By Mathew K Jallow
For a man renowned more for his soft-spoken and gentle mannerism, this is not exactly a simple dog fight. It is more like a gladiatorial battle for the heart and soul of a battered people. What is happening in the Gambia is the predictable outcome of a rudderless regime cruising dangerously close to the rocks. The political contortions and gymnastics of the last twenty-one years have come to a head, and it is not a pretty sight. So far, at least one peaceful demonstrator has been tortured to death, two women raped and tortured in detention, and thirty-six senior UDP party officials illegally held in detention for their peaceful legal demonstrations demanding the release of the bodies of murdered party officials. And at the center of this international story is the man whose gentle nature separates him from everyone else. Hon Ousainou Darboe, the leader of the United Democratic Party, is the last person anyone would want to hold in detention as a prisoner of conscience. Ousainou Darboe’s legitimate reechoing of the united opposition demands for far-reaching electoral reforms, release of arrested senior UDP party officials and the unconditional release of the bodies of dead party officials is a radical departure from the past, when state terror loomed large over the heads of Gambians who dared challenge the regime. And in more ways than one, this is a quantum leap from the pervasive abstract political dissension, for this time around, Hon Ousainou Darboe’s illegal detention promises to redefine Gambian politics for the foreseeable future. The apoplectic reaction to the deaths and detention of peaceful protesters was not unexpected, and unlike previous state sanctioned murders of citizens, the conscience of a nation has finally awoken up to the reality of the regime’s routine pathological devaluation of human life.
By default, Hon Ousainou Darboe has emerged as the unquestionable leader of the struggle for complete political change, even as he sits in, incommunicado detention, in solitary confinement, in Gambia’s and Africa’s most notorious, mosquito infested Mile 2 Central Prison, where since 1994, about five hundred inmates have died of diseases, and hunger, while dozens more have developed serious mental illnesses. Political non-conformity is an axiomatic characteristic of every democracy, and detaining the UDP’s Ousainou Darboe and some of his senior party officials, is a willful ignorance of the law, which Gambians’ will no longer tolerate. But, as the political intolerance in the Gambia again assumes a level of ugliness that is marked by another bloodbath, there are signs something is amiss in Yahya Jammeh’s Gambian paradise. Senegal’s President, Macky Sall, dressed in crisp, new military fatigue, looks somber and exudes confidence and resolve. In the Gambia’s largest city, Sere-Kunda, where the Kairaba and Sayer Jobe Avenues intersect, the renowned Westfield Clinic Junction; the scene of another political bloodbath, is again a citizens’ convergence point in a united display of defiance. This time around, Gambians are determined to reclaim the rights they fearfully conceded to Yahya Jammeh. This time around, the killings of peaceful political demonstrators, unlike the massacre of twenty high school students, in 2000, did not melt the crowds away in fear. There is an emerging political environment that is profoundly different, and the fear that ruled Gambians’ for more than two decades, is becoming a political dinosaur. The cementing of Gambians’ collective resolve, and the echoes of diverse voices, cut across the artificial religious, tribal, and party affiliations, and it illustrates Gambians insatiable yearning to be free.
And as the echoes of ‘Yahya Jammeh Must Go’ reach crescendo and reverberate around the globe, hope for an end to state violence and pervasive climate of fear, is galvanizing Gambian in an unprecedented display of open defiance. The small crowd of peaceful demonstrators who began ‘The Gambian Spring’ and were met with the sheer brutality of the military regime, has, over the last two weeks, swelled to thousands, and is slowly spreading to major cities and towns across the country. This growing revolutionary fervor in Gambia is driven by Yahya Jammeh’s history of horrendous disregard for human life, and erratic nature of a regime gripped by fear and obsessed with holding unto power. The Gambia has been a flashpoint of political discontent, since 1994, but local fear and foreign abandonment intersected to allow Yahya Jammeh to rule the ECOWAS member state like a medieval monarch; unchallenged by Gambia’s timid media; unquestioned by a political establishment feigning obliviousness to the Gambia’s burgeoning tragedy. Now the inevitable challenge to Yahya Jammeh’s impunity is finally here, and he will never again write Gambia’s story alone. There is an infectious rebirth of freedom, which started in Guinea-Conakry and Senegal, and ignited passions for freedom in Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Mali. This rebirth of freedom, which continues to sweep across West Africa, has claimed the Gambia into its mesmerizing spell and bold grip. As Gambians prepare to exercise their legal rights to freely assemble, without being illegally forced to obtain permits, Yahya Jammeh’s is again honing on his Nixonian tactics by trying to insert a wedge between Senegalese President Macky Sall and mayors of villages and town from across southern Senegal. But regardless of Yahya Jammeh’s distractions, Gambians’ make this very clear demand; release Ousainou Darboe, the jailed UDP officials and the bodies of murdered victims. Furthermore, Gambians cannot stand five more years of Yahya Jammeh’s killings, tortures and mass incarcerations, and unanimously declare: NO More Fear. No Elections in 2016. Yahya Jammeh Must Go.