03 November 2011

The Gambia: The reluctant but willing warrior paradox; Dr. Amadou Scattred Janneh

By Mathew K Jallow
Precisely three months before his politically motivated arrest, Dr. Amadou Scattred Janneh confided in me his post-Yahya Jammeh’s regime’s ambition. “I would like to teach a class in Human Rights at the Gambia University.” It was a defining moment in our relations; a moment that completely altered my view of our fledging Coalition for Change Gambia (CCG). In him, I met another Gambian of academic stature with whom I shared the same worldviews. Dr. Amadou S. Janneh easily won me over with the modesty of his ambition, just as he was impressed with my persistent drumbeat calling for democracy and the rule of law in The Gambia. Ours was, therefore, a match made in Heaven. Dr. Janneh a former Radio Gambia and The Knoxville Journal, Tennessee, news reporter is no stranger to journalism and the world of politics. In1989, as a doctoral student and University of Tennessee political science professor, he founded the “Anti-apartheid Coalition of Tennessee,” a testament to his commitment to the issues of justice and fairness in politics. Earlier in his life, the native of Gunjur, a town located thirty miles south of the capital city Banjul, saw firsthand the struggles of daily life Gambians in the rural hinterland were faced with. It was a humbling experience that opened his eyes to the social and economic inequalities that surrounded him. The experience helped mould his character.
Dr. Amadou Janneh is an accomplished business entrepreneur committed to the creation of opportunities for every Gambian to succeed to help them climb out of the wretched economic conditions that have bedeviled our country for so long. In that regard alone, Dr. Janneh has proven to be the consummate capitalist with the heart of gold. But this is only a small snapshot of the character of the American-educated academic and political activist. The University of Tennessee where he studied and later taught, played an important role in his formative years; giving him the opportunity to blossom both in the sphere of academics as well as in his own personal life as a man unapologetically committed to equality and justice for all. Following the military coup in The Gambia in 1994, Dr. Janneh saw a role for himself helping pull our country out of the economic and political doldrums that had plagued us for so long. He made the fateful decision to leave the comfort of America and took an emotional journey back home after so many years. After a brief stint as Political and Economics Assistant at the United States Embassy in Banjul, Gambia, he was appointed Information and Technology minister in the Yahya Jammeh regime. But Dr. Janneh never really fit into the rhythm of the system, and before long, his high hopes for The Gambian came crashing down in cloud of disappointment and frustration. As quickly as he was appointed minister, he was fired, not a moment too soon for the Jammeh regime; and not to the surprise of everyone else.
But Dr. Janneh did not despair; on the contrary, he challenged himself to create opportunities for himself within the restricted political and economic space that Gambia’s adversarial political system afforded him. His brief stint as Information and Technology minister taught him a valuable life lesson which would carry over to his future endeavors. But it did not take long before Dr. Janneh was arrested and charged with the high crimes of treason sedition. His arrest was not unexpected; rather, it was the natural progression of the way things work in The Gambia, as many victims of the regime can rightly testify; hire, fire, arrest, trial and incarceration. But this time around Dr. Janneh’s case was different from the rest; a lot different. The uneasiness of living in a country with restricted freedoms and civil liberties did not matchup with Dr. Janneh’s expectations, and he soon set out to do something about it in defiance of the forces and the powers that be. It took only a couple of public lectures and presentations which culminated with his famous Africa Liberation Day speech at the Gambia University to court the uneasy attention of the regime, but even that was no deterrent to a person who is unapologetically democratic to the core. Today, five months after his arrest, Dr. Janneh still remains in jail, charged along with seven other CCGmembers of attempting to overthrow Yahya Jammeh’s regime. In one of his court appearances last week, Dr. Janneh protested loudly to a judge about the unsanitary conditions prisoners in Mile 2 Prison live and die in. His court protestation was typical of the way Dr. Janneh has functioned throughout his adult life; a man who will challenge and seek redress to injustice whenever and wherever he sees them.
Dr. Janneh’s emersion in the struggles to free South Africa back in the 1980s typify the character of a man who would not, under any circumstance, be intimidated or reduced to a heap of fear and self-pity. And if Dr. Janneh was concerned enough about injustices in South Africa more than five thousand miles from his native Gambia, he would never shy away from calling for political change in his own country when that need arises. And when theCoalition for Change Gambia (CCG)was founded, it was in the same spirit with which Dr. Amadou Janneh founded the Anti-apartheid Coalition of Tennessee more than two decades earlier. Dr. Janneh and his codefendants’ arrest and charges with treason and sedition is a watershed moment that showcases the regime’s predatory history, but theCoalition for Change Gambia, the civil society organization to which Dr. Amadou Janneh and his fellow defendants belong, remains committed to its goals of political freedom and the rule of law in The Gambia. As determined as the CCG members at home and abroad are to the greater good of The Gambia, the sight of Dr. Amadou S. Janneh in leg shackles and hands cuffed to his back being lifted off the ground onto the back of a military police truck by armed military police, rained tears of anger and outrage down the cheeks of many Gambians. It is unimaginable that a person, who has committed no crime, can be treated with such callousness and cruelty. But this is The Gambia where the rule of law is extinct and where justice is like a commodity in short supply.
And now, like it or not, under the climate of fear that pervades Gambian society, Dr. Amadou S. Janneh, the one who refused to be afraid, has set an example for other Gambians to follow. For now, the frivolous treason and sedition case against him and other CCGmembers, supporters and contracted workers, has attracted broad attention of the international community even though no politician at home has yet raised their voices to condemn his arrest and continued detention. To add insult to injury, Dr. Janneh is still denied access to members of his family, an act of vengeance that has turned every known law and international convention on its head. By victimizing Dr. Janneh, Yahya Jammeh will inadvertently turn him into a hero among Gambia’s increasingly vocal population and communities of dissidents at home and abroad. Ironically, Gambians and the world may perhaps just be witnessing history being made; the trial by fire of The Gambia’s next Head of State. For even though Dr. Janneh has limited is ambition to teaching a course in Human Rights at the Gambia University, after this ordeal or as a result of it, Gambians may be willing to reward him with the mantle of Gambia’s presidency if he chooses to seek it. For now, in my opinion, he is only one of few Gambian who combines the necessary qualifications to lead The Gambia to its new rebirth. And maybe, just maybe, that is precisely the reason the establishment politicians have remained mute about his arrest, detention and trial. But Dr. Janneh who has become a symbol of resistance to many Gambians, does not need any establishment politician to raise his profile or give credibility to his name. For, he more than any establishment politician in The Gambia today, has the courage, political philosophy and sobriety to lead The Gambia as its head of state post Yahya Jammeh.
But for now, to think the simple act of printing, wearing and distribution of T-shirts bearing the political statement: “Coalition for Change Gambia. End Dictatorship Now”is grounds enough to charge anyone with the high crimes of treason and sedition, is beyond imagination. One thing is clear though, all these harsh measures designed to politically contain Gambians are counterproductive; on the contrary, they will only make an already bad situation even worst. As a result, Gambian call on the regime to unconditionally release Dr. Amadou S. Janneh, hisCCG codefendants and all the political prisoners languishing in that death trap called Mile 2 Prisons. Set them free NOW. The world is watching.
Coming soon:
Innocent Part 2. The second part of a commentary denouncing the charges and trial of Dr. Amadou S Janneh and the 7 CCG members of treason and sedition.
You can view and sign petition at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/731/224/590/

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