By OUR ECONOMIST (aka Albere Junior Correa)
A reflection on Yahya Jammeh’s presidency
Yahya Jammeh’s presidency lurched between his narrowly defined personal interest and maintaining a lifetime functioning engine to keep him in power for a billion years like the baobab tree, using all his ruthless and somewhat “square pegs in round holes knuckleheads” (NIA and Army personnel’s). Moreover, as he loves to put it ‘to maintain peace and stability or to covertly grease his government’s engine in a locomotive default mode settings some might argue.
However, some of his accomplishments has been a primer or undercoat preparatory coating that was designed by himself and implemented by his thugs (the rogue NIA and his Junglars) to lubricate the engine by using fear and brutal tactics to scare and silence The Gambia’s general population.
A skinny kid only 29 years of age with an all too familiar first and last name “Yahya Jammeh with funny middle names Junkung James ( a blend of Christian and Muslim names, mimicking the strong unbreakable cultural bond between the Christians and Muslims of The Gambia). One Gambia, One people!
Watch it again. He is unusually mannered at the beginning, as you might expect of a non-elected individual with “no political education, virtually a criminal” as stated by Thomas Sankara, that certainly was not the people’s; no one asked him or voted him into office through the ballot box, more-or-less, “put-on” and propelled on the national stage certainly by no other than the unanimous decision of the only 4 Juntas, and no one else.
But soon he finds his rhythm, those childhood burning swelling memories of poverty, and under- privileged social status with NO chance of courting a descent girlfriend, was all too familiar and painful to forget thus, alternating with electric rage reciprocating that sadness and unforgettable feeling of irrelevance and living below the poverty line. Now, armed with power and a religious cover notebook and pair of Islamic looking prayer beads chiming with his charming charismatic voice and cultural display of his false traditional herbal medicine capability, undoubtedly aroused the silent majority, especially the Jola tribe (mostly employed as maids and guards by the middle class in his predecessor’s era).
Grippingly, he recounts the story of his life, in his telling parables of division within tribal lines and western domination and exploitation gimmicks—a moral he was still pushing all too hard, disillusioning years later. “We are Gambians and we all have to learn to forgive and reconcile for the sake of a progressive Gambia, furthermore, The Gambia belongs to all Gambians,” he urged his supporters to accept the Election results announced by the I.E.C Chairman Alhagie Momar Njai prior to denouncing and flatly rejecting results in its totality, claiming he was misled after his initial humbling LIVE phone call concession speech broadcast to President Elect Adama Barrow on The National TV (GRTS).
“Adama Barrow is going to be our president, he is the people’s choice” he said, speaking at the press office in State House, Banjul. “He took power on a Friday and lost on a Friday, so it was Allah’s will and he had to accept the will of Allah and the will of the Gambian”. And that they were both born after the independence in 1965. So it was befitting to pass on the baton to Adama Barrow President –Elect , so he could move to Kanilai to do what he knows and loves best farming.
In fact, by the standards Yahya Jammeh subsequently set—in a presidency defined by not only its rhetoric speeches against the Gambian people and the West, most notably Gambian women, and perhaps to be best remembered for them—his bizarre tight-fist rule and suppression on people’s basic human rights. But his legacy will still be dated from the moment he loped onto that press briefing seat and utter the words “Bilai Walia Talia” utterance of an oath, that if he doesn’t kill the 9 death row inmates, he would eat pork and drink alcohol; which are both forbidden in Islam.
With the rangy punisher that became as familiar as his oaths: an unknown politician from nowhere, soon to be the country’s only Dictator, before, in short order, becoming its first Military president. The paean he offered to The Gambia (to halt nepotism, corruption and probity), a country that had embraced him as “a skinny kid with funny looks and BOTH Christian and Muslim middle names”, was also a kind of dare; the self-deprecation camouflaged a boast, since many in his audience saw the obstacles he faced clearly resembles their own daily struggles under the Jawara regime. “we will never introduce Dictatorship in this country,” Mr Jammeh reportedly told reporters of his regime’s mouthpiece- Daily Observer Newspaper when, years later, Hallifa Sallah lectured him on the rule of law and The constitution doctrines of The Gambia he took an oath to live by as the President of The Gambia during his inauguration.
His presidency will be counted in all the witch-hunt anti-corruption Commissions that followed which have become more of divisionary tactics than a genuine vehicle of addressing corruption
which in modern times has become endemic during the AFPRC regime. Furthermore, the tortures and intimidation of innocent fellow Gambians, the rampant arrests leading to mysterious and unreported deaths under detention and missing individuals with no trace and never to be heard from by friends and family members, became a reality to many Gambians just to attain a Kingship title.
Often he spoke bizarrely and crudely as no other president could, becoming, through his carnivorous identity and lack of political eloquence, suffice, the porous economic development vessel for the hopes of almost all Gambians and of—and for—Africa. Think of his speech in the UN 2014 assembly gathering of Heads of state, when he extolled terrorism and called the West evil and devils, and how he single handed pulled 1.8 million Gambians out of the commonwealth without consultation or a referendum.
