Gambia Coup: What A Miss!!!
By Fatou Jaw Manneh.
Damn!!When news of power takeover in The Gambia by “freedom fighters” broke out, there was jubilation all over the internet and other social media around the world. We had scanty news that Jammeh is stuck somewhere in Chad for at least 48 hours on his way from Dubai. I had wished he never returned to the Gambia but became an asylum candidate in the west or in the hands of his new best friends in Saudi Arabia, etc. For some hours his fate was uncertain, and I knew he was scared to death. He sneaked back into the Gambia, and started implicating England, America and Germany as backers of this “terrorist attack”, because according to him, “the guns used are made in Florida. “ You see how dumb and dangerous he is???
Twenty years ago, President Yaya Jammeh of the Gambia came to power through the barrel of a gun. He has undemocratically routed out President Jawara’s 30 year rule. He was 29 years old when he came to power via a military brigandage. He came into the scene with some powerful words for the Gambian people. “Accountability”, “Transparency” and “Probity” were his mantra. Gambian people embraced him. He vowed to end corruption and nepotism. He was one of us, a poor village kid who was trying to make his way in a very corrupt and nepotistic government.
We had thought that this young military man understands and feels exactly how we felt as in hardship and social downturns. He was seen as one that knows and understands exactly how our mothers wait patiently for their sons or daughters who earn a paltry wage of 30 dollars a month to bring home a bag of rice.
I remember though My Dad warned: “WE SHALL SEE YOU WITH YOUR YOUNG KING”. He and his colleagues were never excited with Jammeh’s entrance, but countered that they were upset the way the former president they supported was chased out of the way. I once asked my dad, “why did you support President Jawara”, and he retorted: He has respect. He waves and says Manneh anytime I see him. And we prayed hard for him that anyone who betrays him shall be shamed.
Hmmmmm, we chuckled.
We brushed their warnings off, we thought they are ignorant fanatical supporters of the old regime, which has no use for them. They are noticed only when elections are near and politicians use their village clout to garner votes on their behalf. My brother and I hated them (the old regime). The political parties that we based our hopes on, can never win elections, we had no votes to give and our parents cannot be convinced to dump their old parties.
I never knew until later, that “RESPECT “goes a long way in dealing with human beings. Respect for human rights, respect for freedom of speech, respect for the rule of law and respect for freedom of association or to choose one’s religion.
Our new Jammeh, soon flunked every category of respect from a leader for its citizens. Politicians, educationists, lawyers, judges, businessmen/women, sportsmen and women, farmers, medicine men and everybody in the country in one way or the other felt the disrespect of the Gambian President, Yaya Jammeh for human beings in every aspect. He gave the average Gambian false hope that he was going to upgrade the life of average Gambian. HOW VERY WRONG WE WERE? Yaya Jammeh duped the whole nation.
Typical of all military takeovers, he soon embarked on killing and locking up of dissenting voices including five close colleagues of his. He framed them up including creation of phantom coups so as to lock up or kill them. He drove away most of the popular and loyal military personnel some who were very supportive of him at the beginning not minding that they vowed to die for him, because they saw him as a fellow comrade coming from the same background with them.
Most of Africa’s young military officers are mainly from poor social and family backgrounds having come from families whose parents have no means to send them to American and British universities. In our beloved country, once your parents have no connections to the wealth and status, there are no office jobs for their children no matter how intelligent and brilliant they are. So it is on the basis of this that Jammeh’s leadership was popularly welcomed by many in a country where 60 percent of the population is living below poverty line.
As if the foregoing was not enough, President Yaya Jammeh beastly turned against Gambian journalists as well. As a military man, he was seriously inconvenienced by the journalism trade, because his moves and actions are put in the open and on record, and as a straight shooter, lacking diplomatic skills, his words are either threatening and have true bearing of a despotic young military ruler pretending to be a democrat. He also alienated himself from “probity” and “transparency” and became a maximum ruler drenched in corruption and serial power abuse. He drew battle lines against every conscionable citizen and became angry with journalists who demanded for his return to the barracks. As for questions as per when elections should be held, he is the darling of the Gambians so no questions of such should be asked. He changed into civilian clothes and won elections in 1996, and since then as the popular saying: The Rest is History!
