By Mathew K Jallow
Iwo Jima, My Lai, and Tiananmen Square, each represents an iconic image of the tragedy of war and civil strife forever carved in the collective human memory. They reveal the dark and ugly side of human nature. Every so often, ignorance and narcissism stand in the way of learning from the hard lessons of history. These tragedies of so long ago have again resurfaced in a land far, far away from the volcanoes of Iwo Jima and the bloody My Lai streets, and left a stamp that will forever change the course of Gambia’s political history. The indelible image of an older man, looking dazed and drenched in the blood streaking down his listless face, may not be the most graphic metaphor of war, but it has, nonetheless, left Gambians in shock and utter disbelief. What began in mid-April as an innocuous expression of political discontent has metastasized into full blown-out movement for political change. This time around, the death under custody of the intrepid Solo Sandeng, the arrest, detention and rapes of Fatou Camara, and Fatoumata Jawara, did not cause Gambians to recoil in fear and melt away in pitiful disgrace. If anything, it inspired a resistance movement and the new wave of arrests and detention of thirty-six senior officials of the main opposition UDP party. But, that was not the end; not by a long shot. What followed was the clash that needed to happen; a clash between twenty-one years of repression and the courage to counter political tyranny, and in the end, it was a turning point in Gambian politics. When the battle lines finally dissipated, the streets were soaked in the blood of the innocent, traumatized and the wounded. These running street battles are emblematic of the new burst of fearlessness, which working in tandem with the defiant UDP leadership is shattering beliefs in the opposition cowardice. In a strange kind of way, what is happening on the rugged potholed streets of Banjul and Serekunda, is a beautiful reminder of the eternal courage that resides in the people. The veil of fear that paralyzed an entire nation for two decades was finally lifted; a veil that concealed the bravery Gambians did not know they possessed, and in so doing, unmasked the mortifying fear that belies the regime’s never-ending bluster and empty rhetoric.
The institutionalization of lawlessness that has plunged Gambia in political madness has spiraled into unbearable violence and disregard for human life. The decadence of fear and corruption of morality, which allowed this Orwellian tragedy to fester is axiomatic of the apocalyptic despair of a people literally dying to be free. As the sweeping electoral reforms the opposition is seeking challenges a regime unaccustomed to operating under the cover of justice, and elections barely seven months away, the protagonists on the other side of the political divide are still languishing in jail, still not free to partake in electioneering, and still unable to participate in the democratic process. For too long, the regime has had an iron grip on Gambians’ way of life, but every avid student of politics will admit to the finite nature of political tyrannies. The intellectual path of politics, conveyed in the dynamism and perennially of change, is ushering in a paradigm shift that opposes old political customs and conventions, while tapping into the frustrations of a people determined to live free. The fresh political violence in the Gambia vividly illuminates Yahya Jammeh’s contempt for civility, preferring the use of brute force to deter political dissension and hinder the prospects of regime change, but Gambians will never again be silent observers to their own demise. But more, Gambians’ will to be free, is diametrically opposed the AU, ECOWAS, and UN urging for peaceful elections, which will reward criminal behavior by legitimizing the despised regime. The AU, ECOWAS and the UN, having followed classic diplomatic protocol in dealing with Yahya Jammeh for twenty-one years, as the Gambia descended further into the political abyss, still lack the will to confront Yahya Jammeh with facts, and the need for political change. This complete lack of guiding moral principles in ECOWAS and the AU, contrast sharply with the pragmatism of the European Union, (EU), which just two week ago took a firm position on the Gambia’s murderous military regime, as fresh outbreak of violence again rock the capital, Banjul. The measures under consideration by the EU include withholding critical development and operational funds, and imposing travel ban on Gambian officials.
The past four weeks have seen Yahya Jammeh’s absolute hold on power come under attack and slip away from his iron grip, as demonstrations and vigorous international pressure intensified to destabilize the capital, Banjul, as the Gambian economy hemorrhaged from Senegal’s border closure. In the thick of this rising pressure, Yahya Jammeh’s life in an alternate reality is manifesting itself as he left his troubles behind for a two weeks country tour to gauge peoples’ fear or lack thereof, and as is customary, do what he always does best; insult and threaten poor farmers. But, it is his vain attempt to restore the fear that has since been supplanted by Gambians’ rigid determination to rid the country of Yahya Jammrh’s insatiable lust for power. These days, Yahya Jammeh cannot catch a break from the grind of bad news, which threatens his decadent reigm as Gambians dare to unchain themselves from his tyranny. And the recent stunning revelations of financial misappropriation in the Panama Papers give a glimpse into an extravagant lifestyle supported by Yahya Jammeh’s looting of the Gambia’s meagre resources; one of the poorest countries in the world. Yahya Jammeh’s stashing of one billion dollars in just one account in Panama, the huge wealth he has amassed over the last two decades, the political repression, political assassinations, mass incarcerations, exploitation of women and girls, and the terror he instilled in the people, all count to disqualify him from ever holding elected office in Gambia. And last week, the legal case against jailed opposition officials suffered a devastating setback as the presiding “judge” was forced to recuse himself after his earthshaking admission or was it a Freudian slip, that the case has no merit. Whether or not, the firing of the so-called “Chief Justice” is directly or tangentially related to the this trial, one thing is clear to the mercenary judges; the search for justice is not Yahya Jammeh’s overarching interest. Justice Ottaba recusing himself and the subsequent firing of the Chief Justice, Emmanuel Fagbenle are symptomatic of the conflict between truth and injustice in litigious Gambia, where the driving force is Yahya Jammeh’s hunger for power. But, it is a new day in Gambia, and Gambians will never again go back to that dark past where they lived in constant fear and terror. No; not anymore. Change has come to Gambia, and Yahya Jammeh can do nothing about it. NOTHING.