Discourse with Dr. Jammeh: First things first
By Baba Galleh Jallow
Of course Dr. Jammeh, since we are embarked on a discourse, we might as well try starting as close to the beginning as possible. And so we would beg to start by asking whatever happened to your solemn promises of 1994-95 to hand over power to an elected civilian government after a transition period of two years? Whatever happened to “we are not here to stay; we are here simply to rectify the mistakes of the past regime?” Whatever happened to that famous slogan of yours - transparency, accountability, and probity!? Whatever happened to “in fact, ten years is too much?” These too, are questions that have been raised innumerable times, and that will continue to be raised until the very last possible or necessary moment.
You remember, Dr. Jammeh, that when you overthrew Sir Dawda Jawara’s thirty-year old People’s Progressive Party government in the military coup of July 22 1994, there was a loud national and international hue and cry against “your illegal usurpation of power from a democratically elected government.” You remember there were loud calls from powerful foreign governments and international institutions that you immediately hand over power and return to barracks. The British Government, the United States, the Commonwealth and other bodies condemned your action in no uncertain terms and threatened to impose sanctions on The Gambia. Given the tragic experience of military regimes in contemporary Africa, it was inevitable that your coup would assail the human mind with tragic images of yet another African country headed for collapse. As responsible citizens in the media, we recognized and highlighted the irrationality of these demands for your immediate return to barracks. Of course you wouldn’t return to barracks. We argued that given that fact and your protestations of goodwill, especially your mantra of transparency, accountability and probity which, sadly, has long since disappeared from our political lexicon, you should be given the benefit of the doubt. Sanctions would have affected the poor ordinary Gambians more than they would have affected you and your colleagues in power.
It sounded particularly assuring to hear you declare that your and your fellow coupists were soldiers with a difference. You declared in a Daily Observer interview that you would never allow anyone to ever again stay in power for more than ten years, adding, “In fact, ten years is too much.” You pledged to put a limit of two five-year terms for the presidency and declared your disdain for praise-singing, drumming and dancing in Gambian politics. You claimed that you were not politicians and would never allow politicians to destroy this country. You cast yourself in the role of national savior and didn’t hesitate to make it loudly known that you risked your lives to rescue Gambians from the brink of certain disaster. And because you so risked your life, you declared that no one was going to tell you what to do or not to do. You set up the National Consultative Committee under the leadership of the incorruptible Dr. Lenrie Peters of blessed memory in order to demonstrate your sincerity and consolidate the legitimacy of the AFPRC regime. The NCC boasted a membership that instantly inspired confidence in the Gambian people and in the international community. Chaired by Dr. Peters, the NCC’s membership included Bishop Michael Cleary, Bishop Solomon Tilewa Johnson, Amie Joof-Cole, Alhaji AE Cham Joof, Deyda Hydara, trade unionists, journalists, businessmen, and other eminent citizens. When the NCC submitted its Report and Recommendations, you scored yet another political goal by announcing that you had accepted the two-year transition period chosen by the Gambian people through the NCC consultations as well as the other aspects of its report.
Seventeen years later Dr. Jammeh, you are still in power and there is no term limit in our constitution; which means that you reserve the right to contest the Gambian presidency for as long as conditions permit. Just this July (2011), you loudly declared that neither ballots nor bullets are going to make you leave power. It seems evident that you are bent on hanging on to power for as long as possible. For this reason, among many others, we make bold to argue that you made all those solemn protestations, declarations, and promises of the immediate post-coup days merely to buy time to consolidate your hold onto power. The historical evidence admits of no other interpretation. Shortly after accepting the NCC report and recommendations, our “two plus two four” shows that you engineered the so-called campaign by the so-called opinion leaders from across the country to beg you to stay in power; then you declared that since the Gambian people wanted you to stay in power, you had no option but to retire from the army and contest the presidential elections. You seem to have equated contesting elections with actually staying in power. There was no doubt in your mind that you would be elected president.
Shortly afterwards, you duly retired from the Army after promoting yourself from Captain to Colonel and changed the name of the AFPRC to APRC – the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction. We were struck by how similar your new APRC acronym was with your AFPRC acronym. It suggested a certain troubling continuity. Even more seriously, once you decided to contest the presidency, you duly purged the 1997 draft constitution of term limit provisions, thereby paving the way for your perpetual occupation of that position. You were later to declare that “if Jawara stayed in power for thirty years, why not Yahya Jammeh?” Our answer then is our answer now: Among many other reasons, Yahya Jammeh had solemnly promised the Gambian people that he would not seek reelection and when he broke that promise and sought election, it was expected that he would at least be content to stay in power for two five-year terms and hand over to a new leader who may or may not come from within the ranks of the ruling party. You have not done so. You have been in power for just over seventeen years now and you have repeatedly told us that you will stay in power for as long as you want.
You see Dr. Jammeh, The Gambia does not belong to you or any individual. We are all citizens of that nation merely by the accident of birth. And so God intended that we all equally share the country, its land, its resources, its opportunities, and all its other spaces. It is unacceptable that you or anyone who comes after you should consider The Gambia their personal fiefdom to be kept for as long as humanly possible. Gambianism holds that it is dangerous to stretch the limits of human possibility. Most who do so often come to rather unhappy ends. We shall elaborate on this point in subsequent conversations. For now, we propose to continue our discourse by examining the strange phenomenon of “orders from above” under which some of us have been arbitrarily seized and placed under detention without charge merely for expressing opinions contrary to yours or for criticizing the actions and policies of your Government. Sometimes, our only crime has been to offer your government good, well-meaning advice motivated by love of country and of our fellow beings. But a certain lack of sincerity on your part made it too difficult for you to digest good advice. You would rather have the sycophantic boot-licking and praise-singing that you so vehemently opposed in the early days of your coup.