Yahya: A Big Tree That Must Be Cut Down


The remaining questions: How do we chop down the tree? When do we chop down the big tree – before the start of new project or at the end or somewhere in-between? The answers to these questions are not simply what we wish but what we could, what’s feasible and what serves our goal(s).

I never supported the July 22, 1994 coup and there are very few things I like, if any, about Jawara administration. I know not much but my politics and sociocultural values remained the same and unwavering – because they’re principled and virtuous. I must say in 1994 I was in the Gambia – hence being in America for long surely broadened my knowledge/perspectives but didn’t create them. In the early going I too supported a political party – attended party rallies around the country, bought green tea (attaya) for youths, bought t-shirts, put in my little time and money, some known to party bosses and others not. I also argued favorably for some union of parties in those days. This is in part to demonstrate that my thoughts about politics in the Gambia are neither abstract concepts nor theorizing Americanization of the Gambia but a product of a package of lifetime experiences. That experience includes a decade of working and living in villages at all regions of the Gambia. In addition I hailed from remote Kombo South Village of Jambur, a very politically charged settlement during PPP era and as well a son of Badibunka couple, who settled there in the late 1900s in search for good farmlands. I knocked off my partisan affiliation not because I don’t like the party, its leaders, its members or what it stands for but because I realized our problems are not where we’re waging the battle. The traditional tool of a political party is to seek office through the ballot and effect desired policy changes. The Gambia doesn’t need policy changes instead the creation of functioning institutions of democracy. Political Parties have a central role in making that happen, but not on the vote for the agenda instead as change agents and building capacities on the very fundamentals of democracy.

The changes needed to fix the Gambia cannot and will not be done by a government. It would take capacitated citizens of the Gambia to demand with their time, property and maybe the ultimate price. Such capacities do not current exist among most of the population. It has to be built and that will take generations. Adding salt to injury our problems are products of compounded events of our own actions over the past 50 years. They’re now complicated in that they became norms, religions and social standards that penetrates every fabric of our daily living transactions. It will take cumbersome but deliberate political processes alongside social-engineering (reorientation) to halt the degeneration not just into oligarchy but also our social mindset. The concepts of a republic and democratic governance will be a learning processes for all of us – is a lifestyle and not a government. For sustenance we should be able to live it on a daily basis and is not always pretty before our governments can be truly expected to conform! This would require a visionary leadership of a citizen(s) that organize and mobilize masses of capacitated citizens.

The response – “Yahya would/won’t…” If this is our outlook to the problem (what Yahya would/won’t or want/not want), then we might as well keep quiet, close our eyes, follow his directives and go help weed his farms – which he will like. Yet still stop all efforts trying to organize in the diaspora or helping out the opposition parties because he wouldn’t like that either. This thought process is troubling and defeatist.

Others respond – Burama is a theorist or lived in America and want to carbon copy American democracy onto Gambia. I refuted those 2 assertions in the second paragraph – that am a typical Gambian product and live it every day. My views are very well informed by basic Gambian values. The fundamentals of democracy are not any more about America than they’re found in the teachings of our cherished religions of Islam and Christianity. Those 2 religions informed most of our values and virtues. I must add though learning from the experiences of others is neither a weakness nor a cheating – it’s strength and basic human progression especially if you acknowledge them.

Some argued – Burama is flat out wrong and his proposals won’t work. They could be right my proposal won’t work. But this is not about Burama’s. It’s about finding a solution(s) and Burama happened to propose what he thinks would work. It’s about what we can agree to work on. It’s about you bringing an alternative proposal. It’s our civic duty, if not responsibility to be part of the crowd searching for solutions. For about 20 years is the same old tried proposal of some opposition coalition to contest elections against the Yahya they already said “would/won’t….”

Folks our fight is not about Yahya! This fight is not about what Yahya want or not and/or would/won’t! Equally this fight is not about a political party, group of friends, tribes, men/women of property, etc. On one hand when we make our struggle Yahya we shackled ourselves into a zero sum solution other than hope for a divine intervention and/or another military take over. On the other hand if we make it about parties, friends, tribes, diaspora, etc. we attract people with similar traits – that number will always be in minority compared to the national population.

Our fight is about is the PROMISE of the nation at the dawn of independent nationhood – A Democratic Republic of The Gambia. This is our legitimate claim and no permission required to make those 2-words in our name count. The Republic is our collective ownership. Democracy is our equitable participation in the management of our common property. We neither need Yahya’s permission to make that claim nor do we care what he likes, want or otherwise. This claim also can’t/shouldn’t wait party or group to assume power – that will not produce an institutional democracy. The claim has to be dictated by capacitated people with a committed leadership. Such leadership could come from political party (ies)/group(s) but drastic stiff from current mode of operations and over all strategies.

