Earning the people’s trust was a critical component of setting the stage for Yahya’s takeover of everything Gambian. How did he do that? Yahya Jammeh capitalized on our highly held Gambian values to serve his needs and then turned them on their heads. He will use our religion and religious leaders, use our elders and community leaders, our griots and their customs, sports, farming, traditional beliefs; everything Gambian had to go to work for Yahya Jammeh, literally.
With his goals set in his mind from the onset, he plotted against an entire nation whose trust he earned and set about to use it against them. In order to stave off any challengers come election time when the transition ends, he filled the Gambian airwaves with unfounded claims of how corrupt the officials of the former government were, how they never meant well for anyone but themselves and their families, dragged them in front of commissions with claims of making them accountable for all their past mal-administration. The stage was set for ridiculing our elders and we entertained it. We will play witness to many more similar cases throughout the next 22 years. Elders in Gambian society are held in very high esteem, almost to the point of reverence, but with Yahya Jammeh, this value will be cast aside for his selfish interest. Embarrassing an elder in public is worse than death and to avoid such embarrassment, a great majority of them will hold their opinions to themselves, and the few that get put in the spotlight will side with him on whatever stance he takes, granted there were those whose personal ambitions and coveting for favors will seek them through sycophancy and cuddling up to Yahya out of their own will.
Every time he mounted the podium, Yahya will not fail to call out the former government officials for all the ills of the country and their immense failures in delivering to the Gambian people. Thirty years of thievery as he would put it was meaningless and that Gambia became truly independent on July 22nd 1994. Over the years, 18thFebruary will be stripped of all meaning except for being a public holiday, this was the day in 1965 when The Gambia became independent from British rule, to Yahya both the first republic and the colonial administration were the same, only difference was that the British were worse. Despite the historical inaccuracies, he’d claim that the British, who ruled The Gambia for “over four hundred years”, plundered our resources and left nothing for Gambians but two hospitals and two high schools.
The character assassinations of former public servants, the tough talking against imperialism, and the promise of a modern city state within a few years were all aimed at selling himself to the people; he was the ‘savior’ the nation had been waiting for. In the process, he branded himself a pan African for a larger African audience, which is why he dresses in the manner he does.
But with the already stated promise of going back to the barracks hanging over his head and the old guard politicians waiting to make a comeback since the commissions of inquiry didn’t find a great majority of them culpable for any embezzlement, the strongman persona and pan African branding was not going to suffice. His next move had to be staged in order to not be caught in a lie.
In came the elders to ‘plead’ with him to resign from the army and contest the upcoming elections as a civilian on account of the numerous development projects he accomplished in a short time of two years. Groups flocked to State House on an almost weekly basis all pleading for the same cause and sure enough, GRTS was on hand to make sure the citizens heard and saw it all. Of course now we know it was all staged thanks to some politically shrewd allies out for their own gains. Prior to the staging of these calls for him to resign, he had to clean the space and make it receptive to his candidature.
With no political experience, or education for that matter, he knew from the onset that when the political space opened up, he stood little to no chance against the seasoned politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties of the first republic. And so he outlawed their participation in the political process that was due to take place in 1996, after the mandated transition period. The political space was open to all except a targeted few, who we now know posed the real threats against whom he stood no chance against.
He targeted anyone who ever held a Presidential or Prime Ministerial position in the first republic (Jawara) was unqualified. Anyone who ever held a Vice Presidential position in the first republic (S.M. Dibba, A.M. Camara, B.B. Darbo) was unqualified. Anyone who ever held a ministerial position in the first republic (which was a parliamentary system, meaning Ministers can serve as parliamentarians as well), was unqualified. Every son and daughter of the Gambia who was known in the political space at a national level was suddenly unqualified except two (Halifa Sallah and Sidia Jatta). Overtures were made to the PDOIS leaders to serve in the cabinet of the junta after much praise was showered on them in the public space in those two years leading up to 1996. But principled as they are, and constitutional politicians that they are, the junta was no place for a republican, they turned down all offers and so they earned the wrath of the council.
