May God Save Dear Little Gambia Part 3
By Saul Saidykhan
This is the third and final opinion on this topic. In a little over two months, if Yaya Jammeh or Mansa Jakut has his wish, Gambians will perform their designated role in another choreographed ritual – officially dressed up as an election, but which in fact is meant not to seek their consent as to who will govern them, but rather will only use them as props to give the appearance to an unsuspecting international community that an actual election has taken place.
In reality, what passes for an election in the Gambia is nothing but an elaborate daylight con job on a whole country. And it has happened twice already!
In 2010, based on a hunch and later, corroboration from a one-time insider and childhood associate of he Yaya Jammeh himself, I included in my Round Holes -Square Pegs… series information on how he has completely bastardized the Gambia’s electoral system not just by the more generally known wholesale registration of his ethnic kinsmen from southern Senegal in the Gambia’s Voter Roll, but worse by the more daring stuffing of ballot boxes by his sanctioned military thugs. I called it “Security Votes”. To recap, here is the gist of how the scam goes: Jammeh orders the same materials as the electoral commission; he has his hand-picked military men under his direct command fill the ballot boxes beforehand; then they take the stuffed boxes around the country on election day to counting centers; they create or manufacture excuses and distractions at each location they reach in the name of security in order to avail themselves the opportunity to mix the illicit boxes they’ve stuffed with the real votes that Gambians have cast at the polls. Bottom-line, they ensure that the boxes that they’ve stuffed at Jammeh’s behest are counted around the country. This way, they nullify Gambians’ votes against Yaya Jammeh!
This is why Jammeh keeps bragging that he’ll win elections even if Gambians don’t vote for him because djinns will vote for him due to “how I’ve developed this country”! And precisely why he is so diametrically opposed to changing the voting system in Gambia.
You see, we are so full of jokes in The Gambia that we have become a complete joke as a country. To begin with, from its very inception, the so-called Independent Electoral Commission has operated as an extension of Yaya Jammeh’s party. This electoral scam I noted wouldn’t be possible without the connivance of the Electoral Commission. Unfortunately, all but one of the Electoral Commission’s past Heads were known sympathizers of Jammeh’s APRC. Not surprisingly, the lone stand-out, the late reverend Bishop Telewa Johnson was the only one who defied Jammeh by making a valiant effort to be an impartial umpire by refusing to collude with the APRC and better heeded popular calls by introducing On-the-Spot-Counting. He knew the risk he was taking by doing the right thing, but he it did anyway out of honor and integrity. Predictably, Yaya Jammeh quickly fired him and took his job back. Bishop Johnson kept his honor and integrity intact. May god bless his soul. Wouldn’t The Gambia be a better place if our high profile imams show similar courage and integrity? What kills me is some of us Gambian Muslims still actually think we have an upper hand on other religions. Twenty-two years of madness, and pure evil rule and one cannot find even a couple of big-mosque imams courageous enough to speak up for the oppressed Gambian Muslim masses. Mention this obvious fact to some people, and they’ll accuse you of heresy or what have you. The way some tell it, you get a sense that Allah will come down physically to deliver us from Yaya Jammeh. We really are a funny people.
On a related note, my source says, this electoral heist is ALWAYS sealed with the blood of a virgin girl based on the advice of Jammeh’s Jalang priest! And not only does he know where they bury these poor innocent victims, he knows the killers who carried out the first two operations. All I can say is, the average Gambian has no idea how truly depraved and power-hungry Yaya Jammeh really is.
In Part 2, I noted our culture of not paying attention to details because Jammeh is by nature a very indiscipline person. He talks a lot for a leader and sings discordant tunes. In doing so, he indirectly reveals tidbits about some of the many crimes he engages in publicly often without realizing it. Sadly, many of us miss these clues because – well, we don’t pay attention to details.
In the last two elections, a curious thing was apparent, Jammeh’s proportion of the total votes which was in the mid-50s in 1996 magically jumped to the low 70s! This is phenomenal growth. It would signify remarkable popularity for any politician if it is real. It is not. You know this because not only is it out of sync with the vibe of the country, he Jammeh has made no secret of his anger at the largest ethnic groups in the country – especially the Manding, for hating him. I’ve had calls from countless Mandinkas over the years many of who wonder how it is possible that Mandinkas could hate Yaya Jammeh when he gets over 70% in majority Manding areas of The Gambia during elections. My answer to them is: Yaya Jammeh has conclusive evidence that he loses badly in majority Mandinka areas of The Gambia. Here is the reality: Yaya Jammeh is among the few Gambians who know the number of votes actually cast by Gambians at the polls. For the record, NO election result gets announced on Gambian radio or TV on election day unless Yaya Jammeh gives his explicit approval! This is the first key point to note about who actually calls the shots at the electoral commission. So when Jammeh says people in this area don’t like me, he knows for a FACT that they don’t because he has actual data on votes cast for him in that particular area. He knows how many phony votes his thugs drop off in each Region because he personally tracks them. So all he does to gauge his popularity in any part of the country is back out his phony votes from the total that he has in that area! The urban areas are eclectic and harder to tell. Not so much trouble when it comes to the provinces.
Officially, Jammeh has been winning over 70% in majority Mandinka areas like Baddibu, Kiang, and Jarra in the last two elections. Yet he is mad and constantly engaging in ethnically incendiary diatribes against Mandinkas. Many are perplexed and frustrated by this. Some think it’s baseless. But Jammeh knows something they don’t because he sees the real numbers, and as any astute observer knows, it’s easier to lie to others than to lie to oneself. This is one of the main sources of Jammeh’s anti-Mandinka rage.
Jammeh cannot share this information publicly without betraying the fraudulent ballot stuffing operation he engages in. Call it a Crook’s dilemma or being hoisted to his own petard!
