Extent to which Yaya Jammeh remains threat to Gambia and how damaging that is
By Sarjo Bayang
He is the lead actor and we keep record of his tracks as history unfolds. Welcome to Gambia where poor junior army ranker seized power by force of guns, nothing in his pocket. In the course of 20 years, he is first Dollar Millionaire African president. How did he do it?
First he seized power by coup in July 1994 and promised returning to barracks after two years transitional military rule. Later he resigned from the army to contest elections. By the most unfair and seriously fraudulent electoral malpractice he was declared winner of presidential elections in successive years. Then he insisted clinging on power as life president by abolishing presidential term limit from the constitution. The idea of getting crowned as king came up and rejected by Gambians before it was set for elections.
Still bent on becoming king, Jammeh wants more. He invited Dr Zakir Naik, Islamic preacher of Indian stock to mark 20 years military rule. Naik in public lecture broke news that Gambia is soon to be an Islamic state. This information many believe emanates from his host President Yaya Jammeh. Now Gambians don’t know how Jammeh as king plans ruling an Islamic Republic of Gambia. What is certain remains the fact that Jammeh already destroyed all sectors of Gambia by first dismantling political structures and systematic due process. A revisit of the damage sectors follows.
Yaya Jammeh jumping the long queue by staging a coup instead of forming political party in July 1994 is the most crooked passage to power imposed on Gambians especially when that turned into dictatorship nobody wants.
What makes matters worse is the fact that all structures of governance and systematic dispensation are being destroyed as Jammeh insists he will never relinquish power without bloodshed. Although the coup that accidentally landed him on highest seat of the nation’s political power was at first said to be free from violence. To that extent, the coup makers proudly called it bloodless coup.
Gambian people never wanting to accept military rule demanded quickest return to democracy. The initial agreement was for the coup makers returning to barracks after two year transition period when democratic elections would be held.
Unwilling to keep his promise of returning to barracks Yaya Jammeh along his junta colleagues cunningly settled for a change in game plan. It is worth reminding them and Gambians that as a nation that prides itself of genuine truthful people, this was betrayal of most serious nature that a group of military personnel will break all rules of decency as it later emerged as jammeh tricked his way to fulfil the wild ambition of president for life.
Jammeh and his military cohorts brought down the entire political structure and systematic dispensation only to replace it with unlawfulness. From July 1994 when the junta invaded political space of Gambia the country has never known peace.
After destroying democracy Jammeh forced down the throat of unwilling Gambians what now remains seen as most brutal dictatorship. Law and order no longer prevail. Those who claim loyalty to Jammeh are free to commit any crime without fear of punishment. On occasions as what happened when more than dozen young students were gunned down by Gambian army at command of Yaya Jammeh, perpetrators of that crime later received promotion in their ranks by Jammeh who doubles as president and Commander-In-Chief of Armed Forces.
To entrench himself in power Jammeh made sure all genuine political challengers are marginalised by various tactical schemes which eventually worked. In the course of 20 years Jammeh tried to become king but slowed down after realising this did not go well for most people. He changed the entire political representation so that those voted by their constituents no longer become ministers but simply serve as Members of Parliament MP. That gives Jammeh sweeping powers to decide who become minister and other key government positions.
Not long ago, the idea of transforming himself into king after clearly failing in the job of presidency popped up again. That idea is still kicking. Current political dispensation in Gambia is one where everything is done by dictates of one man who does not respect lawfulness.
From 10 October 2014 Jammeh began 10 days celebrations marking what he calls July 1994 revolution. He invited heads of states and high profile personalities around the world. Low attendance by Gambian population during events marking Jammeh’s dream revolution is enough indication of total disapproval.
One of Jammeh’s invited guests happened to be Dr Zakir Naik, Islamic preacher from India. During what was organised as open public lectures, Dr Naik broke news to Gambians that Gambia is about to be renamed Islamic Republic to great shock and surprise of many.
