There is no tragedy greater than the citizens of a nation resigning their citizenship due to the lack of faith in their own abilities to change their political condition. This is the unfortunate reality in The Gambia — a country clutched in the hands an autocratic regime with less regard for human rights or the rule of law.
Whilst the greater part of the West Africa region is embracing the democratic ideals of freedom of expression, assembly, free and fair elections, and transparency, Gambians are confronted by a state of misrule and intolerance to any opposition and political dissent. Arbitrary arrests, torture and disappearances of political opponents have become the mainstay of the current regime. Fear of repression has left the country without any strong political action groups to exert any formidable democratic pressure on the government. Since, the democracy envy of the Arab Spring swept past The Gambia, Gambians have generally been left in a state of simmering frustration. The recent electoral reform laws, which, are poised to tilt the scales in favor of the ruling APRC party, have further heightened the political misery of the Gambians, and led to a boiling point between the APRC and the opposition UDP.
Despite the heavy criticisms levied in the past against the opposition parties for their passivity towards the excesses of the government, the bold actions of Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, and his executive members of the United Democratic Party on April 18, to march on the streets in a peaceful protest to demand justice for Solo Sandeng and his fellow arrested and tortured protesters, is not only an exemplary act of citizenship, but demands commendation from all genuine Gambians and true defenders of human rights. The key lesson in the events that transpired between April 16 and April 16 is that the strength and weakness of democracy resides in the people.
For a country to be liberated from dictatorship, citizens have to be willing to sacrifice some of their interest to guarantee the freedom and liberty of others. This has been the hallmark of all revolutionary leaders in history. Nelson Mandela gave up his liberty for his people, Kwame Nkrumah was jailed in his independence struggle for Ghana, Steve Biko was murdered fighting to end apartheid in South Africa, and most recently, Aun Sung Suu Kyi kept under house arrest for decades, emerged as the leader of the ruling party in Myanmar.
Ousainou Darboe left his house armed only with words of peace and his convictions that enough was enough, and there was no more time to watch illegal behaviors pass with impunity. As pictures of the armed security forces arresting Lawyer Darboe and his party members with miniature Gambian flags emerged, a huge contrast was drawn to remind every Gambian that true leaders should serve as missionaries and mercenaries to their people.
It is now up to the Gambians to decide whether they will choose a missionary leader or a mercenary. Solo Sandeng, Fatoumata Jawara and co paid the ultimate price sacrifice for guaranteeing our freedoms. It is very uplifting to see Gambians both at home and abroad reciprocate by rising to the occasion to put the government in check. Not only is this is an unprecedented act of bravery and citizenship, but a clear sign that nothing binds people more than a common enemy. The events of the past few days not only show the rage, disenchantment and the lack of fear in Gambians, but they also highlight the significant reformation going on in our beloved country. The masses are now aware of the hypocrisy and the lies that have sustained the system for all the past 22 years. The plain defiance and open condemnation of awakened Gambians who took to the streets of Kairaba Avenue or Independence Drive may not be able to predict the immediate or long-term impact of their political actions, but their boldness is evident that they know the prevailing system in their country is a farce, frustrating and utterly hopeless. Thus there is an urgent need for a political change.
Reformation is undoubtedly a pre-requisite and an antecedent to any successful political revolution or reform. Gambians should be proud and praised for reclaiming their sovereignty. However, despite the rising hopes of many Gambians for a regime change, it is important not to relent or draw into a comfort zone. One must not fall under the illusion for an instant and a dramatic political change. Social movements for political change require effective organization, discipline and a depth of persistence. By all measure of the current situation, the mounting forces clamoring for change are undoubtedly having the upper hand against the status quo. Gambians have garnered the attention and sympathy of the international community, and Gambians should forge ahead with their coalition building of essential partners, however, it will be a farfetched wish, and ignorance of the conventional norms of the international system to believe that the United States will deploy the 82nd Airborne Division on our behalf; or that Senegal will invade the country to free us.
We have to scratch our own itch. Nobody else will sweat our fever for us. In every new creation is also an inherent danger of destruction. To succeed, the masses have to adapt to the tactics and strategy of the regime. The current withdrawal of the security forces and the allowance of free expression of opinions should not be taken as a total victory. Whilst applaudable, we should be equally skeptical. Dictators are expedient creatures full of patience and tricks. This act of restraint could be a normalization strategy to create militancy fatigue and eventually blow steam out of the current situation back home. It’s wise to be optimistic yet weary. Adaptation and unpredictability is the lethal force to counter tyranny. What will determine the success of our current experiment is how effectively we manage the crisis at hand.
Political action comes from persistence and keeping the heat on. The events in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Egypt and Tunisia have shown that no political leader sits on a hot issue if you make it hot enough. It is a smart thing for all Gambians to remain peaceful, but we must also be steadfast and keep to our convictions. We must not let this crisis fizzle out as the current regime is hoping. God bless The Gambia, and long live peace and freedom.