The Catastrophe Of Gambia’s Prison Culture And Its Mind-numbing Incarceration Crisis

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A last week’s indignant headline in the Daily News casting the godless Gambian judiciary and Kangaroo court system as unbearable embodiments of Yahya Jammeh’s imperial regime, might to some seem pietistic, or it may even have appeared as an ostentatious political grandstanding, yet no one will equate it to a canting expression of ecclesiastical pontification. The paper’s unequivocal indictment of the growing culture of incarceration of young, productive Gambian men is a challenge for political introspection that goes beyond the trivialities of narrow political self-righteousness. The sweeping criminalization of Gambian society for even the most innocuous and trivial, deriving from the mean-spiritedness of a clueless regime, deserves our collective condemnation; a sentiment recently re-echoed by more harrowing news of even more incarcerations. Under Yahya Jammeh, the acculturation of a prison industrial system as the panacea and convenient copout for his regime’s pungent administrative failures, effectively demonstrates the tentativeness of a political system ardently blinded to its own ideological waywardness and dank criminality.

The most recent victim of this Orwellian gulag, Lawyer Lamin Mboge, whose letter castigating the Gambia Bar Association could have been written by my Medina Sering Mass primary six students, did not endear himself with the broader Gambian population. In a futile effort to appease Yahya Jammeh, Mr. Mboge, the cantankerous epitome of a truly hopeless and demoralized society, brilliantly displayed a less than lawyerly betrayal of a cause Gambians are demonstrably invested in. Yet even this cowardly exposition of his inglorious self-preservation campaign could not save him from the cruel excessiveness of Yahya Jammeh’s political apostasy and peerless shiftiness. The hapless lawyer, whose pharisaic subordination to the avatar of boundless political power, Yahya Jammeh himself, now stands as the newest guest of the notoriously oppressive Mile 2 Prisons. The regime’s lethargy to even the most innocent criticism is manifested in this jarring incarceration epidemic that is now on the cusp of mindless absurdity. And just this week, the Daily News again lamented that the further deterioration of the regime’s apocalyptic exercise of power has reached a new milestone with the arrests of innocent citizens whose crimes was to have failed to salute Yahya Jammeh’s speeding militarized convoys.

Today, with an unprecedented number of citizens incarcerated than ever in our history, the political abuse in our country has reached the crisis point and is headed towards the breaking point. The use of incarceration as an instrument of political control is a wilful violation of citizen rights and demonstrates an insensitivity and rank stupidity almost unmatched by any other country in modern African politics. The total lack of accountability for the succession of egregious crimes that range from extra-judicial executions to witch-hunting deaths and now the arrest of citizens who fail to salute Yahya Jammeh’s convoys, is a pattern that has progressively worsened to embolden Yahya Jammeh to further push the boundaries of unacceptable behaviours to new extremely intolerable levels. The recent spate of arrests of citizens for not saluting his speeding motorcades is indicative of the senselessness of relinquishing infinite power into the hands of a single individual. And with the docile opposition totally disengaged in the midst of such an oppressive political climate, Yahya Jammeh has all the latitude he needs to expand the broad reach of his power, further posing an even greater danger to the future stability of our country. This dangerous descent into political chaos and anarchy continues to seep into the consciousness of a people alive to unforgiving transgressions of this ruthless regime. On Friday, the Point Newspaper carried ten court case stories, all poignant reminders of a dysfunctional regime that has perfected a tradition steeped in the art of juxtaposing political intimidation with mindless platitudes designed purely to bamboozle a people already scared out of their wits.

And now, buoyed by the results of the fraudulent November elections, and consumed by a need to demonstrate the burdensome arbitrariness of power, Yahya Jammeh’s capacity for injustice easily comes through with the establishment of a tax commission that excludes his vast local and international holdings. Yahya Jammeh’s arrogant display of absolute power knows no boundary and the extreme asinine nature with which he has thrown his weight around is further indicative of a regime in a league all its own, left to perpetuate the social and economic asymmetry that has plunged our country in a miasma of potentially explosive political quandary. But there is always a glimmer of hope and the recently concluded weeklong TANGO celebration of Gambia’s charitable organizations, offer new possibilities for political rights hitherto casually dismissed as inconsequential to the political health of our country. The TANGO resolution to inject issues of human rights into the broader development agenda is a natural progression of the need to tie economic empowerment and political freedoms, and could not have come a moment too soon. Kanjiba Kanyi, a former CRS employee and Omar Barrow, formerly of the Gambia Red Cross Society, both arrested and disappeared in 2005, have largely been forgotten not only by the Gambia’s media, but by even by the non-profit community they so admirably served.

But now, with the parliamentary election fast approaching, and the ICE still lukewarm to the idea of electoral reform, it is conceivable that the opposition is down for a most humiliating defeat that could easily reduce The Gambia into a single-party rule under an AFPRC military regime. The opposition parties that should serve as the bulwark against the overreach of the regime have largely been incapable of subsuming their political interests for the greater good. Typically, the level of sacrifice this demands would be a no-brainer in the civilized western world, but Gambians the lack the sense of country; consumed instead by the individualism that has given rise to the banalities of the overbearing over-reach of a regime slowly choking on its own vermin.

Clearly, Yahya Jammeh is expending a political capital he does not deserve by dint of the fraudulent elections corrupted by an elaborate scheme of intimidation, coercion and vote-buying. The outrageously impossible results that Yahya Jammeh is shamelessly boasting about are not atypical in dictatorships around the world; in fact, they are the norm. Yet there is a revelation of hope in this perennial political quagmire, and it is that even Saddam Hussein was voted back into office by ninety-nine percent of his subject before they turned on and hanged him. Saddam Hussein, Momar Gadaffy and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad are metaphors of how not to rule. Yahya Jammeh could have learnt from the error of their ways. Now it is too late. And what fate awaits Yahya Jammeh too, only time will tell. But with so much pent-up anger and rage, the end will likely be ugly; really ugly. There is no easy escape form a tragedy waiting to happen. You can take that to the bank.

Author: Mathew K. Jallow, Madison, Wisconsin: Culled From The Gambia Echo Files: 2011


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