Nearly two years after The Gambia’s longtime ruler was defeated by a coalition of opposition parties in December 2016 elections, the former governing party held Sunday a Quranic recitation ceremony to mark July 22, the day a group of disgruntled soldiers dislodged President Dawda Jawara from power. But the current leadership of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) has made it clear they are not celebrating Yahya Jammeh’s coup d’état, but rather the birth of the party.
The APRC Spokesperson Musa Amul Nyassi told this reporter that in 2017 they were denied permit by the Inspector General of Police to celebrate the birth of their party and they opted this year to organise a Quranic recitation ceremony because they are committed to obeying the law.
“We’re not celebrating a coup d’état,” Mr. Nyassi, a former Minister of the Jammeh regime, emphasized in an attempt to silence critics who accuse the APRC of commemorating the illegal seizure of power.
Yahya Jammeh’s rise to power was punctuated by a military overthrow on July 22nd 1994 when the three-decade long civilian government of President Jawara came to an end. The the junta members who turned themselves into civilians, subsequently formed the APRC, with Yahya Jammeh winning the widely disputed 1996 presidential elections. Mr. Jammeh emerged as the first President of the Second Republic.
Musa Amul Nyassi, who also doubles as National Assembly Member for Foni Kansala, said the occasion provided an opportunity for them to pray for the country, for the founding fathers of the party, as well as for peace to prevail in the country.
“For some of us, fasting was the best option,” he added.
When asked what is holding the APRC leadership to make a public apology for the atrocities committed under the Jammeh regime, he responded: “Apologize for what?”
Nyassi sidestepped the question and expressed their commitment to the reconciliation agenda spearheaded by President Barrow.
Mohamed Sandeng, who also spoke to this reporter, agreed that July 22 should have been used by the former Junta leaders to make a mea culpa.
“I don’t think APRC people are responsible for July 22. The gang of five that led the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) to power are the brain behind this tragedy that plunged the country into dictatorship,” Sandeng said.
The son of United Democratic Party (UDP) activist Solo Sandeng, killed in April 2016 for leading a demonstration for “proper electoral reforms”, made it clear that the gang of five officers including Yahya Jammeh have to apologize to the Gambian people for the crimes they committed.
He described the current leadership of the APRC as opportunists, saying they are only busy preserving their interests.
“The best thing the APRC members should do is to dissociate themselves from dictator Jammeh,” he observed.
Sandeng described the leaked audiotape highlighting conversations between ex-dictator Jammeh and the party’s top brass as a provocation. “It was intentional and aimed at disrupting the peace prevailing in the country. It was a disguised attempt by Jammeh to say “Hi” to Gambians,” he added.
A prominent Gambian activist Saul Mbenga concurred that “the knuckleheads amongst them will never apologize…”
Mbenga, who also works for the Gambia Center for the Victims of Human Rights Violations stated that some of Jammeh’s supporters will be caught by history as if they are waiting for the Truth, Reparations and Reconciliation Commission (TRRC) to start its sittings.
“When victims will face Gambians live and direct, to tell their stories, there would be no way to deny,” he said.
He expressed skepticism about the current government’s committment to make things happen, denouncing what he termed as “selective justice.”