Since Friday, following former president Yahya Jammeh’s outburst at the Kanilai event, organised by the “Say No to NPP/APRC Alliance Group”, a lot of people have been scratching their heads and saying, “what is going on here?” It will be some time before we can begin to make sense of this daylight APRC falling-out, in order to appreciate the depth of the controversy, which now appears to have damaged the party, possibly beyond repair. In fact, it gets more and more difficult to understand what is going on, as I have continued to hear more reactions from some of those in the Fabakary Tombong Jatta camp, such as Fabakary Jatta himself, Amul Nyassi, Fatou Jahumpa-Ceesay and a few others – to Jammeh’s volcanic eruption yesterday, so to speak. These reactions from those in pro-NPP/APRC Alliance camp have in fact, generated more confusion in my mind, than clarity.
What does Friday’s storm tell us about Jammeh? Yes, Jammeh threw a tantrum on Friday at the Kanilai event, but what can we read from his latest outburst? For instance, Sheikh Tijan Hydara, secretary general and founder of the Gambia Alliance for National Unity (GANU), who has no political base to speak of, has been chosen by Jammeh to lead his (Jammeh’s) preferred alliance. Consequently, what is the raison d’etre of Hydara’s selection by Jammeh? In such high-stakes upcoming presidential election, what sense does it make for Yahya Jammeh to form an alliance with political lightweight like Sheikh Tijan Hydara?
The first point to note is that both Jammeh and his wife Zineb Soumah-Jammeh are reported to be excessively homesick and would like to return to The Gambia, as soon as possible. Apparently, they live in a remote area – so far away from places where most people in Equatorial Guinea live – and they have now had enough of that remote place, where agriculture is the only activity keeping Jammeh busy. Second of all, and more importantly, they are cash-strapped and can no longer live or afford the luxurious lifestyle they were used to. To this end, Alpha Condé, former president of Guinea, was helping them to reconcile with Adama Barrow, with a view to returning to The Gambia in 2022 – at the appropriate time. Of course, this was still at an early stage, but much groundwork had already been laid. For instance, I was reliably informed by a highly-placed source that Côte d’Ivoire’s president Alassane Ouattara already bought into the idea of allowing Jammeh to return to The Gambia at the appropriate time, and was prepared, unequivocally, to help facilitate this return and reconciliation. In June 2021, President Adama Barrow travelled to the Republic of Guinea to visit Alpha Condé, on a three-day state visit, during which an exploratory meeting was also held to talk about the formation of a possible alliance between NPP and APRC. The rest is now history.
Subsequently, Fabakary Jatta, APRC leader, and others started negotiating formally with President Barrow on forming an alliance, but as these meetings progressed, there were telltale signs that Jammeh was unhappy with his negotiators, as he (Jammeh) felt that matters were progressing at a snail’s pace and that in his (Jammeh’s) mind, no tangible progress was being made on his key demands, particularly on the issue of his seized assets. There were many giveaway signs to Jammeh’s unhappiness with Fabakary Jatta and Ousman ‘Rambo’ Jatta’s negotiation tactics. For example, as soon as it was reported in the newspapers that The Gambia’s former deputy ambassador to the United Nations under Yahya Jammeh, Retired Colonel Samsudeen Sarr, met President Barrow at State House in May 2021, Jammeh immediately asked to speak with Samsudeen Sarr and pleaded with him (Sarr) to join the APRC negotiating being led by Fabakary Tombong Jatta, in order to add value to the ongoing negotiations.
At the same time, and of course, with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear now that Jammeh’s normal modus operandi was to speak with two tongues. A master manipulator with a two-faced character, Jammeh was clearly, giving mixed messages by speaking to both camps, giving multiple instructions, and this was clearly, by design or deliberate on his part. In fact, throughout his reign, Jammeh used “divide and rule” tactic as a political strategy. This was an important factor for Jammeh’s political survival but often overlooked by academics. He had maintained power by manipulating families and creating tensions among kindred, as well as exploiting ethnic, religious and regional differences through the politics of patronage and the carrot and stick approach – a policy of selective economic rewards and privileges on one hand to his loyalists and punishment on the other, to his enemies – real or imagine. In effect, the polarisation and deep ethnic divisions in the country which he created at the time, had served as his life insurance policy for his prolonged hold onto power.
