On the part of the security forces, jobs in that sector were reserved or identified for the undereducated and under-privileged. The few in monopoly of the state’s resources and viable top positions precluded their offspring from serving in the security forces, especially in the army. Soldiers were underfed, underpaid and could hardly build respectable families. And it was common knowledge among Gambian troops that being killed in international deployments in the service of the government such as peacekeeping missions meant being permanently abandoned there for burial. Regulations forbid Gambian soldiers killed in action abroad to be brought back home for burial until that inhumane by-law was overturned by His Excellency Sheikh, Professor Alhaji, Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh in his first days in office in 1994.
1994 also began the two decades of the immense changes that put the name of the country among the very important nations in Africa. It started with the simultaneous construction of a first class international airport and the erection of a monumental symbol of the well desired political change – the Arch 22 – at the entrance of Banjul, the capital city. Before long, The Gambia started beaming television signals all over the world, promoting Gambian core values, proud economic and infrastructural growth, cultural riches, heritage and harmony with a beautiful panorama of diverse people coexisting in a peaceful and stable modern society. Gambians started focusing more on their similarities than their differences that brought them closer together and drastically phased out ethnic, religious and gender prejudice which were chronic problems in the past.
Thanks to the president, educational facilities and opportunities have been expanded to the doorsteps of every citizen irrespective of geographical location, social or economic status or family background. Consistently, primary, middle and high schools are now accessible in every corner of the new nation with roadways and highways improved to the comfort of travelers across the 300-mile length of the state. For better economic prosperity, bridges and modern feeder roads have been built all over the north and south banks of the land to facilitate easy and rapid movement of people and goods. The health sector another concern in the past has been tremendously improved with numerous hospitals, health clinics and dispensaries built in every corner of the country. The sick or pregnant women in remote villages no longer have to face the harrowing difficulties of travelling on foot or by ox or donkey carts for miles in search of medical assistance that were often too late by the time they had reached a functional one. More qualified foreign doctors are being hired by the state to serve in public hospitals and clinics.
The Gambia now boasts of its first university accredited with excellent learning opportunities. And whereas in the past, electricity supplies were limited to few cities and towns in the country, mostly in urban areas, the president has now bolstered its capacity to reach the remotest parts of the nation which also helps in the exploitation and purification of borehole water supplies in rural areas that otherwise had in the past suffered acute shortages of water, especially during the dry seasons. Coupled with his open passion for agricultural productivity, he has by example expounded to the Gambians how to go about utilising the land to “grow what they eat and eat what they grow”, a slogan now shared by everyone committed to the 2016 target of building a Gambia that will no longer import its most staple food, rice. He has imported affordable high-tech farming equipment for the poorest farmers distributing the modern tools such as tractors, plowing and irrigation machines to them with fertilisers for healthy and profitable harvests never envisaged in the past.
His generosity is immeasurable. He shares what he gets with the poor and the needy. He constantly distributes food supplies to the hungry or underfed. Earmarking 2002 as the year to offer free education for every child in The Gambia, he nonetheless continues to sponsor the education of uncountable number of Gambian children and youth from basic to higher learning institutes.
Heads of families are shocked with joy every year when he surprises them with funding to attend the annual pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. All across the world, wherever he turns around and could help he does with the humility of a saint. He has donated huge amount of money to the major Ebola-affected states in West Africa and continue to support them into trying to arrest the epidemic. Refugees mainly women, children and the elderly from neighbouring Casamance, Southern Senegal fleeing the three-decade-old secessionist war there have always been properly received and assisted until it is safe for them to go back to their homes. With such a burden on the economy of The Gambia, he works day and night to help the Senegalese government negotiate for peace in the region. And yes, he has been making a huge difference in bringing peace there.
In a gesture that still intrigues the minds of Gambians and non-Gambians alike, he, on his own freewill took the decision to invite ex-President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara back to The Gambia from exile, the man whose government he overthrew in 1994 and reconciled their differences. The elderly former head of state was given unconditional pardon of which he in turn declared his retirement from politics. He now enjoys the status of a retired head of state, supported with all kinds of entitlements that goes with the designation-special salary, special benefits for him and his family members and other essential services guaranteed for the rest of his life. Such a thing has never happened in the history of military takeovers and perhaps will be chronicled in posterity as the first and last of its kind. It was a validation of what he has always believed in and acted upon, that as a god-fearing person, forgiving his adversaries was a concept deeply rooted in his religion and his kind heart.
