By Amadou Dibba, UK
Much has been made and written about the recent tirade by Yahya Jammeh against the Mandinka tribe, whom he believes always constitute the overwhelming part of efforts to discredit, or worse still cause instability in, his government. While such a theme is by no means new [although he lies that he is bringing it up for the first time since 1994], this piece is an attempt to highlight how, contrary to his apparent inclination to show bravado and strong-man image, arrogance and pretentious for wisdom, Yahya Jammeh is a low-spirited troubled man in constant fear about his personal security; a man with a congenital inability to either appreciate or learn from lessons in history – hence an imbecile; not to mention an incurable lack of conviction in himself. While these traits are manifest in his pronouncements and actions over the years, the fact that his recent rambling incoherent speech vilifying the Mandinka reflects the traits suggests that they are deep-seated in his innermost being and that to his death he cannot disabuse himself of the bondage of the three scourges.
To put things into perspective, let me at this juncture state that when one cares to think about it, it is easy to see that there is nothing really special about what Yahya Jammeh says or does, despite his tendency to give the contrary impression. The average individual can do likewise given the circumstances that make it possible for a misfit like Yahya Jammeh to behave the way he does: firstly the prerogative conferred by being the president (however horribly misplaced that title can sound before the name Yahya Jammeh) of a sovereign but overwhelmingly poor and small underdeveloped nation state a good few of whose population will frankly, but sadly, be glad to only have their next meal and the disempowering effect that can have; secondly, the absence of individual rights and freedoms and the rule of law (often orchestrated or compounded by egoistic and parasitic leaders whose previous lives have been so afflicted by poverty and privation that they will do anything to hang on to their new-found but unexpected status); thirdly the potential to manipulate the security services by, especially but not exclusively, invoking esprit de corps as Yahya Jammeh has all too often shown the penchant to do by, for instance, unsophisticatedly romanticising about things military and the period of his life spent in that institution (“Once a soldier, always a soldier,” he would remark sometimes) as if it is a case of the military up against the rest of society and, fourth, the corresponding weakness or deliberate weakening of public institutions in this kind of environment.
Given these circumstances, it is only the visionary and selfless type of leader who can rise above the temptation of seizing such circumstances to advance his/her personal ends, not the rapacious and cowardly type who tends to see his [often accidental] elevation to a position of leadership as an opportunity of a lifetime that must be exploited to the fullest, no matter the consequences. It is needless to say that Yahya Jammeh occupies the latter category on account of his record on repression, self-aggrandisement and use of state machinery, especially the security services, to oppress ordinary citizens while deluding himself that it is his bravery, invincibility or possession of some special powers that enables him to ride roughshod over a largely powerless population. As such there is an argument to say that far from such people like Yahya Jammeh possessing admirable qualities of courage and vision, in actual fact they are perennially insecure weaklings who stay in power only as long as either or both of two conditions continue to obtain: lack of popular revolutionary mobilisation to get rid of a retrograde dinosaur by such means as is deemed necessary on the one hand and yes, the population’s lack of access to weapons or unwillingness to exploit the avenues to procure requisite hardware in order to protect themselves against the certain repression of a doomed weakling and his automatons. Has he not issued a futile threat that there will be no more demonstrations? If the idiot truly means to use the army to suppress demonstrations, he needs not say it at a political rally if he is not only trying to do the only thing his cowardly and paranoid personality allows him to do – using the personal security afforded his person by the state to threaten those who are bold enough to put their personal security at risk. It must however be emphasised that both of these afore-mentioned factors tend not to be permanent for, soon enough, things become insufferable enough to make for an explosion of inexplicable popular spirit potent enough to consume any force that stands in its way, least of all that of a pleasure-intoxicated voluptuary like Yahya Jammeh. Recent history is abound with examples of such popular uprising/revolution but the case of Burkina Faso will suffice for our purpose here.
