Occasionally, the excesses of a dictatorship get so outrageous that people get tongue-tied as to what else to say. How do we make sense of a consistently senseless pattern of behavior of a man who prides himself in going his own way, even if that way is patently self-destructive and destructive of so many innocent lives? The unfolding drama in Banjul over the Jammeh regime’s murder of Solo Sandeng and its subsequent arrest of UDP leader Ousainou Darboe and members of his party executive is revealing. The saying that fools hang themselves when you give them a long rope may be manifesting in the Jammeh’s determination to deal with this sensitive situation the only way he could possibly think of – with heavy handed insensitivity. Rather than manage the situation sensibly by allowing Gambians to protest peacefully and go home peacefully from the very start, Yahya Jammeh has ignited and is fueling a firestorm that would hopefully consume his tyrannical regime and rid our dear country of a political cancer that has been spreading in its body for the past twenty-two years.
Apologists for the regime’s blatant injustices have argued that members of the UDP had broken the law by not seeking a police permit to hold their peaceful call for electoral reform and subsequent demands for an explanation as to what happened to Solo Sandeng. That law would have deserved respect in an environment of law and order – an environment where the police and security forces are not mere appendages of a callous dictatorship. In the Gambian situation, the police have repeatedly denied requests by the UDP and other legitimate applicants for permits to hold peaceful rallies for the simple reason that Mr. Jammeh does not approve of them. The idea of seeking permission to hold protests and rallies is legitimate only under a system characterized by respect for human rights and the rule of law. In a situation of utter disregard for human rights and the rule of law, it is well within the rights of the citizens to go right ahead and hold their peaceful protest and rallies without suffering the pain and indignity of applying only to be refused their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression. Let the unjust regime eat its heart out or do its worst. Moreover, if the ruling party needs no permit to hold its rallies, why should any other legitimate political party or group of citizens need any such permit to express their legitimate public opinion? The idea behind permits is merely to inform the police so they could provide security and maintain order while the protests unfold. In Jammeh’s Gambia, protests are considered privileges that may or may not be granted and enjoyed by the citizens as the government – which to say the head of state – wishes.
By trying to prevent people from even attending the court hearings of Mr. Darboe and Co., the Jammeh dictatorship is finally completing the process of political suicide it started back in 1994. The more it bullies people who choose to attend the hearings, the more people find the bullying and insults they have been subjected to for the past two decades unbearable. Jammeh had always banked upon the notion that Gambians were cowards who were so afraid of dying or going to jail that they would take everything and leave everything in the hands of God. That is precisely what the dictatorship hopes would happen again. But this time around, things are likely to get out of hand because the UDP-inspired crisis happens at a point in the country’s history when people are sick and tired of the suffocating stranglehold of the Jammeh regime. Thus, rather than drive people into their customary silence and passivity, the bullying will elicit exactly the opposite reaction. More people will get emboldened, more outraged and more determined to insist that The Gambia does not belong to Yahya Jammeh and his security forces – that it is a mutually owned and mutually shared home for all Gambians regardless of party affiliation or status. And the harder the regime cracks down upon the people, the larger the crowds are likely to grow.
Of course, the bottom line is that Jammeh has long been a victim of hubris – which is the fate of all tyrants and demagogues in history. For over two decades, hubris has rendered him deaf to the voice of reason and blind to the light of truth. He has doggedly chosen ignorance over knowledge, darkness over light, injustice over justice, and truth over lies. Hubris has caused him to commit heresy and utter such blasphemies like “I will rule The Gambia for a million years” – a statement he knows to be manifestly false and against the natural laws of the God who created him and his power. Hubris has caused him to ignore exhortations to observe justice in dealing with the human beings under him, to allow Gambians to enjoy their God-given rights, and among many other things, not to attempt imposing Sharia law on the Gambian people. In “Gambia: Why Sharia is not an option” (2013) we outlined the many reasons why it was a very bad idea for Jammeh to attempt imposing Sharia law on The Gambia, one of which was that people – Muslims and Christians alike – would kick back against the idea. But of course, being afflicted with blinding hubris, his arrogance wouldn’t stop itching until he proved all his critics wrong. He had to show that his critics always lie about him; that in fact, he could do whatever he wanted to do with our country and all its people. Now we have seen the backlash against his ill-fated declaration of The Gambia as an Islamic state in the fact that current protesters include people carrying banners saying “no to an Islamic state” among other manifestations of refusal to comply. Scanning the crowds of protesters, one notices a few women wearing the veil, which they perhaps wore before the Islamic state crap, and one notices women wearing their traditional head dress or no head dress at all.
Now “the genie is out of the bottle” as one writer recently put it. The spell of fear is broken. Jammeh has reached what we may call “beyond crisis point”. The only way he can go now is down and out. Whatever the outcome of the current UDP case, Jammeh is doomed to historical infamy and notoriety. He joins tyrants and demagogues like Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Muamar Gaddafi, Augusto Pinochet, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Sani Abacha, Jean Bedel Bokassa and all the evil dictators and tyrants in history’s hell. He has willfully carved for himself a cold, perpetually nose-offending niche in the infamous dustbin of history where he, of course, will forever languish. He probably never heard Aristotle say “Man perfected by society is the best of all animals; he is the most terrible of all when he lives without law and without justice.” And he had refused to hear those who heard Aristotle convey the unassailable truth of the ages to his hubris-afflicted ears. Well, we just say all praise is to God, the Lord of Truth and Justice, to whom all power belongs, now and forever.