As for the security forces, we only have to observe the pride and confidence in the comportment of the regular service personnel mirroring the natural effect of the positive perception Gambians now have about who they are and what they seriously mean to the security and welfare of the nation. To be a soldiers these days means holding a respectable job where the state honors and treats you with appreciation and fairness. His Excellency has recovered the remains of every Gambian soldier killed in action and abandoned in the battle fields and has successfully campaigned for the legislation of a policy that will never again allow such abuse of servicemen. The Gambia armed forces now proudly execute their duties in the country and in the international community such as UN, Ecowas and AU peacekeeping and peace enforcing missions. They upheld commendable reports from these international organisations for their discipline, hard work and professionalism. But most important about what His Excellency did for the security forces was to free them from the neo-colonial shackles of being commanded or controlled by foreign advisors. Up until 1994, and dating as far back as when the British colonialists founded the first Gambian Army in 1901, the country’s security forces had always depended on foreign advisors to tell them what to do, why, how and when. The British served in that capacity until 1981 after which the Senegalese took over, then the British again in 1984 and finally the Nigerians in 1992 before the President puts his feet on the brakes and said enough was enough in 1994.
Nowadays, the Gambian officers and other ranks do it all by themselves, tactically and technically with the guidance of the best advisor, commander-in-chief and military genius. Dispatch them on any missions and they would carry it our beyond normal expectations. Attack them and they would shift into their formidable seek and destroy skills and tactics that no ordinary force can endure. We pray for them to continue recognising the great leader behind their valuable responsibilities and achievements. That they are in the process of making history in showing the world and to everyone who had doubted them that they could do it without foreign advisors and with outstanding results.
So no matter what, the Gambian president lingers as the shining star among his counterparts, differentiated for his qualities to bluntly address what is relevant where most of them would stall under the guise of being politically correct or diplomatically submissive. For instance in early 2014, speaking at the International Conference of Human Security, Peace and Development in Abuja, Nigeria, he echoed a stern warning to the Nigerian government and people to be mindful of the activities of Boko Haram, the Muslim extremists in that country that he was certain were on an aggressive campaign to sooner or later destabilise the giant African nation. At the end of the speech, he was given a standing ovation but without the Nigerian government taking the security measures necessary to handle the problem accordingly. Not long after that, Boka Haram, just like the president predicted, surfaced in Nigeria with the kind of terror and madness associated with the common criminals using Islam to rape and plunder any territory they are allowed a foothold. In September the same year in his speech to the United Nations in New York, he seriously lamented over the unwarranted brutality faced by African immigrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea into European territories where they are treated like the worst creatures on the face of the earth. He has called for concerted efforts from African heads of state to hold these European countries accountable to what by any measure of human experience seems crimes being committed against mostly the African youth in search of “greener pastures” as mankind has been doing since the dawn of history. “At one time”, he has argued, “poor and hungry Europeans had also plundered the African continent and exploited the natural resources to our utter disadvantage which as a result developed the West into what it now looks like.” He therefore finds it totally incomprehensible for Europeans to now criminalise African fortune seekers coming to their countries with hopes of being at least treated with kindness.
But like Albert Einstein once said, “great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from weak minds”. His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh is not at all different from the “great spirits” among those the distinguished scientist recognises in his taxonomy of human nature. He therefore gets his fair dose of the venoms thrown at him by the weak-minded. They are mostly run-of-the-mill people whose miseries are always fueled by their inability to accept god’s will. They cannot understand that what we make of the world is who we are. If you get up every day and first thank god for the mysterious life he gives you and continue to enjoy every moment of it as if it were your last day on earth, which could be, then surrendering to the millions of incomprehensible things he does will be as refreshing as the comprehensible ones we also accept without questioning. So we must accept his actions when he chooses his leaders of nations different from whom we believe should have been the right or wrong choice. In most cases whether to our conscious knowledge or not our choices tend to lean on biased foundation with our preference of those we believe fit our profile of the good, better or best. That is what is called “natu” meaning self-inflicted inconvenience in the Wolof language. Accept the world as god reveals it to you every day and you will start enjoying the beauty of the life he gives you as well. Inconvenience yourself with working to change it instead of changing your state of mind and you will live in misery forever. His Excellency, Sheikh, Professor, Alhaji, Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh is a God-created soul tasked with the responsibility of ruling The Gambia until his job is finished, a divine reality that cannot be altered by any amount of hate, insult, conspiracies or military attacks directed at him and his government.
In conclusion I wish to register our pride and admiration to his wonderful wife Zineb Yahya Jammeh, whose commitment to stand with him, take care of him and his children illustrates the dynamic strength of a special wife, mother and first lady. We pray for her and her children to live long in happiness, good health and success. The Gambia owes them every imaginable reward for ever. May the Almighty Allah bless your whole family.
Happy New Year, 2015, Your Excellency, together with your entire family members.
(Samsudeen Sarr for APRC supporters in the USA)]]>