It’s a curious and an unedifying commentary on the state of The Gambia that almost five years since he went into exile after losing election, the actions and words of former president Yahya Jammeh continue to dominate and exercise the minds of Gambians so much.
Jammeh was thumbed down as a bad and cruel leader. According to the Commission of Inquiry into the Financial Activities of Public Bodies, Enterprises and Offices as Regards Their Dealings with Former President Yahya AJJ Jammeh and Connected Matters, better known as the Janneh Commission, he pilfered or mismanaged billions of dalasis of public funds.
At the end of public hearings of the Truth, Reconciliation & Reparations Commission in May this year, lead counsel Essa Faal said up to 250 people were believed to have been murdered under Jammeh’s rule, most of them on his orders. Many women were raped. Many were tortured. Many lost a limb. Many were imprisoned illegally for inordinate length of time. Many people were disappeared and many had to go into exile. The litany of bad deeds seems almost inexhaustible.
On 1st December 2016, Jammeh unexpectedly lost the election and the presidency and in January had to ignominiously go into exile. One would expect that someone with such an odious record would at best be reduced to a historical footnote. But here he is, being the main headline. He merely coughs and the country shakes. Jammeh is apparently still his imperious self, full of priapic ego and arrogance.
On Friday he summoned his faithful and thousands of them heeded his call and went to Kanilai to listen to him. On a crankly telephone line from Equatorial Guinea he declared that he is APRC “supreme leader” and that he does not support the party’s alliance with President Adama Barrow’s NPP and named a hodge-podge of barely-unknowns as the new executive members of his party. Basically “firing” long-suffering Fabakary Tombong Jatta and his executive.
Jammeh is not a member of the APRC executive committee. He may be called “supreme leader” by his fawning supporters but that is only a honorific title and has no basis in law at the level of the state or the party. Fabakary Tombong Jatta remains the de facto and de jure leader of the APRC and its secretary general. Almost all the key members of the party including some of Jammeh’s erstwhile closest associates have pledged their fealty to FTJ and his executive.
There is a battle for the soul of the APRC and the lines have been drawn clearly. On the one hand, thousands of APRC supporters remain loyal to Jammeh and will follow his fiat whatever it is. On the other hand, the Fabakary Tombong Jatta executive is not going anywhere. Whatever the outcome, the APRC as a party is significantly diminished.
But in this doom and gloom, there could be a silver lining. Fabakary Tombong Jatta and his executive should see their current difficulties as an opportunity for rebirth or renewal. They should rise up to the challenge and boldly accept the evil things that were perpetrated by the APRC regime. They should express and show remorse and sincerely apologise to Gambians. They should graduate from the phoney politics of dogo-dogo sycophancy and cultism and restructure the party to make it a democratic and progressive force that is not beholden to any one person. The writer Roy Bennett in The Light in the Heart, stated:
“Challenge and adversity are meant to help you know who you are. Storms hit your weakness, but unlock your true strength.”
We will see whether FTJ and his men can rise up above the storm or allow themselves to be swept away.