By Saul Saidykhan
In Gambia, we’ve had a problem with leadership since our political independence in one form or another. That has never been more true than in the current dispensation. Instead of trying to find solutions or ways of easing Gambia’s myriad problems in such vital areas as education, health care, unemployment, youth despondency, lack of basic utilities, infrastructure, or social services, etc. Yaya Jammeh routinely engages in ethnic-baiting and incitement of ethnic hatred as if that’s the panacea to Gambia’s problems. However, the shocking thing is not that Jammeh projects his hatefulness onto others, it is that despite the pretense, too many Gambians actually buy into his divisive and destructive propaganda. This is shameful! Fatou Jaw Manneh posted a short video on YouTube last week along this theme. I agree with her sentiments entirely. This is also what I believe largely explains the dissonance and lack of cohesion among the official opposition against the Jammeh tyranny.
Countries graduate to nations over time and develop because both the privileged few that govern – the leaders, and the majority of the compatriots that they govern or lead- the followers, play their civic duty or role in ensuring that the ship of state work towards a common purpose. Abe Lincoln famously told Americans in his presidential campaign that “a house divided against itself will not stand.”
Contrary to the wise counsel of Honest Abe, Yaya Jammeh, for purely personal reasons, has unilaterally written off a large segment of the Gambian population as “traitors” for ethnic reasons. This, for a country with sparse skilled and semi-skilled human resources. The Gambia desperately needs ALL the help it can get – especially of the skilled varieties. How any government can even expect to be able to compete with others in this day and age by confining itself to selecting its workforce from only a portion of its population – not the total population defies basic commonsense. What manner of leader is this fellow that likes to hamstring and limit our country’s potentials like this? However, like most other demagogues, Jammeh started off his ethnic-baiting with dog-whistling. Now, he spews his ethnic hate mongering openly on national TV. He even gives Gambians the ratios of the preference he has for various Gambian ethnicities when it comes to public employment opportunities. His utter disregard for merit-based criteria in public jobs be that civil or military is no longer a secret. Consequently, it is no wonder that incompetence is now the established and accepted norm in every public institution in the Gambia. Anyone whose loved one has gotten sick in the Gambia in the past several years or sponsors a child’s schooling there knows this. Everyone has a story to tell, and it isn’t a pleasant one. Most of us in the diaspora are now forced to evacuate our loved ones to Senegal for medical care or other critical services. Hell, many of us now actually do groceries for our folks here and ship it. I never thought it would ever get to this point.
It’s hard to exaggerate the level to which things have degenerated in The Gambia: hospitals with nurses that don’t know how to administer simple injections to patients without infecting them with new ailments or worse; public schools where teachers no longer even pretend to teach children during regular school hours- if one wants a child – son, daughter, nephew or niece to learn anything in a Gambian public school these days, one has to hire a private tutor. Ironically while Yaya Jammeh could rightfully brag about increasing the number of schools in The Gambia, his policies are making quality education inaccessible to an increasing number of Gambians. Anything that has to do with his government is a double-edged sword.
To demonstrate the ineptitude that passes for public service at a public utility in the Gambia currently, here is a personal experience: When I went to settle my dad’s last electric and water bill at NAWEC’s Kanifing office after he passed on back in January 2007, I had a question on a line item on the Water bill titled “Complement D50.00.” The two officials I dealt with initially fumbled and dilly-dallied so much that I didn’t know what to think. They asked me to wait for their boss because they really don’t know what the charge is for. At one point, I thought I was in the wrong Department/Agency! I asked one of the men if they really work for NAWEC. It dawned on me that they just put the charge on people’s bills, and since folks pay without a fuss, the anomaly goes on. Long story short, an hour later, when he finally arrived, their boss was no better at explaining to me what the charge is. I told him a “Complement” suggests and SHOULD BE a Credit not a charge. Any beginning Accounting student knows the difference between a Credit and a Debit no matter what the Naming Convention. He said “My brother, that’s how we do it here.” Like they say, you can’t argue with a fool, so I just paid them and hit the road. To this day, I think about that incident. It kills me to imagine the kind of damage being done to the Gambia through the sheer ignorance and incompetence of Yaya Jammeh and most of his appointees. We have never had it this bad. The country now simply typifies a classic dysfunctional state!
Even at the best of times, we Gambians are generally not a competent people. I get into trouble with my friends for saying this, but it’s true. We’re too comfortable with excuses we shouldn’t be. We tend to settle for the mediocre when a little extra effort would make a world of difference. We love perks without the sweat; the glory without the effort. That’s us. And it’s mostly with us Gambian men. This is terrible weakness that we don’t even want to talk about. Yet it is makes us a vulnerable target for a dangerous prey like Yaya Jammeh. It is part of what has given Yaya Jammeh so much power over us. Which is why occasionally he swoops down and grabs some real weakling from among us as he did to Uncle Kaw not long ago. When an unscrupulous autocrat knows you’re a weakling who cannot carry his/her own weight or take the heat despite your noise-making, he’ll use that knowledge to his advantage. Especially if you’ve said something against him in the past!
