The ongoing drama that is unfolding in The Gambia, is one that can end in either of two ways: explode into a violent encounter and bloody clamp-down; or an embarrassing back-down by dictator Yaya Jammeh’s forces of darkness and repression leading to the soaring of spirits among the opposition that would further embolden the citizenry to engage in more ways that would put the autocracy on the defensive for the first time in twenty-two years. Should the latter happen, it would push the regime on to unfamiliar ground as it would signal that our country’s much-maligned opposition has finally come of age. That a Gambian opposition group through its own initiative has mustered the courage to stand up to one of the most brutal and repressive regimes in modern times by insisting that it is no longer willing to accept all manner of abuse from the country’s tyrannical ruler Yaya Jammeh in his determination to remain at the helm of affairs of our country.
By nature, tyrants after being at the top for long tend to consider themselves infallible. This is the current mentality of Yaya Jammeh. But illegitimate power 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. These 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 stand-off between the protesters and the authorities. It was such miscalculation that seems to have misled Jammeh and his forces of repression to persistently deny the main opposition party UDP the right to hold political rallies and the emergence of the GREAT MASS DEFIANCE at Fass Njaga Choye.
It was when the law-abiding leadership of the UDP turned over 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 their supporters had been urging.
When their convoy of the “unpermitted” political trekkers was asked to turn back at the north bank town of Fass Njaga Choi, an otherwise Jammeh stronghold, they refused to do so, and camped at the site. Party supporters crossed over from Banjul to join them and morale among the trekkers grew so high that the authorities were forced on the defensive. Perhaps taken aback by the reaction of both the public and the UDP supporters, the tyrant, on whose orders the UDP was denied permit to trek to begin with, quickly allegedly “intervened,” and allowed them to be issued permit to continue their trek.
Again for almost a month now, The Gambia has been on the international spotlight for all the wrong reasons. First, it was the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters demanding genuine electoral reform and second, the arrest and detention of the UDP party leader and many of the party executives who went into the streets demanding the release of the 14th April peaceful protesters along the body of Solo Sandeng who was tortured to death by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).Ousainou Darbo and his compatriots were violently arrested, detained and charged and have been going to court since the 21st of April 2016.
Our nation has arrived at a decisive moment when every citizen must weigh two choices. We can give in to fear by accommodating tyranny and repression where every citizen is a victim-in-waiting to the cruel and sadistic regime that routinely employs murder, torture and other degrading treatments as instruments of governance.
Alternatively, conscientious citizens can muster the courage and stand together to take back our country for all citizens to breathe free and live in peace and dignity. As Gambians our demands remain firm in asking for an immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and a full independent accounting for the events of the 14th and 19th of April 2016. We also demand all that is expected of a democratic society including comprehensive electoral reform as demanded in the G6 memo.
The Gambian autocrat has now crossed the Rubicon and it is time we citizens let him know he has, it is time we let him know that he cannot just be playing with the lives of our nation and its people while merely engaged in mock battles with his imagined “imperialists.” Yes, presidential elections are due in seven months, but those months add up to a period too long to wait for such an unstable autocrat who can, at any time, wrought irreparable damage to our nationhood, unleash savage violence on us citizens and set us at war with each other. We should not therefore just wait for the ballot but we are not calling for a resort to the bullet. What we are calling for is a mass seven months of peaceful Defiance Campaign, which will run up to the December 2016 elections.
How? By refusing to attend any state function, APRC rallies, National Assembly sessions; taking all our groundnuts across the border to Senegal and not selling to the GGC; not stopping on the streets to cheer him or even look at him when he passes with the presidential convoy; not let our school children stand on the streets when his guests come on state visits; to refuse to talk or have anything to do with any one dressed in clothes bearing his picture or APRC signs or symbols; to refuse to serve in his government; to participate in call-in radio programs expressing the economic hardship everyone is mumbling about; to try to attend all opposition political rallies even if one is normally not interested in politics; to try to refrain from using government owned public transport buses; to pay NAWEC water bills as late as possible; not buying fuel from his petrol stations, or bread from his bakeries, or meat from his outlets; and so on and so forth.
As for Diaspora Gambians whose concern over our plight has long been remarkable and cherished by all Gambia-based citizens, it is time to recognize and appreciate the now internationally recognized principle of universal jurisdiction, namely that torture committed in the chambers of the NIA in Banjul liable for legal prosecution in Seattle, Brussels, Ontario or London and that it is time to go after the government’s known torturers, especially when they dare travel out.
These may all seem like small actions but taken as a whole and in large numbers and when protracted enough, they will make the autocrat eventually feel the punch and we will realize soon enough that we are the ones who ultimately matter and that power belongs to us the citizens. If we follow this campaign through without any letup, we will win the 2016 elections even before the polls. If we succeed in following this campaign to its logical conclusion, even Jammeh and his cohorts will not dare try to rig the elections.
The manner of defiance is many and varied, limited only by the scope of our imagination, but this campaign is the easiest way out and the best indeed because it will involve least spilling of blood but participatory enough to make us learn how to care for our country, ourselves and how to be masters of our own liberation so that no one can ever rule over us again under conditions of tyranny. If we fail to stand up now, history will punish us tomorrow as it did with Sierra Leone for failing to stand up against Siaka Steven’s excesses, with all its ramifications.
The autocrat wants us to be miserable but the Great Defiance must continue.