Many have been impelled by common circumstances and urgent sense of impending doom to question the sincerity of Gambian’s clamour for change. The latest was Yahya Darboe whose stratospheric frustrations with the Gambian persona caused him to characterize Gambians as “serial betrayers”.
It sounds like a dumb question ,but it is not.It is a major wonder to most people why president Jammeh has been able to preside over the country for such a long period of time with immense brutality without a major revolt for long stretches of time.
Contrary to the opinions of most observers impatient with the seemingly stinging dearth of appetite for change, Gambians do not despise their destiny neither have they left it to the whims and caprices of certifiably mad Yahya Jammeh. As a matter of fact, the rule of the president has not continued unabated without challenge. I can vividly remember the April 10revolt of 2000 when 14 protesting students were brutally killed .I was thirteen years at the time and in the 3rdgrade when news seeped in of fatalities in student demonstrations being held across major schools in the Greater Banjul Area against the brutal torture to death of a fellow student Omar Barry by security forces .The developments had an even more poignant and personal touch because one of the first fatalities ,a Red Cross volunteer ,Omar Barrow was from my village Gunjur.
As the day wore on, unconfirmed news spread in the village of more fatalities and more students having access to guns with regime change impending .It was difficult to separate facts from fiction at the time but reaction to news of developments left no doubt that there was gargantuan appetite for change a hope that was hugely disappointed due to the violent way the protests were put down upon the orders of the president.Leading the Gambian army at the time as chief of defense staff was Babucarr Jatta who handed orders to soldiers to use live bullets on the orders of the president who was in Cuba at the time on a state visit.
This watershed moment in the history of The Gambia did not succeed in bringing about the change it was meant to but what it did succeed in doing was bringing the government to a greater awareness of the need for better treatment of citizens and the power of the student body who organized the protests.
The government was shaken to the core and to ensure the emasculation of the student body while decimating their capabilities to stage demonstrations in the future that threatens the stability of the government;Yahya Jammeh set about bankrolling a rival body named National Patriotic Students Association whose proclaimed mission and vision is allegiance to the government. They left no stone unturned in their crusade to spread their patriotic fervor across schools in the breadth and length of the country.
There have been several attempts to remove the government by serving members of the armed forces which all proved futile and were followed by brutal reprisals .The earliest of these was led by a major in the army named Basirou Barrow who was allegedly executed in the aftermath of the coup.
Similar attempts followed in 2006 and 2015.The president was out of the country when a coup led by then chief of defense staff colonel Ndure Cham failed.This was perhaps the brightest opportunity any group military officers had in restoring democracy to the country .But due to a personal row between two senior officers Lang Tombong Tamba and Ndure Cham over leadership positions the execution of their strategy became deeply flawed and the president had to make a rapid return home.
Lang Tombong Tamba allegedly called the president to inform him of the attempt to remove him and he supervised the arrest and detention of other members of the plot.The alleged ring leader Ndure Cham escaped to neighbouring Senegal where he has remained to date in exile.
More arrests followed of the alleged co-conspirators of the move including the then head of the dreaded National Intelligence Agency,Daba Marenah.He was with the president at the time of the coup and was reported to have dissuaded him from returning home without success. He was arrested upon arrival and tried with others in a military tribunal which found them guilty and issued long sentences. They were allegedly executed by the government agents but the press release by the government of a different story. The coupists mounted a resistance and escaped while being transported to a major high security prison on Janjanbureh Island.It was only years down the line that more light would be shed on the circumstances surrounding their disappearance by people who were once close.Bai Lowe who used to be a member of the secretive black black murder outfit would tell in media inteviews of how the coupists were brutally torturedwith hammers and executed which was videoed and presented to the president.
Bai Lowe would later join a group of people seeking to overthrow the government of The Gambia in an ill -fated attempt that saw several of the conspirators killed.
The fall out was so huge that family members were arrested and detained for month.It was only later on that they were released following intense international pressure.
Addressing a crowd of supporters supposedly protesting the attempt on his life at the July 22ndSquare,the president announced the execution “like dogs” of those who tried to remove him.
The more challenges and attempts on his life the president survives, the more he acquires an aura of invincibility and immortality. In fact, once in the grip of high spirits, president Jammeh proclaimed he would rule for a Billion years.With the emergence of the coalition, Jammeh’s exit might come sooner than he envisaged or predicted by his coterie of marabouts and soothsayers. Whatever, the out come of December 1st elections , Gambia will never be thesame.
Gambia has grown unstable once again, revealing its true, capricious, tormented nature, its anguish of a nation that has lost its sense of itself and wallowed, accordingly, in the impotence of its selfish, angry present of masks and parodies, stifled and twisted by the insupportable, unrejected burden of its past, staring into the bleakness of its impoverished future.
The killing of Solo Sandeng and persecution of the citizenry;as well as compounding economic hardship endured by the majority of Gambians will more often than not bring his reign to an abrupt halt.
President Jammeh would have found wisdom in the lyrics of Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan who sings:
‘Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.’
A word for the wise is enough and fervently do I hope Sheikh Professor Babil Mansa Yahya Jammeh is not a fool at 50 , at colossal personal cost to him.