By Baba Galleh Jallow
For once, we feel some level of confidence in hypothesizing that the end is near for Yahya Jammeh. Perhaps he might live a long life. But he might just be at or near the end of his days in power. Recent trends in his increasingly erratic behavior, his irresponsible and hubris-driven pronouncements, his chest pounding and his increasingly bold insults and assaults against both local individuals and institutions and global institutions points to one possible conclusion: that the fate that befalls every dictator is about to befall Yahya Jammeh. Of course like all hypothesis, the evidence will determine the thesis. However, if history is anything to go by, Yahya Jammeh has probably reached the end of his days in power. We can only say amen to that because Yahya Jammeh has long outlived his usefulness for our country and has wrecked damage on our national conscience and institutions that it will take many years to remedy.
Yahya Jammeh habitually brags that he will be in power for a million years which, we think, is just his way of saying that he will be in power for as long as he likes because he knows he cannot live even for a hundred years. If he did he would be so old and senile that we would simply lift him up from the throne and set him in the yard to enjoy some sunshine. This ‘million years’ statement projects the tragic hubris of a man who is so power drunk that he claims mastery over fate and human destiny. The blindness of the heart and the mind of which the holy books warn has afflicted Yahya Jammeh and as such, he no longer sees himself or knows himself as we would say in our local Gambian languages. We hear echoes of the Pharaoh of Moses’ day or those of Idi Amin Dada, Saddam Hussein and many other tyrants of the human race whose power had rendered mind-blind. You do not know a thing about how long you will stay in power Mr. Jammeh, or when indeed you will no longer be breathing the airs of this world. No human being does, unless they are diagnosed with a terminal illness, physical or political. In spite of all our insights into what the future may hold, we are as blind as a blind bat when it comes to knowing what will happen tomorrow, as in tomorrow, the next day after this. Jammeh has become so paranoid that he sees enemies lurking everywhere – even and especially among his own close confidantes and members of his government, including the human robots of his shadow state. And so he lashes indiscriminately out at literally everybody in this world! That looks very much like the sign of a fatal political illness.
The Peul Futa say that if you violently shake every tree you see, you will one day shake a tree full of hornets. Yahya Jammeh has already or will soon shake such a tree, since he has the very unwise and hubris-driven habit of shaking every tree he sees. He foolishly insults everybody he wishes and thinks that he can get away with anything he says or does. From ordinary security officers to government ministers and other civil servants, Yahya Jammeh lashes out with unprovoked invectives, calling people names and doling out all mighty threats of death and destruction to anyone who in his estimation, is not doing what they should be doing according to his standards which, incidentally, are world class low. There is a widely circulating rumor that he even habitually insults the mothers of his cabinet ministers at cabinet meetings. One can only hope that this is just a rumor; but it is not beyond the realm of possibility knowing that we are talking about a half-wit or maniac who happens to be wielding the most power in his country and commands the power of life and death over 1.8 million people.
Yahya Jammeh consistently insults Gambian journalists, human rights advocates and members of alternate parties, all of which groups he considers, for reasons known only to him, as illegitimate and not deserving of constitutional rights and protections. He has called journalists illegitimate sons of Africa, among other ugly names, and has declared that members of alternate Gambian parties are donkeys. This is coming from the mouth of a man who habitually invokes the name of Allah, who in the holy scriptures explicitly forbids such behavior. He habitually proclaims that neither the ballot nor the bullet can remove him from power. While the bullet issue is anyone’s guess, conducting elections while claiming victory before the fact constitutes one of many disrespectful and outright insulting behaviors towards the Gambian people by Mr. Jammeh. Why does he hold regular elections if he can declare before the polls that he will remain in power until “20 million 20” in his own words. Beyond the crudity of the obvious contempt for the Gambian constitution he expresses with such a statement, Jammeh’s pronouncements that no other party will rule The Gambia in a million years reveals the extent of his blinding hubris. It is also another way of saying that suppose the majority of Gambians vote against him in an election, he would not hesitate to use force to steal the elections or insist on staying in power. And he will do it if he thinks he will get away with it, which he might not next time around.
Yahya Jammeh, the man who proclaims his Muslimhood at every possible opportunity, also practices blatant tribalism by habitually insulting Gambian Mandinkas. When he insults Mandinkas in general, he of course cannot leave out anyone belonging to The Gambia’s largest ethnic group, whether they support him or not, whether they are respectable elders or not, whether they are women, children or even babies. While he claims to be a unifier of Gambians on one hand, he singles out an entire people for insults and threats for no conceivably good reason. Surely, the All Mighty Allah whose name he invokes all the time does not approve of such ungodly behavior. One of many conclusions we can reach on this issue is that Yahya Jammeh is no Muslim or even a believer in the God in whose names he castigates all who care to listen. A Muslim cannot be so rude as to habitually subject an entire people to a barrage of insults like Yahya Jammeh does for the mere fact that he feels he can.
