A drama is unfolding before our very eyes, one that can go either of two ways: explode into a violent encounter and bloody clamp-down; or an embarrassing back-down by President Jammeh’s forces of repression leading to soaring of spirit among the opposition and that way putting the autocracy in to the defensive for the first time in twenty years, pushing it to walk on slippery grounds with ultimate care for it to remain on the helm of the affairs of state in this country.
Tyrants when long on the top for too long tend to consider themselves infallible but power, when not legitimate, is innately fragile, based on how the despot and the subjected citizens perceive each other. These perceptions are often false and erroneous and on the side of the ruler based on fallacy and deception. Anything, when pressed gently against the wall tends to stick to it, but when violently thrown against that wall, tends to bounce back. This mutually erroneous perceptions of each other often breeds miscalculations in the assessment of the equation of power and authority in any given polity. It is such miscalculation that appears to have led to the current five day stand-off between the authorities and the UDP. It is such miscalculation that seems to have misled Jammeh and his forces of repression to persistently deny the main opposition UDP the right to hold political rallies over the last three years.
Over three months ago, in early December 2014, the opposition party had filed in an application for permit to go on a nation-wide tour and hold rallies in scores of towns and villages around the country. The party had intended to go on the tour during the Christmas and New Year break but the police, as usual, drag their feet over the whole process until the 30th December 2014 when a group of men attacked the State House in Banjul. The repression that followed made the UDP suspend following up on the application. But just before the 50th anniversary Independence celebrations, the party resumed following up on their application. The police simply continued to ignored it not wanting attract the wrath of the tyrant in Banjul.
But it is now over three months elapsed and the police did not look like getting anywhere near the granting of the approval for the party to go on any nationwide tour out of feigned security considerations. Fear of the President Jammeh mastered over the commitment to the rule of law.
Just a few years ago, acting on tip by a Tanji based Green Boy thug, the police raided a gathering of some members of the youth wing of the UDP at the Tanji Community center, arrested and detained more than a dozen of them. UDP leader protested vehemently against the arrests and the young men were released on bail and the then Deputy Inspector General of Police called the UDP leader and apologized on behalf of the police for the improper raid and arrests. Upon Jammeh’s return from an overseas trip and was informed of the event, he was summarily dismissed. That incident feature high in the institutional memory of the Gambia Police Force, GPF, and so there is tendency within any UDP application as a sort of a trap around which they have to watch out pretty close and step around with extreme care. This is why the deliberate delay in processing the various UDP application, laying around it to fall into the trap of granting the application and attracting upon themselves the wrath of the mercurial Gambian leader.
Yahya Jammeh has his own set of reasons why for not having the UDP permission to roam around the country holding scores of political rallies in towns and villages around the country would upset his plan and three-year old effort to have the main opposition party systematically marginalized, paralyzed with inactivity, and ultimately becoming irrelevant and extinct.
President Jammeh loves the display of the pretentions to and institutions of democracy, as much as he hates the idea of democracy itself. He likes the exhibition of images of democracy, like the erection and exhibition of the one flamboyant parliamentary building, the rites and ceremonies as much as he hates the separation of powers of governance and the pluralism of ideas.
So it follows naturally that the UDP has been his biggest headache all throughout his twenty-year grip on power. So President Jammeh thanked his stars when the UDP decided to be part of the joint, not-well-thought-out and ill-planned electoral boycott launched in early 2012. One fundamental error was that when deciding on the boycott the opposition parties failed to devise a suitable exit strategy in case it would be needed. A sober assessment of the situation would have made them realize the lack of logic in the action. An electoral boycott in defiance of a man innately opposed to democracy, free and fair elections and who does it out of compulsion, when that man has ample potential shadow-contestants in the form of Hamat Bah’s NRP, avowed and declared opponents to electoral boycotts, and an endless pool of opportunistic Independent candidates was not politically wise at all.
So when despite the boycott the UDP decided to hold a political rally in central Serekunda, they were not only denied permit, there application was simply ignored as standard police practice and the then Inspector General of Police, in the person of now jailed Ensa Jesus Badjie, an ethnic kinsman of President Jammeh, was adamant in not letting the biggest opposition party hold any political rally in the center of the country’s largest settlement. Frustrated by the evasive response of the police to their application, UDP told The Point newspaper reporter that since it had become apparent that the police authorities were not ready to give them permission to hold any political rally, his party colleagues were determined to hold the meeting with or without police permit. This must have severely rattled the Gambian dictator. When the rally was held there was a contingent of anti-riot police and armed members of the Police Intervention Unit, PIU, waiting for them at the Mobile Police yard at Kanifing.
In the middle of the politicall rally that evening, the police raided the rally, dispersed the angry crowd, arrested Mr. Peters and later sentence him to a year’s prison sentence. Apart from some overseas protestations nothing happened to overturn that despicable prison sentence.
President Jammeh entertained the illusion that the UDP has been effectively neutralized and soon part of history. He believed that he had finally been able to “tame” the most detested section of his political opposition.
But the over-law-abiding leadership of the UDP have now turned over to a new leaf after months of police hide and seek and decided to take matters into their own hands, adopting what can be called the Femi-Way, as everyone of their supporters had been urging.
When their convoy of the unpermitted political trek was asked to turn back at the north bank town of Fass Njaga Choye, an otherwise Jammeh stronghold, they refused to do so, and have been camping at the site since Tuesday Aril 16th. Party supporters have been crossing over with ferries from Banjul to join them and morale among the trekkers has been growing so high that the authorities have been forced on the defensive, perhaps as the tyrant himself, President Yahya Jammeh. After visiting the site of the stand-off , the office of Inspector General of Police promised that the permit would be issued on Monday 20th April and that the convoy can then continue with its undertaking. There currently some muffled but triumphant mood among Gambians all over the country who continue to watch the situation , but there is reason to be more cautious. President Jammeh’s words and promises are not worth what they look like. He may be just buying time to mobilize his forces of repression and all true Gambian patriots and friends of the peace-loving people must not only be on the alert but on the enterprise of devising the appropriate response to this great Stand Off in the political history of the Gambia. Great because it has been the most valiant, massive and promising stand-up to the Jammeh dictatorship. Instead of the the Ndure Cham’s, Lang Tombong’s and Chernor Njie’s, this is becoming a movement of the masses, of a people concerned with the deteriorating conditions of living, the mass suicidal pursuits of their young across the Sahara, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean seas.
It is about time for patriotic overseas Gambians to stand up and support this trekkers’ project and the idea of the right to assemble, free movement and the right to oppose things as they currently are. Let us mobilize funds for the families of those on the convoy if we are abroad; let us join the UDP in the Stand Off by expressing solidarity by joining them on the tour by crossing over to join them or calling party leader, Lawyer Darboe, currently at the Stand-off site, to express solidarity with these crusaders for democracy and good governance in long-suffered Gambia..http://www.gofundme.com/s59h8x9h
Let us be aware that the IGP’s promise may be in fact bogus, a ploy of Jammeh’s to attack when least expected. Even if permitted to continue with the tour, they will still liable to be subjected to constant harassment and provocations by members of the soused security forces, APRC party thugs, local and regional government officials all throughout the course of the tour. It’s the “freedom train” ride to the Third Republic, if you cannot join it in person, help to fund the stand and call to express solidarity with this history-making stand. Gambia is now on the threshold to continued autocracy and frightful oppression or the path to the Third Republic; blood bath and repression or freedom and liberty. Come on you all, let’s join them..