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The Unbearable Burden of Yaya Jammeh

By Saul Saidykhan

If history is anything to go by, tomorrow, the cause of The Gambia’s ongoing needless tragedy Yaya Jammeh would be spending millions of Dollars to throw another outlandish party in celebrating his usurpation of power in our country for twenty-two years. This, notwithstanding the fact that most adult Gambians are either wholly unemployed, or under-employed; hospitals are mere shells that are bereft of competent staff, beds, medications, modern diagnostic and therapeutic equipment; the public school system has all but completely collapsed and is in need of a total overhaul.

The vast majority of Gambian citizens cannot afford the basic necessities of life for themselves and their families be that food, medicine or educational needs. Unlike anywhere else in Africa, Gambians today are not even allowed to complain publicly about their individual miserable lives. And this fact is also not allowed to be reflected in any media within the country – regardless of nomenclature. This requires clarification. You see nominally, there is supposed to be a public and private media in The Gambia. “Nominally” is the operative word. Because the so-called private media in The Gambia are – to put it kindly, propaganda tools of Yaya Jammeh, and one hopes they know this despite their pretense. The fact is, they’re more interested in running their media – be that radio or newspapers as businesses and generating income for their sustenance rather than operating in the true traditional sense of the press as the fourth estate that watches government for the public interest to hold it accountable and keep it honest. In the Gambia, Jammeh is the master, and the people who supposedly voted him to power are the servants. It is Jammeh who watches the people to keep them honest! Everything is in reverse in The Gambia. Yaya Jammeh literally sees himself as something of a demigod. It is therefore no surprise to anyone that almost all important news coming out of Gambia these days is first reported by Gambian diaspora media online because the resident “private” media are so terrified of Jammeh that they don’t report any story that might incur his wrath – a violation of the cardinal spirit of what it means for the press to be a public watch dog. Increasingly, some have resorted to piggy-bagging on stories first reported by various diaspora media outlets to find an excuse to say anything useful. Pathetic doesn’t quite capture the picture.  Generally, it seems being allowed to operate by Jammeh no matter the restrictions is more important than the principle of speaking unvarnished truth to power or operating according to the strict tenets of the profession of the press as the fourth estate.  The Gambia is as dystopian as any fictional authoritarian state one may read about in some novel. Yet as Yaya Jammeh’s problems go, there are many more confounding ones to grapple with.

As I alluded to in an opinion some time ago, both accountants and economists are concerned about assigning cost to goods and services. They differ in how they go about it, and the result they come up with. Accountants have the easier task of the two professionals in that they’re more interested in quantifiable costs – the ones you can see or feel: actual goods produced, actual services rendered by time frame, etc.

Economists on the other hand take a broader view of costs than accountants.  In Economics, the concept of costing is stretched much further than accountants do by factoring in such concepts as Value Judgments including Opportunity Costs, Qualitative Assessments, using Intelligent guessing or “guestimates”, etc.

Potential is very important to economists. And it should be to ALL right-thinking Gambians!

And one would never fully comprehend the damage Yaya Jammeh has inflicted on Gambians without an understanding of the basics of how countries’ economies work beyond raw material production and consumption.  

If you’ve never taken a course in economics, don’t feel intimidated. It’s simple to understand this topic. Just remember two key words: “symbiosis” or “multiplier effect.” The former denote the interconnectedness between the various parts of what makes a country’s economy function normally while the latter refer to the pecuniary or “collateral” benefits generated by investments that might have been motivated by other objectives. Let’s demonstrate.

There are literally tens of thousands of Gambians living outside the country. In fact, the Gambian economy is sustained by remittances by Gambian emigrants despite the ingratitude and hostility of the present government in the country towards Gambians in the diaspora. Anyhow, any time a Gambian emigrant remits foreign currency to Gambia to invest in property (to buy land, or build something), he or she not only generates direct revenue for government by paying the requisite fees and taxes, he or she also creates temporary jobs for a long class of citizens: building contractors, truck drivers, sand miners, (cement) block makers, masoners, watchmen, and food sellers.

