Gambia: Elections or no elections Hell No to five more years of Yahya Jammeh’s terrorism
By Mathew K Jallow
A standout refrain in rock goddess Janis Joplin’s most famous 60s ballad titled “Me and Bobby McGee” reads; “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” The song was a tribute to the freedom marchers of an era that turned ordinary people into extraordinary human-beings. And equally important still, it was a decade that defined a generation who looked at their circumstances, decried the naked injustices that permeated every aspect of their lives, and had an epiphany to change America. But by the strength of their voices, which resonated across cultural boundaries, they inadvertently set in motion the social and political paradigms that changed societies around the globe; one neighborhood and one country at a time. And the world has never been the same. Dirt poor China, once beset by deadly famines and bloody civil unrests then, has now become the leading economy in the world. And they are not alone. In much of East Asia and South America, where shanty towns, dilapidated homesteads, corn fields, and lush open countryside once spread as far as the eye could see, skyscrapers, marble edifices and high-rise glass towers of tantalizing architectural beauty now reach for the blue skies; standing as monuments to the sacrifices of generations long gone. As a tribute to those who fought those wars of mental and physical liberation, a lot has also changed in many of the other parts of the world. From the pristine rolling flatlands of once fierce-some Mongolia, to the awe-filled impossible ancient stone architectures of Peru’s pantheon of the gods; Machu Picchu, nothing has ever been the same again.
By the same token, elsewhere around the globe, where minds continue to be restricted from freely wandering into the serene realms of imagination and creativity, a lot still remains unchanged by history, and even worst. And Africa, south of the Sahara, more than any other place on the face of the earth, represents the foreboding and reprehensible culture of social and political stagnation that is eating into the soul of a weary people; a people tasked by the burdensomeness of a disastrous culture of greed and covetousness. To its people, Africa is the quintessential definition of a bad dream; a never-land representing a catastrophic disincentive to a people left with no other options than to fend for themselves under circumstances that overwhelmingly court war-making and political unrest as the last resort. From the foot of the mysterious Atlas Mountains, to the rugged coastline of Southern Africa, the African continent has become the metaphor of the cruel underbelly of Machiavellian mean-spiritedness, and there is no better example of this than The Gambia, a country, which for sixteen long miserable years, has remained encumbered by the menace of a murderous political tyrant; Yahya Jammeh. In this day and age, long after the flames of civil unrest in many of the world’s hotbeds of political discontent have been extinguished, long after the demands of social justice had become the hallmarks in governance systems around the world, and long after smoke from the embers of the fires from popular revolts have drifted up towards the receptive clouds, The Gambia continues down a path that is politically destructive and economically unsustainable. In short, after sixteen years of cruel totalitarianism, The Gambia continues to remain captive to one of Africa’s most malignant reigns of terror. The scourges of political ineptitude and greed that have visited other unbending dictators, now also have Yahya Jammeh in their sights as a perfect candidate for obliteration from the face of this earth.
The last sixteen years of Yahya Jammeh’s Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council rule have left The Gambia severely torn apart by politically motivated death and dying, incarceration and disappearances, corruption of unimaginable proportions, naked and unforgiving tribalism, the complete collapse of the system of governance and the disintegration of our social and cultural values. The soul that once clued our people together into a single unitary body of hope and aspiration is no more. We as a nation are victims of a regime that has perfected the art of divisiveness and political manipulation, and turned it into the centerpiece of Yahya Jammeh art of gaining and retaining political power. Under Yahya Jammeh reign, The Gambia has turned into a land of despair, a place consumed by fear of incarceration and death; a place where dreams go to die, and where Yahya Jammeh’s footprints have left behind them a trail of terror in which hardly any family remains untouched. The greed, narcissism and corruption of the man who singlehandedly runs The Gambia as if it were his personal possession, has left many Gambians disposed of their properties, their hopes and their dreams. Everywhere one looks, Yahya Jammeh has a property to his name, in every sector of the economy, Yahya Jammeh’s Kanilai family farm is a leader competitor, often muscling his way into and taking over Gambians’ properties to add to the massive wealth he has already amassed for himself.And as each day passes, Yahya Jammeh has become an even more of a threat to the livelihoods of Gambian workers and retirees; intermittently raiding the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation accounts to lavish our wealth on people who have no right to the pensions funds of working and retired Gambians. But more than that, no other income generating governmental institutions in Gambia has been safe from Yahya Jammeh’s marauding in an effort to fulfill his insatiable greed; a testament to his selfish craving for material wealth; not Gamtel/Gamcel; not Gambia Port Authority; not Livestock Marketing Board; and not even The Central Bank of The Gambia among other agencies and institutions.
