Open Letter to the Gambia Armed Forces
By Baba Galleh Jallow
Dear General Ousman Badjie (CDS) and Members of the Gambia Armed Forces,
Please allow me to address this open letter to you in the name of God and for the love of country that binds us all into one big Gambian family. This letter is not written out of anger or frustration or a desire to incite disorder. Rather, it is inspired by a desire to share our thoughts with you on the current sad situation in our country and call upon you to step in and safe our country from potential disaster, whether of a short, medium or long term nature. We believe that in the face of the current deadlock concerning the results of the December 1 elections, the Gambia Armed Forces are capable of bringing about a resolution without jeopardizing the security and future of our country and our people. We are not calling for violent action by the army. We are calling on the Gambia Armed Forces to persuade President Yahya Jammeh to step down when his term expires in January 2017.
We make bold to say that all members of the Gambia Armed Forces, from CDS Badjie to the latest recruit know in your heart of hearts and between you and your conscience and your God that the Coalition won the December 1, elections. We know that you recognize, perhaps in spite of yourselves, that what Yahya Jammeh is doing is not in line with Natural Justice and that he is doing it simply because he feels that he can do it with your support. We also know that you know that what Yahya Jammeh is doing poses a security threat to our country and our beloved mothers, fathers, uncles, brothers, sisters and children. Like we have argued elsewhere, a country is like an egg; once broken, it is impossible to put it back together. It is therefore profoundly imperative that you, the Gambia Armed Forces save the situation by persuading Mr. Jammeh to respect the results of the December 1 elections and duly hand power over to the Coalition leadership when his term expires in January 2017.
We were mighty proud to see that CDS Badjie called the president elect to pledge his loyalty and the loyalty of the Gambia Armed Forces to the new government. That was absolutely the right thing to do. In the light of Jammeh’s decision to backtrack upon his word and try to annul the results of the election, we can understand why CDS Badjie would declare that his loyalty is to the sitting government. However, we want to point out that there is a mistaken assumption that Yahya Jammeh pays General Badjie’s salary or the salary of any Gambian public servant for the matter. General Badjie’s salary, President Jammeh’s salary and the salaries of all Gambian public servants are paid by the Gambian nation, the Gambia people. When Jammeh steps down, as he needs to be convinced to do, the salaries of the Gambia Armed Forces will continue to be paid by the Gambian nation. The state, which is to say the government and the head of state, are embedded within the nation; they are servants of the Gambian people if only for the fact that we cannot imagine a government without a people. The government and those who head the government are simply privileged individuals executing the business of governance and administration on behalf of the people. General Badjie and the Gambia Armed Forces are sworn to render unqualified allegiance not to either Mr. Jammeh or Mr. Barrow, but to the Gambian nation. You are sworn to defend the Gambian nation from any threat to its security, longevity and survival, whether that threat is internal or external. And we are confident that in the final analysis, you will do just that. We all remember that back in 1994, Yahya Jammeh did not render unqualified allegiance to the president and the government that was ostensibly paying his salary. Once he believed that the Jawara government was posing some kind of threat to the Gambian nation, his allegiance lay squarely with the Gambian nation. Hence his decision to work with other officers of the Gambia Armed Forces to overthrow the Jawara government. He never stops talking about his allegiance and love for The Gambia and the Gambian people, which makes it all the more amazing that he is now threatening the very survival of The Gambia and the Gambian people by trying to cling on to power after losing elections he described as rig-proof both before and after December 1.
We are asking you General Badjie and all members of the Gambia Armed Forces to follow what your own conscience tells you to be the truth of our current situation, and to persuaded Mr. Jammeh not to continue posing such a dangerous threat to the security of our country and to your own lives and the lives of all our people, from our grandparents to our young and innocent children. Mr. Jammeh has won four elections in a row. He has been president for 22 years. He should be persuaded to step down and let The Gambia experiment with new leadership and new ways of doing things. He should be persuaded that The Gambia is bigger than any single individual citizen and that all citizens have equal rights and equal stakes in the well-being of the country. He should be persuaded that his refusal to accept the election results threatens to plunge our country into the space of no return. Should he refuse to step down, anything can happen. There could be mass protests or foreign military intervention or something else that could seriously destabilize our country. And then it would be you, the Gambia Armed Forces and hundreds of thousands of innocent Gambian men, women and children who will bear the brunt of the unpredictable consequences. Yahya Jammeh has been in power for 22 years. He needs to be persuaded to leave in peace and allow our dear little country to experiment with new leadership and new ideas.
Having studied Yahya Jammeh for the past 22 years, we know very well that he is only a civilian in external clothing. If we may beg to use a metaphor, for the past 22 years, Yahya Jammeh has been a military leader in civilian clothes. Just after the 1994 coup, we remember him repeating over and over again that once a soldier, always a soldier; and we totally agree. It is just natural that people often assume the inherent identities of their chosen professions. In the middle of this current crisis, we also know that Yahya Jammeh is saying or suggesting to you General Badjie and to the Gambia Armed Forces what he is not saying or suggesting to the Gambian public or the wider world. Yahya Jammeh’s hidden script follows a well-worn path of his since 1994 and may roughly go something like this:
“In 1994 we soldiers risked our lives to save this country from corrupt civilians and from foreign influences that were exploiting our resources. We have protected this country from corruption and foreign control and exploitation for the past 22 years and we are not going to allow foreign influences to manipulate our electoral system and bring corrupt civilians back into power in this country. Your duty is not to defend any individual but to defend this country and I expect you all to do your duty. If so-called foreign powers think they can install a puppet and corrupt civilian government in this country, they are fooling themselves. We are going to make sure that this country remains independent and we will never allow any so-called coalition to rule this country as long as I am alive. Recently I promoted some of you because I know that if I leave as I initially thought of doing, the incoming civilians will forget all about you. To safeguard your interest and the interest of all Gambians, I have decided that we are not going to let this country fall into the hands of corrupt civilians and their foreign masters again. We are soldiers and we will remain true to our country and I expect all of you to remember that.”
All that, General Badjie and members of the Gambia Armed Forces, is simple propaganda talk with little basis in reality. Jammeh fears that he would be prosecuted after leaving office and he wants to make sure that he fulfills his promise of ruling The Gambia for as long as he is alive. In the process, he is telling you things that he feels you want to hear or should hear and he wants you to believe in non-existent foreign conspiracy theories. We want to end this open letter by calling upon you, General Badjie and all members of the Gambia Armed Forces to do what is right, what you know is right, and what is best for our country, which is what you are sworn to do and persuade Mr. Jammeh to hand over power and retire a free man to his farm in Kanilai or wherever he wants. We believe that Gambia beings a very religious community, all members of the Gambia Armed Forces believe in God; which means that all Gambian soldiers k now that when they die, as we all must one day, they will be accountable for their deeds in this world. Please do not allow one man’s hunger for power to drag you into hell, or to saddle you with questions of injustice that you will one day find it difficult to justify before God. Each person to his or her own grave. Each person has his or her own book of deeds. Please persuade Yahya Jammeh that 22 years of being president is enough and that he should peacefully step down and allow The Gambia to move on in peace and tranquility. Please persuade Mr. Jammeh that might is not always right. Thank you for being there for our dear country.