The Gambia has been on the international headlines lately, as Africa – and the world – holds its breath and January 18th approaches: the day President Jammeh has to give up power.
Adama Barrow’s win on December 1st was a historic moment in Africa’s history, as Jammeh has ruled Gambia with an iron fist, since he came into power following a bloodless coup, staged by the armed forces in 1994. He has allegedly been winning the national elections ever since – by jailing the opposing party, exiling and executing anyone who stands in his way.
There have been multiple attempted coups to overthrow Jammeh – they have all resulted in the death of the participants. And to top it off, there is the NIA, the “secret” organization that punishes anyone who isn’t in accordance with the ‘Jammeh’ mentality.
In Jammeh’s words: “My fate is in the hands of Almighty Allah. I will deliver to the Gambian people and if I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will, if Allah says so.”
The world applauds Gambia’s bravery in voting for a new president. However, as free speech is prohibited, it is ignorant of the depth of this courage, the number of lives that have been lost, or the unspeakable acts he has committed.
Jammeh is known for his many infamous political gimmicks which proved disastrous for the country. Examples include removing Gambia from the British Commonwealth – thus isolating the country. In December 2015, he declared Gambia an Islamic state – sparking religious tension.
He has claimed to cure HIV AIDS via herbal methods – thus discouraging terminally-ill HIV positive Gambians to seek medical facilities, potentially increasing the rate of spread of the disease. The list of his crimes are numerous and his blatant disregard for human rights are appalling, however, he has evaded prosecution.
22 years later, Gambians decide that they are tired of the oppression. Opposition parties combined to form the coalition, with a unifying goal – to bring change. People flooded the streets in such masses that the armed forces could not put them all in jail; and on the day of the elections, after voting they refused to leave the polls until the members of the international electoral commission counted the votes.
Scarcely eleven days later, after conceding defeat and promising a peaceful exchange of presidency, President Jammeh released a statement declaring the results of the elections annulled, and calling for re-elections. His troops have been mobilized throughout the country, and they have taken control of the electoral commission offices.
He is refusing to retreat despite the plea visit of three African Presidents representing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Gambian Islamic Community and the Christian minority. This is in addition to an array of threats made by Gambia’s own allies and the ECOWAS, to resort to military action if he does not cooperate. Even his voters have turned against him, one stated explicitly: “I am ashamed that I ever voted for him. He is embarrassing himself.”
Gambians have lost their fear; they are protesting openly and fervently for President-elect Barrow to be reinstated immediately and for President Jammeh to be tried in court for all his crimes.
President Jammeh has appealed to the Supreme court and the hearing has been moved to January 10th, due to the chief judge’s claim that “there were insufficient lawyers to try the case.”
In response to all the opposition, President Jammeh is undeterred: “I am not a coward. My rights cannot be intimidated and violated. This is my position. Nobody can deprive me of that victory except the Almighty Allah…I am prepared to die for this cause.”
This is my position. Nobody can deprive me of that victory except the Almighty Allah…I am prepared to die for this cause.
High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, has proclaimed the situation “deeply worrying, given the record of human rights violations in Gambia, including excessive use of force against demonstrators, arbitrary detention and deaths in custody as well as allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.”
Gambians are tense and prayerful, and this Christmas season is unlikely to be a jolly one. They ask themselves: How much more will President Jammeh get away with? For how long will the world keep talking and watching? What does it take to overthrow a dictator?