But, perhaps the most visible aspect of Yahya Jammeh’s reign is the tribalism he has introduced and fostered in the body politics of our country. In today’s Gambia, the Fulas, Mandingoes, Wollofs and the other tribes have become virtually invisible. It is as if they have vanished into thin air; gone forever, and the daily news casts, even by Yahya Jammeh’s mouthpiece, The Daily Observer Newspaper, confirms this anomaly. The names that have consistently featured in the news over the years have been and continue to be exclusively those of Yahya Jammeh’s tribe of preference, the Jolas. The names that top the list include the Jammehs, Sonkos, Colleys, Sanyangs, Sannehs and Badjies; names of people favored by Yahya Jammeh; names that now occupy most senior positions in the regime; names Yahya Jammeh can rely on to protect his nefarious activities from becoming public knowledge, and names that have become synonymous with every crime attributed to Yahya Jammeh and his regime. Yet, if Gambians think they know the extent of Yahya Jammeh’s massive corruption and what he will do avoid accountability to the Gambian people, they need to think again. Recently, Freedom Newspaper and Radio revealed for the first time, what every Gambian suspected all along; Yahya Jammeh’s contracting of Cassamance rebels for protection in the event of a revolt to oust him from power. But Gambians hardly care about a paltry three thousand mercenaries when in the city of Brikama alone, dissidents can easily muster a ten-thousand-man army of young able-bodied men who will fight to protect the integrity of our country’s borders from outside intrusion. Besides, in the city of Serekunda alone there are far more willing defenders of our country’s territorial borders than the entirety of all the mercenaries Yahya Jammeh can coral from his Cassamance homeland. And if Yahya Jammeh is delusional to think his three thousand man contracted Cassamance rebels force can scare patriotic Gambians from fighting to save our country from external aggression, he must be out of his damn drunken mind.
But what has captured the imagination of Gambians today is November 24, 2011. Will Yahya Jammeh stay or leave; leave either through a humiliating electoral defeat or be sent packing by the combined outrage of Gambia’s civilian population and the military and security forces? Gambians at home and abroad echo similar sentiments of rejection of another five-year term of Yahya Jammeh’s murderous tyranny and are unwilling under any circumstance to contemplate such an eventuality. But one of the stumbling blocks to this aspiration, many believe, is the collapse of the party unity talks. As inconceivable as it sounds, the minuscule and ridiculous issue of national convention as demanded by PDOIS has turned out as the bottleneck to a united opposition. Considering how insignificant this issue is within the larger context of the life and death issues surrounding The Gambia under Yahya Jammeh, the inability of the political parties to embrace UDP’s Ousainou Darboe is almost a sacrilege of near religious proportions. For the moment at least it seems PDOIS’s equivocation has swayed the other political party players towards a direction that undermines the need and the sanity of a united political front. And to think NRP’s Hamat Bah will endorse the unreasonable issue of national convention to influence his decision to abandon Ousainou Darboe cold turkey is beyond imagination. As it is, a vote for either NRP or PDOIS will tantamount to a deliberate sabotage of the elections against UDP; essentially diminishing of the opportunity for Ousainou Darboe’s electoral success. And considering that UDP is the only opposition party with a truly broad national reach and appeal, it would appear a foregone conclusion for PDOIS with presence in only Serekunda East and Wuli districts and NRP with a viable presence only in Saloum, to unequivocally embrace the candidature of UDP’s Ousainou Darboe. If Hamat Bah and Halifa Sallah cast themselves as pariahs in this political process, it will be an understatement to say that Gambians will judge their credibility harshly for years to come. As it is, a vote for either an NRP or PDOIS candidature will translate to a vote for Yahya Jammeh. Gambians cannot fathom nor wrap their minds around this inconceivably moronic failure of imagination. But as we pursue the elections prong, the possibility of a popular revolt to oust Yahya Jammeh is an option Gambians must keep handy in our quiver. Hell NO to five more years of Yahya Jammeh.