To come back to the subject matter of this piece – Yahya Jammeh’s degeneracy and incredible show of irresponsibility – I refer to his recent well-publicised speech castigating the Mandinka. Notable more for its punctuation with self-contradiction, utter triviality and, above all perhaps, lack of lucid and eloquent reasoning, Yahya Jammeh spewed rubbish after rubbish in the form of lies and vile threats to vent his gnawing frustration with what can be seen as his congenital inability to use the art of rhetoric, as seasoned political leaders are able to do effortlessly, to win people’s hearts and minds by appealing to their emotions, reason and passions, rather than pitiable pretending that he is the ultimate benefactor who is using his self-made wealth to build paradise for all Gambians. Well the problem with that is that some, if not most, of those he tries to hoodwink thus know that it is the people’s wealth (or loans contracted on their behalf) that is in actual fact being used to provide the services and infrastructure, which in any case are either insufficient, decaying or, frankly, too ropy and insignificant in the grand scheme of things to brag about unless you are an idiot; that if it were not for the fact that he abuses the office he occupies he perhaps does not stand a chance in a million years to amass a fraction of the wealth he so shamelessly and idiotically brags about; that under his watch the country’s economic, political and social development is being stunted as a result of his inclination to foist his ignorance in every area of public service and even the private sphere.
Related to poor economic growth is rising unemployment and underemployment as indicated by successive United Nations and IMF reports on Gambian economic performance. As such it beggars belief that Yahya Jammeh has the effrontery to castigate those disillusioned youth who would rather brave the unknown in the hope of making something of their lives than languish in misery and penury. Even more outrageous is his thoughtless insinuation, backed up by figures that appear to have been conjured up from the air, that the vast majority of those who tend to be deported back to the country are Mandinkas, as if that fact is of any consequence in itself other than perhaps an indictment of his government’s failure to formulate and implement people-centred policies that are genuinely tailored to ensure socio-economic progress and decent standard of living.
In addition, as it has been so masterfully demonstrated by the ever so witty and eloquent Foday Samateh in his Letter to Yahya Jammeh No. 3, nothing shows the chap’s imbecility more than his ill-advised allusion to ethnic cleansing, apparently oblivious to the far-reaching harm this has brought to those countries it has happened in. But a broader point is his failure to learn from the unenviable fate of people who tried to cling to power by repressing the population, the ilk of Jean-Bedel Bokassa (Emperor Bokassa) of Central African Republic, Idi Amin Dada of Uganda, to name but two people who at length got their just recompense for senseless and barbaric crimes against the people. I will suggest that the inability to learn from the mistakes of others, as Yahya Jammeh evinces on more score than one, constitutes an instance of imbecility writ large! But all indications are that that will prove his undoing, regardless of how hard he tries to avoid it.
Equally ridiculous is his denunciation of Mandinkas for what he terms as our arrogance and seeking to support that claim by the pettiest of examples: the supposed Mandinka habit of belittling the stature of all else. However, true to form, he goes on to spout that Mandinkas will never be presidents in pretty much the same breath. How that is not arrogating to himself an attribute of God – the power to know future events – amid all his hullabaloo that the Mandinka should repent for our supposed arrogance, only his twisted logic can comprehend. Yet in a manner of speaking he could be right that the Mandinka will never be presidents in The Gambia because if it happens at or after his certain, possibly imminent, death, well it has not happened as far as he is concerned. Who will hold him to his word when the chap is simply not there to witness it? Only the honourable care about their legacy and/or integrity when they are no more. Not the despicable. Afterall he is neither invincible nor immortal, although it will not surprise me if he claims so. Nothing seems to be too outrageous for the poltroon.
In short I have tried to argue that Yahya Jammeh’s proven tendency to victimise the powerless and the defenceless, while it is obvious he is able to do so by virtue of the prerogative ensured by his position [and not because of any special personal qualities that are easily recognisable in true leaders] and the socio-economic and political circumstances of The Gambia, shows him to be a veritable poltroon. Even as his demonstrable incapacity to learn from others’ transgressions and their consequences, coupled with his cluelessness in the art of rhetoric, suggest that, by the standards of political leadership, he is a hollering retard.