The Gambia: An overview of Yahya Jammeh military regime’s horrible legacy
By Mathew K Jallow
The story I wanted to write this week was going to be extremely flattering, yet not superfluous. It was going to be a glowing tribute to a great president, without being a canting expose of his still untold story. It was to be about Sir Dawda K Jawara’s extraordinary legacy and the myth and the excruciatingly painful mendacity of Yahya Jammeh’s so-called achievements. It was to be the story that showcases the infinite admiration and celestial adulation that Gambians collectively have for the three decades that made Gambia, like its sister neighbor, Senegal, stand out as a rare bastion of democracy and the rule of law in an Africa wrecked by greed, corruption and deaths. For ours was a country where refugees from conflict zones and political exiles from across the African continent found sanctuary away from the bloody wars of imperialism and African neo-colonialism. What I wanted to write about was going to be a bombastic eulogy to the brilliant foresight of the man who understood the existential threat that dictatorship and tyranny posed to the stability of the state and the cultural homogeneity of our Gambian society.
My story this week is not the embellishment of the life and the legacy of a man of culture, who ruled Gambia with dignity and grace. Instead, it is about a tyrant who has turned the Gambia on its head. But, unlike most of Africa before the arrival of military rule, ours was a country that provided safety and sanctuary to those touched by the cruel hands of tyranny and political injustice; Liberia’s preeminent journalist, Kenneth Y Best; South-Africa’s distinguished development expert, Mosebyane Malatsi; Guinea-Bissau’s anti-colonial Amilcar Cabral’s PIAGC fighters, among many others. For Gambia was country where Liberia’s future president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also alienated from her chaotic homeland, often visited her country-man, Kenneth Y Best. And up until the outrageous dismantling of the legitimate Gambia government, ours was one of perhaps only five countries on the African continent that had remained untouched by the intolerable ignorance of military rule and the reptilian brutality of the intellectually stunted dictators who dominated Africa’s political landscape. But, all that changed when a group of unformed and barely literate high school graduates decided they wanted to run a country even before they could learnt how to run their own dull, unaccomplished lives.
In the seventeen years since Sir Dawda K Jawara was removed from power, Gambia has gone through the most grueling social, cultural, political, and economic transformation; a baptism of fire that questions the sanity of Yahya Jammeh, and cast the Gambia as a pariah nation under the painfully agonizing stranglehold of an exceedingly vexing egomaniacal clown. Today, the fall-out from seventeen years of political repression, the wanton corruption and mindless looting of a nation, has easily fostered the climate of a post-Yahya Jammeh disintegration of the social fabric our country, as disgruntled Gambians potentially seek to settle scores in an effort to once again find their rightful places in a Gambian they no longer knew. The cohesiveness and cultural homogeneity that until recently had distinguished Gambia from the sanguinary nature of African politics has been dealt a devastating blow, and Gambians will be challenged seek to sort out the utter mess of the Yahya Jammeh years as we struggle to bring our country back to life from the pain of abuse and the abyss of social, economic, and cultural destruction.
This story about Sir Dawda, is also the story about the morally bankrupt idiot, who by a stroke of bad luck for Gambians, ascended to the pinnacle of power in our country. It is also about the new Gambia complete transformation into a society forever changed by the high collective moral deficit; a place where human conscience and the moralizing power of religion, have become valueless in the struggle for survival. In the new Gambia under the dehumanizing power fear, self-preservation has become the most valuable currency to stay alive, even as others around are crushed by the vile, nauseating power of tyranny. To understand what the Gambia has become, one is compelled to revisit the past that made Yahya Jammeh his own worst enemy, and today, even if he wanted to, he cannot walk back the utter psychological destruction he has brought upon the collective mind of Gambian society. Everything Yahya Jammeh did and continues to do is to enhance his standing in terms of material wealth and pressing national issues take a back seat to his insatiable lust for power and material wealth.
Today, the Gambian civil service has become a bloated deadwood and the wealth of the entire nation rests in the hands of one person; Yahya Jammeh. He is the only voice that matters in the country and beneath the surface and under a veil of secrecy, social decadence has set in as the destructive vices of teenage prostitution, the scourge of drugs and drug abuse and felonious criminality, have brought devastation to a whole new generation of Gambians who have never experienced the infinite joy of living in a free society. The legendary psychopathological rants and raves that have turned Yahya Jammeh into a clown come from a heart of darkness. It is a heart that time and again showcases a Frankenstein perniciousness that words cannot describe. In-spite of the incurable hatred Gambian Diaspora have for Yahya Jammeh, in the past year, he had the guts to try to entice overseas Gambians to go home and invest home, even as he and his wife continue to squirrel out billions of our nation’s dollars into foreign bank accounts.
But, Yahya Jammeh also only recently established the witch-hunting Tax Commission, yet his vast business empire; in particular, his import and empire enterprise is exempt from taxes and other liabilities to the state. In addition, his Land Commission, another witch-hunting exercise, also made exceptions for his vast property and land holdings, much of it stolen from his Gambian victims and Gambians who had fallen on hard times. The Gambia today is totally changed by the influx of foreigners who are buying up our lands and settling down to replace Gambians fleeing to the safety of foreign lands. This is unsustainable and is the tipping point that will bring to a head the post-Yahya Jammeh land wars between foreigners and the blue blooded citizens. There will be a need to establish a land reclamation commission set up to oust foreigners and return lands to their rightful owners, but also to make way for the return of the true sons of the land. The heart of the problem now is to oust Yahya Jammeh by any means necessary, and to do that, Gambians need our abused and battered military on our side.
It is the ultimate paradox, albeit not an unfamiliar one, that our military and security services, who after the Jolas of Foni, are perhaps the most embattled by the murderousness of Yahya Jammeh, for the deaths and disappearances of their military comrades, are also his protectors. But how much longer the military and security officers will continue to be murdered and fired from their positions is the question on everyone’s mind. The fact that Yahya Jammeh has turned our own military; our sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephew, neighbors and school mates, against us, is itself quite frighteningly to say the least. But one thing is certain, no condition is permanent and every dictatorship has an end time and Yahya Jammeh’s end days are closing in on him, for like every dictator and murderer before him, he too will face the day when the ground under him will give way to the violent retribution of a nation he has reduced into a country of fear, terror and unforgivable complacency. But we are afraid no more. And as it now stands, no prayer on earth, no amount of jalang sacrifices, no amount of devil worship and no amount human blood spilt will change the course of history; the history and the eventuality of Yahya Jammeh’s ugly downfall.