By Mathew K Jallow
In what can only be described as unprecedented and unconventional, Yahya Jammeh over the weekend ordered the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council to hold a two-day prayer vigil in the town of Gunjur 30 miles south of Banjul. According to our sources, the objective of the two days of prayer is to help ward off the turmoil and political upheavals that are ravaging North Africa, the Middle East, Kenya, Zimbabwe and most recently, Burkina Faso.
The prayer vigil, which was performed by over 400 hired Islamic scholars, mobilized from around The Gambia and neighboring Senegal, who each received a cash payment of 1000 dalasis and a bag of rice, and attended by hundreds, were tasked to pray throughout the day and all night for Allah to prevent what is dubbed the “spring of discontent” from taking hold on Gambian shores.
As a benediction of the prayer fest, twelve bulls were slaughtered as sacrifice to the “gods” and two trucks filled with rice were also donated for distribution by the highly superstitious Yahya Jammeh, whose brand of religion combines traditional Islam and primitive African idol worship.
A section of beach where a mosque and a shrine are located was ordered closed to the public, and residents of a nearby beach-side motel were evacuated and relocated. It can be recalled that nearly five years ago, Yahya Jammeh banned pilgrimages and offering of sacrifice at the same mosque and shrine, which were built as a dedication to Shiek Umar Futuyou, a famous 19th Century Islamic cleric from Senegal, whose name the locals attribute to miracles, only to reverse that ban a year later.
Spearheading the prayer vigil was the President of Gambia Supreme Islamic Council, Imam Momodou Lamin Touray, who my sources describe as “Jammeh’s errand Boy. The Gambia Supreme Islamic Council, which consists of 50 Islamic scholars, has over many years acted as a political arm of the Gambian dictatorship, in the process benefitting and regularly accepting large sums of bribe money and vehicles from Dictator Yahya Jammeh. As it is, the political turmoil that began in Tunisia early this year has toppled or are on the verge of toppling many decades-long dictatorships across North Africa and the Middle East, have only recently turned south towards Sub-Saharan Africa. In the West African, Burkina Faso, the first causality of black Africa’s “spring of discontent,” spontaneous and violent uprising demanding an end to the twenty-three year dictatorship of Blaise Campoare, who took over power in a military coup back in 1987, have flared up throughout most regions of that country.
The two day prayer vigil, which according to our sources brought unwanted attention to the seaside town of Gunjur, was marked by Yahya Jammeh’s usual pomp and pageantry, designed to deflect people’s attention from their miseries, if only while it lasts. Ironically, however, the two day prayer fest was marred by one tragedy and mishap after another.
The weekend prayer vigil began with the tragic death of a child, whose life was cut short by Yahya Jammeh’s “presidential” motorcade. Without coming off as insanely conspiratorial as the mad Glen Beck, this fifth child whose death was caused by Yahya Jammeh’s motorcades in as many years, is beginning to look more like “child sacrifice” as practiced by primitive African cultures.
This is not far-fetched for the deeply superstitious Yahya Jammeh, considering that in the early years of his reign in the 1990s, he was known to have fed the corpses of his victims to the crocodiles in his “personal zoo” located in his native village of Kanilai about 90 miles south of the capital Banjul. In another instance, a man carrying a bag of rice was seriously injured after he fell into a well as villagers scrambled and jostled for the rice Yahya Jammeh ordered distributed to Gunjur villagers.
Yet another man was also seriously injured in the process of slaughtering one of the twelve bulls Yahya Jammeh brought as sacrifice to his animist “gods.” But the attention grabber of the weekend’s prayer pomp and pageantry was not Yahya Jammeh, who has become stale news everywhere he travels in and outside the country, but a brave young man who hurled insults at Yahya Jammeh, blaming him for the dire economic and social problems the country has faced throughout the years of his dictatorship.
It goes without saying, the young Gunjur man, whose name is still to be released, was seen being arrested and taken away by Yahya Jammeh’s retinue of bodyguards and security personnel. The weekend prayer vigil itself symptomatic Yahya Jammeh’s fear of the widespread discontent in The Gambia, not just the harsh economic conditions Gambians find themselves living under, but the gross human rights abuses, which over the nearly two decades, have included extra-judicial executions, murders, and disappearances of citizens, tortures, arbitrary arrests and detentions and harsh conditions of incarcerations of political dissidents and members of the military and security forces.
But for now, whether Allah will answer to the town of Gunjur’s weekend prayer fest and immune Yahya Jammeh’s military dictatorship from the spreading political upheavals that have consumed Yahya Jammeh’s friend and next door neighbor, military dictator Blaise Campoare of Burkina Faso, will remain to be seen. But one thing is clear, conditions for a violent uprising in The Gambia are rife, and it may well be only a matter of time before the genie is pulled out of the bottle.
As it is, Yahya Jammeh’s prayers seem sixteen years too late; sixteen years that not even Allah is unwilling to sweep under the rug just for a little prayer and a little blood sacrifice.