Women of Substance





To be King or not to be King -- that is the question.

from maafanta archives By Foday Samateh

We are supposed to believe that a brazen plot of power-grab concocted in the State House in Banjul is a yearning call of a grateful nation on their benevolent President to accept the crown of a benign King. That the district chiefs and other trumpeters of sanctioned views of the officialdom are representative voices of the public, and not the slobbering minions and surrogates canvassing and contriving to dupe the unsuspecting nation into endorsing a sacrilege against the Republic by turning it into a kingdom to crown the president a monarch.The reaction of many pro-democracy advocates inured to the bizarre pranks and stunts of the charlatan in the Office of  the President has been more resignation than outrage. They shrugged and said: He is already a king as an absolute ruler. Nothing significant would change when he makes it official. While this conclusion appears to be a realistic assessment of the situation in The Gambia, it is erroneous and shortsighted, a stillborn of superficial analysis. There is a vast valley between an absolute monarch and an absolute dictator, as Thomas Paine says: “Judas is much known as John, yet history ascribes their fame to very different actions.” The word is legitimacy.A dictator is always a usurper of power, desecrator of Constitution, violator of laws, atheist to democracy, highwayman of freedoms, rights and liberties. An ignoble character through and through. Except in rare cases, a king doesn’t come across as such. He doesn’t need to. He is the sovereign; the giver of laws to the nation under his charge and at the mercy of his whims and caprice. (I won’t bother making distinctions about a constitutional monarch. No one, I presume, is under any illusion that Yahya Jammeh will ever be a constitutional monarch when he is so dismissive and recalcitrant of being a constitutional president.)

The only good thing one can said about a dictatorial president is that however callous and brutal he is, he has to submit to elections. And however fraudulent the process or repressive the atmospherics are, there is still a sliver of chance the opposition may coalesce around a strong force and the people may summon just enough courage by voting for change. With a king, there is no such chance for peaceful change, because there are no elections for the throne. Once the sovereign wears the crown and clutches his scepter in a coronation marked with pomp and circumstance, that’s it. His rule is for life. Absent any uprising, the nation must put up or shut up. His demise also deprives the nation all say in picking his successor. The crown prince or princess takes over as the next absolute ruler. Thus, the hereditary law is established. No other Gambian but the descendant of Yahya Jammeh can occupy the highest office in the land until that
system is abrogated, and most probably through violent revolt. What an insult to our pride, assault on our reason, and affront to our dignity. I can’t think of any dictator who had been succeeded by his son, and who in turn was succeeded by his own son. Not since democracy and sovereignty have become synonymous with republics in modern political lexicons.

The question the well-meaning cynics and critics of the petty dictator failed to ask themselves is a simple one: Why would Yahya Jammeh want to be king when he already wields absolute power in The Gambia? He is the “sole ruler,” the “alpha and omega,” as some of his more creative flatterers embellish him. In addition to the paragraph above, a fleeting reflection will lead us to more obvious answers: semantics and metaphors. Words have meanings, and meanings create perceptions and perceptions are either positive or negative but never neutral. Not for no reason the Bard of Avon asks, “What’s in a name?”

Even the worst dictators, tyrants, autocrats, authoritarians and totalitarians hate to be called by their rightful titles. Any mention of such words or reference to those kinds of rulers conjures up negative images and incites repulsive reactions. For those reasons as well we employ the loaded terms to express our worst impressions about rulers who trample on the mandate of the people, violate the popular will and unleash violence on citizens to consolidate power or
achieve nefarious ends. They have unaccountable power — either through the barrel of the gun or rigging elections — but their power is illegitimate both to themselves and to the world. They often dress up in the regalia of patriotism to cover their odious self-aggrandizement, but as Lady Macbeth confesses in her sleepwalk: “Here is the smell of blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”

The opposite holds true for the sovereign. As a devout democrat, I hate monarchy. I will cut off my tongue rather than salute any mortal, “Hail to Your Majesty.” But, as much as I loathe the institution of monarchy and abhor the rule of a monarch, I will spend thousand lifetimes trying and still won’t be able to convince one person that king and queen are horrendous words. A king is but dictator by a very pleasant name, and in most cases with broad and undefined powers. Unlike a dictator, he can hardly be accused of exceeding his mandate. He is not restrained by hard and fast constitutional limits, and has to only pay heed to the elastic tolerance of his dominion. As long as he stops short of being a brute, his authority is generally recognized and rarely questioned. His powers are confined only by his discretion, which may be as limitless as the boundless universe.