The way the current electoral system is, no one can tell the difference between a phony vote stuffed inside a ballot box by a jack-booted thug at State House on a weekend in November 2016 and a real one cast by a duly registered Gambian voter on voting day in December 2016 because as anyone who has studied the system knows, it is archaic and lacks any Audit Trail. The marbles that are used as votes in the system have no unique features. Nothing ties any marble to any voter in any way. Worse, even the voter identification system used is not an assurer of the voter’s true ID – unlike anywhere else in West Africa presently. Multiple voter registration by the ruling party especially is rampant. Currently ALL other West African countries have adopted some form of biometric-based voting system that have helped to not only sanitize their electoral systems, but have also deepened confidence in their democracies. In the event of disputes in such systems, science-based facts are easy to establish and follow to resolve the disputes. The Gambia is threading a lonely path. The fact that Yaya Jammeh had the UDP activist Solo Sandeng murdered in cold blood for merely calling peacefully for reforming this anachronistic electoral system tells us everything we need to know about the threat he believes changes to the current electoral system will pose to his chance of maintaining the lie that he is interested in cultivating true democracy in The Gambia.
I mentioned the lack of standards in my earlier post. Beside the corrupt and complicit electoral commission, lack of standards is Jammeh’s biggest tool in subverting the will of the Gambian people. Let me explain: anyone who understands basic demography knows the Gambia’s Voters Register is heavily padded. Now what makes this so easy for Jammeh to do is, there is no standard way of spelling any Gambian Family or Last Name. As such, the people he wants to use to buff up the Voter roll register multiple times using different names or spellings and even normal computer data validation rules don’t raise any red flag. For instance, the computer sees Modou Ceesay and Modou Sesay and Modou Sisay and Modou Sise as separate individuals. Equally, it assumes Amie Njie is different from Amie Njai, who is different from Amie Njay who is different from Amie Njaye when it’s the same person with the Last name spelt differently. A biometric system will spot the fraud and nip it in the bud, but the current Gambian environment is a conman’s dream. All I can say is how about we get such fundamentals right first before imitating others in talking about lofty ideas that have NOTHING to do with Gambian reality?
Knowing all these, my heart bleeds for those who actually think the opposition can defeat Yaya Jammeh at the polls. Even after side-stepping the silly side show surrounding the opposition coalition talks and the price some are asking for a coalition (avoiding stating the obvious about certain candidates,) I can only think of a single reason for investing in elections at this point: to build a moral basis for what in all probability will eventually happen to Jammeh.
Otherwise, one has a better chance of finding a ten billion barrels oil well in Jarra Soma than beating Yaya Jammeh, his military thugs, and his IEC lap dogs at their game. No biometric electoral system, no On-the-Spot-Counting? But what do I know.
Recently, a friend called to say he has heard on a Gambian radio station that the ballot stuffing operation is well underway at State House and up to half a million vote may have already been put away for Jammeh. Now I don’t have any way to verify this, but the one thing I know is never to doubt Yaya Jammeh’s penchant for the outlandish – be that crime or otherwise. When I first heard about this operation of his from someone who used to be pretty close to him, I was incredulous. But on second thought, it made perfect sense. How else can Yaya Jammeh possibly poll over 70% in Gambia given the way he has been ruling the country especially since he murdered his main ally Baba Jobe in 2001?
In Gambian opposition political discourse, there are two camps: 1.) those that see the present dispensation exactly as what it is, and therefore open up to other options however unconventional those may seem to some; and 2.) those who obstinately cling to the idea of what the Gambia ought to be as a democracy despite overwhelming evidence that the country is in fact moving more and more away from a democracy two decades after the current second experiment began. Call it the Realist versus Idealist dichotomy. Need I say which camp I belong to?
Throughout this Jammeh era, we have lived Public Lies: official v. unofficial; nominal v. actual. Officially, Isatou Njai Saidy is Number 2 in the country. In reality, She and everyone else in government knows that to be a lie. She is nothing but a pathetic errand girl that Jammeh sends to places to humanize him when he wants. The second most powerful person in Gambia is a man called Lt. Gen. Saul Badjie, Commander of the State Republican Guards. In reality, his name is neither Sulayman “Saul” Badjie nor is he a General. In fact, he has never set foot in ANY military school in his entire life because learning has always been a struggle for him at both Primary and Secondary levels in Bwiam where he hails from. His real name is Karafa Bojang. He had “borrowed” the school certificate of a much younger man whose name he now bears to enlist in the Gambian army. That young man who is nick named Paul Badjie lives in London. In a serious country, Karafa Bojang would have long been dismissed from the army for impersonation. Didn’t I say we are a joke?
But here is the light at the end of the tunnel in all this madness. The House of Jammeh is on fire – politically, militarily, and socially. What is being touted as a new kid on the opposition block is in fact a manifestation of the political implosion of Jammeh’s APRC. Worse, and of greater consequence is the clear implosion in the military that has burst open with the bolting and sudden self-exile of alleged notorious killer O.U. Sonko. And if information reaching us are accurate, Jammeh’s enemies are no longer the usual suspects. What gives these rumors real credence is in the recent past some astounding social events have been taking place. Those that speak some Jola may have noticed some unusual phenomenon. Several videos have been posted on YouTube showing many Gambian Jolas openly denouncing Jammeh in very strong language. The videos speak volumes about the seismic changes going on in the Jola community. I have no doubt that Jammeh will rig himself in again this December. But I have little doubt also about the aftermath of that action because as Abraham Lincoln told Americans in his short extemporaneous speech at Gettysburg during the American civil war” a house divided against itself cannot stand.” What the hapless opposition cannot do to him, his own just might.
Which brings me back to my subject: May god save Dear Little Gambia!