Yahya Jammeh's Unsafe Gambia

Ba KawsuAs human beings who strongly subscribed to the principles of democracy, good governance, equality before the law, human and peoples’ rights and freedom of speech, it is incumbent upon us to not only stand up against injustice and sufferings around us but also work together to stop them wherever they occur irrespective of religion, race, gender or political affiliation. Failure to do so will only render us by posterity as collaborators and perpetrators. More so, a couple of years down the line when we look back, we are often tormented by regrets and guilt for not having done enough to combat and stop such atrocities while we had the opportunity to do so. As Gambians who cherish democracy and good governance, I have no doubt that you are alert to the fact of what history and posterity will record of you in regards to promoting and fostering peace, justice and prosperity that you will avail yourself to standing up against injustice and the inhuman treatment of human beings wherever it takes place. It is in line of the aforesaid that I wish to draw the attention of all Gambians on the decaying democratic and good governance institutions in the Gambia under President Yahya AJJ Jammeh.

President Jammeh has orchestrated a nerve-racking catalogue of atrocities to Gambians from the very minute he unconstitutional deposed a democratically elected government in 22 July 1994 to date. His chilling excesses range from political thuggery to extra judicial killings. He began prostituting Gambians hopes, freedom and liberty by systematically muzzling the freedom of speech. It goes without saying that President Jammeh stands out as the world worst coldblooded dictator who has paralysed the central nerve of Gambian media both print, electronic and radio. He has callously closed Citizen FM and Teranga FM radio stations as well as the Daily News and Standard newspapers through his notorious National Intelligence Agency. To further suffocate Gambian in news blackout, he restricted all websites that are critical of his rule. To add insult to injury, recently he banned Viber and Skype. He has succeeded in transforming the remaining radio stations as mere providers of music and sports news. The state media which is symbolically his private property only broadcasts his programmes.

It is disheartening to say today Gambians under Jammeh’s oppressive rule have long forgotten what is freedom, liberty, human and peoples’ rights.  Jammeh blatantly continues through his security forces to unlawfully arrest and detain anybody he perceives as an opponent. To add insult to injury, all these detainees are seldom informed of their rights and/or reason for their arrest or detention and are often held for more than 72 hours without charge contrary to the dictates of the Gambian constitution. Furthermore, hair-splitting tortures are routinely employed to extract confessions and deterrent. A clear manifestation of such gross violation with impunity was the arrest and detention of Imam Baba Leigh for more than six months without charge. The outspoken cleric’s life was only spared by Jammeh as a result of intense international pressure on him to either charge or release the cleric. The cleric’s instance is just a drop in the ocean of Jammeh’s unabated unlawful arrests and detentions. Prior to the arrest of the Imam Baba Leigh was the unceremonious arrest and torture of another cleric Bakawsu Fofana who did not hide his critical view of the dictatorial regime. Imam Bakawsu had to flee the Gambia for his life. To further demonstrate his nonchalant attitude to freedom and liberty, he has recently incarcerated the former Justice Minister Lamin Jobarteh and Solicitor General Pa Harry Jammeh incommunicado.  Like many other Gambians currently languishing in his torture chambers human rights activists are deeply concern with their welfare and personal safety.

The justice system has long been adulterated and now reduced to a mere intuition which prides itself in punishing his opponents and critics. Appeals and individual cases are deliberately put on hold just to keep his perceived enemies in deplorable prison conditions. To make matters worse, the judiciary is saturated with Nigerian mercenary judges and lawyers whose allegiance is nothing but President Jammeh and their pockets. Consequently, getting justice in the Gambia under Jammeh is likened to hunting for a dinosaur in this day and age. Jammeh’s unflinching calculated harassment of Gambians has procreated fear, suffering, mortification, and dehumanisation beyond comprehension. Gambians are now enduring all forms of callous inhuman sufferings from him and his security forces so much that they have eventually accepted it as an inevitable way of life and consigning their lives to his mercy.  In August 2012 Jammeh executed nine death row inmates without complying with the due process of law as stipulated in the constitution. Enforced disappearances have also become one of mechanism to keep Gambians in conformity with wishes. Classical cases of such enforced disappearances are that of Chief Ebrima Manneh, a journalist; Daba Marenah, former director of the notorious National Intelligence Unit, Kanyiba  Kanyi a social  worker and a host of other Gambians whose where about are still unknown. The murder of Dayda Hydara and Ousman Koro Ceesay all remained unsolved despite numerous calls to do so. Suffice it to say that the prison conditions in the Gambia remain appalling. It is not only over-crowded with poor sanitation, but characterised with harsh detention condition. This is what Dr Amadou S Janneh has to say to his audience at the Amnesty International Office in London recently:” A far greater fear for prisoners is the possibility of a fire. The electrical wiring is poorly done: cables are exposed everywhere and electrical sparks are very common. There is no fire extinguisher in the entire prison system.”  No wonder why Jammeh kept the international observers and human rights activists at bay from the prisons. Dr Janneh was a former minister of Information under President Jammeh. His only crime and incarceration into the deplorable Mile 2 prison was wearing a T-Shirt which called for freedom in the Gambia. If it were not for his American citizenship, Dr Janneh would have been a meal for Jammeh’s crocodiles.

The Gambia desperately needs the international community and all its allies to open their eyes to her sufferings and work together with Gambians to stop it. I will conclude by quoting Mrs Sara Sillah a Canadian citizen whose husband’s deportation to the Gambia was halted at the last minute and now freed: “When good people speak, amazing things happen.” I have no iota of doubt that when Gambians speak in unison about Gambia’s deplorable state in the world will know that the Gambia is no longer a safe bliss for Gambians.

Babucarr Darboe

Chelmsford, UK

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