Barrow Rejects Gambia University’s Trap That Beckons Trappings of Tyranny  

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“A society that wishes to be both ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, wants what never was, and never will be.” Thomas Jefferson

By Ebrima G. Sankareh, Editor-in-Chief

AFTER TWENTY-TWO YEARS OF YAYA JAMMEH’S HARROWING DICTATORSHIP that forced thousands to flee The Gambia, disappeared hundreds and liquidated hundreds of perceived political enemies by a mercurial megalomaniac peddling false academic credentials as his citizens languished in abject poverty, one would have thought that the University of The Gambia would have been the main beacon of hope against any further perpetuation of tyrannical trappings. Instead, the University authorities and their comrades within the corridors of political power, exercised poor judgment and awarded an honorary doctorate to Gambian President Adama Barrow at Bakau’s Independence Stadium during the institution’s 10th  Convocation ceremony on Monday.

Evidently, that hope of the University of The Gambia as a premier academic institution standing as a safeguard against any inching by the new regime towards tyranny is simply, a forlorn hope.

Exactly one year into office and only by a trite colonial tradition that Heads of state regardless of one’s scant academic credentials, automatically become Chancellors of National Universities, President Adama Barrow became the immediate Chancellor of the University of The Gambia after his quack predecessor, Yaya Jammeh, who insisted on being called Professor thanks to the University’s servile adulation with an Honoris Causa, was banished to Equatorial Guinea where he now awaits his precarious fate.

Jammeh, a bespectacled 29 year old errant army lieutenant who catapulted himself to the pinnacle of political power on July 22 1994 promising to fix ‘rampant corruption’ and perennial economic mismanagement, quickly consolidated his grip on power thanks to a coterie of elite bureaucrats and hotchpotch academics highly sophisticated in a culture of sycophancy that enables them to loot and destroy our country and so long as they and their families enjoy the high life, they care less about the feelings of the masses. That precisely, has been the history of Gambian society since independence in 1965. The most tragic of all Gambian ironies is that our so called intellectuals, most of whom were educated on tax payers’ funds, have been more dangerous to our development efforts than those they perceive and often caricature to be lesser citizens.

Jammeh, a simpleton that appeared on the political stage with less than impressive high school education and a checkered military career characterised mostly by a litany of disciplinary problems was at the recommendation of Gambian University officials and bureaucrats at the then Ministry of Education on purely personal gains, awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree (Honoris Causa) much to the consternation of many observers as the nation was reeling from the aftermath of numerous grisly murder scenes perpetuated by none but Jammeh and his gang of criminals. Despite the macabre murder of Jammeh’s Finance minister Ousman Koro Ceesay, the liquidation of a dozen or so army officers in the wake of the November 11, 1994 failed counter coup and the routine torture of perceived political enemies by both the security forces and the July 22 Movement, our scholars at the University of The Gambia, lobbied the Canadians who operated a Gambian campus under St. Mary’s University, to award The Gambia’s Murderer-in-Chief, Yaya Jammeh, an honorary Ph.D.

Predictably, the tyrant who had a penchant for accolades, wasted no time in seizing the opportunity accorded. To use a baseball metaphor, it became his political “home run” and in the years that followed, it was used to fetch him more impressive titles both traditional and academic— Sheikh Professor, Doctor Alhaji Babili Mansa, Nazirudeen, Halal Walal, Oga patapata and any radio or TV announcer who misses or mispronounces any of these titles, was at the mercy of his wrath.

Thanks to the University of The Gambia and a gang of medical doctors who equally perpetuated the myth of Jammeh’s celestial prowess, the bandit now adorned with a PhD and Professorship, lied that he could cure HIV Aids, diabetes and hypertension and with the help of some dubious faculty on the University of The Gambia, he became an international spectacle when he appeared on CNN International mocking world renown academics and with stupefying bravado, claimed he could cure the global pandemic that has claimed millions of lives. The UNDP Chief who dared to contradict his claims was immediately declared persona-non-grata and ordered to leave Banjul within 48 hours amid hyped Radio and TV commentaries that Prof Jammeh could cure Aids and as the madness metastasized, infertility was added on to the list of diseases the quack claimed to treat.

