Momodou L. Shyngle Nyassi passed on exactly three years ago, yet he continues to inspire many people. The opposition Lion and Hero fought hard for the restoration of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the Gambia, a country that was previously known for being an oasis of everything worthwhile. All that would dissipate in thin air soon after a group of soldiers overthrew the Jawara government in July 1994. The Gambia has not been and will never be the same, as the “Soldiers with a Difference” deified everything, including their own exhausted slogans: Transparency, Accountability, and Probity.
Gambians who have had no prior experience of a junta regime were carried away by the soldiers’ empty rhetoric such as “we have come to drive away the PPP’s [People’s Progressive Party] rampant corruption, mismanagement of public resources and flamboyant lifestyle.”
Instead of sending the soldiers to the barracks, Gambians gave them the benefit of the doubt. The soldiers without political knowledge (the late Burkina Faso President called them virtual criminals) were accorded the ammunition to embark on a so-called transition period. They prepared themselves for the 1996 political season. And with the help of some intellectuals (political prostitutes), the junta men learnt crude political tricks fast before the ban was lifted. Their promulgated decrees banning former politicians, tightening protest and caging the media all set the stage for crushing the opposition.
“We had only one month to register a party, search for a candidate and participate in 1996 presidential election,” the late Shyngle Nyassi, a founding father of the United Democratic Party (UDP) told Kairo News shortly before he died.
“This was tough, tedious and messy but we all unanimously settled for a lawyer who defended the 1981 coup suspects and those taken before the commissions of inquiry. That person became none other than Lawyer Ousainou Darboe who was at the time in the United States on vacation. Ousainou cut short his vacation and sought advice from his mother in Dobo village (Ousainou’s birthplace) who asked him to bail out his country without a second thought.”
Opposition members would later learn that choosing a leader was the easy part. “We didn’t have any money and Gambians abroad who came to invest in making sure that the military did not return to power were intimidated in the form of arrest, detention and torture,” Mr. Nyassi said. The military used every available means at their disposal to guarantee a win at all costs. This was the biggest onslaught on democracy in our country’s history. Candidates were imprisoned, their ballots snatched while their supporters and poll agents languished in jail. Yes, that was and still is Yahya Jammeh’s version of democracy – a democracy that depends on bullying your opponents. It’s simply Sembocracy or Dolecracy [Powercracy]. Is it not the same bullying that police exercise on a touring UDP caravan in Fass Njaga Choi or ruling Alliance for Patriotic, Re-orientation and Construction party deputies do in parliament? Bullying is seen and felt everywhere in Jammeh’s governance system. The goal is loud and clear: bully them until all of them retreat and surrender.
Since 1994 genuine Gambians have been fighting against Jammeh’s usurpation of powers at the expense of their family and resources. Uncountable number of lives and properties have been lost, which is why genuine Gambians still remain glued to the fight to defeat Jammeh’s rotten system. The heroes who died for The Gambia’s cause will never be forgotten.
As this week marks the two-year anniversary of Shyngle Nyassi, we join Gambians to celebrate the life and legacy of an astute man who loved his country to the bone, fought vigorously against tribal politics and united Gambians. Mr. Nyassi’s style of politics is worth studying and emulating.
Lawyer Ousainou Darboe described him as “an example of a Gambian manliness. He was always passionate, high spirited and he never relented.”In a Facebook posting, Darboe said The Gambia lost an “honourable man, an inclusive figure and icon. Whenever we gather at meetings, however tense the occasion is, Shyngle Nyassi always remains calm and composed. We cherish our association with the late Shyngle Nyassi. We will continue to fulfill his dream of seeing a Gambia that is peaceful, tolerant and accommodating to all. Above all, Shyngle demonstrated to us the fighting spirit to survive in a hostile political climate. He was arrested on several occasions.”
Shyngle Nyassi would have lived in total peace if he had accepted Jammeh’s offer package, which included a fully built compound. For him when it comes to The Gambia, no amount of offer can buy him. That is how a true patriot thinks and behaves.
We throw hats to all those who died, suffered or still suffering for Mother Gambia. There will come a day when all your sincere efforts and sacrifice will pay back while those who wrong you reap the bitterness they have sown.
Kairo Radio will reproduce a 2013 interview with Mr. Nyassi today.
This article first appeared on Kairo News on October 10th, 2015