A Salam Aleikum
My dear brothers and sisters,
I have chosen to address you as such as we are indeed brothers and sisters by virtue of our nationality, humanity and religion. Some of you I know quite well having taught, worked with or lived with in the same community. Some are mere acquaintances and some I do not know. Just as I do not know Yahya Jammeh having never met him in person yet he deemed it fit to categorize me as an ‘enemy of the state’ and declare me person non grata in my own country.
President Jammeh is not the object of this letter. This is a message for you my dear brothers and sisters. I pray that you read it with your heads and not your hearts. Recent trends show a growing tendency worldwide for people to read and hear with their hearts and not their minds. The Gambia is no exception. This mindless reaction to statements (oral or written) has yielded catastrophic results in many sensitive situations.
This is what I perceived when I saw your reactions to the President’s statement of the 9th December 2016 when he rejected the election results that he had accepted a week earlier on the 2nd December, 2012 and asked for a rerun under a new and God fearing IEC. The round of applause at the end of the message sent cold shivers down my spine. I could not believe my sight or my hearing. Something was not right and because of this I have decided to write to you.
Working for one’s country is indeed an honourable thing to do but working against one’s country is an entirely different matter. The Gambia had just concluded credible, free and fair elections and the people voted for Adama Barrow against the incumbent President. He, in what seemed like a magnanimous gesture at the time and in line with agreed protocols called the winner, congratulated him and promised to support a smooth transition.
For all of you including the President himself your political leadership dispensation ended that day and you were now a government in transition. From that day you should have on the first working day after this announcement, Monday 5th December, 2012 started the transition process in your various Ministries and Departments. This would have involved meeting with your senior management team and discussing how it would be done and how to transmit this message to all the staff.
While some of you have done incredibly well others have under-performed due largely to political interference from the highest office in the country and instability of tenure of office in your ministries. Whichever, category you fall under however, it was time to go for the people had spoken and a new government was coming to take over. There was no time to do anything new as moving out and handing over are time consuming and ardouus tasks and these had to be done within a timeframe of sixty days.
As the country looked forward to see this happening they were instead confronted with a bombshell. The outgoing President had changed his mnd and you his cabinet ministers had decided to go against the wishes of the people and go with the whims and caprices of the erstwhile President. As far as I could see or hear there were no dissenting voices. The images and sounds were clearly that of approval and support.
The hue and cry that has been raised worldwide by the President’s rejection of the results and his call to have fresh elections shows that it was a bad decision. A decision that did not only put his political career at risk but he by this retraction put all your political and professional careers at risk too. President Jammeh was on political suicide mode and he was taking all of you with him. Your credibility and integrity were on the line and you were willing to sacrifice them at the altar of impunity.
For me personally the respect and esteem that I had for some of you dissipated when I saw your reaction. I could not understand and still dont understand how rational and decent human beings like the ones I know could accept this. What was the motivational factor? Was it fear, greed, misplaced loyalty or an insatiable need to stay in power? Only you can answer that question. I leave it to your conscience. What I want to tell you however is that people are not happy and that history will judge you for having contributed to a potentially volatile situation?
Gambians voted for change in a peaceful election and looked forward to a peaceful transition. They had come together in a united front after several years of systematic repression and weakening of the opposition to organise themselves and participate in the 2016 Presidential elections and win even though all odds were stacked against them. An age old lesson that «it is easy to break a stick but extemely difficult to break a bundle of sticks » bore fruit. The fragmented and weak opposition are now speaking with one voice.
There is strength in unity and gone are the days when there was bifurcation of interests and individual agendas. Young people and women who were cowed into silence, have broken their silence as they openly demonstrated their support for the opposition on the streets. What is the good of a leader without followers and this is what the government under the leadership of Yaya Jammeh had achieved. He had effectively emasculated the opposition and the followership of the opposition parties was slowly eroded.
Since that fateful day in 1996 when the UDP convoy was brutally attacked at Westfield Clinic and Denton Bridge by armed soldiers resulting in serious injuries and death of some of the supporters many people have chosen not to support the opposition as a safety measure. Subsequent arrests, detentions, closure and destruction of businesses, seizure of properties, disappearnces and torture of opposition leaders and supporters, denial of basic services to areas that were deemed to be opposition strongholds led many to believe that there was no point in joining the opposition. Others took the position that «if you can’t beat them join them or leave them alone». Divergent voices and the media were also silenced, opposition supporters quelled many too frightened to show their support for any other party other than the APRC.
