A cursory study of dictators and dictatorships around the world shows that whether in the past or the present, they survive on one common thing, and that is the obedience of the people. As long as the people of a country demonstrate obedience to the dictatorship, they invariably provide a lifeline for the dictator to survive. But once they turn their obedience around into disobedience then the tyrant can no longer survive. For 20 years Gambians have been obedient citizens to the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh and this is why he appears stronger today than ever. If we so remain obedient, then he will surely remain in power for as long. Thus let the next 20 years be a period of disobedience.
Obedience does not have to be voluntary or conscious. It can be involuntary, unconscious, planned or unplanned, spontaneous or through coercion. It is necessary for Gambians to realize this fact for the simple reason that we are experiencing full blown dictatorship for the first time and within a very short space of time, that it appears we do not fully know how to contend with the situation. Some of us have become so overwhelmed by this cancerous system that the only way out seems to either walk away silently or join the system only to be humiliated and tormented many times over, either of which indicates obedience! The task before our people is to try to unravel the dynamics of dictatorship and understand the underlying strengths and weaknesses of this evil system in order to fight and destroy it for good. This is our challenge lest we all become painful witnesses to the disintegration of the Gambia and the mayhem that will follow as had happened in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda or the Congo among several other examples in the world. All of these gruesome dictatorships happened in our lifetime and so we don’t need any extraordinary racking of the brain or research to realize the full picture.
What is obedience to dictatorship?
In my observation and analysis, obedience to dictatorship manifests in several ways, which we must understand in the first place. The mere silence of the people, even if they will complain within the confines of their offices, homes, ‘attaya’ or ‘koign’ vous, either in twos or threes or more people, all demonstrate a culture of silence, hence obedience. The lack of organization and intellectual discourse including media freedom about the manner of the governance of the country is another manifestation of obedience. This is because as long as there is no alternative views and opinions being expressed, even if the environment does not openly support it as is the case in the Gambia today, all go to show that there is a semblance of obedience which feeds a dictatorship. The act of fleeing the country and remain abroad even though one is faced with clear and present danger if you stay at home also indicates obedience. This is because a departure of any one citizen removes the burden on the dictator to have to contend with you at home. By that same token, that departure denies internal forces an element of strength, hence an advantage for the dictator. Furthermore, the mere fact that intellectuals and people in general would accept to associate with the dictator either as appointed officials, or join its celebrations or use its materials such as T-shirts and Ashobi pieces, or benefit from rice and sugar donations or hajj packages, or patronize the numerous businesses of Yahya Jammeh, all indicate obedience. The excuse of poverty or ‘rafleh’ i.e. poverty of clothes cannot be used as a justification for accepting these materials. Similarly, those who claim that they do not support the regime even when they hold strategic positions but are just saving their jobs serves no good for the country except to entrench the dictatorship. We have to realize that it does not really matter if Isatou Njie Saidy or Imam Ratib Cherno Kah is genuinely in support of, or is pretending to support Yahya Jammeh. At the end of the day, what matters is Isatou Njie Saidy or the Imam Ratib merely endorses the regime whose effect is felt in the people who follow or admire or revere the imam of Isatou Njie Saidy. The end result of all these is the entrenchment of the dictatorship. This is because all of this gives a semblance of invincibility, positive public perception and power to the tyrant thereby gaining him a popular appeal.
The mind of the oppressed is the weapon of the oppressor
The power of the dictator lies in the minds of the oppressed. In order words, as long as the oppressed harbour feelings of fear, love, obedience, silence, and so on, they therefore allow the dictatorship to flourish because all of these indicate a lack of resistance. Tyrants therefore feed immensely on mystification, illusions, falsity and populism in order to fill up the minds of the oppressed with the wrong notions. They create a larger than life image of themselves and exploit all means, especially poverty, ignorance, religion, culture, fanfare, military bravado and the media to promote their false images and entrench themselves in power. Just look at the convoy of Yaya Jammeh, or his numerous celebrations and wild ‘medical discoveries’, and the hours of broadcast dedicated to him and his team on GRTS. This way, they generate a very high level of mystification around him in order to divert attention so as to build love, fear and awe in the people. In fact, dictatorship can get so brutally overwhelming that the oppressed become fearful of freedom! They begin to think that without the dictator, the people cannot survive. This is the time when sycophants and misguided intellectuals would claim that such a dictator is the only panacea for such a society, or that such a country cannot do without such a dictator. Recall the kind of views that were expressed about Jawara; some used to say a Gambia without Jawara is unthinkable. In Nigeria also, some have propounded the belief that only Abacha is good for that country! Crazy ideas!!