No matter how many Muslims there are in Gambia, transformation to an Islamic state is a political decision that has to take into consideration other religious denominations. Declaring Gambia as Islamic state is not to be left in the loose hands a failed leader with extremist tendencies.
Protocol is seriously defied when it has to take a visiting preacher telling Gambians the country is to become Islamic state.
Over 20 years of Yaya Jammeh in control of Gambia already has serious political ramifications with devastating consequences on all other matters in public life. Below are some of the affected areas.
Soon after seizing power economic interest for personal wealth building became first priority for Jammeh. All public resources are under sole control of Jammeh who does not hide his burning desire to get rich at all cost.
In 20 years Jammeh is now richer than Gambian state. He controls all public resources and directly involved in all types of business, small, medium, and large scale.
Jammeh does not pay tax and that compels other competing businesses to close down or relocate. In the perception of Jammeh anyone who becomes president is free to take maximum advantage by control over the economy and public resources. With that Gambian economy collapsed as Jammeh’s grabbing of personal wealth transcends all political boundaries.
Financial crisis and misappropriation
Money laundering, currency counterfeit and other forms of illicit financial malpractice can be damaging to a healthy cash flow and cripple the economy over period of time. Drug cartels and arms dealers get attracted to a country where they know the president is corrupt and will go for anything. Gambia is typical example of how corruption at level of the presidency bears damaging financial impact. Huge volumes of drugs have been discovered in Gambia bound for Europe worth millions in street value. Until now there is no clear account of who owned the consignment. According to president Yaya Jammeh he was personally bribed 3 million Dollars by drug dealers in exchange for his permission to let them use Gambia as transit point.
That is not all. President Jammeh holds large stocks of raw Dollar notes and gives it out in ways resembling someone commanding a private minting plant, into massive money laundering or harvesting from drug dealing sources.
Post of Gambian presidency does not attract such a salary that the immediate holder is able to play around with so much money in brand new Dollar notes as though a magician tapping from banks.
There is no doubt that president Yaya Jammeh is into illicit money dealings but nobody dares talk about it.
To ensure that he is living clean let president Jammeh produce a clear Balance Sheet of the high office with proper details of where money is coming from, how much, and what is being spent on. Unless Gambians can ascertain the sources and use of funds that President Jammeh plays with the country’s financial conditions will remain at very high risk of catastrophic outcomes.
Dollar Millionaire African President
Only in Jammeh’s Gambia the president holds large stock of raw cash Dollar notes and not accounted for. It was shocking for poor Gambians when information emerged that President Yaya Jammeh bought a property in America for 3.5 million Dollars. Even before and after that big purchase Jammeh has the reputation of dishing out large chunks Dollars as gift on countless occasions.
Dr Zakir Naik from India joined other invitees to mark 20th anniversary celebrations of what Jammeh referred to as a revolution. Apart from the cost of 10 days celebrations Dr Naik alone was given 1.5 million Dollars for attending Jammeh’s lavish celebrations.
It is not the first time Jammeh displayed his Dollar might in the open. Few years ago more than dozen players and supporters of Gambia’s football team were showered with 1 million Dalasi each. Money was brough in large suitcase and distributed like certification ceremony.
Jammeh is not telling Gambians the sources of his money supply but only seen with bundles of raw cash dished out like a generous wealthy man, not president of a poor nation supposed to be on payroll. Not many people in Gambia know how much the salary of presidency as that is not shown on the nation’s budget. Most certainly though, what Jammeh it is nothing is good enough to sustain Jammeh’s lavish spending spree.
What Jammeh gives out is only a fraction of his wife’s shopping budget. She is big time spender matching world class celebrity status.
At her disposal is special jet that shuttles between Gambia, Washington DC, New York, Paris and other unknown destinations. Zainab the wife of Gambian president Yaya Jammeh is of Moroccan mother and Guinean father, a cross bredd of Susu and tribal Arab. She was said to be a model until one of Jammeh’s army cohorts caught with her, extending an invitation to visit Gambia. On setting his eyes on the lanky lady, president Jammeh eventually proposed. Soon Jammeh was to divorce his Gambian wife and next in the State House came Zainab called First Lady.
