Ask not where I was during the 22 years of terror. Where were you?


 By Nyundu Drammeh

Where were you when Jammeh was wreaking havoc on The Gambia; when he was killing and maiming people who had no power to hurt or harm him; when he was looting the public treasury and imprisoning people on trumped-up charges? Where were you when Jammeh was……?’ These and similar charges fly around all the times, against people who may have said or done nothing, very little or just looked askance or who worked behind the scenes and refused to publicise their contributions for the world to know. It is also now thrown in the face of anyone who tries to speak out or merely expresses a dissenting opinion from the mainstream or tries to hold the new duty bearers accountable.

Many of us, myself including, may have chained ourselves in fear, may have engaged in ‘self-preservation’, may have dined and drank with the devil, may have sold a friend or colleague to the crocodile…. Many of us may have used our power, position, clout, influence and public trust to facilitate the birthing of the tyranny, injustice and murder that became him and his regime even when they knew that these actions were against human dignity, God, the laws of the land and societal mores……. Many of us also looked the other way or failed to speak up and out because we were not directly touched by the ‘electric broom’ or did not have a relative who was buried ‘six feet deep’…..


Many of us, including yourself, may have done nothing physical to remove Jammeh but may have engaged in endless prayers in the mosque or church, for God’s wrath and damnation to descend on Jammeh and his cronies. Countless others may have braved danger and hostility when they went out in their numbers to cast their votes against Jammeh. And yet many may have used their pens, microphones, laps tops, mobile phones, Facebook pages, ‘connections’ in diplomatic world to expose the tyranny, injustice and misgovernance that had characterised and defined the Jammeh regime….. Many may have wired their hard earned monies to the Coalition’s accounts home, to contribute to the campaign basket…..These contributions may be insignificant in your eyes but their aggregate, the sum total, helped to bring an end to an inglorious history.

Thus, every Gambian and lover of human rights and good governance did his or her quota, known, unknown, big or minuscule in the Jammeh ouster. Few played the role of leader; majority were followers and all actuated by nothing but the desire to see the chain of bondage broken. Where were you? What did you? These are questions the questioner should also ask himself or herself. May be if we know the role you played, we would be able to know if it really measured up to the role played by those who paid with their lives, suffered privation, torture or imprisonment or endured the eternal void created by the absence of a bread winner. It certainly would not. But that does not make your contribution any less significant. It added to all those drops that turned into a vociferous wave which swept away Jammeh. So next time you want to lampoon someone for ‘playing Nero’ while Gambia was burning, ask yourself what role you actually played and whether you alone could have brought about ‘New Gambia’.

And yes, we are also so quick to tag people as ‘enablers’, whatever that label connotes in political science or sociology or Gambian politics. We are judged, or rather misjudged, as to where we stood in The Gambia’s time of need and desperation, what role we played when the going was tough and the chips down or when mayhem hanged over our heads like the sword of Damocles. In fact, for some people anyone who had worked in the civil or public service during the Jammeh regime was an ‘enabler’. Some of us were directly complicit and others, through their acts of omission. Some of us engaged in self-preservation…..

But even most of these ‘enablers’, after Dec. 1 2016, a significant point in our political evolution, realised that if they remained silent the Frankenstein Monster would come to devour them all; that it was better to live in freedom than be in a golden cage. They spoke out, trade unions, professional bodies, civil society organisations, individuals, the diasporans, all who truly believed in the right of people to live in dignity and honour. Were these efforts ‘too little, too late’? Certainly not. They also help to galvanise public spirit and energised the international community to stand up with the people.

So when people speak their minds on a political question or issue of the day, when they express an opinion, however much we may disagree with it, should we remind them about their position in the 22 years of our dark history? Should we shout them down because they were ‘quiet’ or ‘silent’ in the past? Should we insist that only voices that were loud and known in the past should be heard in New Gambia? How would we quantify the weight of such voices to the liberty we got? At what point should a voice in the struggle for liberation be regarded as significant-at the beginning, the middle or at the end? In New Gambia every voice should matter, every voice should count and every voice should be heard or be given the opportunity to be heard. President Barrow recognises this and is listening. We should follow suit.

What if we only at the consistence and integrity of the person, the past and the present? By ‘consistency’ I do not mean that which is the ‘hobgoblin of little minds’; that sort of ‘consistency’ which is always looking out for insignificant, petty discrepancies and differences, comparing and judging, going for the jugulars and looking for points to score as if in a debating competition. What if we look at the person’s opinions or actions and how they align with his or her set of values and principles, how the two dovetail neatly? What if, before we use the sledge hammer, we juxtapose the criticism or support directed at the government or a person against the values and principles of the critic or supporter? Who believes in free speech cannot deny that right to others. Our position, all the time, must be determined by our set of values and principles. And when people know that our support or lack of it will always be determined by our values and principles, by our own creed and personal values, they will respect and honour us; they will find us predictable and dependable.

While remembering the past is important, we cannot let it hold us down. We cannot let Jammeh be an excess baggage which we to carry into our future. We cannot continue to ask the question ‘where were you when Jammeh was unleashing his terror on the people?’ as an excuse to silence people or stifle their opinion. We cannot continue to regard Jammeh as a standard to measure our current progress, for Jammeh was not a standard. But we must, in all honesty, do justice while insisting that Jammeh’s undemocratic ways and manners never come to define or characterise what we do, say and become in New Gambia. We must constantly be reminding ourselves and the new governors that we have a covenant or contract and each must fulfil its part, us our responsibilities, they their obligations. And our governors should know that they will benefit more from criticisms than from eulogies.