By Mathew K Jallow
The swanky private jet with the distinctive Gambian flag festooned conspicuously on its sun-scourged sides stood idly in a secluded corner of Ronald Reagan's International airport in Washington, D.C. As its primary occupant, accompanied by a large entourage of bodyguards and other human accessories made their way in a convoy of limousines to a plush and opulent hotel in a seedy part of suburban D.C, the country she left behind three thousand miles away on the miserable continent of Africa, was crumbling under the weight of her husband's repressive regime. And this was only one of Mrs. Zaineb Jammeh and her children's many shopping forays to the U.S. But this time it was different. Mrs. Zaineb Jammeh, for all intents and purposes, had this time around come for the kill; to purchase a big-ticket item worth over a million dollars. And the house she bought was an investment she and her husband Yahya Jammeh hope to hedge against his inevitable downfall.
Mrs. Zaineb Suma Jammeh, the quintessential Imelda Marcus, cold and seemingly heartless, had done it again. But all this was last year. This year, far to the north of The Gambia, where the golden sun scourge the rugged landscape across the northern edges of the African continent; and the tip of the Atlas Mountains soar brazenly high above the ominous clouds, the political geography of a continent is changing as rapidly as an eye blink. The harsh and unforgiving odd twins, the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara desert, at once serene and violent, are witnessing one of the greatest political upheavals of the past several decades. The Maghreb region of North Africa, with a history as old as human existence, is undergoing a bold political transformation that is making the unceremonious revolutionary swells and violent collapses of Eastern Europe's socialist regimes look like picnic. And as history repeats itself in the Arab world, the striking political and economic parallels between Eastern Europe then and the Maghreb and the Middle East now, is glaringly evident. But evident also are the similarities between the dictatorial regimes of North Africa and the Middle-East, and The Gambia, where Yahya Jammeh's exercise of absolute power is akin to the obsolete kingdoms and out-dated feudal systems of long ago. The compendium of excesses that have defined Yahya Jammeh's regime over the past decade and half are unequalled both in the depths of their gravity and the broadness of their reach.
By far Yahya Jammeh and his regime's greatest and inarguably most serious criminal offences against the Gambian people and the world are the litany of executions, murders and disappearances of citizens and non-citizens alike. Anecdotal evidence shows that the frequency and regularity, with which the murders, executions and disappearances occur, has greatly reduced, but it does not make the crimes any less grave and serious in nature. Between January and February of this year alone, two civilians deaths under police custody were reported, and a third, the high profile murder of my nephew Sgt. Illo Jallow, former chief body-guard of Mrs. Zaineb Suma Jammeh, left Gambians bewildered and demanding answers. But as usual, Yahya Jammeh has remained mute and appear unburdened by his criminal responsibility for these extremely serious crimes against our people. To-date, over hundred known deaths by execution and murders at the hands of agents of the regime have been recorded and still sixteen more forced disappearances at the hands of the feared, but now moribund National Intelligence Agency remain unaccounted for, most since 2005.
These deaths and disappearances figure as serious moral and criminal aberrations as they are, represent only a part of Yahya Jammeh's overall record of atrocious abusive behavior and denigration of Gambian society. As of now, The Gambia's descent into chaos in governance and the disintegration of its social and political fabric have combined to put the country on edge, as thousands of its citizens who have fled the country and a million more who remain powerless and captive to the Yahya Jammeh regime, call for a popular uprising in their demand for a change of government. The reasons, motivations and the need for regime change in The Gambia are many and varied, yet they all stand on a strong and credible foundation based not on political hyperbole, but on objective fact and lived reality. Before the advent of the proliferation of Gambia's vocal overseas on-line media, the atrocious executions, murders and disappearances were blatant and frequent, but that has since changed, as the vigilant media has to a significant degree forced the regime to alter its habits of criminal behavior, if only in a modest, but impactful way.
Notwithstanding these significant developments, crimes against our people has remained a constant feature in our country, instigating a widespread hatred of Yahya Jammeh and his cabal of criminal rapists, drug dealers, violent robbers and businesses extortionists. These off-the-wall evidences of corruption and citizen intimidation are bad enough, but if you ask me, they pale in comparison to endemic and institutionalized government corruption, which has now risen to the level of a crisis. The calamitous social and economic imbalances that have developed over the past decade and half have left a lasting, if not a traumatizing imprint on the Gambian mind. In his effort to build a wall of intrigue and mysticism around him, Yahya Jammeh instead succeeded only reducing himself to a buffoon and a phenomenon of senselessness and stupidity as evidenced by the bizarre witch-hunting exercise around the country two years ago.