Dictators have no permanent friends, but permanent interest
Yaya Jammeh has demonstrated great liberty in hiring and firing people and uttering statements that even absolute monarchs do not utter. Yet he goes scot-free because we allow it by our silence, applause and indifference. He would appoint only to fire and humiliate and then come back again to appoint the same person and the cycle goes on and on. This makes him look invincible and great. This is very instrumental for tyranny in a country where conservative and fatalistic views especially regarding leadership are deep-rooted. Even the imams have preached that Allah creates or makes leaders, unfortunately. But Islamic history never showed that. Allah never imposed the Holy Prophet (SAW) on the people. The Almighty just identified Muhammad (SAW) as His Messenger and sent him to people, not to use compulsion but to preach for people to voluntarily come to Islam! So how can Allah send Yaya Jammeh to Gambians without a Revealed Book???
Gambians have to understand that a dictator has no permanent friend or ally. What a dictator has is a permanent interest, which is only to stay in power forever and ever. In this equation, he will use and misuse any individual or entity as long as that individual or institution serves his purpose, i.e. TO REMAIN IN POWER FOREVER. This is why Gambians will not understand why Yaya Jammeh will fire Tamsir Mbowe as health secretary, (a man who sold his life and profession for him) on flimsy allegations without investigation, yet turn around a few days later and appoint him again in some other junior place. How do you explain why Yaya Jammeh would humiliate and sack Yankuba Touray only to turn around and appoint him again? How do you explain why Yaya Jammeh will sanction the murder of Almamo Manneh and many of his allies and then picks among their colleagues to serve in the position of their fallen colleagues? This cycle will continue on and on even if it means that he will use each and every Gambian including newly born babies just to stay in power.
It appears Gambians are not reading or seeing the picture that is being painted by Yaya Jammeh, otherwise why would Abdoulie Jobe, for example, or Pa Ousman Jarju or Kalilou Bayo among many accept their appointments when they fully know that the posts they occupy had tens of predecessors in a matter of 20 years? They do not seem to realize that they will not live long in their posts, and probably may graduate into Mile 2 with a series of humiliating court cases as many faced such as Ousman Jammeh Lamin Waa Juwara or Langtombong Tamba. Is it greed or dishonesty or ignorance or all of them put together?
Dictators are not sectarian by nature
One other element of dictatorship is that they are not sectarian even though their actions may appear sectarian. For example many Gambians believe that Yaya Jammeh is a tribalist or anti-Mandinka or pro-Islamic. But he is not. He is merely promoting his permanent interest and goal, which is to stay in power for life! If that requires that he play tribalism or nepotism or favoritism and divide and rule tactics, he will do that anyhow. Certainly Jolas are not benefiting more than anyone in this country. Where is Abdoulie Kujabi, or the many Jola chiefs, soldiers, civil servants and common people including Yaya’s own relatives, who have been equally tormented by Jammeh? I do not see any difference between his treatment of Mandinkas from his treatment of Jolas or any other group for that matter. But this is the nature of dictatorship and dictators that we do not seem to understand. They have no allies and feelings. Dictators just have INTERESTS. Period. They will sacrifice anyone, everyone, and everything just to stay in power.
After the death of Musa Jammeh someone said he could not understand why Jammeh will kill these people because they are his right-hand men. I told him Jammeh has no right-hand men or people. Look at his security and core team and compare them with the team that was there in 2000 or 1995, and you will see a 100% different faces. This is because no matter who seems to be so close and for how long, you are only useful as long as you promote and protect the agenda of the dictator. The moment you become useless or a threat, you are eliminated and replaced by the next guy behind you and the cycle goes on and on, forever. Unfortunately, Gambians, or may be people always fail to see this aspect of dictators and so we all become victims one by one. Didn’t Saddam Hussein kill his own son-in-law just to stay in power?
Dictators are evil by nature
Coming back to the point, let me re-echo that the majority of Gambians are obeying the dictatorship and the dictator and this is what is keeping him alive. He maims, jails, insults and kills but we accept him. We obey him. We tolerate him by our silence, our acquiescence, and our attachment fuelled by our greed, our dishonesty, our fear, our anxiety, our ambitions and our pettiness and our stupidity.
The nature of dictators is evil. They are incompetent and unqualified by any standards. They are brutish, introvert and myopic. They are selfish, petty, vindictive and egoistic. They are unpatriotic, inconsiderate, cowardly and untrustworthy. Given this nature, it is therefore natural that dictators employ force, violence and deception to run the affairs of the country. This means that dictators should not be under-rated. They will do ANYTHING to survive. Check Mobutu, Bokassa, Hitler, Lansana Conteh, Milosevic and Abacha and you will find these qualities in all of them. Yaya Jammeh has demonstrated this so far and very quite well for that matter.
