The Despot’s Amnesty
Fatou Jaw Manneh
The despot of The Gambia Yahya Jammeh was at his old tricks once again. He pardoned “prisoners” and gave amnesty to dissidents on the occasion of the 21st anniversary celebration of his coup, and the reaction was predictable. But should we be celebrating? On what grounds really?
The fact of the matter is that Yahya Jammeh released folks he had kidnapped or used the courts to jail and called it pardon. The public ran about shouting in gratitude or claiming victory. But what had the “prisoners” done in the first place that warranted their arrest, in some cases for ten years? Some had lost their lives in prison and others had lost their loved ones who had been crying for their freedom.
Yahya Jammeh might mean every word in his twisted mind when he quoted the Holy Quran about forgiving us the dissidents. But again, what have we done to require his forgiveness? He is so untrustworthy and so unpredictable that we should treat this occasion with real caution. He had quoted the Quran many times before and that never stopped him from reneging on or rescinding his pledges or arresting and killing people.
If you ask me, there is no cause for jubilation. This is utter shame. I couldn’t be happier, though, that he released these prisoners, majority of whom had no idea why they had been imprisoned. And I would have jubilated, too, if it had been my father who was released from Mile Two.
Since Yahya Jammeh took power in 1994, all political crimes committed in The Gambia are mainly his own doing. Gambia’s most wanted criminal resides in Banjul and Kaninlai. That is no brainer. We all know that. All kidnappings , serious rape cases all point to the Prince of debauchery Yaya Jammeh. Not only is he a bad leader, he is a very dangerous Gambian with absolute power in his hands. He started by eliminating his friends and foes in the military he perceived in his distorted mind as his enemies. He has been responsible for the shooting and killing of three journalists, his own minister, countless soldiers and foreign nationals. And he thinks he can pop up one day and erase all those crimes in a few minutes by pardoning people he had kidnapped?
The sad truth is that he has been kidnapping innocent citizens and putting them behind bars, and he only releases them when he feels like doing so. This state of affairs should be very shameful for every Gambian. A brutal man should not be allowed to arrest, jail, and rearrest people as he pleases while we stand by and do nothing about it. One man must not continue to get away with oppressing two million people.
But of course he knows the game plays on us. Our cowardice and hypocrisy will not let us acknowledge the obvious and ugly truth. Mediocrity rules! Anytime he bestows his small mercies, we all become joyful pointing to him as the good man. Here and there you hear praises like: He is a good man! Yes, indeed! He released the prisoners! Oh what a good man he is! And he forgave the dissidents, too! What we fail to put through to him is that the prisoners were not supposed to be jailed in the first place.
Just as the gratitudes are misplaced, the claims of victory are far too premature. If we stormed the State House and dragged the despot from power, then we can run all over the place claiming victory. If Jammeh dies in office, we have failed The Gambia. If he steps down on his own, we have failed our country. If he wins elections we have failed our country. The only way we can defeat him is when we kick him out of office. That is when history will respect our generation.
That is when we leave a clear precedent for how to tackle a dictator. Yaya Jammeh the dictator has disrespected us so much and hurt us so bad that the only way we can make future generations proud of us is to tackle the dictator by any means necessary.
We are screaming, Pressure! Pressure from who and where? Pressure did not free these people. Jammeh has killed and kidnapped many and we cannot do nothing about it. Jammeh kidnapped, drugged, and jailed elderly UDP members. UDP couldn’t do anything about it and we couldn’t do anything about it.
At the very least, we shouldn’t glorify this act by referring to it as ‘pardon.’ He released people he had kidnapped. That’s what we should call it. Because, if the rule of law and the due process had been followed, these folks wouldn’t have been sent to prison at all.
I wasn’t all too surprised when Jammeh started eliminating fellow soldiers he couldn’t trust or suspected of plotting against him. Most military leaders in his position would do the same. But for him to engage in kidnapping, beating, torturing innocent civilians as a means of preserving his power, and the two million of us cannot do anything about that, show that we are doomed. Two million people against one lunatic and his cruel enablers who do his dirty work and propaganda. This is a shame! Now we are shocked and stuck, but pretending that we won something. We did not. Jammeh won.
He did what he wanted to do. Hooray and what can we do about it? Jammeh woke up and changed the course of events, and that was it. What pressure and from whom? After 21 long years of unleashing terror on the Gambian people ? He is still in power doing his thing. If he likes, tomorrow he can round up all those people and throw them back into jail. Guess what? Nothing will come happen. Isn’t that sad and shameful?
We did not see this coming. Master manipulator is pretending he is the good man in town and we the mediocre are running all over town celebrating his kindness. This is sickening.
Yahya Jammeh hasn’t only intimidated and killed citizens, he has destroyed The Gambia we know: the country, the people, the culture, and the niceness by bringing the worst out of us. The helplessness, Gambians are exhausted.
But, despite all the doom and gloom, there is one source of solace. Yahya Jammeh cannot rewrite history or polish his legacy. His leadership in The Gambia will be remembered as the darkest moment in our history.