt military regime, and exploited the dilapidated political system, to the detriment of the opposition parties and the Gambian people. The challenges facing the opposition were never going to be easy, but the United Democratic Party, emboldened by a robust diaspora media, took a leap of faith to plunge into its rightful place, as an ideological counter-force to the wretched military regime. Vivid images of political martyr, Solo Sandeng, and opposition UDP supporters, converging on the intersection of the venerable Sayer Jobe Avenue, Kairaba Avenue and Brikama Highway, still fresh in the collective memory, have forever changed the course of Gambian politics. But, the brief, but rare moment of free political expression, at the Westfield Junction, on that quite Monday morning, was not without casualties. With the arrest of Solo Sandeng and other party officials, it turned into a tragedy that shook the Gambian population and international community to the slew of mindless abductions and killing of opposition UDP supporters. The murder of Solo Sandeng was counter-productive, as rather than drive fear into the hearts of Gambians, it served only to emboldened citizens to rally around a common purpose; liberty. The story of Solo Sandeng is still to be written, and when it does, its shrine will find a safe place in the Gambian consciousness; a permanent reminder of Gambia’s sad history, under Yahya Jammeh. Solo Sandeng’s greatest contribution to Gambian history is, perhaps, the unparalleled political insurgency that is shaking the very foundation of the notorious military regime, and its corrupt political system. For, Solo Sandeng gave his life that the living will taste what it is like to be free.

As elections go, this year promises a battle royale that no one ever contemplated. The stakes may be high for each of the three candidates, but there is absolutely no denying the coalitions of eight parties carry the moral high ground, numerical advantage, and plurality of sympathizers both at home and abroad. The GDC’s failure to put forward the party’s objections to the coalition, as its baseline negotiating position, was a terrible lapse in judgement, and its greatest accomplishment is in fracturing opposition forces that share common political objectives. Nonetheless, even in its divided form, the opposition has jolted the military regime, and forced significant changes in its campaigning, as Yahya Jammeh, for once, shows some degree of humility, in places where he barged in, barking humiliating orders, and coercing citizens for their votes. And as hopes rise and opposition optimism soars, citizen’s choice of change, over the deadly status quo, is contingent on the elections being free and fair. This irresistible concern is not without basis. Electoral observers from around the world, to a degree, provide false senses of confidence in election results, which more often than not, hides a shocking reality; behind the scene election rigging. Of concern to a large number of Gambians, is not necessarily the visible public display of unfair practices, but that this draws public attention from the less obvious vote rigging exercises during the ballot transportation, storage, and vote tallying phases. And that is not all. The IEC is an ominous cloud hanging over the electoral process. Yahya Jammeh customarily fires IEC bosses who fail to bend to his will, and it comes as no surprise that every IEC boss has had a historic inability to mentally separate the institution from the public perception as an institutional arm of the regime. Even religion is spared this immoral appropriation. Islam, the religion of choice of an overwhelming number of Gambians, is not immune to state expropriation, which compelled its leaders to materially serve as the fourth arm of the regime. The moral lesson here is that Yahya Jammeh will stoop to ridiculously low levels to cheat, steal, seize and deceive, in order to attempt to retain power. To put more clarity to this, Yahya Jammeh most recently made baffling, if not, menacing remarks that challenge the vitality of Gambian institutions’ ability to restrain him, thus magnifying the cloud of doubt hanging over the IEC’s strict political neutrality. Yahya Jammeh’s insidious declaration that “no military coup, no foreign power, or elections can remove me from office,” is an affront to the Gambian constitution and lays the groundwork for a possible post elections unrest.

 As it is, Yahya Jammeh is offering strident resistance to political change, as encapsulated in his banal demonstrations of disdain for western political institutions that he perceives as hostile to his grand scheme of life-time rule. This attitude, expressed as a chilling mockery of Gambian institutions, earlier on, disclosed his intent to hang on to power for a thousand years. But, as silly and as  exaggerated as this sounds, its overall message is by no means empty bluster. And, in order to make his life-time rule actionable, his regime has engaged in systemic undermining of the institutions of government, which should serve as buffer between citizens and absolute state power. This year’s elections, notwithstanding, Yahya Jammeh’s persistent political hostility demonstrates his lack of understanding of the basic concept of political change; for having tasted political power, he believes in his inevitability, as crazy and delusional as that sounds. As the mechanics of political change slowly grind on, in this electoral cycle, hysteria over child abductions and sacrifice, has taken the country by storm. This primitive African cultural practice, once thought of as extinct in Gambia, has resurfaced in style, by way of Yahya Jammeh’s animist belief system. With seventy children sacrificed by Yahya Jammeh’s staged motorcades accidents, or forced disappearances, parents are urged to be very mindful that for the deeply superstitious Yahya Jammeh, the lust for sacrificial human blood during this elections season endangers the lives of children vulnerable to his sacrifice rituals. This election season, more so than past elections, is a test of the strength and resilience of the Gambia’s democratic institutions, and challenges election observers to resist the easy temptations of deferring to authoritarian leaders, especially when conditions are more likely to adversely affect public interest. In this same vein, in what is a rare moment of moral courage, the UN Envoy to West Africa, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, last week sought the release of the illegally incarcerated opposition officials, but for Yahya Jammeh, doubling down on his illegal and unconstitutional activities is a character trait that he has developed to display his scorn for Gambians and the international community. But more; the abduction, last week, of Omar Manlay Jabang of Kartong village, barely two months after the abduction and incommunicado detention of the former Ambassador, Sajo M Jallow, and months after the illegal trial and incarceration of fifty senior executives of the main opposition UDP, so close to scheduled national elections, is a warning to Gambians. Yahya Jammeh is a maniac and is invested in perpetual destabilization of the country by killing, disappearing citizens, mass incarceration, forced exile and citizen torture. These elections are, therefore, consequential and a unique opportunity to change Gambian politics by voting for The Coalition candidate, Adama Barrow, as a result, voting Yahya Jammeh out, so Gambians can once again live in total freedom from fear, freedom from torture, freedom from mass incarceration, and freedom from being killed by Yahya Jammeh, and his corrupt, thug military regime.