By Mathew K Jallow, Madison, Wisconsin
It was the puzzling phone call heard around the world, conflicting and contradictory, and naturally, it deflated the hopes and aspirations of a people and punctuated a week of whirling celebrations with a moment of dystopia and resignation. The televised cameo, an antithesis to the aggregate of everything known about Gambia’s political stalemate, rattled some and left many more scurrying desperately for answers. The recorded phone call to the unwary Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, broadcast on national television, broke legal and ethical rules, and bewildered its Gambian viewers.
But, the conversations with President Sirleaf, it soon turned out, was an old recording, broadcast for propaganda purposes, to confuse and drive a wedge that questions ECOWAS’ diplomatic candour. The unravelling of this impolite phone call encapsulates the unorthodox behavior of a man for whom bluster and bravado are soundtracks of life lived on the edge of human civilization. It is quintessential Yahya Jammeh to divert attention from Gambia’s political quagmire, which threatens to ravage the country, and taint ECOWAS’ credibility forever.
Unfortunately for Yahya Jammeh, and fortunately for the rest, Gambians are, to a degree, connoisseur of Yahya Jammeh’s behavior, and can accurately discern and infer motives and meanings to his insane activities and utterances. It did not take long for Gambians to realize that Gambia’s prevailing hostile political climate was completely at variance with what Yahya Jammeh’s deceptive conversation with President Sirleaf seemed to convey. The subdued demeanour Yahya Jammeh displayed during his phone call, was out of character, but more puzzling still was the fact that nothing deterred him from projecting President Sirleaf as a sympathizer of the idea of petitioning the election results, and filing an injunction to impede President-elect, Adama Barrow’s inauguration, as a constitutional sine qua non.
But, confusion over Yahya Jammeh’s spurious phone call was short-lived, however, largely due to instantaneous research that quickly uncovered the call as older, and this further indicted Yahya Jammeh’s credibility among Gambians. Two things that have remained constant for Yahya Jammeh are his mendacious nature and deceptive character, which he has ironically often used to outsmart kings, presidents and ordinary Gambians, for decades. An Islamic cleric in Gambia recently captured the essence of Yahya Jammeh beautifully in a single sentence. “Yahya Jammeh artfully dresses his demons in the garb of Islam, but his actions are anything, but divinely inspired.” The peculiarities of Yahya Jammeh are many, but his intransigence, unmasked for the world to see, underscores the issues Gambians have been faced for so long. Yahya Jammeh’s tyranny is neither unfamiliar nor extraordinary to most Gambians, and what is so remarkable about this is the difficult life Gambians have endured in an environment of barbaric insensitivity and moral irreverence. Today, Yahya Jammeh’s perverse capriciousness is faced with a new, formidable counter-weight. And for Yahya Jammeh’s murderous regime to survive the will of ECOWAS to turn Gambia to a new political chapter, will border on the miraculous, as mysterious as the virgin birth. The disparaging Ad Hominem insults, often striking and unprovoked, have fallen silent, if only for a little while. This backdrop of quite rage underscores the depth and gravity of Yahya Jammeh’s difficult political dilemma.
In 2011, two significant political actions occurred in Gambia, which made no waves, and their media coverage was almost non-existent. In presidential elections of that year, the ECOWAS president, James Victor Gbeho declined to send election observers to Gambia, and opposition leader, Hon Ousainou Darboe, filed a petition challenging the election results.
Elections 2011 maybe behind us, but this year, Gambians have to reach back five years to make sense of elections 2016, in order to forever dispel Yahya Jammeh’s claims of the right to petition and seek injunction as redress to his perceived electoral fraud. In the elections 2011, which Yahya Jammeh won, and was duly Sworn-in for the fourth time, 277,000 registered voters did cast their ballots. It did not end there. Opposition leader, Hon Ousainou Darboe filed a petition challenging the election results, but Yahya Jammeh ignored it, and got himself Sworn-in, despite the legal challenge. If this rings a bell, it is because the whole premise of Yahya Jammeh’s recent petitioning and injunction prohibiting the Swearing-in of President-elect, Adama Barrow, failed the test of fairness and objectivity. Yahya Jammeh’s selective ignorance resonates with Gambians as it highlights his cognitive dissonance as a radical departure from the 2011 elections, when he ignored the opposition election results petition.
This year, ECOWAS roundly rejects Yahya Jammeh’s ostentatious attempts to void the people’s choice as an inelegant rejection of the spirit of the Gambian Constitution; which is an unacceptable moral rejection of Yahya Jammeh’s unfolding legal travesty. The Gambia’s political impasse demonstrates that ECOWAS will not take it on the chin this time around, and though the face-off between ECOWAS and Yahya Jammeh may not be the twilight of the gods, the tiff between them will have consequences that will reverberate all across Africa for decades to come. If Yahya Jammeh still feels compelled to subvert the Gambian Constitution, because he has done so with reckless abandon, for two decades, ECOWAS will prove that those times, those moments of strident parochialism of the past, must fade from Gambians’ and Africa’s consciousness and history. The Gambian experience has precedence in the Ivory Coast, where Laurent Gbagbo’s sage is emblematic of a platform to impugn efforts by Yahya Jammeh to de-legitimize elections he first conceded to losing.
Soon, with the imminent Swearing-in of President-elect, Adama Barrow, a milestone as significant as Gambia’s independence from Britain in 1965, will be reached. But, this is also a period of anxiety as Yahya Jammeh launches systemic purging of Constitutionalists within the military, some held in incommunicado for several weeks. And as inauguration day looms large, many senior members of the civil service are increasingly unambiguous in defining their political inclinations as it relates to the Gambia’s political impasse. And apart from members of the Gambian military fleeing across the border into Senegal, in rejection of Yahya Jammeh refusal to concede to electoral loss, just today, several cabinet ministers also resigned and crossed the border into Senegal; the Ministers of Finance, External Affairs, Trade and Forestry and Environment, adding to two earlier cabinet resignations, who also fled across the border into Senegal. The drama and hyperbole that usually swirls around Yahya Jammeh, has subsided, but until he abandons efforts to deprive the Gambian people of their political choice, he will turn into a rebel, a terrible label with legal consequences. Yahya Jammeh is intuitive and rarely demonstrates rationality in his actions, and his primitive superstition and animist belief system in supernatural powers of African dirties, is an impediment to logic and rationality.
And if Gambians regard Yahya Jammeh as the true definition of paradox, it is because the dogma he in-eloquently and un-artfully articulates, is diametrically opposite his material actions. On Thursday, this week, Gambians will celebrate a milestone as President-elect, Adama Barrow is inaugurated, conversely the window of opportunity for opponents of Constitutional change of power is closing. The thoughts of remaining a rebel must be chilling and unnerving, and not making objective self-serving decisions, will be a catastrophic failure of imagination. It is hoped that soon the innate will to live will spark courage and bring out the rare determination that lurks behind the wide-eyed fear and silence of members of the military.