Think of his eulogy after the 9 Death row inmates or the Dec 30
attackers’ killings. Yet posterity might score him higher on a broader metric had he been as effective in the more intimate relationship with the Gambian people filled with empathy, honesty and respect for one another, as consistent with the Gambian constitution: the guiding principles of good governance, or more resolute with international norms and laws; had he been as adept at championing basic human rights and respect for the laws of the land and building stronger institutions than building physically strong individuals namely military and security personnel and the NIA.
He proposed bold reforms, but some were never enacted, while others seem set to be undone; his flickering diplomatic bravery was offset by a sort of rash timidity. He was an incarnation of tribal equality and level social class playing field, yet at the end of his tenure the Jawara governance triumphs of the 1975 to 1994 seem more remote, to many Gambians, they are worst of today under Jammeh than Jawara. Preternaturally though typically calm (too calm, for some tastes), the concession speech was just another decoy almost visible in his composed features, he was obliged to accept defeat and even welcome the President Elect Adama Barrow into the State House a successor who, by spearheading a defiance to Jammeh’s divisive and Tribalist ways even saying during his meet the people tour that “NO MADINKA WILL EVER RULE THE GAMBIA AGAIN”, had contested his right to occupy the highest seat in the land.
His critics called his a dictatorial presidency, and he did indeed govern more by imposing tight fist measures under the disguise of his executive authority unlike improving on the great economic policies of his predecessor before him. But in truth his presidency demonstrated the erosion of that office’s power, and exposed his brutality and evil intents towards The Gambian Population.
Yahya Jammeh, as he was then known, practiced relentlessly on the 101 ways to rule under dictatorship, the egoistic and Jola cultural herbalist sessions he has studied and loved to display publicly everywhere he goes, even claiming to discover the cure for HIV AIDS and other incurable ailments. “He loved the game of being important as much as allowing his employees (state employees) to dance and farm for him; more like acting the fool at their expense in exchange for promotion or monetary benefits. He might have an innocent smile, but he’s a killer at heart. Hatching his evil plans against Gambians in Kanilai is “one of the few places he could be Yahya Jammeh, and not be the president.
The escapism of Kanilai, and the meticulous detailed sketch plan he brings to it, are not the only continuity between his presidency and his old bitter Military and school boy self while at Gambia High school, where the modest apartment he shared with guardians and his adopted siblings, left him prematurely bitter and self-reliant. His surrogate half-sister, Susan Waffa Ogoo’s professional and personal relationship with Jammeh would be a great testament of his lack of compassion, transcends more like an air of independence which rightly so, could be interpreted as aloofness, weird and awkward, a strength and liability which was another of the traits that he carried on to the military barracks and into the highest office. As one of his many actions of promising to kill and then execute his promises on countless occasions, the killing of 9 death row inmates in cold blood to name a few, clearly shows that he doesn’t need or show a lot of love for humanity. He never got loved! You can’t give what you don’t have. He lacks love, empathy and integrity.
As unlikely an origin as any modern day president in Africa, this was an upbringing at once unblissful and catastrophic, unprivileged and marginalized. It was worldly in its tribal components yet sheltered from the harshest aspects of “Jawara’s Gambia”, including, for the most part, its democratic principles—even if, in the privileged few recollections of life under Jawara, Gambians live-and-let-live classism was less accommodating of Jammeh’s background than his peers assumed. As with many driven outsiders, this alienation supercharged his ambitions and determination to take by any means necessary. His background also shaped the tribalism and sectarian national and international views that guided him after those ambitions were realized.
By virtue of his age, was less influenced by colonization neither corruption nor nepotism or probity, and less devoted to the alliances they nurtured to eliminate inequality and unfairness, than President-Elect Adama Barrow. His sense of the level of classism in The Gambia was extended by a childhood spell in Bwiam and Banjul. Both time and place, then, made him a man of the Hatred and vengeance. That orientation was manifest, in office, in the pivot towards other tribes especially Mandinka’s and wollofs that he hoped would be a centerpiece of his interior policy—though he failed to deliver its central elements, Mandinka’s share most of the brunt of his brutality and heavy handedness.Any president elected in 1996 would have been subject to certain inexorable forces: a shift in the concept of Gambia under military rule; a popular demand for cost costing measures after 1998 global credit crunch. But, more than others, Mr Jammeh was living a flamboyant lifestyle with his Moroccan wife while Gambians wallowed in abject poverty, seeing a need, as President- Elect Barrow puts it in his first speech via social media address, “for the tempering qualities of humility and restraint, Jammeh must go!” He also offered him that, if he Jammeh is willing to unclench his fist, he will extend a hand in order to restore peace, stability and normalcy in The Gambia, else face a mighty regional ECOWAS military confrontation and may stand to lose that fight without a doubt. The decision is your Mr Jammeh, if this is how you want people to remember your legacy, then YOU WELCOME SIR!!!!!!