By Mathew K Jallow
In South Africa, the incessant political tremors surrounding Jacob Zuma’s incompetence, center on the charismatic, young firebrand, Julius Malema. In Uganda, the opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye, is not going down without a fight, in the aftermath of that country’s fraudulent elections. And in Burundi, opposition leader, Agathon Rwas, fears the unrest could escalate into civil war, as the African Union drags its feet on military intervention. Political dissension against African rulers has suddenly become a cause celebre; and with good reason. The pursuance of political power and its exercise, in Africa, is unique, but not in a good way. The intersection of politics and the new information age has exposed the depressing consequences of pervasive abuse of power, which defies imagination. Africans have, to a far lesser degree, struggled against political and economic oppression by their own leaders, but more generally, the continent has been conditioned to submit to moral subjugation, resulting in citizens’ mind control, and erosion of their rights. The cataclysmic hunger for political power, and inability of most African leaders to imagine a life outside political power, has reached an incredible level of insanity and ridiculousness, which has often resulted in sweeping social alienation, civil strife, blood-letting and social and political disintegration. The wholesale resistance to change, the failure of the democratic process to alter political circumstances in many African countries, and the hostility to domination by African leaders, combine to form the lethal conflict between Africa’s rulers and their citizens. The continent-wide movement for regular change of government, spawned by rejection of permanent political domination, has witnessed the evolution and maturation of a resistance movement into a political phenomenon that rejects Africa’s old political orthodoxy. The inability of African leaders to rationalize the idea of transfer of power, inspired a wealthy Sudanese businessman, Mo Ibrahim, to initiate a reward scheme that encourages peaceful change, but it does not come as a surprise that the five million dollar reward is insufficient to incentivize Africa’s political leaders to obviate political turmoil and civil wars in their countries.
The contemporary story of Africa’s political map is not without emblems of glory; rare examples of political maturity celebrated as centers of hope for a new African dawn; Senegal, Nigeria, and Tanzania, to name few. Though the political attitudes of these vanguards of change are atypical by African standards, these leaders of change, and their countries, have inadvertently reinforced the nucleus of a revolution that has slowly begun to sweep across the African continent; an unstoppable force for change that has reignited an old spirit, not unlike the universal antipathy towards the colonial domination in pre-independence Africa. But now, Africa’s post-independence political tyranny falls under two different categories; the politically aware who are morally motivated to sacrifice for the principles of freedom and dignity, and those paralyzed by fear in championing for the cause of justice. And in practical terms, the difference between the two is simple; the politically mature, such as Dr. Kizza Besigye, who refuses to be silenced, on one side, and those who lack sufficient moral courage, and whose fear has permeated into and paralyzed the broader society. The Gambia falls under the latter category, and the unwillingness to engage in confrontational politics, in order to bring attention to the pressing life and death issues, has not endeared the political establishment to the disillusioned, and most affected by the failure of the Gambian state, in a country sliding into devastating social, political and economic crisis. And as Yahya Jammeh sought his fifth term, last week, another issue, obscure in the home news, dominated the diaspora media; the death, under National Security custody, of Secretary General, National Transport Control Association, Sheriff Dibba. Like all the prominent, the barely known and unknown, whose arrests and detentions have become so banal, and whose disappearance after arrest by agents of the National Security, is a habitual occurrence, the miscarriage of justice in the Gambia, even in the cases of murder and forced disappearances, is so routine as to be unremarkable.
With Yahya Jammeh’s appalling record, making a case of denying him access to the 2016 elections ought to be a no-brainer, yet even the killings, executions, disappearances and incarcerations, are only part of the underlying problems of the failure of the Gambia, as a state. Central to the issues of regime ignorance and incompetence, is the unravelling of the system of governance and the unhinging of the mechanisms by which a government functions as an efficient purveyor of public services. In a country stripped of intellectual capacity, and starved of professional competence, the dramatic collapse and dysfunction of the National Assembly, Judiciary, Civil Service and National Security, have incapacitated the normal function of government and conceded power to an individual; Yahya Jammeh. Like the murders, executions, and the mass incarceration of innocent Gambians, the emasculation of the institutions of governance, and stripping them of administrative responsibilities, was a gradual, systemic and deliberate process, mainly, because after each incident of abuse of power, there were never consequences or counteractions from the political establishment, the judiciary, National Assembly or military. This snapshot of Yahya Jammeh’s nauseating power grab occurred over time, in tandem with one of his most sinister plots; the militarization of his Jola tribesmen, and the Jolanization of the Gambian military; despite the fact that Jolas account for a mere five pre-cent of the population. To put it in proper perspective the level and extent of Yahya Jammeh’s control over Gambians’ life, imagine a country where judges, diplomats, the military, regional governors, religious leaders, elected National Assembly representatives, and cabinet ministers are regularly coerced into manual slave labor in one of Yahya Jammeh’s farms spread around the country. There is no need to imagine this scenario; it is real, and it is happening now, and will continue to happen after the 2016 elections. This after all, is Yahya Jammeh’s Gambia, this country he treats as his personal property, this place that has lost its identity as a nation.