On July 22nd 1994 (20 years ago), former lieutenant Yahya Jammeh with fellow junior soldiers of the Gambia National Army overthrew President Dawda Jawara and his seemingly indispensable People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government out of power. This was after almost 30 years in the dugout in Banjul but not without warning that people don’t want perpetual stay in power. This came in the form of Kukoi Samba Sanyang’s 1981 failed coup. Jawara return on the back of Senegal through some dust-up treaty they (Jawara) and Abdou Joof [former Senegalese President] activated.
Shortly thereafter the hastily cobbled up Senegambia Confederation gave birth. The Confederation later fell apart few years later. Jawara formed a National Army that eventually produced Yahya Jammeh. Was it formed to protect him against Senegal and/or was it to protect the sovereign integrity of The Gambia? Both are not reasonable. The Gambia National Army even after 30 years can’t stand up to Senegalese army. More importantly, there is no historical territorial dispute between our two nations. If the Gambia can’t foresee going to war with Senegal that sits on all sides of its borders except the 48km span on the West Coast of The Atlantic Ocean, then every other justification for an army is simply bogus. Moreover, the taxes of the poor are invested to house, feed, cloth and equip these bunch for no reasonable return. I can see employment as a good return but not at that cost. The same amount of money or even less could engage that much of our population in other productive sectors.
Our past (meaning years before Yahya in Banjul) was bad. Recently, I have heard people dismissing those wrongs. Some downplayed or minimized them while others even argued that belongs to history and has no relevance to today’s Gambia. Whatever obtains today has its roots in our past. The only difference is magnitude.
Nonetheless Yahya is here – for 20 years and counting. He promised heaven on earth and delivered hell. During this period our people suffered tremendously while few enjoyed temporary and erratic sense of belonging. The social structure has changed unimaginably and cultures/traditions obliterated. Among the first victims were Sadibou Hydara and Sana Sabally, both members of the gang that overthrew PPP, with the former paying the ultimate price in prison. That has been the story – besides few nicely painted buildings, few street lights, 100s of kilometers of road length asphalted, bunch of school buildings, flamboyant presidential vehicle fleet and so-called hospitals every Gambian has his/her share of the despair. It’s so bad that the whole nation is at the service of one person; neighbors can’t freely opine on national matters without risk being picked up by the secret service agents while families are broken either by denying national jobs, killings, disappearances or exile. The civil services constantly recycled for no apparent reason. Socio-economic conditions deteriorated and overall poverty compounded. Petty crimes increased, looting of public coffers an open secret, sex trade/prosecution a livelihood and our ports turned to narcotic hub nation for global distributions.
Where are we and what have we done as citizens? This question can also be flipped to what we haven’t done? Back home all hopes are placed on political parties to effect the desired changes. This hope has number of problems. First it assumes we’re democratic so the normal electioneering will remove Yahya. Second we hope any such eventual winner will serve our interest (democracy) – if Jawara and Yahya are any example there is not much to be hopeful. The third is that many assume is someone’s problem (usually the opposition) hence out sourcing the solution. The Gambia is not a functioning democracy; elections were/are controlled by another contestant and any winner under such conditions will be another dictator with a different name – tribe, religion, education, village/town/cities, etc.
The diaspora on the other hand has one thing to celebrate – the advent of activist online media houses/journalists. These are both individual entrepreneurial talents and as well enormous contribution to the national enlightenment efforts. Bravo girls/guys! Unfortunately the full potential of these efforts are yet realized because of the disjoint of home and abroad efforts of our struggle. Besides, many efforts were made in the name of unity. The unanswered question is a call to unity to do what and/or to unite on what? To have one opposition candidate has not and will not work. To removing Yahya has not and will not work! To bring back Jawara’s Gambia or something like it hasn’t and will not work. Years of inter/intra group fighting have become commonplace at our various forums. Yet a clearly articulated vision backed with well-set program of action is pretty much non-existing. The common outlet for skeptics…”Yahya will not agree or allow this or that”. My position our legitimate fight is not about what Yahya and/or any other person sanctioned or otherwise.
This produced a more powerful Yahya and a weaker/non-existent struggle. Recently, I learnt his agents’ denied the return of late Buba Baldeh’s remains for burial at his hometown. This is very sad but is not as bad as many emotionally charged made it to be. For instance you and me are in exile – besides we’re living for now what’s the difference? We can’t fight this battle on emotions but one reason. Over the last 20 years here are few remarkable incidences – Ousman Koro Ceesay’s reported accidental death is unresolved, Foday Makalo remained mysteriously missing, Deyda Hydara killings unresolved, 14-unarmed students killed unresolved, unknown mass graves of alleged attempted coupists still a mystery, Ebrima Manneh and Kanyiba Kanyi dead/alive is anybody’s guess, Daba Marenah dead/alive a mystery and so on and so forth. An untold number of citizens physically abused for no crime. Many others denied access to their livelihoods and others were forcefully evicted from their real estate.
To believe that one such emotional event will/might eventually produce the almighty trigger is a folly. Our triggers came and gone and nothing happened. In fact we do not need a trigger. We need is a deliberate action of citizens for our sovereignty. That has nothing to do with what’s right or wrong, instead it’s a given that we’re denied since 1965. Let reclaim it now!
How can/do we reclaim our sovereignty as citizens of a Republic? Last year I posted an article titled – “The Hard Way The Only Way”. A disclaimer – “The Hard Way The Only Way” is a title of a movie I watched years ago. I’m not even sure if I have the wording arranged in the right order. The movie was about taking out a drug cartel in a South American jungle with the only possible plan that is very risky and dangerous to execute.
That was a warning that we do not have the luxury of many approaches to solve our problem. Certainly we neither have luxury to continue to argue who is the candidate of next election nor who’re the executives of one group or another. Let everyone who so wishes be a candidate in an election and let anyone have organization based on his or her interest. Ours is a national problem requiring a national solution. That solution should be all-inclusive except those who choose to stay away at any given time. The diaspora should recognize her strategic role but not over play their importance’s that disincentives the participation of the home-based crowd. Although unorganized, resource less and weak, the home-based crowd are indispensable – some critical roles of the diaspora is to facilitation, influencing and advocacy.
Hereunder are the 10-phased plan I said is the only way but a hard way: To appreciate these steps you have to understand the assumption as to what’s the problem.
1) Define ‘The Problem’
2) Develop ‘A National Democracy Vision’
3) Negotiate ‘A National Face’
4) Take Our Case To The International Community – Moral & Financial Support
5) Engage Government of The Gambia – democratic overhauls
6) Engage Foreign Missions, NGOs, CSOs – begin to nationalize democracy campaign
7) Going To The People – enlightenment, organize and mobilize citizens
8) Reporting and Assessment of Progress
9) Reviews, repositioning and re-strategizing
10) Repeating 4 -9 over and over until we achieve the ultimate vision – A Functioning Institutional Democracy
11) Phase-out mode – turned into several Civil Rights/Liberties Watch Groups to keep the citizens watching and timely acting to safe guard the gains
This approach could be twig by interchanging the order of the phases and/or even formulate different implementation organizational arrangements but the core principles can’t be avoided. Until we come to these basic fundamentals our efforts will be largely noisy than truly result orientation.
For The Gambia Ever True!
Burama FL Jammeh