It is all perfect for Jammeh to enjoy the power of choice over who to marry. There are no qualms about that. What most Gambians are worried about is the lavish spending spree of Jammeh and his wife combine. How that impacts on the Gambian economy and financial system is what concerns everyone.
Jammeh talked about transparency and accountability when he dislodged democratically elected government of Gambia. In 20 years of Jammeh’s misrule, he refuses to be accountable to Gambian electorates and tax payers. Everyone knows he is rich and that he holds large stock of Dollar notes dished out at random. Nobody knows how much money Jammeh possesses.
At first Jammeh told Gambians that he acquired his wealth from what he called “Allah’s World Bank”. Later it became clear that he discovered sources of tapping illicit money that is beyond records of Gambia’s national treasury.
For a sitting president to be so busy amassing private wealth and so lavishly spending huge chunks of raw cash without gainful occasion is nothing good for Gambia.
Wherever Jammeh gets all the money from, he is by all account filthy rich Dollar Millionaire misruling the poorest country in the West coast of Africa.
Jammeh is so busy amaasing personal weath that he does not preform duties of the presidency. He total liability and great resource risk to Gambia’s already collapsed economy amidst severe financial meltdown.
Jammeh controls all other sectors including the legal system. There is no independence of Gambian judiciary. Yaya Jammeh is not subjected to legal scrutiny as he abuses Gambian laws by his whims and caprices. He does not pay tax or get challenged for all the illicit money making ventures.
Worse still it is Jammeh to decide who goes to jail as show of his unlimited powers. Anyone who commits crime and gets the backing of Jammeh is assured of protection.
Look at number of civil servants taken to court for what they brand them as economic crimes. What Jammeh is doing combines all forms of crime including serious economic crime. He sits there and dictating the judiciary to decide cases according to his desires.
Who is more criminal on Gambian soil than Yaya Jammeh? Someone who broke Gambian laws, dissolved the elected national assembly, and flushed the constitution as toilet-paper that person has no voice talking about decency and crime. Entire existence of Yaya Jammeh at such levels of abuse is enough crime by all consideration. Because he destroyed the legal system by help of people working in the judiciary at top level Gambians are at great mercy of very dangerous enablers.
For people in the legal fraternity of Gambia to accept serving under laws by dictates of a coup maker president that explains how serious the entire judiciary is dented.
Of course not everyone who once worked for Gambian judiciary can be branded as complying with whims and caprices of Yaya Jammeh as illegal occupier of the country’s presidency. There are good examples like Lawyer Assan Martin who stood firm grounds and earned great respect. Others prefer to mortgage their wigs just to be.
Good laws everywhere are put in place to protect life and property. Bad laws as obtains in Gambia under Yaya Jammeh’s illegal occupancy of the presidency serve the reverse purpose of harming people.
When he took up arms to dislodge an elected government what Yaya Jammeh and his military cohorts did was treason. Since that day they never prefer justice. That is how much damage illegal occupation of an important public office like the presidency has serious implications. Even if Jammeh is to stay for another 20 years, one thing he will never prefer is to permit due process of law. Everyone in the judiciary, past and present know this for a fact. Some of them enjoyed it and others still feeding on it. Gambians are seriously betrayed by the nation’s legal fraternity.
Good examples of how the social fabric of Gambia has been torn apart by Yaya Jammeh can be drawn from same family a member is dismissed, arrested, detained without trial only to have a brother or sister in same family given job and state privileges.
Jammeh does this to divide and rule from family level, friendships, and the wider society. In extreme situations once a person falls apart with Jammeh everyone in society avoids dealing with you. Nobody wants getting close to you for fear that they get arrested. This has tendency to break marriages, other close family ties and friendships. In other situations, a husband is dismissed from his job and the wife promoted to higher position in another capacity. When that happens the impact is immediately felt leading to separations or marital breaks sooner or later.
