By Dodou Jawneh
The disappointment is written all over our faces when the opposition parties met with the officials of the Gambia’s draconian regime to discuss and sign a memorandum of understanding, otherwise refer to as the interparty talks. In the real world, this is commendable move as dialogue leads to greater understanding between parties. But the Gambia has not been in the real world since 1994 because of the unfortunate seizure of power by Jammeh and his military council. The anarchy in governance and the untold suffering that Gambian citizens have since endured, represent the ‘horrible histories’ of post-independent Gambia. The dialogue, coincidental or not, is taking place at a time when the nation was thrown into yet another serious crisis orchestrated by the leadership following the arrest, torture, and the killing of peaceful opposition protesters between 14 – 16 April, 2016. The regime’s callous handling of this matter enraged the population causing larger crowds to come out on the streets denouncing the country’s leadership. Meanwhile Mr Ousainou Darboe, leader of the biggest opposition grouping, the United Democratic Party(UDP), together with dozens of his party officials remain under detention or uncounted for.
Many in the opposition movement were hopeful that in this national crisis, the opposition leaders would have the wisdom and temerity to stand firmly with the UDP that is currently under attack. More specifically people were hopeful that the leader of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Omar Jallow (OJ), would fulfil his promise to lead his supporters in protest against the arrest, torture and unlawful killing of peaceful protesters as enshrined in law. Some of his followers, including myself, have had a rude awakening, coming to the realisation that OJ would keep deferring his promise during this crisis. Our hope was that he would unconditionally urge his supporters to join the UDP in peaceful protest. Such action will also go on to buttress his incessant advocacy for opposition unity. My personal point of view is that the PPP under OJ has not done the right things to bring about the unity he advocates and many in the opposition movement cherished. Unity could be facilitated when OJ throws PPP’s support behind the UDP, undoubtedly the biggest opposition party. The failure of coalition aims to materialise may be complex, but OJ’s own position relating to the upper age stipulation for the presidency may have also created a stumbling block. He claimed personal reasons for refusing to advocate for an electoral reform that includes removing the 65 years age limit, citing the fact that it might be misconstrued as a personal agenda to enable him contest for the presidency. He added that the time for fighting against that law has passed, as far as he was concerned. I beg to differ because to me laws are not made for individual interest, contrary to Jammeh’s frame of mind. Secondly it is never too late to fight against unjustified laws or against injustice.
The more critical amongst his supporters might have realised by now that OJ is not matching his word with action, a situation that makes my position as party volunteer untenable, if the dithering continue any time longer. It will mean putting away my membership card in the cupboard until there is leadership change or a major shift in policy that will once again project the PPP on the path for championing human rights and democracy.
The opposition parties’ reluctance to match the UDP’s action in response to the government’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters can be seen as another calculated impediment created solely to frustrate opposition unity. This enduring phenomenon has perpetuated the Jammeh dictatorship’s grip on power and indirectly render opposition leaders culpable in the national tragedy. It is incumbent on followers to realise this and be ready to point out such failings.
Whatever rationale there is that opposition leaders can be engaged in dialogue with the devil that opened the Pandora box in our country rather than come together in fighting alongside the UDP should be made known to followers. But even this seemingly sensible expectation is being treated as unaffordable, and the opposition leaders preferring to keep information to themselves because, as OJ has said, ‘they do not want the enemy to lay hands on sensitive information.’
Yet it is clear to Gambian political observers that agreements signed with Jammeh are not worth the papers they are written on. It is pointless cataloguing all the promises Jammeh reneged on since he stole power in our country. It will suffice to mention how on a daily basis the Gambian Constitution has been flouted left, right and centre making it an irrelevant subordinate to the dictator’s whims and caprices. The manner that this current crisis erupted, the farcical nature of legal proceedings that ensued, and the manipulation of the security apparatus and media exemplify clear violations of the supreme law of the country.
Neither can we say that Jammeh will ever enter into dialogue with anyone because he would be prepared to genuinely forgo his benefits, or any part of them, for another party’s interest – a fundamental requirement for a durable settlement. The Gambian opposition movement is well aware of this fact. And one would expect that outside bodies, such as US Embassy, representatives of EU, UN and ECOWAS would be aware of the same about Gambia’s rogue regime and should deal with it in that light. Which one of the above was not shown the middle finger by Jammeh in the past? It is this self-centred disposition that Senegal finally recognised and stamped its authority in the ongoing Senegal Gambia border impasse, preventing goods and motor vehicles crossing to and from Gambia. I hope Senegal will continue to maintain this position until Jammeh quits power. Many recognised that as soon as the Gambian dictator is able to use these rounds of negotiations as a means to defusing the current national crisis, he will quickly revert to his normal business of abusing defenceless citizens and continue to loot the nation’s resources. Whilst Gambian citizens recognised that engagement in negotiated settlements is a part of the terms of reference for international bodies, many are baffled how the opposition has concentrated energy on the interparty-committee talks at a time of national crisis and amidst the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters.
To conclude, my hope is that the opposition will take notice of the people’s aspiration and to substitute rhetoric for action in defending the Gambian nation whose survival is threatened by the Jammeh dictatorship. They have a duty to stand by citizens who have become aware that they are heavily indebted (in the moral sense) because of the lack of adequate action for the past 22 years that enabled the thuggish regime to maim, kill and imprison the defenceless. To me the economic indebtedness that the regime has put on our necks is dwarfed by our nation’s moral indebtedness. The realisation of the urgency to correct this historical anomaly must be the responsibility of all citizens taking a lead, not excluding state apparatuses such as the civil service and the security bodies.