And one would wish we could all exhale base on improvements in the Gambian condition. Instead things don’t seem to be getting any better where it matters. Take the latest crisis involving the very probable murder of several United Democratic Party (UDP) officials by the murderous tyrant, and his subsequent arrest of the party leader Ousainou Darbo and his entire Executive Committee members.
To underscore my issue with Gambians, factor this: in less than ten days after news of this latest outrage of the Gambian dictatorship became known, hundreds of Senegalese have hit the streets of Dakar to protest and show solidarity with the UDP. In contrast, Gambia’s other opposition parties on the ground – PDOIS, NRP, and PPP, carry on as if nothing is amiss! They continue to portray the issue as a UDP versus APRC government issue. While this doesn’t really surprise me knowing what I know, it is nonetheless disgraceful!
Let’s get some things straight: the UDP, like them or hate them, is the biggest opposition party in the Gambia. They have the largest reach of all the opposition parties. More importantly, they score higher votes than any other single individual opposition party even going by the rigged elections Yaya Jammeh runs every five years. That, PDOIS is an older party seems to be irrelevant to the voters who are the ultimate arbiters. UDP is the same age as NRP. I believe that and their leader’s ethnic origin is precisely why Yaya Jammeh has been going after them relentlessly for all kinds of excuses. And this has been true for the past twenty years. The price the party has paid has been very costly. These facts make UDP the natural leader of the Gambian opposition. Now, some may not like this, but it’s the reality. We have to accept this reality if there is to be any progress against the fight against the Yaya Jammeh tyranny that we KNOW is unsustainable. Personally, If I had a choice, I’d be born in a bigger and richer country where people are probably better educated, and more aware of where the wind blows from. Instead, I was born in poor nano Gambia where lack of material and human resources aren’t the only things missing at the table. I sometimes feel cheated by destiny. But my reality is what it is, so I accept it and live with it. I offer the same advice to other opposition leaders and their supporters who may feel aggrieved by the prospect of having to play “second fiddle” to the UDP. The issue is non-sequitur.
It’s time the rest of the Gambian opposition fall behind the UDP leader who is leading gallantly as we need him to and help accelerate an end to this Yaya Jammeh madness. Gambians have cried enough. and suffered enough.
So ENOUGH of the excuses as to why NRP and PDOIS cannot join UDP protests. This is NOT about UDP. It’s ABOUT Gambia. It’ really not ok for the two parties’ leaders to show up at the Banjul courthouse for photo-ops to show ”solidarity.” Showing up in court and watching the proceedings makes NRP and PDOIS OBSERVERs in my book which is what diplomats and reporters/correspondents do. Rather, NRP and PDOIS ought to be part of the news makers. The world needs to see and feel that the Gambian opposition is in sync and equally outraged at what happened to the unarmed electoral reform protesters. No mixed signals, no chasms! Who can say that’s currently the case with a straight face?
The current situation calls for both parties to recognize the moral imperative to act on behalf of the long suffering Gambian people, by asking their supporters to join the UDP supporters in the peaceful demonstration UDP’s are engaged in to save our country from the slow but certain civil strife it is sliding toward. The genie is out of the box like they say. Those who think this is just another passing skirmish that Yaya Jammeh will ride out are deluding themselves. These are people who are tired of being routinely violated by the state and are ready to take their destiny in their hands. NRP and PDOIS can help manage that transition by joining forces with them or they can side with the people’s oppressor by telling themselves that they’re neutral. The choice is theirs!
I studied both Economics and Accounting in college and wouldn’t know where to begin to assign Costs to the damage Yaya Jammeh has inflicted on the Gambia: the massive brain drain; the indigenous capital flight to Senegal and the Guineas and Mali; the relocation of foreign embassies to neighboring countries and the concomitant effects on Gambians; the failed schools and hospitals. How does one assign a figure to these considering how protracted they’ve been. All of these hardship because of one lunatic tyrant!
MRS. FANTA DARBO JAWARA
Among the group arrested with UDP leader Lawyer Darbo is Mrs. Fanta Darbo Jawara., a foster daughter of Mr. Darbo. Fanta is a professional Nurse, and a mother of four living in Frederick, Maryland. I’ve known her and the family for over two decades now. In addition to her regular job, Fanta wears some very large shoes that are very hard to fill. She is the primary caregiver for a sick family member. As such, it is important for all conscientious people to call the US State Department since Fanta is a dual citizen and demand the release of Fanta Darbo Jawara and ALL the HOSTAGES of conscience Yaya Jammeh has locked up for NO REASON. My prayers are with Mr. Janko Jawara and the kids in this trying time. God bless Fanta for standing tall!