Because of the social setup in Gambia, each member of this class of people have many mouths to feed, sick family members to take care of, and or school fees to pay. Bottom line, a remittance from a single Gambian in the diaspora can create temporary job opportunities for dozens of other Gambians! One only needs to multiply the number of Gambians in the diaspora by a reasonable fraction – say 50%, to see the magnitude the emigres have on the Gambian economy. This is the monetary or tangible investment aspect side only.

Of equal or greater importance is the intangible area – knowledge or skills-based transfer by diaspora Gambians. Without exaggeration, the Gambia today hardly need the UN to send us experts in any areas because we have qualified Gambians that can do the jobs. What we lack is an enabling environment at the national level. No competent self-respecting professional will allow him or herself to be dictated to by an ethically-challenged moron drunken on power. Most Gambian professionals that I know dearly want to go back to help train the younger generation, but those skills transfer plans will never happen under the current status quo.

Now imagine an environment where a democratic Gambian government that recognizes the potential of the Gambian diaspora, appreciates it, and does everything to tap into it exists!   

Not surprisingly, because of the sheer lawlessness of Yaya Jammeh seizing citizens’ properties anyway anyhow over the past two decades, most diaspora Gambians now don’t even want to invest in anything because of the hassle. Who can blame them?  It is a rare Gambian adult that doesn’t know someone whose land has been seized by Yaya Jammeh for one ridiculous excuse or another. Most have deferred plans to build some type of training Centre to transfer skills or knowledge to young Gambians.

Even as I write this, Jammeh is living up to his reputation as one of the world’s most ruthless autocrats in his insistence on ruling by fear and terror.  His latest victims are another group of Gambian civil servants who have been arrested, locked up, and accused of economic crimes. Curiously, Yaya Jammeh is yet to arrest and detain- beside himself, the biggest threat to The Gambia’s existence: PEOPLE WHO TEACH Yaya Jammeh HISTORY! There are no bigger criminals in Gambia than those that teach Yaya Jammeh Gambian history – if they exist.

Yaya Jammeh has usurped The Gambia, a country that follows its East to West flowing name-sake river. The westernmost settlement in the Gambia is called Banjul – as in bamboo string; the easternmost settlement is called Fatoto – as in crossroads. In between, you have Kanifing, (black pepper) and dozens of Kundas. ALL have one thing in common: they bear the same ethnic DNA. In Business school, every student that takes a class in Marketing is required to answer the question” What’s in a Name?” Yet, Yaya Jammeh and his historians have come up with an actual year that he claims Mandinkas invaded Gambia from Mali. But when was there a difference between Gambia and Mali as geopolitical entities? The problem is, the available records from the Europeans that came to exploit our people who didn’t care about our ethnicities expose Yaya Jammeh and his history teachers for the frauds they are.

Of particular relevance in the Gambia’s case, Yaya Jammeh and his associates should read the notes of the Portuguese explorer of fortune Luiz de Cadamosto from 1456 when he sailed up the river Gambia up to Bati. A second reference source would be the British explorer Richard Jobson who also visited Gambia in 1620. Each of these Europeans noted their observations, and interactions with the native people they met on their trip. If those two don’t do it, the young Scottish Doctor Mungo Park – 1795, provides more details than the others. Perhaps if Jammeh actually knows better, he’ll be more careful about the kinds of “fact” he bases his divisiveness on. Regardless, Jammeh clearly is taking his ludicrous Gambian history rewrite project too far.

At the very basic commonsense level, how does this madness uplift the lives of the non-Mandinka Gambians who he supposedly cares about who generally live equally miserable lives? Also, beside brow beating low-self-esteemed Mandinkas, trash talking Mandinka historical achievement will not nullify that record.  Neither will it make one’s nonentity ancestors empire builders. There’s a reason why cities, towns, universities, colleges, hospitals, and schools are named after some people. And others die without anyone noticing.

Yaya Jammeh is simply one burden too heavy for The Gambia!

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