To date the statistics surrounding those incidences of random terrorism directly primarily against the elderly and the weak, remain unknown, but a rough estimate has put the deaths to a dozen elderly men and women, excluding three dozen more who were hospitalized for prolonged periods of time and whose health status is unknown at this point in time. But if these examples of tyranny and moral bankruptcy are not enough, the general narrative of the country's welfare point to a doom and gloom scenario. Unemployment of the population, especially, the youth is as high as seventy percent, and this is a growing trend particular due to the thirty percent decline in tourist arrivals, which began a decade ago and is not projected to get better anytime soon. But even that is only a part of the story of how Yahya Jammeh with the willing collaboration of some elements of the military and security forces, has instilled paralyzing fear and hopelessness across our country, and this is evidenced by how some tribes and other selfish elements in the military and security forces are willing to play along with Yahya Jammeh's subjugation of our people and the denial of opportunities to select tribes Jammeh has categorized as enemy and marginalized.
One only has to look at the people of influence in every agency, department and ministry of the government; starting with the military to the smallest government agency, in order to determine that that level of unfairness is untenable and unsupportable in the long run. In government agencies and institutions where the heads does not derive by Yahya Jammeh's preferred tribes, an immediate assistants or a junior employee in Yahya Jammeh's chosen tribes, who are planted agents reporting directly to Yahya Jammeh, are mandated by Yahya Jammeh to exercise power and control over every government institution in the country. But tribalism too is only a part of the story of how Yahya Jammeh has run the affairs of the country into a ditch. In the business sector, Yahya Jammeh's involvement in every manner of business endeavour; example import and export, to bakery, food distribution, construction, transportation, entertainment, sand mining, agriculture, meat processing, supply and distribution of general goods, and port handling among many other business enterprise ventures.
Yahya Jammeh's participation in the business sector is illegal and undermines the entrepreneurial spirit in the country largely due to the disadvantage other businesses are put into. For one thing, Yahya Jammeh's and his chosen few do not pay the customs and excise, labor and import taxes, which other businesses are subject to, consequently, other businesses cannot compete in the marketplace with goods imported by Yahya Jammeh and his cabal of corrupt tax cheats, who can afford to undercut the going market price of good and commodities. In other areas, one of the most intriguing aspects of Yahya Jammeh's reign is the question of where gets the billions of dalasis he uses to buy loyalty, bribe and give away to people and groups who do not deserve to have it. Recently, Yahya Jammeh put aside more than two million dalasis as prizes for Quran recital competition.
This is not only discriminatory in a multi-religion society, but it is unbecoming for a government in a secular state to sponsor religious activities of any nature. The separation of religion and politics must be absolute and unambiguous. The government's primary responsibility is to the physical and mental wellbeing of its citizens; not their spiritual sanctity, consequently funding of any religious activity of any nature falls behind the parameters of what is naturally acceptable. But one of the most disturbing aspects of Yahya Jammeh's rule is quality of public servants, whose competence and qualifications are called into question. Yahya Jammeh's war on the educated class has significantly reduced the quality of government performance and rendered our civil service to a mere skeleton of its former self.
If anyone knows anything about management and administration, it is that there is a huge financial, logistics and competency cost involved in the frequent hiring and firing of civil servants regardless of their hierarchy levels in the bureaucracy. To look at this in just one angle, the implications of hiring and firing means that no one stays in any particular job long enough to acquire a grip based on knowledge developed on the job. In other words, no one remains employed in any particular position long enough to develop competency and professional expertise in their field of work. There is a calculable drain on our meager resources which is more than just a financial component, but includes other indexes that measures national security as well as the quality of life of our people. For now, suffices it to say that we have a completely dysfunctional and collapsed government bureaucracy, which will take a lot of work to rebuild into a fully functioning and efficient state apparatus serving the needs of our people. The challenges that lie ahead post Yahya Jammeh are daunting, but they are surmountable. We have capability and the capacity to successfully give our people the government they really deserve after nearly half a century of unbridled corruption, nepotism, tribalism and political patronage. The youth of our country and our future generations deserve nothing less. But as long as Yahya Jammeh remains in total control of every aspect of our lives, The Gambia will continue its downward spiral and divisive descent into political anarchy and bureaucratic chaos. And that is our worst case scenario. The obligation to save our country of this eventuality means that a popular uprising a-la Libya, Tunisia and Egypt is not only necessary, but perhaps even inevitable.
Proverb: The absence of war does not mean the existence of peace.
Proverb: The absence of war does not mean the existence of peace.