Demagogues are the Achilles of Democracy
Alagi Yorro Jallow
President Yahya A.J.J Jammeh Babilimansa is almost a textbook demagogue, a brutal dictator and an “elephant with mosquito legs” in a China shop. The more powerful his passions and more the more uncontained his ambitions, the more likely the democratic system he inherited collapsed into despotism. Demagogues are the Achilles heel of democracy.
Demagogues like Babilimansa present themselves as representatives of the common people against elites and unworthy outsiders; make a visceral connection with followers as charismatic leaders; manipulate that connection for their own advancement, frequently by lying egregiously; and threatens established rules of conduct and constraining institutions as enemies of the popular will that they embody.
The values of the citizenry are a democracy’s most important asset. The people must understand in their bones that it is illegitimate to cling to power permanent by rigging elections, suppressing contrary opinions or harassing the opposition with impunity.
In 2016 presidential election, fear and anger became dominant political emotions. The fear was downward mobility and the anger was against tribalism; chronic corruption; uncontrollable repression; demagoguery; human rights abuses and sheer arrogance of dictator Jammeh.
The emotions were far more visceral and less attractive and majority of Gambian, the outburst of such primal emotions is disturbing, because they are so hard to contain. Elections finally respond to the fear and rage that brought down dictatorship and elevates democracy.
And the election of president Adama Barrow is a triumph of democracy and a defeat of demagoguery and dictatorship. Democracy must respond to legitimate grievances, but the demagogue’s exploitation of such grievances threatens democracy. It will be foolish not to sustain and consolidate our new democracy.
President Yahya Jammeh has created an agonizingly persuasive false myth that one man can be President for life; that only the APRC members can have access to new opportunities and lead a better life than most; and that only those who are politically connected through birth, association or sheer audacity must have an advantage and be entitled to wealth of Gambia.
It will not be easy to change our circumstances or move our country into a functional democracy because we have been psychologically complicit in creating a social system that does not respect our own needs and aspirations. Our tyranny is created and accepted by the people of The Gambia, and that is the hardest fact to accept.
Dictatorship can only arise and flourish where very specific conditions are met. Critical to an effective dictatorship are people with low self-esteem and who have a victim mentality. People who believe it is beyond their ability to effect change. The political leadership must also meet these same conditions. They must have a destructive and incessant low self-esteem and must, therefore, put to good use all tools and forms of oppression to shield their egos and vulnerability.
Dictators mirror their low self-esteem on the society which they seek to oppress. In that society, there must be individuals who are willing to support that low self-esteem with theirs.
A dictator must surround himself with praise singers and charlatans whose only interest is to see how they can benefit from him. He will then reward those who praise and fear him and incarcerate or injure those who refuse to do so.
He will bring close to him those he fears so that he may decimate their individuality and independent thought. This psychology of victim mentality thoroughly spreads itself in every sphere of society and becomes the DNA of that society. Everything is designed and manipulated to extend and fortify the dictatorship.
To dismantle such an entrenched reality requires a formidable force. Societies change slowly; a day at a time and that is our task in The Gambia. It will take new conversations about an alternative to be repeatedly discussed and share with all. It will take years of reconditioning the minds of our citizens so that they can begin to believe that they are the source of the fuel to the dictatorship; that they must shut down that supply if things are to change for the better. That is where we must go as a society.
We will face harsh resistance from those who are to benefit from retaining the status quo and a lukewarm response from those who benefit from insubstantial change. The battle of ideas that must be fought will be protracted, difficult, and unpredictable.
The Gambian people must have the foresight and the courage to continue the road of a meaningful democracy. The difficult task is how we lead our country so that our quality of life cannot be impacted upon by bad politics. How do we create a society that is not driven by fear of loss of income or assets if we choose to be on the outside? How do we prevent a dictatorship from using economics to imprison us?
The Gambia under president Yahya Jammed is guilty of perpetuating dictatorship. The middle class joined the National Intelligence Agency or the entire security forces, for example, in droves to buttress the oppression of Gambians. The greedy businesspersons, small traders and economic chancers we hear about every day who continue to seek political favor to gain an unfair advantage are also guilty of perpetuating a system that oppresses them.
It is evident that Gambians have, therefore, played a decisive role and in part created the very conditions that we continue to complain against and blame.
Yes, twenty-two years of dictatorship has been dislodged through free and fair elections; can the Gambian people destroy this pervasive and evil foundation from within? Now that we have democracy, the international community must aggressively intervene with funds and grants for a rectification program with the full support of all Gambians, home and diaspora to build a new Gambia we seek. This is the journey we must take now. We must also discard the myth that dictatorship had been brought on by forces outside beyond our control. We have changed our circumstances through a deliberate albeit slow efforts of changing our minds.
The Gambian people have made history by moving from dictatorship to democracy.