Tuesday July 22nd 2014 was 20 years since a bunch of junior soldiers toppled the elected government of President Dawda Kairaba Jawara and put an end to 30 years of post-colonial republic which at the time was the longest lasting practice of multiparty politics on the African continent. A system of governance that had lasted for nearly 30 years disappeared into the thin air in the matter of hours. While the one-person system of rule is trying to mark the date with official celebrations, most citizens are ignoring it. They had announced the setting up of prices for best song, cultural attire, poem, etc. praising the achievements of the July 22nd anniversary. But thanks to the erratic moods of the tyrant in Banjul, festivities are to be postponed till October 9th 2014, when a ten day program of festivities is planned. Because of the Ramadan they now say, as if they had forgotten about the Ramadan when they were hourly advertising the scrapped over the past six weeks. It makes one wonder if the Sheikh does keep fast and observe the requirements of the Holy Month.
We at the Kairo News are, however, not ignoring it. You do not wish away unpleasant memories just like that, no matter what, especially when they continue to be your lot. We will try to make a good stuff out of a bad thing by contemplating around things related to the July 22nd Coup, which the powers-that-be call revolution but which one observer aptly called a 360 degree rotation around its axis.
Anniversaries of both births and deaths are best celebrated with the compelling lessons that they come with. Memories of birth warm up our hearts and make us smile at the future while those of death scare us, leave us bewildered but give another angle of look at life. The lessons are more invaluable the more painful the experiences were as far as the more mournful celebrations are concerned. It is in this later mood that I am caught in this July Ramadan of 2014. I have come up with four words of wisdom derived from this day of grief for both our nationhood and our peoplehood.
A dog we know is better company than a man whose language we do not understand, by Michel Montaigne
When Jammeh and his men took over the reins of power twenty years ago, there were many who jubilated. Some because they had grown tired of Sir Dawda thirty year rule, but there many others who were out celebrating in the street because they did not speak Sir Dawda’s language, that is to say they did not see things as he saw them, so they thought they preferred the company of a dog (Jammeh). Jawara saw the world wearing European spectacles, what was written on paper, and especially when sworn over, was what must be done. Government was based on separate powers, Financial Instructions and General Orders, so help me God.
It was often said under Sir Dawda’s rule that “his only problem was his over-leniency. Leaders must have something worth fearing, especially if they are to rule Africans.”
A veteran Gambian politician who was on holidays here in the United States told me of a PPP meeting at the premises of the Old Ritz Cinema on Fitzerald Street, Banjul, in the beginning of the 1970s. The meeting was called in an atmosphere of youth rebellion and several major violent riots that rocked Banjul on repeated occasions, Sir Dawda, members of his cabinet; top party stalwarts were furious and demanded the he should allow the police and the paramilitary Field Force to open fire against demonstrators and rioters. When he got up to speak Sir Dawda reminded them that the country was small, bullets uncontrollable and that if fire was to be opened there was sure to be someone among the gathering whose child would be among the victims, and what would they then have to say. The quietness in that cinema hall was deafening. But it was a silence that showed his followers did not understand him even if some of them admired him.
When lot of water ran under the bridge and power came to rest in the hands of a commoner like Yahya Jammeh and school children ran amok not for the abolition of school fees, or the introduction of student allowances, nor the abolition of book bills but for government to look into the alleged murder of one school pupil by Fire Officers and the alleged raping of a school girl by members of the Police Intervention Unit, Jammeh, who was out on state visit in Havana, rang up his people, hurling abuses at them and called for open fire against the demonstration. Many Gambians mourned the death that day but there were many who understood Jammeh’s savage reaction better than Sir Dawda’s mild display of restrain.
The way we run our own houses, compounds, kabilos, organization is more of Jammeh’s than Jawara’s style of rule. We hate dissent and treat it like pest; suggestions of new approaches we quite down in disdain, gatherings are so charged with our bubbling egos making the free flow of ideas impossible. So naturally, we prefer Jammeh’s company to that of Jawara’s even if we are now beginning to have a second thought at it.
