By Mathew K Jallow
Last week, Gambia suddenly burst out into the international limelight as the newest flashpoint of spectacular political failure, and civil unrest; the culmination of two decades of festering political discontent and strident opposition to a regime deeply entrenched in assassinations and economic plunder. The week began with the fearless march by youth of the main opposition, UDP, echoing the majority’s silent cries for electoral reforms; a demand that the combined opposition made late in 2015. It took nerves of steel to challenge the fiercely repressive regime; a regime invested in brutal oppression as a way to preempt dissent and thwart open rebellion to its draconian rule. The regime is so callous that even innocuous mention of Yahya Jammeh’s name in public is at best a ticket to what the regime brands; hotel, in reference to the notorious Mile Two Central Prison, or at worst, a death march to the National Intelligence Agency’s infamous bambadinka chambers of torture. But, like every tyrant in history, the tipping point often emerges in benign ways, and last week, Gambia reached its irreversible critical point. Gambian youth, who protested peacefully, as the constitution guarantees, were met with reptilian brutality, arrested, beaten to pulp, and by the following morning, Yahya Jammeh’s regime had created Gambia’s Mohamed Bouazizi moment; Solo Sandeng, the dauntless protest march leader, had been assassinated. The Gambia changed forever from that moment. This unlikely hero, Solo Sandeng, was, before too long, being compared to Steve Biko, in social media, and in a roundabout way, he was truly Gambia’s Malala, its Joan of Arc, its Aung San Suu Kyi, above all, he was Gambia’s own Solo Sandeng, whose blood drenched Gambian soil from end to end, prompted instantaneous defiance and spawned a revolutionary fervor the like of which the Gambia never before experienced. For once again, on Yahya Jammeh’s orders, the Gambian military and security forces had killed innocent citizens and left the population miffed and filled with blinding rage.
But, amidst the sorrow, tears and revulsion of Solo Sandeng’s assassination, a political martyr was born, and this time around, there was something extraordinarily profound and different. The Gambian people, unlike past manifestation of moral cowardice, were not ready to timidly recoil into their customary sheaths of mindless indifference. The chaos that engulfs the Gambia can no longer be ignored by the calm convenience of individual self-preservation. Political differences and silly squabbles have suddenly become insignificant and irrelevant in the face of challenges to remove Yahya Jammeh from power in order to propel the rebirth of a nation. Solo Sandeng’s assassination has sparked a new Gambian paradigm, and inspired political insubordination to a regime that lacks human touch and moral liability to its citizens. In a strange, yet not unexpected way, it is a new day in Gambia; a historic moment in a storied twenty year history that provides ample reason to unleash the population’s pent-up anger; a people who for so long have lost the will to fight, to think and to be free. This time around, the Gambia’s evil reincarnate, Yahya Jammeh, may have vented his political venom on Gambians at the wrong time, and inadvertently invited African’s irreversible winds of political change. In the true tradition of African dictatorial excesses, last week’s murder of Solo Sandeng and two female political activists was followed in short order by the arrests and incommunicado detention of the Gambia’s main opposition party leader, Hon. Ousainou Darboe, and several of the senior UDP party officials. The ongoing political tragedy in the Gambia could not have come at a worse time for Yahya Jammeh, in particular, in the midst of a contentious border closure with Senegal, and the shifting political sands sweeping across the African continent. The unravelling of decades old status quos in African politics is slowly engulfing the continent, and drenching its streets and alleyways with the blood of citizens dying to usher in political change. Africa’s era of perpetual dictatorship is primitive and obsolete, and the demand for new ideas and new visions, could not be louder, even as the blood of Africa’s political martyrs seeps deep into lush, rich African soil; from Zimbabwe, to Johannesburg, to Yaoundé, to Conakry and to Banjul.
As if the assassinations, arrests and detention of UDP party loyalists were not enough, the arrest and incommunicado detention of opposition leader, Ousainou Darboe, has created a seismic shift in Gambian politics, rattled the political terrain, threatened to torpedo the 2016 elections, and throw the electoral process into complete disarray. The murder of intrepid political activist, Solo Sandeng, may have created an unsurmountable stumbling block for Yahya Jammeh’s regime, in Gambia, but it is the illegal arrest and detention of opposition party leader, Hon.Ousainou Darboe, that will bring unsolicited international attention to Yahya Jammeh and his military dictatorship. In. Hon. Ousainou Darboe, the Gambian people see the defiant embodiment of Uganda’s fearless opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, Cameroon’s immovable Kah Walla, and Burundi’s brave Jean Minani; distinguished personalities who are now the living embodiments of Africa’s changing political dynamics. The political chaos in the Gambia is a stark reminder of the animalistic behavior into which Yahya Jammeh is willing to descent, just to remain in power. But, the changing global politics creeping into Africa, will ensure that Yahya Jammeh’s tyranny will no longer be met with deafening silence, instead, the regime will be confronted with open defiance, and even greater mass popular contempt. And as Solo Sandeng and other murdered activists lie forever silenced, and Hon. Ousainou Darboe sits in a dark, dinky prison cell, theirs is a political tragedy destined to matastacize into a new birth of courage, and new burst of political life, in the struggle for Gambia’s liberty. The paradox of political martyrdom, in the Gambia, is that quite often, it causes the death of fear, because fear as political weapon, will lose the force of terror it creates in victims’ minds. What happened in the Gambia, last week, represents blatant disregard for Gambia’s constitution, the national document, which Yahya Jammeh consistently defecates on, in his endless show of contempt for the Gambian people. Until now, Yahya Jammeh has easily gotten away with the murders of hundreds of Gambians and non-Gambians alike, but beginning last Friday, Gambia is a much more different place; a place where state intimidation and fear will no longer have a firm foothold, as the population slowly takes back their long lost freedoms, in the country they so love.