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Big Renaissance in Little Gambia

By Baba Galleh Jallow

One cannot help but feel a warm sense of pride at being a Gambian on the eve of 2017. Against the odds, Gambians have voted Yahya Jammeh out of office after inspiring the leaders of their political parties to present a united front against Jammeh’s dictatorship of 22 years.  Against the odds, the Coalition has won the elections by a good margin. Against the odds, Jammeh was quick to concede defeat and promise to step down. Against the odds, Gambians, from the president-elect to journalists of private and state media houses, have told Jammeh to his face that he simply has no authority to reject the election results. And against the odds, Electoral Commission Chair Alieu Momar Njai has told Jammeh and the world that “The election results are correct. Nothing can change that.” And that if Jammeh takes the case to court, the electoral commission will account for every vote cast. One has every reason to be Gambia proud in the face of this big renaissance in little Gambia.

News that a group of faculty and staff at the University of The Gambia are boycotting exams and their work at UTG in solidarity with the president-elect adds very welcome icing to the cake. While Jammeh had imposed himself on Gambians, his electoral defeat has given Gambians an excellent opportunity to show him to his face that he does not own The Gambia; that he is just one citizen among many, a primus inter pares; and that he can no longer defy the will of the Gambian people or clamp down upon the rights and dignities of the people with blatant impunity. The reactions of the Gambian people since Jammeh’s U-turn over the election results inspires heightened confidence and a deep sense of pride in every honest Gambian. Not even the heavy presence of soldiers on the streets of Banjul and Serekunda has deterred Gambians from telling Jammeh to his face that he can no longer abuse us and our country with impunity. He has been roundly defeated at the polls, his dictatorship has been rejected by the people, and he should just pack up and go. Gambia is bigger than any single person and cannot indefinitely be held hostage by any single person. Gambia needs to move on.

There is no doubt that the political consciousness of the Gambian people have grown significantly since Jammeh seized power in a military coup 22 years ago. His many unfulfilled promises and his regime of blatant oppression and disregard for the rights and dignities of the Gambian people have slowly but surely generated righteous indignation and inspired a spirit of rebellion that led to his recent electoral defeat and the spirit of defiance that greeted his nullified rejection of the results a week after he conceded defeat. In this age of social media and backway tragedies, many Gambians have recognized their power and found that they have a loud and clear voice with which to rebuff any single person who thinks they can ride roughshod over the backs of the people. This is an excellent thing for our little Gambia because once a people recognizes and tastes their legitimate and boundless power, no one can ever oppress them again.

For the past 22 years, Gambians have suffered all manner of indignities at the hands of the Jammeh regime. Horrendous crimes have been committed by the Jammeh regime which still remain unsolved: Circumstances surrounding the November 11, 1994 incident at Yundum Barracks where a number of soldiers were killed remain shrouded in mystery. No one knows what happened to Lt. Basiru Barrow, Dot Faal and others who lost their lives that night. The gruesome murders of Finance Minister Ousman Koro Ceesay, Lt. Almano Manneh, and Deyda Hydara have never been seriously investigated. The soldiers that shot 14 innocent school children on April 10 and 11, 2000 were never arrested for their crimes. And the disappearance into thin air of NIA head Daba Marena and his colleagues, journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh and many others is shrouded in mystery. Yahya Jammeh’s regime goes down in the annals of Gambian, African and world history as a regime of brutal mystery and darkness, a regime that felt it owed nobody any explanation for anything that happened under its watch. Jammeh himself acted as if he was totally above the law and mindlessly trampled upon the Gambian constitution, the laws and the dignity of the Gambian people with total impunity.  He muzzles Gambians’ freedoms of expression, of association and of assembly and arrogantly ignored and spat upon the advice of well-meaning Gambians. He insisted that because he was in power, he could do and say anything and was always right. Now, too late for regret, he is forced to accept that might does not always make right, and that the longest day comes to an end. For whatever he now does, Jammeh knows that his time is up. It is now time for him to forever carry the burden of dark deeds and bad karma he has amassed over the past 22 years.

All of Jammeh’s abuses have over the years fed the imagination and fueled the righteous indignation of the Gambian people. Gambians have resisted him from start to finish. At no point during the past 22 years was there a lull in the barrage of criticism, protest and opposition to Jammeh’s brutal regime. The more he abused his power and tried to suppress dissent, the more outspoken Gambians have been. If Jammeh takes away one lesson from his experience as the brutal dictator of Gambia, it is that Gambians are stubborn, just as stubborn as he is, if not more stubborn than he is. He can never say that he scared all Gambians into accepting his outrageous words and actions without question. Gambians have always questioned and opposed and ridiculed him right up to his face, often likening him to an elephant on mosquito legs that was sure to crumble under its own weight sooner rather than later. The elephant has crumbled, and its attempts to get back on its mosquito legs will prove futile.

So while Jammeh’s fall has come earlier than most Gambians especially Jammeh himself, had expected, Gambia’s rebirth has been happening for many years now, and is bound to accelerate in the coming weeks, months and years. We have always believed that a country is just as powerful as its own citizens. The level of political empowerment of the Gambian nation can only rise exponentially as we enter a new phase of a delightful if challenging renaissance. One hopes that the incoming administration with take practical steps to further empower the Gambian people to such an extent that no one will ever be able to abuse their power the way Jammeh did for the past 22 years.

We have repeatedly argued over the past few years that The Gambia needs to be transformed into a Family Nation through the agency of a Nation School. The serious political education and empowerment of the Gambian people can no longer be taken for granted, or entrusted to “civic education councils” of the bootlicking sort Jammeh faked. Every Gambian deserves to know exactly every section of the Gambian constitution and every aspect of all the doctrinal and institutional frameworks governing their lives, such as the doctrine of the separation of powers, term limits, judicial independence, and popular sovereignty among others. And they can learn about all these and much more through their national media and in their own national languages from well qualified professionals. In essence, we can turn The Gambia into one large university campus where everyone gets well educated in their civic rights and responsibilities.  History of the sort Gambia has witnessed under Yahya Jammeh’s brutal dictatorship should never be allowed to repeat itself in our dear motherland. It is time for a big renaissance in little Gambia.