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Gambia’s despotic former ruler

By Saul N’jie

One of the reasons why I respect the German political theorist; Hannah Arendt, is her ability to look dead-eyed at structures and societies, critique them, without lapsing into groupthink, sentimentality or political correctness. In that tradition, I am going to try and offer a brief synopsis of evil in the Jammeh era, knowing well that societies, since time immemorial, always start with the narrative, story – that best benefits them, not the other way around. Moreover, an objective analysis of “morally” devastating periods in our history are seldom popular, especially when the idea of victimhood and collective guilt is still fresh in our consciousness.

To begin, it would’ve been more comforting to our (Gambian) psyche were Jammeh a monster. So too with Bora Colley, Saul Badjie, Ousman Sonko, et. al. – because monsters can be recognized – they can be annihilated. Unfortunately, these men, I posit, were not monsters – they were of this earth, of Africa, of Gambia, of us. All evident when the Senegalese armada strolled roughshod into Gambian lands, Jammeh acquiesced power, went into exile to Equatorial Guinea for obvious reasons. Bora Colley backpacked into the Casamance hinterland – en route to Guinea Bissau. Ironically, it turned out that Jammeh and his strongmen were, after all, capable of being intimidated, aware of the fragility of their mortality and fear other human beings, just like the rest of us.

I know and understand the process of othering we have been trying to attach to Jammeh, making him into some foreign entity – and emotionally, I am also guilty of this. However, when I put on my critical political theorist hat –  I can’t help but wonder why for 22 years – even when he had lost the elections, losing support, left and right, he still had people to do his bidding. For over 2 decades – Jammeh always had people to kill, arrest, torture, jail and threaten people for him. He never ran out of manpower supply. Never! So, is that an anomaly, or is there something un-Gambian about Jammeh and his cabal of aiders and abettors? I think, and for good measure, that we underestimate the fact that ordinary people are capable of evil.

A good many of us think that evil can only come from freaks of nature; some insane, bloodthirsty people. By way of contrast, I implore you to revisit history and look at the barbarous pasts of the Rwandas, the Germanys, the Yugoslavias. Good, absolutely normal human beings, who were living with one another, woke up one day, decided with their machetes, guns to exterminate their neighbors of 30 years, just for the hell of it.  What is foreign with the Rwandan soil that allowed for such mind-numbing macabre? What was with the German people that allowed the Shoah? What was with the Southern Slavs that allowed Jasenovac? Heck, what was with the Gambian people that allowed 22 years of Jammeh? You see, evil cannot be simply othered – if anything – evil, just like good, is not a deviation from the human experience – but an absolute expression of it.  It is this understanding that we live on the peripheries of the volcano, that the volcano is in us. We are the volcano. We, humans, are the evil. Ordinary people. Normal Gambians. Your neighbors. Your kinfolk. Not no monster.

This does not mean that we, Gambians, are uniquely evil but that Gambia is comprised of imperfect human beings and in this long treacherous human history, if there anything to learn, it’s that the evils of the Jammeh regime points to the fact that his evil is ours, not foreign; that Gambians are capable of evil, too. There is nothing foreign about it, it was simply evil; because evil is human, irrespective of our imaginary geographical lines. Evil does not have a nationality.

And, for these reasons – we cannot move forward without accounting for this Gambian evil, in other words, bringing Jammeh and his co-conspirators to the book. We cannot deconstruct and understand this evil until we accept that this evil is ours and forego the collective denial. A country, especially after 22 years of looting, corruption and human rights abuses, has to come to a reckoning with its past. We are unto tomorrow, but not without our scars, not without our history, not without our stories, not without the sins of yesterday – a la stone age Gambia. Only and only when we lay these to bare – can we understand how much evil humans are capable of, contextually, ordinary Gambians.

Consequently, the fact of Jammeh’s evil, and all its effects on the Gambia doesn’t prove our (the oppressed) inherent goodness – because one day you could be the oppressed and the next day – you could be the oppressor. That; the evil is us, human beings, our own creation, reflection – is never easy to undertake.

Thenceforth, the evils of Jammeh are originally Gambian, born and bred, just like how the so called goodness of Jawara was also originally Gambian. We cannot selectively decide what is Gambian, in that, we cannot accept everything good to be Gambian and the bad to be foreign. And, Jammeh’s evil and goodness also depends on who you ask, for a good chunk of Gambians – think he was a good person, reason why they voted for him, cried when he left the shores of The Gambia. The state, its leaders, are usually amoral – let’s not be romantic about this. The sanitization of our collective guilt feeds into a form of collective denial. Let us be vigilant, let us get out of fantasyland; make sure another Jammeh, in this context, the system and structure that gave us Jammeh, is understood and dealt with accordingly – because an election where Jammeh lost by 20000 votes – does not, could not and would not whisk away 22 years of Gambian evil.

Alas! Let me now remove my critical political theorist hat off – and put on my sentimental Gambian hat on – and say that we, the Gambian people, holistically, are good people; and that Jammeh and his 22 years of aiders and abettors, are outliers!

You see, none of us is simple, man; none of us is.

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  1. pa cham says:

    to begin ,i wanna commend you on such a well written,articulated and highly interesting article and,no sooner did i finish perusing it than i decided to all but comment on Any rate, our people are in dire need of knowledge, wisdom and understandig of politics and its significance to us all . generally, our people just dont like to read , not knowing that thats the only means of attaining deeper knowledge and as a result,the multitude lack the intellctual bases to grasp the actual role of a president as oppposed to a monarch. which is what mostst of our shameleess african presidents seem to be unable to distinguish. they have no love for the people,nor respect for the people and , they want us to all be ignorant so that they can go arroun playing overlords at the expense of the masses. we need educated presidents,presidents who actuslly read and speak well . frankly black people are sick of being condescended only because of our evil presidents . people need to stop the suck and put these, mostiy,evil,ugly and despicable men. If these presidents had knowledg of history they would know that men that perpetrate evil alwys got evil back,in the worst way and,believe me , our x president will never be happy inspite of all that Money he stole. we all know that Money cant buy love,especilly now that he is in exile, living in a country where no one knows him enough to love and care about him.he is nothing but a destitute with Money. allah does not like the ugly and evil and. let us rest easy as allah will get him for us.his wife wiii eventually as it is no secrete that one cannot turn a whore into never works. the man is too ugiy for zainab and he does not have the slightest inkling as to what racist morrocans are.frankly,i never envied him as i was Always certain that he wolud end up this way and this just begining of monumentally rude awakening for the smelly ex president. i dont know him personally buti am sure that he is not fresh and Clean-with all the deadaninal skin he wears, i know for sure that is body odour would be far from. by the way, it is quite Amazing,to me,how people claim that they believve in Allah while they wear dead skin on a Daily basis. our people need knowleddge and we need atonement., iam tired of being a foreigner. sweden is great but there is no Place lik home sweet Gambia.

  2. Lia says:

    Hats off to you the learned Mr. Njie! This article says the truth that we Gambians must face. It is so honest, educative, and of such high quality that it is fit to be a course of study for all Gambians. Mr. Njie please get this article published in all Gambian newspapers and get it interpreted in all local languages. This will give Gambians the opportunity to reflect, learn and realize the truth of your article, and so strive to avoid a repetition of our tragic past. Please spread this article to as many Gambians as possible- you will not only be educating a lot of people, you will also be encouraging them to be honest, as well as helping to avoid a repetition of the past, thereby saving many lives.

    A big Thank You.