The people get tired of a ruler no matter how excellent, especially if he stays close to a generation in power.
So when Sir Dawda was getting close to thirty years at the helm of things in Banjul, there was little more he could do to freshen up the dry atmosphere of gloom and weariness about him, his men around him and even his officialdom. The dust and dilapidation that held the capital city added to the sense of gloom and suggested decay and the need for renewal. Surprisingly enough this came just after the Jawara administration was just finished successfully launching an economic recovery and rectification program designed and forced through by the International Monetary fund. By the end of 1988 The Gambia carried with it a weight far bigger than its size in the economics of the sub-region. It was before the days of Dubai and sub-regional traders chose The Gambia as their super market and gateway and envoy of trucks came all the way from Burkina. Though somewhat haltingly, agriculture started to pick up again despite the dismantling of the input supply system by the spree of privatization that came with the Economic Recovery Program. The tourism sector recorded some startling growth as “The Gambia, No Problem” euphoria caught on, arrival figures skyrocketed and revenues followed. Because of the export trade Gambians ate only the third bag of rice imported, or drum of cooking oil imported or the bag of onion imported, so the price they had to pay was just a fraction of what they would have paid if they imported only what they needed. So then, Gambians were relatively contented with themselves, especially when they looked around to see the mad and many wars that ravaged many of the West African countries around at the time. They heard about it over Focus on Africa BBC, from people who came back from peace-keeping missions and they saw it on the faces of refugees storming in from the wars. But despite all this, they were becoming tired of the Old Man or Pa; they were in for a new program despite not being sure of what this program might hold for them. Many would not raise a foot to bring about a change, but they would not lift a finger to stop it either. Such posture rhymes with the fatalism of our culture and our faith, so many of us wanting change, but no knowing neither how it looked and not wanting to border with the choice or make of the shade or form of this change.
Talk of transforming The Gambia to a new Singapore was as much an inspiration for the future as a red flag raised for Sir Dawda’s early exit. A wise ruler is usually the first to notice such signs of stress among his subjects. A smart one discerns it even before it becomes aware of by the citizens themselves. This might have been the prelude to the Mansakonko announcement that he wanted to resign. When love for you is ebbing out where you are, go where you are wanted, they say in Wollof. But he spent too much time trying to figure out the signs on the faces of his men that day in Mansakonko when he surprised them his announcement of his intention to step down. It was very likely that the Old Man meant what he was announcing until he saw how it dawned upon the looks of some of his men. One woman was the sole politician to speak out her mind credibly. “The cry behind the heir’s mask is a smile,” they say. Sir Dawda seemed to have regretted the announcement as soon as he had delivered it and this left him shaky. Once a ruler refers to his exit or successor in public, he risks being made irrelevant and even being regarded a stumbling block. The shakiness fueled the scramble for power. The dust raised in that scramble provided cover for the plotters in uniform. There were plotters in uniform and those out of them. The plotters were so many that confusion reigned so success depended on chance not on mettle. With chance you can end up having a mad man enthroned. Around every throne there is all the folly, the malice, the intrigue and deceit that man is capable of and in such atmosphere madness is not that easily recognized. This is the case we happen to find ourselves in now, the inmates are in control of things in this mental institution and the maddest among the lot has just been named General Manager.
No we come to the third word of wisdom. A democracy that is not rooted among the people but only hung above them is just a passing cloud. Just like the postal service the Republic is a Western European invention. But this does not make it more proprietary and exclusively workable and only applicable in Western Europe. We do not have to pay any taxes on it to anyone in the West for practicing it outside that region but we will have to pay taxes for its maintenance; not only financial form of tax payment to state revenue but the patriotic duty to help maintain it, up hold its laws and fight to defend its borders. When there comes disaster, to be ready to help bring about salvation. When rains fall heavy and banks burst and homesteads swept away by the floods, to be ready to swim against tides, erect dikes and other pathways to lead water away from homes to drier pastures where they are much needed.