Recently it appears some came around the fact that current efforts to organize opposition for elections against Yahya are cul de sac. Though they still see Yahya as the obstructionist but failed to connect that his strength comes from our inaction/weakness. As stated above this view fall into the zero sum solution hence they’re cozying up to the idea of military take over rather than our own Democracy Agenda. One would have thought our own experiences of overthrow of bad PPP produced worst A(F)PRC. The same is the case all over our sub-region. Why do we now think another military takeover is our way out?

I was taught how to fell a tree with a power saw. One of the techniques is to wedge the tree. This allows you determine the fall direction, less cutting time and avoid blade pinching.

Equally to solve the Yahya problem we shouldn’t made it a wrestling contest – he’s likely to win that. Nor should we out source such an important civic responsibility/duty to an individual/ group of people with guns. Probably out sourcing here is a misnomer after all – very likely we wouldn’t choose those would-be coupists. It will likely come as a surprising imposition on our sovereignty. Neither should we hope for divine intervention – the same God is with all of us including Yahya.

Yahya is the big tree in the plot that has to go for new development plans. It has to go but we have to decide how he goes otherwise it will cause damages to other trees and infrastructures. He had 20 years and counting to grow. He amassed power including befriending some in the free world who should be our support had we properly counter. Yahya recently ordered his arms men to stop our people from prayers at their places and times of choosing. Denying Muslims to pray according to their religious believes/norms/sanctions amounts to ‘Fatwa’ – punishable with death. If anything should trigger machetes dismembering those guarding the praying grounds should be this but didn’t. No wonder besieging the DC Embassy or demonstrations along the route of Yahya’s motorcade without a coherent democracy agenda is simply pretentious. To appear to be doing something is one thing and another our actions adding value to the ultimate price. These actions could be meaningful if in coordination with a democratic demand. Without such agenda such actions are simply to anger Yahya. That might be a exciting feelings in our circles but has no value addition to the cause.

This is politics! Let’s utilize the tested political tools to achieve our goal(s). There are many case studies in history we can reference. In order to do this we have to articulate a cause to sell. That can’t neither be simply Yahya is bad nor a drive to propel X or Y to the presidency. It has to be the promise of Gambia’s founding – A Democratic Republic of the Gambia! With such a defined cause we would in addition need someone (an organization[s]) to sell it for us to create a larger circle of friends/supporters (political leverage). The larger our circle the smaller Yahya’s. With this new strength we can begin to demand democracy. Any changes secured/gained will equal proportional decline of Yahya and dictatorship in general. In the eventual Gambia the institutions of democracy will be the custodian of state based on law and not individuals.

On the other hand current efforts such as a single opposition candidate or coup or civil disobedience and/or some monolithic diaspora organization will not achieve the goal(s). Elections will not remove Yahya because he’s the referee. A coup and/or civil disobedience may or may not happen but if it does, could remove Yahya. Removing Yahya is considered first step towards democratization but what if that successor turn brutal or you hope s/he will not do that. Well Yahya proclaimed “soldiers with a difference” and decade later he is one of Africa’s brutal dictators who discarded friends that helped him at coup and amassed personal wealth at the expense of Gambia. A diaspora group(s) would have important roles but can’t practically be the National Face. The organizational development of this struggle is almost important as the goal of the struggle. It’s the vehicle and has to be appropriate to carry the load. The ongoing rhetorical calls to unity or finding common ground are premature; it ought to be called to come together to assembly a working team to develop a concept cause on the promises of our founding. Our challenge is to ultimately develop ‘A National Democracy Vision’ that can be sold to Gambia and the international community.

The main disadvantages of a political process are – is not straight line (we need understand fluid politics at all levels), it will consume time, will be expensive and we might have give in to something to achieve the ultimate price.

Fellow Gambians lets wage a deserved battle! Let’s seek for the right tools to wage an effective battle! Let’s keep our eye on the ultimate price! Let’s not give in certain core fundamentals no matter how hard the going maybe.

I’m neither against anyone nor am I against any effort – but we have to challenge our own self every day on everything otherwise cynicism prevails at attempts of constructive engagement. Be self inform that not every act has a value for the ultimate price.

To conclude here is what George W Bush told America on September 14, 2001, at The National Cathedral, Washington DC – “just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history. But our responsibility to history is already clear; to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil. War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder. This nation is peaceful, but fierce when stirred to anger. The conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing”

Take America out and replace it with Gambia. See the evil as Yahya and our people fierce when stirred. With the gutsy GW Bush resolve and wisdom…why can’t we take out Yahya?

Let’s make Gambia ‘A Functioning Institutional Democracy’ – the optimal way to end dictatorship!

Burama Jammeh



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