By Emmanuel Joof (Paps)
July 22nd, 2017 would have marked the 23rd year of the Presidency of Yahya Jammeh had he not be voted out of Office by Gambians in the Presidential Elections of 2nd December 2016 and subsequently forcibly ejected by ECOMIG in January 2017 after he refused to cede power to President Elect Adama Barrow.
Yahya Jammeh the 29-year-old Lieutenant ousted President Kairaba Jawara in a bloodless coup detat on 22 July 1994. President Jawara who hitherto rule the tiny West African country since independence from Britain in 1965 was a democrat and regarded by many as a human rights champion but was also at the same time viewed by many as having overstayed in power and out of ideas. Although many did not regard Jawara as corrupt, the perception at the time was that some of his ministers were corrupt and that Jawara was not in control of his ministers. Gambia under Jawara although peaceful and stable was seen as backward in terms of infrastructure development – poor roads, no TV station, limited secondary schools and hospitals and no university.
Indeed, the first 10 years of Jammeh’s rule saw many infrastructure developments with secondary schools being built in the rural areas, new hospitals, a TV station, the establishment of the University of the Gambia and improved road networks. Jammeh’s mantra in the first 3 years of his rule was accountability, transparency and probity. Despite his crude utterances and unpolished mannerisms, may Gambian were willing to tolerated Jammeh in the name of development.
Jammeh however gradually metamorphosed into a true autocrat and unrepentant thief. He regarded Gambia as his own, claimed that his ill-gotten wealth was from Allah’s World Bank, threatened to send anyone who disobeyed or opposed him to the Mile 2 Central Prison which he called his “5 Star Hotel”. Unlawful arrest, detention torture, extra judicial killings and disappearance became a common occurrence. Jammeh became the chief economist of the country and will frequently and arbitrarily fix foreign exchange rates which was announced on TV, he openly ran a string a business without paying taxes and he is even rumoured to have been in the narcotic drug trade.
With the support and connivance of many enablers and some Gambian lawyers, Jammeh was able to usurp the independence of the judiciary by recruiting many foreign Judges and Magistrates mainly Nigerians who would decide cases as directed by Jammeh. Jammeh would openly boast on National TV that he “owns Gambia” and that his grandchildren and great grandchildren will never be poor. He confiscated people’s property for his own use and also fenced off many reserved lands for his own use. He purchased 3 Presidential Jets solely used for his travels and that of his wife who frequently travelled on a shopping spree to the USA, Dubai and Morocco meanwhile the majority of Gambians wallow in poverty.
Jammeh bought and corrupted many religious leaders who showered him with praises and gave him titles such Sheikh and Nasurudeen. Meanwhile Jammeh continued to bamboozle Gambians with his claim to supernatural powers and discovery of cure for many ailments including HIV/AIDS, diabetes, infertility, asthma etc, etc. Meanwhile Jammeh showed contempt for Gambians by regularly insulting people of the Mandingo tribe and labelling them as vermins and threatening to exterminate them. He did not even spare his support based. His own Jola tribe kinsmen were victims including some of his own family members whom he eliminated. Jammeh in a single swoop and under his directives ordered the trial and imprisonment of the Minister of Justice (Jobarteh), the Solicitor General (Pa Harry Jammeh), the Inspector General of Police (Ensa Badjie), his Nigerian Chief Justice (Joseph Wowo). The Christian minority who he had earlier showered with praises for being upright and appointed many to cabinet positions etc were not spared as he started hauling abuse at them and openly stated that Christianity was a fake religion and that only Islam was a true religion and declared the Gambia an Islamic Republic with promise to make the country a fully fledge Sharia Islamic Republic.
Yahya Jammeh tried and tested Gambians. He destroyed the rule of law institutions and all the governance structures in the Gambia, he clamped down of the free media, discredited the moral authority of most our religious and opinion leaders, compromised our professional and educated class, exposed our innate hypocritical tendencies and never-ending ability to “masala” as we pretend to be a God-fearing people.
Gambians need to change their ways as a people if we are going to avoid another Yahya Jammeh. True transparency and accountability can only happen with an independent and functional judiciary, independent oversight watchdog institutions like a National Human Rights Commission, a strong and independent Office of the Ombudsman and National Council for Civic Education, an independent and free media, a vibrant civil society, civic engagement to discuss pertinent issues affecting our lives- tribalism, religious bigotry, gender issues etc. And most importantly, the government must by all means create a conducive environment for economic development and empowerment.
Long Live The Gambia
By Emmanuel Joof (Paps)