But Yahya Jammeh’s hubris-driven rudeness knows neither tribe nor age or social status. As is now common knowledge, religious elders are a common target of his insults and bullying. While some of these men of God perhaps deserve such maltreatment owing to their aiding and abetting of Jammeh’s tyranny, the majority of them are innocent of any wrongdoing. Witness the recent case of the elderly Sheikh Muhideen Hydara, who endured seven months of state bullying in the form of arrests, bogus charges, and repeated court appearances for allegedly disobeying Jammeh’s order to perform the Eid prayers on a particular day. The elderly Sheikh is just the most recent example of Jammeh’s unjust bullying of religious leaders. The cases of Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana and Imam Baba Leigh are also well known. Both these latter two Imams were arrested and subjected to painful and humiliating treatment because they dared to express an opinion on their country’s political affairs. Having totally personalized both the Gambian state and the Gambian nation, Yahya Jammeh sees any comment critical of his words and actions as a personal affront and proceeds to bully those responsible. Well, it is safe to imagine that these men of God also claim friendship with Jammeh’s All Mighty Allah and may well be asking Him for justice against their persecutors. There is nothing Jammeh can do about that. Even within the confines of a tight prison cell, a person can ask for God’s intervention either verbally or in their minds. For is not God the all-hearing, all-knowing? Judge Thou with truth, they could pray, for You are the Best of Judges.
Yahya Jammeh’s favorite target for abuse and insults is of course the West and Western countries and institutions. The reason for his obsessive hatred of the West is not far to see: the fact that they criticize his rampant abuse of the rights of his own people and anyone who resides in The Gambia. Jammeh’s favorite hobby horse is of course long dead colonialism and in this respect, it is amazing just how similar Jammeh’s regime is to the worst of the colonial regimes that existed in Africa. Like colonialism, Jammeh’s regime is “bula matari” to borrow Crawford Young’s memorable phrase: it is based on foundational violence that brooks no opposition and mercilessly crushes its critics. Like colonialism, Jammeh’s regime regards itself “as the sole power to judge its laws”; and like colonialism, the supreme right of the Jammeh regime is its assumed right to deny others their rights. And like colonialism, the Jammeh regime considers its “subjects” as mere things of power, to be treated with contempt and impunity at every possible opportunity. The parallels are legion that the Jammeh regime is not at all different from the most brutal colonial regimes in Africa. In fact in some respects, the Jammeh regime is more brutal than many African colonial regimes. But of course being mind-blind and intellectually corrupt, Yahya Jammeh has no way of seeing this blatant and cruel irony of the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. Mind-blindness and intellectual corruption are behind Jammeh’s arbitrary decision to pull The Gambia out of the Commonwealth and most recently, to expel the EU representative to The Gambia. Self-destructive hubris keeps him on the verbal assault against Western nations and pure foolery keeps him shouting that he will never allow the West to colonize The Gambia again. His recent threat to deal mercilessly with the European Union and other Western countries demonstrates the extent of his alienation from reality. How tragic that beautiful Gambia could be saddled with such ugly leadership.
Until recently, Yahya Jammeh only indirectly attacked his fellow African rulers. But since the issue of term limits was raised a few weeks ago, he has turned all African Union and ECOWAS leaders into stooges of the West who are being used in an attempt to recolonize the continent. Here is a segment of his rant on the subject a couple of days ago as published in the June 6, 2015 online edition of The Standard newspaper: “Now they [West] are trying to use Ecowas. They said Yahya Jammeh cannot be changed by elections. They want to use their stooges in Ecowas to impose term limit because that is … a Western agenda. Where were the so-called Western leaders today 20 years ago when I became head of state? Let me warn Ecowas – Gambia is nobody’s colony and our development is not dependent on Ecowas that has already failed because it has been hijacked by the West. Even if the whole world introduced term limit, I will not have a term limit and let me see what you can do. Democracy is power to the people and not power to the West. I am a pan-Africanist, but I will not subscribe to any institution that is hijacked by the West and be used against Africa. If it is the AU, I will leave AU; if it is Ecowas, I will leave Ecowas, but I will not be given lecture by any of these institutions on behalf of the West. Tell me about one electric pole here which was installed by the AU (African Union) or Ecowas or by the British or the Americans. We are not fools! Let them mind their own business.”
Indeed, indeed Mr. Jammeh. And you, of course are Gambia in absolute terms. And you, of course choose to forget your very own words back in July 1994: “We are not here to stay and we will not allow anyone to be in power in this country beyond ten years. In fact, ten years is too long.” I guess you will now say that ten years is too short; even twenty years is too short for you. You will be in power for a million years, long after you are dead, gone, and remembered only in history lesson discussions of Africa’s worst dictators. Anyway, suffice it to inform you sir, that your ill-conceived attack on the African Union and ECOWAS marks the end of you in a very real sense. You have now not only lost the respect of the entire big wide world; you have now become the most visible pariah, the laughing stock and the butt of unfunny smutty jokes of all your fellow African heads of state. I guess if they are stooges of the West some of us on this side of the paranoid and self-righteous equation might well be usefully described as stooges of the Rest, who incidentally, are just as bad if not worse than the West in many crucial respects! The AU and ECOWAS are probably thinking of a forced exit for all those who refuse term limits and insult them with impunity. They are probably thinking that the ECOMOG model would do the job just fine with a slight tweak in its mandate. The Johannesburg meeting is fast coming up and word on the street is that term limits will be on the agenda again!! And many more “Western stooges” will be in attendance!! And who knows, the West might perhaps be thinking that a small group of Special Forces might be a good way of colonizing our small part of Africa again as a way of convincing us that no one can be in power for a million years or refuse to deliver on their term limit promises. In any case, one has a feeling that the end is always near for those who would violently shake every tree they see.