All this happened under the leadership of your « God fearing » leader. You cant have been oblivious to these aberrations of political rights of people. Yet you condoned this to enable him stay in power. After two decades of succumbing to the denial of their rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression people put their political and individual differences aside to unite and break the yoke of repression that was holding back their freedom. They have maybe now come to realize that their God fearing President is not as God fearing as he claims.
No God fearing person will make a statement that « he accepted the election results as the will of Allah and that as a good Muslim he would not fight the will of Allah but would take it in good faith and retire to his farm to become a simple farmer» and then a week later retract on this statement. Not only does he retract but he castes aspertions on the God fearing nature of the IEC stating that the new IEC will be composed of God fearing men and women. I happen to know all the members of the IEC team led by Alieu Momar Njie and while it is only God who knows the status of ones soul I can attest that they are all God fearing people. Only a God fearing person would have done what Alieu Momar Njie did that is declare the opposition as the winner of the elections without fear or favour.
The question I now want to ask you my dear Vice President and Cabinet Ministers is this : Is President Yaya Jammeh, the most honest, patriotic and God fearing Gambian? I think not. Yet he led many to believe that this is indeed the case. How many of your colleagues and other innocent Gambians has he accused of economic crimes and dismissed them from service or put them in prison with the active support of the legal system and the judiciary. Patriotism got a new meaning under his watch for it was measured by open support for the APRC and not by love for the country.
Any person who stood up for his or her rights or the rights of others; resisted any attempts to tamper with the Constitution; attempted to hold the government accountable by challenging or advocating for actions against officials or actions that were not in the public interest; advocated for access to good quality education, health and other basic services such as infrastructure, energy, water and so on; by giving a voice to the voiceless and most marginalised members of society; advocated for press and media freedoms and freedom of expression and association; respects the rights of all irrespective of gender, religious affiliation and income status and one who advocated for fair work ethics and against violence against women and all forms of gender based violence was regarded as unpatriotic. Hard working decent individuals who had contributed their share to national development were marginalised and described as unpatriotic simply because they held different views.
Finally and the most serious he found God fearing people and by his outer accoutrements coerced them into believing that he is the most God fearing. Many people including yourselves, religious leaders, community leaders, the young and the old all believed in this claim. Mesmerised by materialism as Jammeh gave genereously you reinforced the misconceptions by praising him for his lavish actions of giving. He gave large quantities of charity not only to the poor but to religious bodies and institutions. He paid for large numbers of people to go on pilgrimages (muslims and christians). He built mosques, gave huge sums of prize money to Quranic students for recitations of the Holy Quran. His final coup was to declare the country an Islamic state.
These plus his holding of the Holy Quran in one hand and the praying beads in the other have led people to live under the misconception that he is a good Muslim. There are special rules that Muslims must follow when handling, touching or reading from the Holy Quran. The Holy Quran itself (56 :77-9) states that only those who are clean and pure should touch the sacred text : “This is indeed a Holy Quran, in a book well-guarded, which none shall touch but those who are clean…” As a result it is generally understood that one should make formal ablutions before handling the Qur’an or reading from its text.
Those who are unable to handle the Quran based on these reasons should either avoid handling the Qur’an completely, or in necessity hold it while using some sort of barrier covering the hand, such as a cloth or a glove. In addition, when one is not reading or reciting from the Quran, it should be closed and stored in a clean, respectable place. Nothing should be placed on top of it, nor should it ever be placed on the floor or in a bathroom.
When holding what people believe to be a Quran 24/7 and in all situations-parties, meetings, in his vehicle, while walking and so many other situations Yaya Jammeh is not definitely reading the Holy text and therefore should not have it in his hand. Yet no one ever thought of or dared tell him that he was breaking the basic principles of using the Holy Quran. Thus bringing into question his knowledge of the religion whom he claims to champion.
Finally, is it fair that so much of the regions resources should be expended on a problem that is not a problem in the first place. The Heads of States of ECOWAS and the delegations who have come to mediate today the 13th December 2012, are very busy people with pressing state issues of their countries. The material resources that they have used could well have been used to solve other pressing problems of the community. They have expended time, energy and material resources into addressing a volatile situation created by a man who is only happy when he focuses attention on himself.
I thought it important that I bring these issues to your attention to help you make a decision to persuade your leader to go back to his original position or you take the personal decision to resign. Human beings suffer either due to their own mistakes or due to the collective mistakes of society. Correcting the misdeeds of a society may be beyound your capacity but it is important that you make earnest efforts to right the wrongs. The writing is on the wall and it is important that you know that ‘the game is over’. The ship is sinking. You may not want to desert the ship but you can help the captain to steer it safely to shore.
Gender and Education Specialist