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Friday, December 1, 2023

The winds of change are turning stale…About the faraba deaths and what it means to New Gambia

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By Rohey Samba

Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow’s open letter to the President currently making the rounds on social media and reproduced on The Standard’s Wednesday paper following the Faraba deaths, sums up the nation’s mood. The Executive Secretary of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), has once again shown the mettle of leadership he is known for by calling a spade a spade…
One has no option. In precarious situations like these times, it sinks in really hard that a weak government is in power. These are bad words of course, but they are becoming the lingua franca of Gambian politics. Moreover, the expressions of shock and dismay by those who should know better have just raised the bar of mistrust amongst Gambians even higher.

As you can imagine, all of these inform a convenient distaste for government and its evasive methods of shrinking from blame, which personifies so clearly the desperation of personal ambition of our leaders in power. But rather than weigh in on a debate that is spiralling into a tsunami that is certain to head towards national harm if nothing is done about the deaths, I recall a write-up I wrote on December 2nd 2016, that was published in the Daily Observer newspaper, on December 9th 2016, the day Yahya Jammeh recanted from his acceptance of the election results that put President Barrow in power.

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“Change has come to The Gambia, our homeland. As with death, the most inevitable thing in life is change. Despite the fear of repercussion, engendered by threatening speech and callous behaviour of certain individuals, the people of The Gambia have voted by the most peaceful tool available to them. The people have by the daub of ink on their index fingers and drop of ballot balls into the ballot boxes, spoken out loud and clear. They have affirmed the jarring truth of our national anthem that: For The Gambia our homeland, we strive and work and pray, that all may live in unity, freedom and peace each day…

The election campaigns for the December 1st, 2016 elections, by the three Party Leaders were not short of exciting for the 9 days that it lasted. Each of the candidates pulled large crowds. The most massive of them all however, was undauntedly reserved for the eminent candidate in the seat of power, H.E. Yahya Jammeh. As the country’s ruler for the past twenty-two years, this was to be expected. Civil servants and certain influential people in the society did not wish to be portrayed as being disloyal to the ruling Party. They trooped in their numbers to grace the election campaigns in favour of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, A.P.R.C. But crowds can be deceptive indicators of the polls, especially with respect to elections in developing countries, like The Gambia.

Thus is the case for Mamma Kandeh, leader of The Gambia Democratic Congress, G.D.C. This is a new Party registered for the first time to participate in Presidential elections this year. The rave of reviews the new Party received from its inception was particularly favourable to most Gambians, indicating The Gambians’ ardent wish for change in this year’s elections. He pulled large crowds of supporters from the onset, giving him a good head in the bid for the presidency.

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Presidential aspirant Mamma Kandeh, was decidedly embraced by his large following for his experience in politics, having served both The Gambian and E.C.O.W.A.S Parliaments, in his capacity as Member of Parliament for the A.P.R.C Party. He was also a clear favourite among disgruntled A.P.R.C stalwarts and he was able to woo a large partisan base by his charisma and wide-ranging speeches, which were neither divisive nor offensive.

His large fan base was however reduced by the rumours that he was President Jammeh’s ploy, that he was sponsored by President Jammeh to moderate the opposition vote and give him, President Jammeh, an edge in this year’s elections. In a country where Presidential elections are won on a majority vote ticket, this made sense to many of his detractors.

Despite his repudiation of the allegations, the fact that he refused to join the Coalition of Parties, when it was formed, fanned flames and added more weight to the rumours. In the end, the large turnout on his campaign trail did not translate into votes, especially in the Greater Banjul Area and the Western Division. He came third place in the presidential race.

Adama Barrow, leader of the Coalition Party came to lead the party by an accident of fate. Following the uprisings by the United Democratic Party, U.D.P, headed by leaders of the Party earlier on this year to protest against draconian laws intended to impede the legislative process, and their subsequent imprisonment, for three years by the Jammeh regime, a vacuum was created in the U.D.P, which was filled by the eminent candidate, Adama Barrow. The Coalition of Parties, which is headed by him, and which won this year’s elections by a landslide, was formed by veteran politicians as well as newly formed political parties such as that led by Dr. Isatou Touray, the first ever female presidential candidate of The Gambia. Adama Barrow gained the ticket of Party leader as a result of a majority vote he won during the Parties’ Primaries to elect a single leader to lead the Coalition of Parties in the December 1st Elections.

