By Mathew K Jallow
More directly, the Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh poses an existential threat to Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Guinea-Conakry; more immediately, the very quintessence of ECOWAS, and more broadly, to the concept of the African Union. His deleterious reign of terror can no longer be ignored, brushed aside or resigned to the mercy of Africa’s paradoxically dangerous and imperfect vehicle for democratic political change; elections. Yahya Jammeh’s antiseptic language, dressed in boring fustian rhetoric, often appears benign on the surface, but peeling off the layers of sophomoric demagoguery, reveals a degenerate antediluvian obliviousness and demonic impulses for violence rooted in his primitive idol worship culture. This ignorance, which propels his reckless tendency for needless political violence, has again occurred under the glare of the international community. Peaceful demonstrators, carrying harmless political banners were confronted with barbaric ruthlessness that shocked Gambians and infuriated the entire world. Yet, despite the familiar killing of innocent protesters, the African Union and ECOWAS, two laboratories of democracy, still appear characteristically indifferent to another bloody repression in the Gambia. Violence and threats of the use of violence to proscribe enunciations by political dissidents, constantly looms large over the Gambian people; a permanent reminder of the regime’s fixation with depriving political voice to the people. And to say the threats have succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination, would be an understatement. There are two pieces of legislation that manifestly conflict with the Gambian constitution, which underpin the perennial political violence in the country; “unlawful assembly and false information.” But, the constitution guarantees free speech, and any law that is decreed or promulgated by acclamation, without proper legal procedure, ought to not have the force of law. Consequently, political assembly; rallies, protest marches, demonstrations and riots, are constitutional free speeches not subject to state control, as that contravenes the article of the constitution.
In Gambia, as a country not under a state of martial law, citizens cannot forfeit their right to freely assemble for the purposes of airing their grievances and challenging the regime in power, regardless of whether it mortally discomforts the state. And in the murder of three and incarceration of twenty-five UDP supporters, for failure to obtain a permit in order to freely assemble, the constitution is clear and unequivocal. The undue burden imposed on political parties requiring them to obtain permits to legally assemble for rallies, protests and demonstrations, is illegal, unconstitutional, and, therefore, does not have the force of law. Political parties, in their own right, are shadow governments, and ought to never be subjected to relentless harassment, censor and illegal law-making, designed purposely to diminish their effectiveness in providing alternation ideas and new political platforms. In addition, Yahya Jammeh has created a toxic political environment in the Gambia, and many aggrieved citizens frequently circumvent the normal legal process in order to appeal directly to Yahya Jammeh, to resolve their issues. The legendary corruption of the Gambia’s legal system, and Yahya Jammeh’s control of it, in part, forces citizens to seek alternative legal redress, but it is also where a little known law, “false information,” has dumped many Gambians in prison. But, nothing has had as profound an impact on Gambian society as the unconstitutional law of “illegal assembly,” which prohibits every form of spontaneous political gathering; forcing the press, political organizations and media houses to self-censor, often into complete silence. The Gambian state routinely evokes this illegal law to control speech, which compels political parties, citizens and the press to severely self-censor. In continuing to oppress political dissent, the regime recently embarked on a hostile economic campaign aimed at financially incapacitating the political opposition. In 2015, the regime raised fee for contesting as a presidential candidate, from a mere GDM 10,000 ($ 222) to GDM, 1,000,000 ($ 22,000), a 10,000% increase.
But, as Yahya Jammeh unleashes an intolerable level of violence on peaceful political protesters, the eerie silence of Gambia-born ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bum Bensouda, spawned a groundswell condemnations, in the face of what evidently ought to be antithetic to the principles of ICC. Consider a recent interview in which Ms Bensouda vehemently condemned political violence elsewhere, but has consistently declined to speak to the Gambia’s violence, since her tenure as Gambia’s Attorney General and Justice Minister, which chrysalises her unspoken compact with Yahya Jammeh. .Ms Bensouda, who has a stellar record pursuing Africa’s political criminals; even as she ignores the renegade political leaders who persistently threaten withdrawal from the international body, has yet to show empathy with the Gambian people. To most, the issue of Ms Bensouda is just now dawning on Gambians that her cozy relations with Yahya Jammeh, and his role in rallying African support in her election to the top ICC, deters her from vociferously condemning Yahya Jammeh’s regime for past and ongoing political violence. Yahya Jammeh ‘s support in her bid for the ICC top job, is not unusual or unheard of, but it has inadvertently turned into her Faustian bargain; forcing her into a state of denial and indifference to the relentless and tragic political violence in the Gambia. But Ms Bensouda’s lethargy is by far not the most chilling thing to happen to Gambians. The resent appointment of one of Gambia’s most prolific murderers, Edward Singateh, to an ECOWAS position, alarmed and rattled Gambians; in part, because it shows that the political calamity in Gambia does not rise to the level of ECOWAS’s affirmation as a tragedy. But, there are no justifiable moral arguments ECOWAS and the AU can make for steering far away from the plight of the Gambian people. Yet, the inability of using Senegalese territory to liberate their country will never deter Gambians’ quest political liberation, and ECOWAS and AU will also fall victims of the Gambia’s political fiasco; even if they appear to lack the intellectual depth to recognize how.