Significantly, with his fall from grace, there is now evidence aplenty that Jammeh, the University faculty and the medical duo were all complicit in a game of lies perpetuated against our citizens and others and their primary motivation was to divert millions of development aid dollars into their personal accounts as hospitals and clinics in The Gambia experienced unimaginable decrepitude that President Barrow’s government now wrestles with. Due to their lies and complicity that Jammeh could cure all these ailments, several innocent Gambians perished and today, some of these scoundrels walk the streets and continue to practice medicine just like the murderer who graduated from the University’s Law School, practised law and now enjoys ‘regional appointment’ under the Barrow regime. Are there sacred cows in  Gambian matters? I dare ask!

With Jammeh off the political scene, one would have expected that the University of The Gambia would have been at the forefront preaching the gospel of unfettered freedoms, democracy, human rights and tolerance. Not only that, faculty and officials of the University as well as senior officials of the parent ministry who wield enormous political gravitas, should have been guiding the new administration against any propensities towards excesses and any avenues that could entice or encourage the newly elected president against hollow titles that could potentially stray him from the duties he was elected to perform. No! Instead, probably blinded by personal gains and a sheer determination to have undue access and proximity to President Barrow, who only recently rejected the veneer of the title ‘Alhagie’, they bestowed him with the honorific, ‘Doctor of Laws and Human Rights’ (Honoris Causa).

Yet, paradoxically, while some of us in the Diaspora have for 22 years relentlessly fought against Yaya Jammeh’s authoritarian regime, most of these academics were busy eulogising the tyrant on the pages of the Daily Observer newspaper. The Observer that I once rebuked as The Gambia’s national stenographer (thanks to its epideictic headlines) is littered with shameful eulogies and oversexed commentaries by some faculty of the same university who probably thought Jammeh’s sun never sets.

Contacted by The Gambia Echo on this latest development, respected Gambian academic Professor Abdoulaye Saine of the Miami University in Oxford, Ohio who spent two decades fighting against Yaya Jammeh’s tyrannical regime has this to say: “while Gambian society is largely anti-intellectual, Gambians, especially the bureaucrats, love titles even though most of the people claiming the academic accolades have none whatsoever. This is a worrisome trend I noticed among Gambian elites and on a daily basis, you see this in newspapers and hear it on state broadcasts” Saine laments. According to Saine, Gambians are often very jealous of people’s well-earned, legitimate degrees, yet the same people will turn around and claim titles they never received.

I could not agree more with the erudite Gambian  scholar who unlike most of the people he alludes to, choses to be simply called Laye or Ablaye Saine. On the Gambianist scholars’ website he operates from the Miami University, where I had the singular honour witnessing his ‘Distinguished University Scholar award’ in the Spring of 2014, I have often seen him advise colleagues not to address him Dr or Professor.

Crucially, after 22 years of living in exile in the United States, I returned to The Gambia last Spring following the fall of Jammeh’s regime primarily to collect materials that were hitherto beyond my reach for my doctoral thesis only to realise that there were some Yaya Jammehs among Gambian academics. Out of nauseous nostalgia, I had returned to 1A Hagan Street where the slain journalist, Deyda Hydara and Pap Saine operated The Point newspaper and where for years before my Western odyssey I had worked with the duo. No sooner had my interlocutor parked the car next to the old newspaper office, than I noticed an old acquaintance who now teaches at the Gambian University. Out of joy, I simply called him by his last name but I’ll  live to regret it. My old friend angrily reacted and threatened to sue me if I dare call him by his last name without the title ‘Dr.’ Initially, I took it to be a joke between old pals who for two decades were separated by a tyrannical regime only to realise that I was living in a parallel universe from the Gambian dispensation. In the end, my interlocutor literally forced me to apologise and call the dude by his preferred academic credentials if that would give him some “15 minutes of glory” as my colleague Mathew Jallow likes to say.

This then sums up a Gambian predicament where hollow titles and ceremonial adorations reign supreme; where university officials compromise their integrity only for fame and access to the corridors of political power paying little or no attention whatsoever to the ramifications of their actions and decisions.

Crucially, credit must be given to Mr. Adama Barrow who politely sent a media advisory late this night saying that while he appreciates the University’s gesture, he prefers to simply remain Mr. Adama Barrow, no more no less! According to the advisory, “The President accepts the honour and sees it as a challenge to him, his government and people of The Gambia to maintain and keep improving on our Human Rights as a country.”

To this we must admonish our brains at the University of The Gambia to begin to think beyond the rarefied corridors of academia as it were, and take a cue from the immortal words of Thomas Jefferson that: “A society that wishes to be both ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, wants what never was, and never will be.”

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