Gambia: The Ramifications of President Jammeh’s Bigotry

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The Ramifications of President Yahya Jammeh’s Bigotry

By Mathew K Jallow, Madison, Wisconsin

This week, Gambia’s military regime is mandated to appear before the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to perform an absolutely impossible tap dance; defend its less than stellar; in fact, downright horrendous human rights record. Ideally, the plethora of Gambian civil society organizations, speaking in one voice, ought to have presence at the UN in order to turn the military regime’s elaborate schemes of lies and deception on its head by providing UPR with conclusive evidence, including former participants in the regime’s atrocities, to contradict Yahya Jammeh’s penchant for downplaying his shocking twenty years’ human rights record. But the strategic and tactical differences in civil society organizations’ opinions on some key issues, notwithstanding, there is consensus that military rule in The Gambia has, to put it mildly, been absolutely horrific. The regime’s efforts at rewriting its disastrous rights record before the UN Universal Periodic Review panel is a boondoggle likely to fall flat in the effort to represent a more humane face to an already doubtful international community. The regime’s complete lack of appreciation of the gravity for the festering social and economic challenges caused by Yahya Jammeh’s destructive public policies would have been comical if it were not such a serious matter for the vast majority of Gambians. Clearly, Yahya Jammeh’s tribal policies have launched the biggest post—Yahya Jammeh threat to Gambia’s national security. By depriving other tribes of social and economic security, the regime has created Gambia’s future political challenges.

Yahya Jammeh’s relentless effort to influence Gambia’s social dynamics, by among other things, trying to change the country’s demographic character, is heavily influenced by his false, if not ignorant, attachment to the belief in the existence of Jola marginalization during the ousted P.P.P government. Consequently, his tribal perceptions and efforts to rewrite history have been the foundation of the blueprint of his regime’s governance system, something which has succeeded in establishing the foundation for Jola marginalization in a post-Yahya Jammeh Gambia for decades and generations to come. The tyranny of the Jola minority cannot survive the collapse of Yahya Jammeh’s undemocratic hold on power, but Gambian civil society and the political establishment have an obligation to defend the Jola minority from certain reprisals by other majority tribal bigots. And to think that Gambians will allow the insignificant number of ruling Jola minority and other beneficiaries of the military regime’s corruption, to retain their stolen wealth, is like living in a fool’s paradise. There is certainly a natural tendency for every society, whether based on geographic construct, tribe or bound together by other common interests, to create social and economic advantage or equilibrium to their benefit. And in previous generations wars of conquest were fought for both social and economic dominance, but over the past half century since the advent of political independence, the tribe as a sociological construct has been used principally by African politicians as the dominant method of achieving goals that advantaged their minority tribes, and by extension, deprived majority tribes of their human rights as well as social and economic civil rights.

Since political independence in the 60s, African tribes that numerically lacked advantage have risen to prominence through what political scientists refer to as the “tyranny of the minority,” and The Gambia is a text-book example of this political anomaly. The colonial construct of political boundaries made possible the rise of individuals of tribal minorities to positions of prominence and guaranteed their eventual rise to political dominance during age of military rule in Africa. But this phenomenon goes far beyond the borders of the continent, but in Africa, instances of “tyranny of the minority” under “Field Marshal” Idi Amin Dada, Col. Mumar Ghadaffi, Sekou Toure and Emperor Jean Bedel Bukassa, among others, found place in countries where leaders own tribes’ minority statuses were evident. And last week, when a sympathizer tried to justify Yahya Jammeh’s preponderance for tribal bias in hiring of unqualified and uneducated minority Jolas into every key state position, at the total exclusion of qualified members of the majority tribes, it became apparent that his propaganda around the issue of Jola marginalization was catching on among gullible members of his Jola tribe. The article writer citing Yahya Jammeh’s reference of the Jolas as maids in Gambian homes as the evidence of their economic marginalization. Although this is totally inconsistent with reality, it was clearly the first sign Yahya Jammeh’s misinformation was being given such legitimacy and credibility. But the fact remains that every immigrant group to The Gambia; from Mandinkas, Fulas, Wollofs, Serahules, and Sereres, has always tended to gravitate towards the occupations that suit their skill sets, and Jolas are no exception to this unwritten rule.

With nearly all domestic maids consisting of Jolas from Cassamance, Senegal, The Gambia’s ousted PPP government had no control over the jobs Jolas chose to do, nor to those of other migrating tribes. On the contrary, Gambian Jolas were exposed to the same opportunities available to Gambian citizen regardless of tribal origin and as citizens took advantage of the opportunities. The Jolas from Cassamance, Senegal, often referred to by Yahya Jammeh, were not under the charge of The Gambia government. Consequently, Yahya Jammeh’s frequent reference of the Jolas as The Gambia’s domestic servants, ought to have been addressed to the Senegalese government, which has legal responsibility for Cassamance Jola citizens. The moral responsibility Gambia has for its Foni Jola citizens is not the same as the one it has for Cassamance Jolas, who are Senegalese nationals. Yahya Jammeh is clearly agonizing over something Gambia’s previous government had no moral responsible for or control over. And after two decades projecting the same erroneous rationale for creating the “tyranny of the Jola minority,” Yahya Jammeh has also succeeded in pitting the Jolas against Gambia’s majority tribes, but more importantly, he has put the Jolas in an impossible defensive position for crimes he committed. By and large, the majority of Gambian citizens understand that most Gambian Jolas are also victims of Yahya Jammeh bigotry, and some lost their lives opposing what they saw as the collapse of tribal harmony and the loss of their own prestige in the communities where they peacefully co-existed with Gambians of all tribal stripes through the centuries. But even as Gambian vouch to protect innocent Jolas from physical harm, their guaranteed marginalization in Gambian will last for years, if not decades. And Yahya Jammeh bears full responsibility for the fate that awaits the Jolas in a post-Yahya Jammeh Gambia. Gambians’ moral responsibility to its citizens is to swimmingly pivot Yahya Jammeh’s tribal bigotry from potentially severe civil upheaval to benign instability.

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