(JollofNews) – The last time I raise my head above the parapet of Gambian politics was eons ago. Circa 2003. A year the press gagging Media Commission Bill was championed by Jammeh’s consigliere, the late Baba Jobe, before a docile National assembly. Regrettably, the repressive media bill was passed and it rung the death knell on press freedom in the Gambia. In the course of the ensuing crackdown after the bill’s passage, some of us took a sabbatical leave from journalism.
During my self-imposed purdah, I have held my peace as horrible events streamed out of the country. From the side-line, I’ve looked on with shock, alarm, disgust and utter bewilderment at the dismal state of affairs.
In the Gambia, Jammeh is the state and vice versa. His iron-fisted ruled is by diktat. He’s a divisive figure and had used effectively the age-old divide-and-rule strategy to consolidate his position. His threat against the majority Mandinka tribe is nothing but a dangerous political game. He has shown to be ruthless and there is no end in sight yet to his rule.
The country is now virtually a police state where protesting or expressing a different political view from the government could be a one-way ticket to one of the secret gulags dotted around the country. We are leaving in an Orwellian nightmare where the populace has been cowed by repression and intimidation.
“You don’t feel safe anywhere, even in your home. You don’t trust even your maids or drivers. In public spaces or public transport you don’t speak about sensitive things. You’re trying to protect yourself and your family and want to keep safe,” a civil society activist told Amnesty International.
This is the daily reality of Gambians under Jammeh’s rule. No one dare to express dissent or opposition, even in the sanctuary of their homes, for fear of reprisals. Jammeh had successfully engendered fear and terror in the psyche of the population.
The brutal crackdown and persecution of Opposition Leader Ousainou Darboe and his supporters is a continued trend of repression and heavy-handedness towards those who dare to speak out. I’m struggling to understand why members of a legitimate political party could be humiliated and denied their rights for merely protesting and expressing their political views.
The rights to free expression and peaceful assembly are constitutionally guaranteed. Besides, the modus operandi of an opposition political party is to give expression to legitimate political grievances against the government. It should be noted that civil disobedience and political protest are legitimate political actions in a totalitarian society.
The testimonies of those protesting UDP supporters who were detained at the NIA made for a macabre reading. The use of torture, including beatings, rape, electric shocks and waterboarding on innocent protesters, was excessive, degrading and inhumane. It’s hard to believe that members of our security forces could be this cruel to their kith and kin.
The sham trial of Darboe and his supporters is a gross miscarriage of justice and their imprisonment a travesty of the rule of law. The reaction to the verdict has been one of disbelief and anger. This was expected given that there was no case to answer and the trial was a farce due to the incompetence of the presiding judge, Eunice Dada.
The contempt for the democratic process and the rule of law is staggering. Jammeh is riding roughshod on the rights of Gambians with impunity. The international condemnation particularly from Ecowas and the AU is half-hearted and insincere.
This shouldn’t deter us from calling vociferously for the unconditional release of Darboe and all prisoners of conscience languishing in Gambian jails. This is the high moral road to take and make a stand against injustice. Silence is complicity. In the hallowed words of Martin Luther King Jr, “Our lives begin to end the day we remain silent about things that matter.”
The silence in Gambia is deafening. Some of us are behaving as if nothing happened. Where is the cry of “Not in my name”? Who and what have we become if we simply remain silent while the rights of our fellow citizens are being violated with impunity?
Jammeh has no intention of relinquishing power. As George Orwell reminded us “no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”
Unity of purpose is the only way for Gambians to end Jammeh’s dictatorship and consign his reign of terror into the out-tray of history. We all need to unite and work together to change Gambia for the better.
The petty bickering and squabbling among the opposition political parties have to stop. The opposition leaders have to get out of their silos and start working together putting the national interest above party interest.
We need a unifier to bridge the opposition divide and take on Jammeh in the forthcoming elections. Let’s make the December elections a referendum between tyranny and justice. This is not wishful thinking. It’s achievable. The last Nigerian election is a prime example of what opposition parties can achieve when they unite.
It’s a no brainer that people always respond to politics of hope and change. These messages of hope and change should imbue the political slogans and campaigns of the opposition parties.
What is happening in Gambia is a pervasive African malaise and the remedy is unity. Countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Tunisia have all had their Jammeh moments in their histories. They have all worked together and changed the destiny of their respective countries for the better.
For Pete’s sake let put our differences aside and unite to end this Gambian nightmare.
The author is a former editor-in-chief of the Gambia’s Daily Observer Newspaper.