A word to the petty dictator. As the Bard says, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” After sixteen years in power filled with endless deception, chicanery, intimidation and clampdown, your ultimate prize keeps getting further away from the reach of your overzealous grasp. You point to the schools, the hospitals, roads, the Arch, and other infrastructures your government built on taxpayer-guaranteed foreign loans and wonder why the world won’t crown you
a great statesman.

The more you crave greatness, the smaller you are diminished into an object of melancholy parody and ridicule. The sad thing about you is that you think you are writing an original script. Each final draft you presented to win public awe and appraisal, the response is the same. We have seen that movie before, all the reruns and adaptations. You can insist on being called His Excellency, Doctor, Professor, Sheik, Alhagie Yayha A. J. J. Jammeh, President of the
Republic of The Gambia, and fancy yourself His Majesty, the King of The Gambia all you want. Countless examples from preceding dictators only prove your lack of imagination. You are a johnny come lately copycat. Idi Amin of Uganda called himself: His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, Conqueror of the British Empire and the uncrowned King of Scotland. Jean-Bédel Bokassa couldn’t be contented with His Imperial Majesty,
Bokassa the First, Emperor of Central African Republic and later ordained himself The Thirteenth Apostle of Christendom. Joseph-Désiré Mobutu rebranded himself Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga, President of the Republic of Zaire. Brother from Kanilai, what a company you keep!

You’re no doctor. You’re no professor. You’re no sheikh. You know it. The world too knows it. Only to our disgrace, misfortune, and shame you occupy the presidency. As much as I hate to admit it, it tells much about a nation that allows such a buffoon to lord over it so much for so long. You can claim as many meaningless misnomers as your praise-singing newscasters at GRTS can read, still the titles will “hang loose about [you] like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish
thief.” The more you up the ante of your antics, the clearer you expose your primitive mindset to the enlightened world. You are no medicine man and your filthy dark concoctions and green bananas are no cure for any diseases. You are no wizard and the citizens your so-called Malian spiritualists hounded are no witches. You can’t be a scholar, because you can’t think cogently, and speak coherently. You have no jinns to give you a daily briefing of future events. You have no supernatural talents. You don’t even have any natural talents. What you can’t win in free and fair competition, you snatch by brute force. You would never have been elected president hadn’t you seized power. You would never have stayed this long in power without wielding thuggish force. You know it. The world too knows it. A man with any claim to your purported bravery and self-confidence will never hurl defenseless, law-abiding women into jail. Hunted by demons
and haunted by paranoia, you locked down the nation into a police state. You ignore the silent premonition of conscience and defy the loud admonition of the honest public to make course correction on your crude methods. But the higher you overreached for that imaginary quest, the harder you fall to the low, rugged ground of failure. Still you wonder why the world will never recognize your phantom greatness. Had you listened to the Bard you would have heard: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Since you haven’t and won’t ever qualify for any of the three categories, quit applying.

We are sick and tired of your big lies, and even the small ones. You claimed overthrowing Jawara and his ministers for engaging in corruption and enriching themselves. Compared to you, they are honest paupers and saints. You claimed you would hand over power after a transition period and go back to the barracks. You gave sanctimonious spiels swearing that you would never run for elections because you considered politics a dirty game and politicians crooks,
liars and swindlers. You lied about not running, but I agree with you on the character you manifest as politician. Oh, lest I forget! Your other claim about overthrowing Jawara, you told the nation that he had to be removed because he was perpetuating himself in power. Much as I never missed the former president, he was confident and willing to stand for every free and fair election; and rightly or wrongly, the people returned him into office at every poll. You expunged the two-term limit clause in the draft of the Constitution for the Second Republic, because you didn’t want that antidote to self-perpetuation in power to disqualify you from indefinite squatting at the State House. Far worse than that, you now want to be King! On the scale of crimes, Jawara was caught pickpocketing; but you Jilanka, you are found committing treason. Enough!