But for true patriots to be ready to take part in such duties there must be something in it for them as well. Something not as shiny as gold but not less valuable; a say in the decision of how the dikes would be constructed and to whose fields they would flow. In other works the Republic can only be built on the foundation of democracy, and the best such available foundation is the consent of citizens. Republican democracy is a Western invention but not its exclusive gadget. If it was not invented by the West it might have been stumbled into in the East or eve South.
What made the West came to it first was the speed of its inner dynamics , especially when spun wheels of the industrial revolution, the age of enlightenment, the emergence towns and cities and their first inhabitants, the burghers and the industrial proletariat, the French and American Revolutions and the gains in scientific inquiry. Developments tended to sharpen cleavages among different socioeconomic groupings and the state was pressured more and more into playing the role of umpire. Democracy was whatever arrangement that could be brokered out of the conflict between the social groupings. So democracy was carved out of social clashes, some physical clashes but the most influential and lasting influences came from the clash of ideas and the spirit.
Few societies outside the West were more equipped than it for the coming of such new and radical form of government. There The Rights of Man had already become a classic in the West when it was a concept alien to many cultures in elsewhere in Europe, Asia or Africa. Democracy’s life blood is the completion of policies and the ideas upon which it is based is conflict and its resolution. Without this lifeblood, without the contest of ideas, policies, programs, and the ideologies which inform and inspires them, democracy dies a violent death or a slow decaying round-about way towards the same end.
It is only such contest over ideas and policies that can purge primitive peoples from the tendency towards the politics of envy and affinity, of tribes, regions or faith. It is also only such politics that can sufficiently compensate for the absence of pronounced, concerted and structured stakeholder participation in less developed societies and cultures.
So under the First Republic democracy was a one-way road. Democracy was readily given by the rulers but we the subjects could not rise up to the challenge of taking the offer. It was like one where the stage was opened for the show, one party, the state showed up but the people failed to show up so the show failed to look real. The question is why the people failed to show up. Were the people scared away by the state? Yes and No. But the people also stayed away because of the lack in moral courage and concern for community. Every Gambian thinks only for and of himself, not for the community. It was because our lack of civil courage that when we elected Jawara though we were getting tired of him and because democracy was not rooted in us due to our failure in participating accordingly, when the plotters moved, Sir Dawda’s usher became a mere weekend affair, clean, bloodless and swift . So truly, a democracy that is not rooted among the people but only hung above them is just a passing cloud
Now we go on to the fourth and final word of wisdom for this twentieth anniversary of the July 22nd rotation. Those who dance for the tyrant will bear the weight of his coffin when he dies. State power is omnipresent but is perceived differently by peoples of different cultures and different places and different times. In the pre-colonial Wollof state of Jollof the ruler was called Bur but his rein is called Ngurr, suggesting a stint of merriment but in the neighboring Baol the ruler used to be called Teigne Baol, teigne being the padding that people carrying heavy loads on heads use, therefore suggesting toil, weighty responsibility and task. But whatever the type of person attached to it state has been the most effective tool for communities of humans for regulation, the maintenance of law and order and security. But because it is usual able to garner more resources than anyone else in a given state, it is the always the object eternal struggles, attracting predators as mangoes attract flies. All states make their spoils and many who follow and cheer statesmen are only after those spoils. The problem will later be, for any leader, how to identify those after the spoils. Some are in it to use the power of the state to rob or torment other citizens. With the occupancy at State House changed, the former victims become the new tormentors and the cycle of misrule resumes anew.
Twenty years, has been a long time, perhaps the longest in our recent history, the lessons and words of wisdom that can come out of this epoch are numerous and many of better quality. The above were only four out of tens of thousands ponderable.
May Allah Have Mercy on Us All
Accept you all our sympathy for the past twenty years of tribulation and suffering.
Well said may the Good Lord the grant us the wishdom and courage to fight injustice.
Let us stop writing now and we go face to face with jammeh in Washington