When a 29 year old army lieutanaunt and his cohorts stormed the Gambian national stage uninvited in 1994, the reason was to fulfill their oath to “defend the Gambia from enemies both domestic and foreign.” The PPP government of Sir Dawda Jawara that led The Gambia to independence in 1965 was that enemy within. They accused them of “rampant corruption and living flamboyant lifestyles.”
Thirty years they say was too long for anyone to be in power and so they came to rid the Gambia of corruption and bad governance. A day is a long time in politics it is said, but what two decades would come to reveal is the stuff of legends.
The self-styled “soldiers with a difference” set out to launch the Gambia into the modern age with a transition government built on Accountability, Transparency, and Probity.” The skeptics amongst the citizens who know what military governments mean doubted their claims; a bold face promise was made that “We will never introduce dictatorship in this country.” Evidence to the contrary we are all witness to.
What became clear was that Yahya Jammeh never wanted to leave power and immediately set about consolidating himself. The toughest challenge he’d have to contend with was the military, so he purged the army of officers and men who posed the greatest threat to his ambitious plan. November 11th, 1994 was the first such incidentf incidents to follow in a series.
Coming to power at a time when self-imposed governments were frowned upon the world over, he needed the Gambian populace on board with his transition plans to ensure that donor money is not entirely cut off. He pretended to bend to popular will when the National Consultative Committee was set up to gauge the feeling of the populace on the four year transition proposal they submitted, after which they promised to go back to the barracks. Popular will demanded two years, to which the council agreed, winning over a few more hearts by that show of seemingly genuine desire to vacate power. And so the population gave support and a helping hand in steering the affairs of state through the transition. Civilians filled up most of the cabinet positions, and so diplomatic tensions were eased a little more.
With this new found trust, he set his plans in motion to self-perpetuate and no one will stand in his way. The first show of defiance to the evil machinations of Yahya Jammeh and his council members was met with brute force; Ousman Koro Ceesay paid the ultimate price for refusing to agree to help pull the wool over the eye of the Gambians. Fellow council members; officers in the army and other security outfits; journalists; civil society organizations; politicians; lawyers; trade unions; student organizations; etc. all constitute elements of threat to his ambitious plan, so they had to be contained.
The Vice Chairman of the council, who it was said had a large force of loyalists in the army, was framed and jailed alongside the Spokesman for the Council, who’d later die under mysterious circumstances while in custody. His replacement, another army officer and currently one of the loudest mouths casting doubts in the minds of Gambians; Ebou Jallo, absconded with millions of dollars still unaccounted for. The army was thrown into disarray with new promotions, demotions, re-assignments and new positions, coup and counter coup accusations; suddenly job security became their primary concern.
Meantime, the clock was ticking on the two year mandate; a plan had to be devised. The plot to deceive the Gambian people enmass has to be perfected, and what better way than to put them to sleep while indoctrinating them, and what better tool to that effect than the TV – show and tell. And so GRTS was born. The first, and up to this day; only television station in The Gambia.
Steve Biko said; “The greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
In his pursuit of power and money, Yahya Jammeh will have to oppress the Gambians into submission. People purchased TV sets, eager to see their own on TV, they got glued to their TV sets; the perfect distraction. Every project commissioning, every state visit, every farm visit, every weekend retreat, every birthday; GRTS was on hand to broadcast to an entranced audience. What they never showed was how much the national debt was building up and how much Yahya’s personal fortunes were growing by; the perfect cover.
Up to this day GRTS serves no other purpose than to be Yahya’s mouthpiece, a propaganda bullhorn that reaches every household in the Gambia. Yahya Jammeh’s every move was televised, accompanied by pomp and fanfare, the people fell in love with their oppressor. Losing that personal fortune, and the exposure of the crimes (including killings) committed to amass it, that is what is at risk right now and that fear and uncertainty has brought out the serpent within, and he is ready to bite.
The lady that composed the tune used on the campaign trail was indeed right…Yahya “wurata”!