In the last three months of 2014, Yahya Jammeh gave orders that the titles Nasiru Deen and Babili Mansa be immediately dropped from his lengthy appellation of His Excellency the President of the Republic Sheikh Alhaji Professor Dr. Yahya AJJJ Jammeh Nasiru Deen Babili Mansa. As usual, no explanation was given to the Gambian public for the strange but welcome titular excisions. Jammeh’s habit of never giving any explanations for his actions – whether it is sacking some high government official or cutting his titles – is part of a lengthy pattern and culture of lack of accountability to the Gambian people. When he seized power in 1994, his mantra was Accountability, Transparency and Probity, three words that have since been relegated to the dustbin of his personal history because they suggested a certain limit to what he can do or say, which is by no means to be entertained.
And so since we are left with no option but to scratch our brains and focus our probing search light into the thick undergrowth of his mind, we have been doing just that and will be forgiven for concluding that the advice to drop the two titles came from some wealthy Arab sultan. Like they say, in the absence of clear explanation from their leaders, citizens have no option but to find their own explanation for their leaders’ actions. The one that makes most sense for us at this point in time is that Yahya Jammeh dropped Babili Mansa and Nasiru Deen from his titles because one of his wealthy donors in the Arab world gravely admonished him to drop them because they are unIslamic.
We imagine that Yahya Jammeh is visiting one of his newfound beneficiaries is some oil rich Arab sultanate. Having totally alienated the western imperialists, his best friends are now the Arab imperialists who, by the way, were engaged in the African slave trade long before the westerners. Both the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade and the Indian Ocean Slave Trade were patronized by Arabs from the Near East and the Middle East from around 1000 – around 1800 CE, about 800 years. The existence of a black diaspora in Asia and the Near and Middle East indicates that Africans had been sent to these places as slaves long before the onset of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the mid-1400s and early 1500s. That there were black slaves like Bilal in Mecca during the days of the Prophet Muhammad (May his name be blessed) points to the irrefutable fact that Arabs enslaved people of African descent as early as the 7th century after Christ, if not earlier. Historians of Africa know about the famous revolt of black slaves against the Abbasid Caliphate and their Arab Masters in Iraq – the Zanj Revolt – which happened between 869 and 883 CE. But well, being a selective “historian of Africa” Yahya Jammeh probably does not know about the Zanj Revolt and forces himself to forget about the Trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean Slave Trades; and so he condemns one group of African enslavers while embracing the older group of African enslavers. At least, the Arabs do not like to talk about democracy, human rights or the rule of law being, as they are, so enamored of political absolutism and quietism. Anyway, back to his visit to our influential sultan, probably to seek some financial aid for his great project of Vision 2016 which promises total and abundant food self-sufficiency for our hungry population within two years. Another pie in the sky is what it looks to us.
At the palace of the wealthy sultan dinner had been served, roasted lamb topped with tasty Arab sauce and tamarind for dessert, washed down with pure camel milk from the sultan’s personal herd. His host the sultan, rather unhappy that his peace was being repeatedly disturbed by beggars from the dark continent, had secretly drowned a glass of custom brewed and scentless whiskey before joining his guest in an after dinner chat. Trying to impress his wealthy host, Yahya Jammeh launches into a tirade against the Western infidels who are insisting that all Gambians become homosexuals and gleefully relates how he would kill all of them because he was a Muslim and will never allow anyone to colonize his country again. Seeing that the sultan looked rather indifferent, Yahya Jammeh skillfully segues into a narrative of how he made sure that everyone – including the white infidels residing in his country – knew that he was making a private state visit to the sultan’s beautiful kingdom. He reaches for a copy of his favorite local newspaper and hands it to the sultan with the lead caption screaming, “Gambian Leader Pays Special Private Working Visit to His Eminence Sultan Al Arabi.” The first sentence of the story reads: “His Excellency the President of the Republic of The Gambia, Sheikh Alhaji Professor Dr. Yahya AJJJ Jammeh Nasiru Deen Babili Mansa is paying a special private working visit to His Eminence Sultan Al Arabi bin Mahfooz bou Salasi fii Haqi of the great Kingdom of Mullah’anal. He watched as the Sultan’s face darkened and his forehead folded into quizzical wrinkles as he read. Presently, the sultan looks up with serious eyes.
“So what is meaning of this word Babil Mansa? What is all this?” he asks his guest. Yahya Jammeh dutifully chuckles and offers an explanation.
“Oh, Babili Mansa. It means the king who builds bridges. My people gave it to me a few years ago when I built a bridge that the western infidels and exploiters failed to build after 400 years of colonial rule.”
“Is Babil king or Mansa king? What is king, which one? What is Babil in yorr people? In my language Babil means father; in traditional Arab language. You build bridge they call you father of king?” The whiskey was taking effect and the sultan was just ready to say exactly what was on his mind to this black beggar. “This word Mansa, what it means huh?”
“Oh Mansa means king,” Yahya Jammeh explains. “Before the white infidels came to my country our kings were called Mansa. And because I want to take my people back to the days when there were no infidels, they now call me Mansa.”
“But that was old days, the days of jahilliya, before infidel come to your country, before Islam come to your country they call your king Mansa,” the sultan pursued. ‘I don’t like this word Mansa. Not sound good.”
“Ah well yes,” Yahya Jammeh tries to explain. “Our kings were called Mansa in the old days…” The sultan cuts him short.
“Mansa? Then Mansa haram because it was before Islam. If they call you Babil Mansa it is haram in my language because it means Father of Haram. You must tell them to stop calling you this name. Islam does not like. And what is this one Nasiru Deen? What it means?”
Taken aback by the sultan’s bluntness, Jammeh feels squeezed but manages to assure his host that he would make sure that they don’t call him that anymore. Before he had time to say anything else, the sultan, who was now pretty tipsy and ready to go, went on.
“In my language Nasiru Deeny means helper of religion. Why they call you this?”
“Well some of my Imams gave me this title because they say I help Islam in my country.”
“But Allah says in Quran that if you help with right hand left hand not see. So why they call you this? If you help Islam with right hand, left hand no see.”
Yahya Jammeh gravely nodded his agreement. The Quran does indeed say exactly that and he wondered why he did not think of it until now. And so he solemnly promised his host that he would make sure that his people stop calling him both Babili Mansa and Nasiru Deen. Hence the two press releases from the president’s office in the last few months of 2014 that everybody should drop the titles Babili Mansa and Nasiru Deen from Yahya Jammeh’s name.
When in 2013 Yahya Jammeh reduced The Gambia’s work week from five to four days without satisfactory explanation, we looked for one in his mind. You can read our take on that issue at the following link: https://www.academia.edu/8312602/Gambia_Why_Sharia_is_not_an_option