Nothing the petty dictator does ever surprises me. He won’t relinquish his desire for the illusionary crown. He will spare no ploy in the arsenal of duplicity, mendacity, and treachery to get his way. As he sees it, coronation will finally mark his ascension to greatness. But he is again setting himself up for immense disappointment. If he ever gets the throne, the crown and the title will only avail him a thin veil of legitimacy. Just as he isn’t a good president, he can’t make a good king. He doesn’t have the majestic appearance and comportment. His penchant for self-indulgent erratic styles and theatrics isn’t suitable for the aristocratic decorum of a royal court. He has incurable allergies for normalcy.All the same, he must never be king. Whatever methods he deploys, he must never be allowed to transfer by law the sovereignty of the people to himself. We mustn’t be a nation of plebeians in his kingdom. He’s an ordinary citizen and
mere mortal like any Gambian and so he mustn’t be crowned the sovereign, an attribute of God Himself! Such arrogance! Such delusion! Such nonsense!

He isn’t like the few great men who possess power. He is like most accidental rulers possessed by power. Their overreaching accounts for half of the tragedies of mankind. It’s easy to see why. Nothing can be more deluding to a shallow man than watching other men obey his commands and carry out his orders. Every notion of self-idolizing gets into his head and his head get into the clouds. He looks down on from the heavens and assumes the public’s purpose in life is to serve his pleasures and attend to his needs. He can’t see them as his equals. He is their superior. He is their master and commander. He is superhuman. He can determine who succeeds in life and who fails. He rewards those who are obeisant to him and turns vindictive on those who he perceives are disobedient to him. He can’t stand his pronouncements questioned and his actions criticized. When he laughs his sycophants cackle much longer than necessary. When he frowns they tremble until they are drenched in perspiration. They make up tall tales about other people and conspire and connive among themselves just to win his momentary favor. When he dangles a position of privilege to them to serve under his power they push and shove like it’s the Holy Grail. They scramble for his attention and salivate like starving puppies. They address him in glorifying words to flatter his ego. They demean themselves to serenade and venerate him. As Mark Anthony says, “When Caesar says ‘Do this,’ it is performed,” so it goes. Arrests are ordered; innocent citizens get dragged into dungeons and thrown into prisons. Enemies are identified; journalists, writers, human rights activists and freedom fighters get assassinated. Wars are declared; men, women and children get massacred. Conquests are desired; nations get vanquished and people are subjugated.

But like every mortal, the self-anointed superior eats food and drinks water. Feels pain and pleasure. Lurks between hope and despair, comfort and fear. Gets sick, grows old, and if he lives long, ages and then succumbs to fate. However haughty the superman feels, he is but just a man. No boasts, no swears, nothing will ever alter that fixed nature.Such a fallible being must never commandeer unaccountable power. The petty dictator must never be crowned king.
Among a galaxy of reasons, the National Assembly will pass more laws to give him more powers and make the nation more subservient to him, the sovereign. No citizen can go to court to seek redress against his decrees because he is the sovereign. Judges can’t overturn his edicts and injunctions, because he is the sovereign. He will collect as much tax from the nation as he can and spend the revenue as he wishes without ever having to worry about a visit from auditors
because he is the sovereign. Yes, he is doing all these now in some version. They are wrong and illegal. If he is king, they will still be wrong but legal. There is a huge difference. If he can do so many things the law says he can’t, just imagine what he will do when the law says he can.

From the outside, dictatorship is a dark, desolate institution while monarchy is a bright, radiant one. One is appalling; the other appealing. Inside, both are corrupt, insidious and invidious. A cabal of conspirators against the public good. An intrigue for the few against the interest of entire nation. Both must be resisted for the greater interest of the republic. The previous generation fought for Independence because they wouldn’t exist as a colony of the British Crown. This
generation is called to fight any imposition of a kingdom on our nation and must refuse to breath as subjects of Yahya Jammeh’s crown. We are citizens of a Republic. I part with Prof.’s insightful axiom that adds wisdom to both politics and philosophy. The indispensable Musa Camara pointed out that this kingship thing must be nipped in the bud, because, as he put it, “A republic is people’s natural right.”


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