Gambian social ethos preserves certain moral values. Respect to elders is one of those highly cherished social values. These values are rapidly fading away in some circles. Jammeh gives the impression that long serving elderly workers in public service are not resourceful compared to new entrants. Some jobs are not offered on basis of merit but simply done to put down hard working public servants with longevity.
It is not just at the job front that the ugly head of social decadence prevails. Hardship and economic deprivation account for more serious decline in social values. Gambia has turned into popular destination for sex tourism, flaming up social decadence further. Politics is one area where social relations continue to suffer. Gambian society is divided along political party lines. People in public sector employment are careful not to exhibit their dislike of the Jammeh regime. Others prey on those they have disputes or simply hold grudges against each other.
Some fellows in the streets with no skills or any employable profession will go about posing as secret service agents. In public transports people hardly talk to each other for fear that among them will be informers. Even good people in society could not protect their skin from being suspected as possible spy or informer. Suspicion and chronic guilt continue eating up the social fabric. Trust and confidence die out as one person is set against the other.
That is the type of Gambia Yaya Jammeh created in 20 years misrule by typical police state form and character. He could only do so by first destroying what good there was and in replacement to fill the void with whatever prevails now. All that is as result of Jammeh overstaying his unwelcome occupation of a presidency nobody invited him on.
Overstay in power
Approval rating for Yaya Jammeh to stay as president of Gambia is in the negative especially after 20 woeful years of misrule. Covering his illegal occupancy with so much wrongs count among calculated reason why Yaya Jammeh prefers to stay as life president.
All the promises of development have been failed. Loans borrowed in the name of Gambian tax payers are used up for projects without needs assessment. Bulk of public funds meant for national development end up being diverted to grow Jammeh private wealth.
By time of staging 1994 July coup what Yaya Jammeh gave as the biggest reason for dislodging an elected government was that the ruling party and president Jawara overstayed. Already 20 years since July 1994 coup, blind supporters of Jammeh are saying that because Jawara and his People’s Progressive Party PPP stayed in power for 30 years it is Jammeh’s turn and therefore he too has to stay as long as he wishes. That is the biggest contradiction for a man who declared that he only came to rectify past wrongs and according to him no other president will be allowed to stay more than two terms in office.
Interestingly Jammeh with the help of shrewd legal hands in Gambia’s judiciary butchered the constitution and completely omitted the clause on term limits of a sitting president. Adding insult to injury Jammeh told BBC that he will rule for 1 billion years.
After failing to deliver what the role of presidency demands, Jammeh has nothing to tell Gambians but turning the seat upside down and planning to be crowned king of Gambia. With latest talks about transforming Gambia into Islamic Republic Jammeh’s overstaying in power will continue costing everyone for very long time.
Stepping down so that most honest, caring, and capable persons are given chance is one thing Jammeh must do without waiting to be challenged further. Additional delays will only produce what Jammeh does not want.
Hate, Anger and Fear
While he insists staying in power Jammeh must brace up for more critical challenges. By force of tyranny Jammeh will think he already induced enough fear in Gambians that nobody dare to pick on his many faults. He may be right that a climate of fear is created sufficient to deter some people from challenging him but not all the people all the time.
Amidst the atmosphere of fear there is growing hatred for Jammeh coupled with anger brewing day by day. One would think there is more anger and hate for Jammeh than fear. Even those seen to be closer to Jammeh hate him and he knows that. It is very hard to see Jammeh happy with all the money and material possession in his name.
As he strives to keep the seat of Gambian presidency it gets hotter. Though Jammeh rules with iron fist dictatorship but he no longer enjoys without serious challenges. There is no easy ride for remainder of Jammeh’s days of forced rule whether he leaves in peace now or lastly be left in pieces any time. The damage is already done by Jammeh’s troubling and dangerously dictatorial rule.