One cannot help but wonder, if the tempo in the country was such that Yahya was guaranteed victory at the elections for the numerous ‘developments’ he accomplished, why ban all who fall in the above category? Truth is they were seasoned politicians, they were well known and popular and having them run against Yahya meant the end of his reign. The people by now realized that Yahya and co were no ‘soldiers with a difference’ just another wannabe tyrants. This move essentially killed the competition and Yahya look set to rule another five years with no one to stand in his way; or so he thought.
With evidence mounting in front of keen eyes that Yahya was setting himself up to be a long term ruler, the alarm bells rang out loud. An unlikely candidate then emerged on the scene and a shadow loomed over Yahya’s ambition. Lawyer Ousainou Darboe up to that time, was a lawyer and a well-known one at that; qualified and capable to lead the fight for the restoration of democracy became the rallying candidate for all the disenfranchised supporters of the old guard, both opposition and ousted ruling parties. He took the fight to Yahya Jammeh and the crowd that followed him was overwhelming and was large enough to deliver the win for the 1996 election, in fact he was widely acclaimed to have won those elections, but with the might of the military behind him open intimidation and rigging were used to deny the Gambian people their will. Ever since that close call, Lawyer Ousainou Darboe and the United Democratic Party (UDP) became targets to be neutralized. But such a move had to be covert and the laws would once again be doctored to favor Yahya. First, the banned politicians had their ban lifted, this move was to fracture the UDP because it was hoped the supporters of the banned parties and politicians will flock back to their parties and candidates. in a simple majority system, this tips the balance in favor of the APRC. The second move was the institution of age limits for any aspiring presidential candidate while eliminating term limits.
But a party as big as the UDP does not look personality centered, so all likely successors need to be purged out of the party; M.L. Shyngle Nyassi, Femi Peters (effective political strategists) were arrested, jailed and tortured on several occasions to instill fear into the party to no avail. Not so stoic or principled was Ousman Rambo Jatta, who became youth mobilizer but ended up switching allegiances for political favors. Amadou Sanneh, qualified enough to replace Ousainou Darboe as party leader became a target and would eventually be jailed on frivolous charges beyond the electoral season, but the UDP just won’t die. So in typical military strongman style, he chose to show how far he would go to stop the UDP once and for all by arresting and torturing to death Solo Sandeng, the youth mobilizer of the party for being bold enough to speak up for electoral reform to ensure a level playing field.
When news of his death in custody emerged, Yahya knew that Ousainou Darboe and the UDP will not sit about and do nothing, and he was right. Being the leader that he was, Ousainou Darboe summoned his entire executive and held a press conference to alert the nation to the happenstances and what their response would be. They would emerge from that press conference, arm in arm marching towards the police station in which Solo Sandeng was reportedly taken to demand his release, chanting “We need Solo Sandeng; dead or alive.” Sure enough, Yahya and his oppressive machinery were waiting and the entire executive of the main opposition UDP were pounced upon and thrown in jail. This was in April 2016, and with elections due in December 2016, the court case was sure to drag past December. Delighted at his fait accompli, he was sure the UDP was dead and buried. Yet again, Yahya would be proven dead wrong.
It would seem he had underestimated the will and determination of Gambians in general, and the UDP in particular. What happened next will again shock Yahya to the core of his being, and rightly so. Solo Sandeng, was a martyr after all, and Yahya would wish he had never touched him or the UDP so heavy handedly.
This move drove a wedge between Yahya and the fence-sitting Gambians by exposing his oppressive nature in broad daylight to which Gambians are not accustomed, even those in denial, or claiming legality to shield his excesses, took a pause and had to rethink their position. The next move was unanticipated and would spell disaster and an end for Yahya and his cabal.
To be continued…..