He arrested the publisher of the most popular newspaper then, The Daily Observer, Mr. Kenneth Best; a veteran journalist who was running away from a military takeover in Liberia. I worked as a reporter for Kenneth Best in 1992. He threw him into jail and thereafter returned him back to war torn Liberia. Kenneth Best, who is a Columbia University alumnus, later found his way to America and briefly taught at the American University before returning back to Liberia after Ellen Sirleaf won her presidential election.
In the same vein, President Jammeh began to introduce draconian laws against all media houses including a new bill that introduced to that effect. Deyda Hydara , Point Newspaper Publisher vowed to challenge that law. He was shot several times, killed by unknown assailants and none has since face the punishment of that heinous crime. Another young reporter Chief Manneh is still missing since 2006. He also amended the Information and Communication Act 2009 which was passed by the National Assembly. The amendment imposed a heavy fine of D3million (almost $100, 000) or imprisonment for fifteen years or both for anyone convicted of using the internet to spread false news about the government/president or public officials. An average Gambian is paid less than 100 dollars a month.On a visit to my country for my father’s funeral in 2007, I was arrested and detained for 6 days at the National Intelligence Agency. I was later taken to court, which lasted for almost two years on sedition and false news charges against the President on articles and an interview I granted to the Independent Newspaper, which was later fire bombed out of existence.
President Yaya Jammeh is uncouth and lacks finesse. He is brutal, violent, vindictive and heartless. He has no mercy for his real and perceived foes. His reign of terror caught Gambians off-guard. Gambians in general have never witnessed war. We were shielded even from matters of police and courts. It is now twenty years and Gambians are trying to figure out how to disentangle themselves from this heartless ruler. It is sad and painful for a population known for hospitality, nice beaches, and good food, being torn to shreds by a maximum ruler in Yahya Jammeh’s type. He has intimidated and harassed most of the opposition party leaders and their supporters. He has arrested, jailed and sent many of them into exile. The list includes a former Secretary of State, who was arrested 22 times, beaten until he almost lost one of his eyes.
President Jammeh is also in the habit of luring many to work for him only to be arrested, jailed or sent into exile. Since his reign, he has hired and fired almost 200 Secretaries of State(Ministers) and about 20 Chief Justices and still counting. Though, there are some conniving, shameless, synthetic intellectuals who work for him and do his bidding behind the scenes at the international level. President Yaya Jammeh even rounded up innocent old Gambian citizens and detained them. He forced them to drink poisonous concoctions leading to their death and injuries. Grandfathers and Grandmothers have been arrested, jailed after their farm works and labeled witches! Religious leaders are not spared either. His word is the Quran or else public humiliations and jails await them.
Come on good people of the world! Now you can see and appreciate why some of us are cheering and jubilating on hearing the news of a coup in our beloved country. After a decade in exile, what else can we do? Just as he was welcomed into Gambia’s political scene, so many Gambians are today wishing him away and ousted after 20 years of terror unleashed on innocent Gambian citizens. Gambians cannot pray for nothing more than for HIM TO GO AWAY. He rigged and intimidated his way into every election. Many groups around the world have no other choice but to take this albatross off our shoulders. There are many options and some will choose: By any means necessary. Who can stop them????
He is a false Muslim who uses religion falsely to either get votes from the Muslim population, or as a begging tool. He threatens to kill all homosexuals in the country as it is against our religion. Then he heads out to Qatar and Saudi Arabia for aid to help him “stand up against the west” for imposing homosexuality on the Gambia. He is a terrible liar too. He will never make it in exile with his Saudi friends because he is a fake Muslim. He cannot adhere to the rigid prayer schedule of the Saudi kingdom, and he dares not try a harem with underage Arab girls as the norm in the Gambia. Hell No.
Every democratic means available, Gambians have utilized it. The ECOWAS Community Court has found the Gambian government guilty on numerous charges of State terrorist atrocities meted against innocent citizens, but he ignored most of the indictments and refused any form of compensation to its victims till date.
So when Gambian American citizens , who could have just lay quiet in their corners of Texas, Kentucky and Minneapolis, bought guns and head off to take Jammeh at the State House in Banjul, nothing but jubilation welcomed the move until the news of it botch reached us. Some of us would have wanted Jammeh spared and sent into asylum in the west if the coup has succeeded. I would rather have the Punk President Jammeh sent into exile where he can earn a living by working 14 hours a day and feel what is to be in exile for almost twenty years. Gambians in the Diaspora especially those in America are in shock when Papa Fall and Cherno Njie were arrested on “charges of conspiracy to violate the neutrality act” to overthrow President Yaya Jammeh of the Gambia. Well Obama this “neutrality act “is seen to some of us as a patriotic act. And how many firearms are sold in the USA daily??