Against the backdrop that Jammeh was already unhappy with the negotiations, being led by Fabakary Jatta, and having already reached a boiling point, Jammeh’s outburst was therefore, several weeks in the making, but nonetheless, he waited for an opportune moment to explode. Essential to understanding, or unpacking the Jammeh suitcase, so to speak, is to read the confidential transcript of the meeting which transpired recently in Kanilai between the Jammeh family and Barrow, which must have emboldened Jammeh, as President Barrow made a desperate plea for help from Jammeh. By insinuating to the Jammeh family that Yahya Jammeh was indispensable to him, President Barrow unwittingly, did open up a Pandora’s box of all sorts of problems for himself. Therefore, the turning point, in my view, came when President Barrow recently visited Kanilai, and insinuated that Jammeh was indispensable to him, going forward. President Barrow unwittingly boxed himself into a corner during this recent Kanilai trip.
In turn, an already upset and angry Jammeh, having now felt emboldened, thought this was an excellent or opportune time to resort to blackmail, so to speak, and political brinkmanship, in a bid to get more concessions from a desperate NPP leadership, and in a timely manner. Having been told by Adama Barrow, through his (Jammeh’s) family in Kanilai, that he (Jammeh) was a political kingmaker, an emboldened Jammeh, naturally, is now trying to get as much political leverage on the situation as possible. In other words, Jammeh is showing that he is the boss here – and that he gets to call the shots. The Kanilai visit by Barrow clearly backfired in his (Barrow’s) face and emboldened Jammeh, thereby triggering his (Jammeh’s) latest outburst.
One interpretation is that Jammeh’s tactics can be seen as a bargaining chip in these negotiations, now likely to be led by Sheikh Tijan Hydara if his wishes are respected, in order to extract more concessions from the NPP, but is this going to be another horrible miscalculation on the part of Jammeh? Jammeh’s actions and deeds, over the years, did make his name synonymous with unpredictability and terrible miscalculation. From my vantage point, Jammeh’s outburst is combination of a long planned political chicanery, packed with spitefulness and some mastery of the situation, as this has been several weeks in the making, and of course, added to this was – political opportunism – coming hot on the heels of President Barrow’s recent visit to the Jammeh family in Kanilai, where Adama Barrow, after first taking a swipe at his former attorney general, who he blamed for Jammeh’s ordeal, declared in unequivocal terms, that Jammeh was indispensable to him. So, an emboldened Jammeh later saw an opportunity to raise the stakes by humiliating the NPP leadership in particular. But has Jammeh miscalculated once again?
After months of speculations regarding a possible “amnesty” being offered to Jammeh by Barrow, it is clear to me that although these are early days and needless to say, the situation is still fluid, it is evident that Gambians have finally turned the corner, as far as Jammeh’s return and amnesty are concerned. I cannot now see an amnesty being granted to Jammeh under the circumstances. Once again, history is repeating itself. Jammeh, the habitual flip-flopper, has scored yet another own goal by terribly miscalculating this time around. His latest outburst, in my view, is really a blessing in disguise, and is likely to have the opposite effect. Jammeh’s misreading of the political situation and his perennial misjudgement had taken him beyond the point of no return. It is now game over for Jammeh, and his day of reckoning is approaching. The good news is that Jammeh’s problems are self-inflicted and fortunately for Gambians, undoing them is not within his (Jammeh’s) own power. There has been a dramatic turn of events, and the winners here are indeed the Gambian people, particularly victims and their families, followed by the opposition.
To be continued.
The author is a former editor of Daily Observer newspaper. Now and academic and author of several books, he lives and works in the UK.