By Mathew K. Jallow, Madison, Wisconsin
As a country, much of what shapes the politics we observe is not based on reality, but on the flawed way our brains process what we see around us. We draw conclusions that rely on limited information, which often result in a myopic representation of facts. In my experience living in and learning about various totalitarian regimes, the one constant is their inherent administrative weaknesses and fragility. Because dictatorial regimes use fear as an instrument of gaining control and compliance, they are able to create a false sense of power and invincibility. The truth, however, is far different from the perception, and the Gambia experience is no different from any other dictatorship, past and present. The more the terror that a regime like Yahya Jammeh’s unleashes on its people, the more it will be consumed by a morbid fear of its population. Dictatorships are, therefore, able to survive long only because they learn to create and manage the “cloud of suspicion and mistrust” that they plant among the population. Different regimes use various means to achieve their objectives, but the end result is always the same; establishment of a police and military state as instruments of repression. Thus the remaking of the Gambia into a police and military state has been long in the making, and Yahya Jammeh has now turned the Gambia into a police and military state.
Yahya Jammeh, having committed so much atrocity over the years, it was perhaps a foregone conclusion that he uses repression to hold the population down; despite the fact that The Gambia is headed to a confrontation with Yahya Jammeh and his thuggish regime. Today, because Yahya Jammeh cannot undo the violent past, nor can he placate the angry present, the only other course of action available to his regime is to continue to try to oppress the population. The secret weapon on Yahya Jammeh’s side is no longer a secret. By leveraging the unconstitutional powers granted to the National Intelligence Agency and military to plant fear in the population, the regime has managed to forestall any criticism for so long. Additionally, efforts by civil society organizations to present a united opposition front against the regime have in the past been pre-empted by the looming fear of brutality by the regime’s agents of repression. But, so much has changed in the last twenty years that it is difficult to imagine how we got where we are in the first place. The fear of Yahya Jammeh’s regime has been so pervasive that families, neighbours and friends have been ripped apart as a result of the cloud of mutual suspicion the regime planted in all levels of our society. Political dissent can and does result to murders and disappearances and criticism of and complaints about regime’s failures could result to harsh punishment. It is these draconian measures that enable the regime to survive, but such a scenario does also present answers to a different reality for the dictatorship.
Rather than represent the true face of strength, stability and invincibility, the regime’s oppressive methods do more to expose its weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The regime’s show of strength and stability, expressed in its brutal and intolerant attitude towards citizen dissent, is actually a façade that masks its mortal fear and vulnerability. As we have seen, one of the misconceptions surrounding the Yahya Jammeh dictatorship is the perception of invincibility. While the vast majority of the Gambian population shares a lethal hatred of the Yahya Jammeh regime, we remain so suspicious of each other that we are unwilling to confess our frustration and hatred of the regime to each other. In this constant grip of this fear and suspicion, we as a society, have remained mute and unwilling victims of the regime’s excesses. If Gambian’s could read each other’s minds, it would be impossible not to demonstrate our universal hatred of Yahya Jammeh, to the point of forcibly reclaiming our constitutional rights. Today, even selective targeting of the regime’s interests could shake it to its foundation, since it will project a regime in decline and in loss of control. At this juncture, it is imperative for every Gambian to understand that what the regime projects as a sign of strength, is the psychological equivalent of being numbed by paralyzing fear. Once we as a nation come to the realization that Yahya Jammeh is more fearful of the population, we will begin to understand that removing Yahya Jammeh from power and regaining our country and bringing back the peace and stability we lost so long ago, is not so hard after all.
This is not a question of tribe, because Yahya Jammeh has hurt the Jolas as much as he has hurt the rest of us. As far as many of the Cassamance and Bissau Jolas who are the bulk of the Yahya Jammeh’s support are concerned, refusing to support Yahya Jammeh, who killed more Jolas than any other tribe, is your only salvation. For now, as a country, Gambians must realize that no one is coming to save our country, and as the saying goes, “it is we that we have been waiting to save us for all these years.” The time to organize resistance is now. Such resistance must begin with a show of defiance that will include tearing down or defacing Yahya Jammeh posters around town. Once we start a campaign of defiance, it will be easy to observe how the regime will begin to crumble like a sand castle, because despite Yahya Jammeh’s frequent show of bravado, his uneasy smiles only betray the reality of a man who is scared to death of the Gambian people. Yahya Jammeh is unsure whether each day would be its last day on earth, and he can sense the writings on the wall. Gambians must save our country from further destruction, because we are the real saviours we have been waiting for. Let us stand up to this challenge. We are tired of the dying, the arrests, the detentions, the torture, the mass incarceration, the brutality, the dysfunctional government and the enslavement of our people. The time to begin the resistance is long overdue. Yahya Jammeh’s regime is standing on one foot, and overthrowing it, by the will of the people, is much easier than it appears. Let us get up and organize for the final push to the liberty of the motherland.