For President Macky Sall of Senegal, this is what I have to say to you: Yaya Jammeh is a hypocrite. He has turned many Casamance fighters against the Senegalese government. He has harbored many of them, supplied many of them with arms, he oversees their wellbeing and upkeep, and has threatened to use them to unleash terror anytime against your government and you know it. Yaya Jammeh is so cruel and heartless that he has displaced many a village in casamance so as to force them into asylum into the Gambia to afford him as tools for his bogus elections. He goes far as to even turn jola against jola for this endeavor.
President Yaya Jammeh shot and killed 9 death row inmates without due process. They include two Senegalese among them a woman Tabara Samb, whose son pleaded to you often to have the remains of his Mum brought back to Senegal. You know it. He has hacked to death 44 Ghanaians whom he mistook for mercenaries and threw their dead bodies into the bush. Macky Sall you know it. He also massacred many Gambian soldiers, friends and foes and you know it. He has threatened your government many times playing hypocrite with Casamance and you know it. He has levied heavy taxes on many Senegalese entrepreneurs in The Gambia, and most of them cannot maintain it and left. You know it.
Many a time because of his disrespect for Senegambia citizens, he has aggravated much border closure brouhaha between Senegal and Gambia, leading to disruption of traffic and commerce between the two sister States and you know it. Many a time he has provoked aggression and threatened the peace between Senegambia and you know it. Yaya Jammeh shot and killed 16 demonstrating students, killed many State witnesses, Yaya Jammeh still hounds, and abducts dissidents in Senegal and you know it.
When former President Abdoulaye Wade, in Senegal trounced on all of its intellectuals and was systematically paving his way for his son to take over political leadership against you and all other seasoned and well educated Senegalese sons and daughters, the whole world stood up against him. Senegal was beacon of hope for its neighbor the Gambia, West Africa and Africa as a whole. When you all formed Benno Bokka Yakkar to oust former President Abdoulaye Wade, Gambian activists and journalists all supported the democratic process with which all of you stood up for. In a time that was uncertain against a very powerful Wade, I wrote a poem for you and your colleagues.(Senegal You Make Us Proud). But your indifference, lack of heart, intolerance for journalists and dissidents who seek refuge in Senegal is new, strange and a serious disappointment to all African dissidents who put their hopes in Senegal as a country that has tremendous respect for human rights, and for such a young technocrat whom we all thought has a positive vision for Senegal and Africa. WE are disappointed in you.
As for President Barack Obama of America, this is what I have to say: George Washington, the first President of America was once considered a rebel, so were all the 50 founding fathers during the American Revolution. For some of us, they are our inspiration and nothing will deter Gambian citizens who are hungry for a free and democratic country to budge.
A new republic where people are free to speak, free to choose their religion and free from a dictatorship remains our missionary goal till it comes to pass. Just as the mighty British Empire never dampened the spirit of the American founding fathers’ quest for a democratic government, so it is the zeal and resolve of Gambian activists and dissidents commitment to rob the Gambia of its dictator Yaya Jammeh.
You can unleash all of your FBI and CIA on Gambians abroad as you please, but it will never deter us. You all can allow Yaya jammeh bully you but not some of us. Death comes but just once. Gambian dissidents in America and abroad have many different options and venues to choose from, and no one has control over that. You have many African refugees shedding tears each time you invite some of these African monster Presidents to Washington. I am sure many of the America founding fathers have cried in their graves over such un-American decision and acts. America was founded for free people and not as a playing ground for foreign dictators. And now you are afraid of the Gambian dictator, to the point you are willing to put in jail those who have sacrificed their lives to free Gambia from terror. What a cowardly act of yours! No super power can kill or threaten our determination. Remember the words of Samuel Adams: …Our contest is not only whether we ourselves shall be free, but whether there shall be left to mankind an asylum on earth for civil and religious liberty.
America or Barack Obama can give a blind eye to the suffering of Gambian citizens, but Gambian dissidents shall never give up on their quest for a democratic Gambia. For some of us, with Yaya Jammeh it is till death does us apart.
Rest in peace our freedom fighters
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally written for leral.net. A week after the coup