Gambians woke up on Monday August 18, 2014 to
the announcement by State-owned media that President Yahya Jammeh “shall be addressed as: His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhagi Dr. Yahya AJJ Jammeh Nassirul Deen Babili Mansa.” Even if the move is seen by many people as one of the funniest and best newspaper headlines, the last title ‘Babili Mansa’ (meaning in local Mandinka language the “King who builds bridges”) gave rise to a general climate of suspicion, reflecting the prevailing apprehension about the Gambian leader’s resolve to turn the country into a monarchy.
“Most people in Gambia when you ask them about the state of affairs will tell you that they had enough of a president who lays heavy hand on all public resources to build his finance base and material empire.
They are afraid to talk in the open for good reasons. Anyone who simply says the country is hard to live in pays a price by immediate arrest, detention, and court charges for treason. That is Gambia under Yaya Jammeh who now wants to raise the bar higher by getting crowned as king,” writes the UK-based Gambian political analyst Sarjo Bayang in an article entitled “Under Heavy Weight of Crown, The king Lost His Head,” and which was widely shared on social media.
Far more disturbing, is the attempt being made by a parliamentarian to promote the issue of kingship, showing that the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) is not opposed to the idea of turning Gambia into a monarchy. “I’ve said it. We should have a monarch in our own way. Let’s crown him! [President Yahya Jammeh] I’ve been saying it; I’ve tasked the youths of this country and women…I have my belief. And I think it’s my right to say what I believe in. Anything that I’m saying if my conscience is clear with me, I believe it’s right,” Banjul Central MP Abdoulie Saine told his colleagues during an adjournment debate in May 2014.
“These opposition parties do not understand that it’s in their interest for him [President Jammeh] to be crowned. We can have our monarch; look at Maroc; we can have our monarch in our own way. And then if that happens; you would see the best of The Gambia, believe me! I know the power does not rest in our hands. You would need a referendum to do that. But we could advocate that; we could sell that to our people; let them understand”, he added.
In an attempt to downplay the importance of MP Abdoulie Saine’s statement, party stalwart and former Speaker of the House Fatoumata Jahumpa – Cessay said the move is initiated by only one MP and does not mean that the country’s National Assembly is endorsing it. “Just one MP said this. Is it the National Assembly that said this? Is it President Yahya Jammeh who said this? Have you ever heard Yahya Jammeh saying this? Every MP has the right to express his or her opinion,” she said.
A threat to democracy?
Many Gambians believe that there are trends which, if allowed to take their present, natural course, could easily overwhelm the determined efforts being made today by prodemocracy groups to put the country on a steadier and sounder course.
“I don’t think a monarchy in Gambia would ever be legitimate. We all know that he [President Jammeh] has his rubber stamp Parliament, but we will not sit by and watch him turn the country into a monarchy,” warned Sohna A. Sallah of the US-based Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA), an organization that was part of the civil society organizations that besieged the Gambian leader’s hotel during the US-Africa Business Forum, held in Washington, DC.
Despite the fact that Yahya Jammeh’s bid for kingship culminated from 2010 when some traditional chieftains toured the country seeking to mobilize beyond the confines of APRC’s strongholds, the recent events undertaken by the Banjul Central MP cannot be taken for granted.
But opposition party leader Omar Jallow of the People’s Progressive
Party (PPP), a political organization that ruled Gambia for 30 years,
has vowed to use the ‘full weight of his party to get the necessary support’ in order to bar the APRC monarchists’ way.
“We are ready to go up to any circumstance to make sure that doesn’t happen. Gambia will continue to be a republican State,” he voiced out.
As reports from Banjul indicate that plans are at an advanced stage for President Yahya Jammeh’s coronation in May 2015, the cost of rectifying history will be expensive for the country. Such a scenario might project a Gambia which will be confronted with so many challenges that will jeopardize its future…