The Gambian people have judiciously and consistently turned out in throngs from the word go, since the presidential campaigns began about two weeks ago, to give their support to the Coalition Party. The atmosphere during the nomination and subsequently on the campaign trail yielded the Coalition all the support they needed to stick to their agenda of ousting President Jammeh. Yet no agenda was needed for the people needed change.

Random sackings of senior officials and civil servants have left the public sector yawning with capacity gaps that have affected every aspect of civil society. Senior officials in posts of responsibility were not too supportive on this campaign trail either, as they let it be a Yahya Jammeh show and divorced themselves from the electoral process altogether. What good would it do if he won, and sacked them the next day, anyway?
I grew up in an era where we were asked, during final exams, the names of the respective Ministers responsible for specific sectors in the Government. This was impossible in President Jammeh’s era, with his legendary sackings and remarkable declaration that he has 1 Million Gambians to choose from and place in positions of responsibility. Thus we joked amongst ourselves that each one of us must keep a well-cut suit in case we were called to man a specific post in Government, unexpectedly…

Moreover, the gross incompetence of Directors and heads of institutions he appointed could be felt in every sector of the economy. Most offices in Jammeh’s era are places for chatting and killing time. Institutions are steeped in mismanagement, lack of institutional direction, unmerited placements and inherent suspicion of everybody else.

Yet, it is the fear of the incumbent, which triumphed all. A mere mention of his name in any setting was received with great caution. Every quarter of every sector had a nickname for him, in order to avoid a Jammeh spy’s audience. He was variously called Ngange Demba, Tony Daabaa, and Fine Boy etc. behind his back. That said, people still spoke their minds behind closed doors and increasingly within hearing spot, especially in the last quarter of his presidency.

The anger broiled over on the 31st December, 2015 with the foiled coup d’etat attempt by Gambian dissidents in the diaspora. Most Gambians nevertheless, were not happy with the coup. The average Gambian wants a peaceful life, with the basic necessities available to them, not a coup d’etat to replace another one. In as much as they wanted change, Gambians demonstrated in the wake of the coup that they wanted a peaceful transition that would improve their livelihoods not take them backwards.

In effect, this year was the culmination of all draconian measures by President Jammeh that finally led to his loss of the Presidential elections. Aside from the imprisonment of the leader of the United Democratic Party, UDP, this is the year that witnessed the infuriating executive directive ordering all women to cover their heads with immediate effect and the subsequent brandishing of The Gambia as an Islamic State. Whilst the directive was revoked earlier on in the year, his large women fan base dwindled with the order. The pool of educated women, like myself, felt disrespected and belittled by the seating Head of State. So did the Christians on the Islamic State issue. The time for change finally fell upon the people with a bang.

Thus, the election of Adama Barrow comes in the wake of anger, resentment and misgivings by The Gambian people, who largely feel they have been taken for a ride by the Jammeh regime for far too long. After 22 years of impunity, irresponsible governance and brutal dictatorship that relinquished their very rights to freedom of expression, The Gambian people have said unanimously that Enough is Enough! No more tolerance of Dictatorship, No more backwardness…

Whilst we still await President Jammeh’s concessionary statement of defeat, The Gambians remain agog in the dawn of the new day. In all respects, a new Gambia is born, today, the 2nd of December 2016. A Gambia that is imbued with hope.

Onwards we march towards the third Republic!”
Rolling back on these words that are etched in memory, I feel sad. I feel sad especially after reading all the opinion pieces, viewpoints and narratives following the fatal incident at Faraba. This should not be happening in The Gambia. Where has our hope gone? Is courage enough to pull us from destruction, I mean self-destruction? What do we do to avoid a repeat of the Jammeh era? Like really?
Of course, human rights violations have always been used to serve political interests.

This can be excused because the onus is primarily on the State to promote human rights. Crowd cheering, I must say however, is not my intention. In contrast, in this measly role I assume as a social commentator/columnist, I am calling on intellectual discourses to be translated into practice and human rights be cultured into the consciousness of our people. Where is our humanity?
The blatant neglect of social, economic and cultural rights of the population is the greatest human rights violation of this country and these need to be addressed in order to curb the gross indiscipline and gapping ineffectiveness of all sectors of The Gambia Government. Especially, the security services/armed forces.
The time for sincere and serious dialogue is now.

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