Women of Substance

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Something is still rotten in the state of Gambia

By

Foday Samateh

maafanta archives

Yahya Jammeh and his diehard supporters can slaughter hundred or thousand cows for a merry feast. They can throw all manners of sumptuous parties in all the seven regions of The Gambia for the fourth presidential election he had been declared the winner. All the celebration and chest-beating will not alter a damn truth about this drama of falsehood masqueraded as democratic election. Night will never be day and a cat will never be a dog no matter how many times the claim is made. So too a police state will never be a free nation by mere lip-service. This election, like the previous three, is nothing but a coup by the ballot box to renew the conferment of democratic legitimacy on a petty dictator.

The purported victory serves only one purpose. Further perpetuation of the status quo of a single man who is under the influence of messianic delusions and cheered on by a groveling troupe of mendacious loudmouths, gullible expendables, shameless opportunists, unprincipled apologists, flatterers for hire and happy know-nothings. The official election result isn’t so much disappointing as it is offensive in that an avowed autocrat continues to exploit the democratic process to keep tightening his grip on power.


The supporters have two recurring defenses for the regime. The first is that Yahya Jammeh is a democratic president because the people voted for him. The people voted for Hitler too, but no one ever considered the Nazi madman of being a democratic leader of Germany. Saddam and Mubarak had also won elections, but no one ever paid any credence to their landslides. The second is that he has brought transformational development to the country. Then why is The Gambia still sitting at the bottom rung of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries in the UN development ranking index. Put another way, in all the thirty years of the previous president, the national debt amounted to three billion dalasi. In seventeen years, this regime accumulated twenty-five billion dalasi in our name for some modest development. If Jawara had ever enriched himself in office, Yahya Jammeh has flamboyantly transformed himself from a destitute usurper to one of the wealthiest men in all Africa.


Yes, the regime has built schools as it should, but the annual West African Examination results show that the standard of education has deteriorated. The regime has built hospitals as it should, but the mortality rate hasn’t dropped a nick and life expectancy hasn’t improved a notch. The regime has built a television station, but only to turn it into a propaganda bureau to brainwash the nation into believing that we are blessed with a great leader endowed with divine powers. The regime established a university but deprived it of even a semblance of academic freedom for credible scientific research and critical debate on public policy and national affairs.


Too much is made of the regime’s vaunted developments. Schools, roads and hospitals are essential but very basic requirements for any modern nation-state. They have been built in both democracies and autocracies, by both transparent and corrupt governments across the world. The difference is not the physical presence of the structures but the function they provide for the public good. Kim Jong-il of North Korea also built schools and hospitals and roads. Freedoms and democratic pluralism are the proudest boasts of civilized governments. Oppressive regimes everywhere justify their stranglehold as necessary for stability. The world knows the truth. Democracies are stable over generations while dictatorships hardly outlast a single regime. It says volumes about the state of the economy when remittances from citizens striving and scraping for a living in foreign countries constitute a major component of the GDP and every youth is desperate to travel elsewhere for opportunities.


Just about any head of state with average ambition can build schools, roads and hospitals. What sets Yahya Jammeh apart is his misplaced self-image as a man of destiny gliding on the sweeping wave of history. Listening to him, an act of unbearable mental torture, one hears a jumble of crude vocabulary of a self-anointed republican, patriot, nationalist, field marshal, prophet, genius, shaman and humanitarian. A breathing definition of a multiple personality disorder. He wants to impress upon his audience that he doesn’t only embody the dreams and spirit of the nation but attains a greatness so unique that it defies all categorizations and comparisons. That he is a one-off phenomenon in all the vestiges and vistas of time.


Such blinding if not archaic hubris and heroic pretensions are quite familiar. Like all egomaniacs, he is the opposite of greatness. He is a petty, aggrieved, insecure, venal, paranoiac, pernicious, depraved, intolerant, crass, corrupt, deceptive, dishonest, avaricious, intemperate, dishonorable, untrustworthy, misinformed, semiliterate, inarticulate, thuggish, malcontent, violent, tribalist, lying little man. Someone needs to tell him that the Holy Quran is not for carrying around. The sacred Revelation is not a prop for gimmicky display of piety. The Words of the Almighty are meant for recitation to acquire wisdom and guidance. If this ignoramus really knows how to read the Book of all books, he would be doing so every morning and night on national television and leading every Friday prayer at the State House mosque. Just like he is no professor or doctor of any sort, he is no sheikh. He is an empty pretender. A vain extrovert infected with infantile and fetish need for attention. From his overdressing, raving and ranting to uncouth mannerisms, the sane mind is conflicted over determining whether he is a scarecrow or clown with the keys to the highest office in the land.


For whatever developments that will take place in the next five years if he stays in power, the following too will happen. More defenseless citizens will be rounded up and whisked to Mile Two Maximum Security Prison he called the “five-star hotel” for his enemies. The country will remain a “hell,” as he put it, for journalists until the last of them becomes his crowing praise-singer. He will own more businesses to amass more wealth to drive out competition for monopolistic control of the economy. He will further crush dissent, buy support and influence, and institutionalize patronage into the sole system for access and success to strengthen his clutch on power. He will further promote superstition over science and make new claims that he possesses “miracle cures” and herbal elixirs for more medical conditions. He will continue to court and befriend the endangered species of like-minded despots and unsavory characters around the world. He will continue to run the affairs of the state like a Mafia boss of the underworld. He will pile up more debt on the nation, raise taxes ever higher, his regime will remain unaudited while a financial time bomb ticks for the country. For supporters and opponents alike, prepare for a painful reckoning when the lease of time for his nefarious reign is up.



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