You cannot outsmart or impress a dictator
Another element of tyrants that Gambians need to notice is that no one can fool or impress a dictator because the very nature of a dictator is deception and chicanery. That is what he lives by. Anyone who plans to cheat or fool a dictator, you end up being consumed because as far as the dictator is concerned, he will either eat you up or you eat him up. Since he has control of state power, he most likely will end up eating you up first, which still gives him a semblance of power and invincibility. This is why it is always necessary that people organize against a dictator. The case of Momodou Sabally is classic! It is clear that this guy unfortunately had always misread Yaya Jammeh. He thought (maybe) the dictator was genuine. He thought he was a smart guy who can perform well in front of the dictator in order to impress him. He did not know that the dictator is not interested in his performances unless such performance is instrumental for the dictatorship. Thus after using Sabally the way he wanted, the dictator came to realize that he has better use of Sabally by utilizing him, Sabally as detergent to wash Yaya Jammeh clean like a needle. This is why he claimed, ‘you cannot be more president than the president.’ The charge that Sabally was arrogant, unapproachable and too bossy is not the issue. That was a diversionary tactic typical of dictators to destroy people and rebuild themselves. Thus the dictator is merely using that to cleanse himself. He is renewing himself by using Sabally as a means because the latter never understood dictatorship. Thus by using Sabally as a piece of soap to cleanse himself, the dictator has once again raised his own profile and divert attention. A dictator lives by victimizing people in order to vindicate himself!
Dictators hate enlightenment and organization
A dictator hates organization and enlightenment. This has been demonstrated all throughout history. Any regime, which is dictatorial, hates to see wise and enlightened people and groups. They hate to see independently organized groups and independently minded people because these are threats to the tyrant for the simple reason that the dictator cannot achieve the obedience of such individuals, groups and organizations. This is also the very reason that dictators limit the avenues and space for the free flow of information or the exchange of ideas and views. Freedom of speech and of the media is a direct threat to dictatorship because free speech and media enable citizens to get to know what is happening. Such freedom exposes lies and deception on which the dictatorship survives in order to ensure the total obedience of the people. Thus in all dictatorships, they ensure that there is one major outlet for the dissemination of news, information and ideas. Usually this is the state media. Then they close or suppress the rest of the independent media through the use of unjust laws, arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and murder of journalists and carry out arson attacks and closure of media houses. One will see that all of these are practices that are prevalent in the Gambia. Today, consequently you have more Gambian media houses and journalists stationed outside the country than inside the country. It is also for the same reason that the regime gives no space to groups that seek to organize. For example, why is the UDP facing more harassments than the rest of the opposition? It is for nothing other than the fact that the UDP are more and better organized than the rest of the opposition. They have a broader leadership. They have a more vibrant youth wing. They have a more international presence. They are richer and they organize activities more than the rest with far bigger gatherings. Naturally the regime sees UDP as a bigger threat that GPDP or NRP or PDOIS which have a limited leadership, and less vibrant sections such as youth or women’s wings, etc.
Destruction of Dictatorship
The key to the liberation of our people therefore is how to break the culture of obedience. This would require organization and enlightenment through any media, anywhere and anyhow that is democratic and peaceful. Violence is the domain of a dictator and so responding to him through violence serves to strengthen him and gives him a semblance of right, hence he deploys the full force of violence on the people. This can prolong liberation with unimaginable cost to life and property. Examples abound. Libya. Syria. DR Congo. Furthermore, using armed violence has the potential to become protracted, derailed, unending and factionalized, which can also produce another dictatorship. In the end the violence consumes everyone and becomes more costly than the dictatorship. Just look at Liberia and Doe. The rebels think they can use violence to remove a dictator, not realizing that a dictator lives on violence and until the whole place is burnt down he will not give up. Read Milosevic, Suharto, or Mobutu. Violence removed them but after untold destruction and long term suffering.
For the Gambia, the time is NOW, through disobedience in a peaceful and nonviolent way. Here are some practical decisions and actions Gambians can take to disobey the tyrant:
- Stop your children to line up the streets to welcome or bid Yaya Jammeh farewell on his travels;
- Do not attend July 22 celebrations;
- Do not go to Kanilai or McCarthy Square or the beaches to attend his parties;
- Do not send your children to the parties he forces schools to have;
- Do not ever take or put on Yaya Jammeh and APRC t-shirts or display their posters, scarfs and other materials;
- Do not attend Yaya Jammeh meetings anywhere and anytime in the country;
- Do not buy from Kanilai Farms, KGI, Green Industries, or any of his business outlets;
- Do not buy his cement, bread, vegetables and clothes;
- Do not take and eat his biscuits;
- Do not listen to music or patronize musicians who praise his name;
- Do not patronize businesses, or recognize community, religious or opinion leaders and organizations who associate with Yaya Jammeh or APRC;
- Hate his actions and decisions in your heart and mind;
- Distance yourself from any of his personal, party and other activities;
- Do not go to farms to work for him;
- Do not take his jobs and appointments;
- Let the opposition call on their supporters to stay home;
- Put pressure on the opposition to coalesce through a workable arrangement now;
- For those of us in the Diaspora, make it crystal clear to family back home to distance themselves from Yaya Jammeh and APRC completely;
- Take personal responsibility for the freedom and safety of the Gambia and her people;
- Ostracize your family, friends and colleagues who are proving open support t the dictatorship;
We have a choice to end dictatorship in the Gambia. And there are two ways. One is peaceful and democratic civil disobedience. The other is violent armed struggle. The former is in our best interest.