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July 22nd, 1994 – What are you reminded of?

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Lt. Yaya Jammeh

The nation was sold on the idea of change, of soldiers with a difference only for those promises to become taboo words and in their wake a callous and brutal tyrant who spilled innocent blood with glee and without remorse even to this day.

But tyrants and murderers do not appear overnight and they are crafty. They certainly do not act alone and have a coterie of maniacs at their disposal to use repeatedly. The testimonies at the TRRC are revealing much in the manner in which such a state of affairs was birthed and sustained.

It starts off with total disregard for laws, norms and conventions. The coup of July 22nd 1994 in and of itself stands as the greatest testament to that. Mutinous soldiers breaking into the armory of the armed forces, sidelining the chain of command and storming the streets heavily intoxicated and armed to the teeth with intent to seize the seat of power or render the country a killing field.

Then there is the fear factor used to suppress dissent and stifle any attempts at disagreement or resistance. We’ve seen how the senior command of the army, former colleagues and co-conspirators were deftly purged from within the ranks to lay the foundations for a one man show that will endure for over two decades leaving countless victims in its wake.

Creating disparity using every mechanism applicable; from economic/financial to societal and spiritual; the divide and rule tactic if you please. Some were deliberately set up to be better off financially and given every accompanying privilege imaginable; a reward for accepting to operate outside of the law to appease one soul. We were taught to see each other as enemies because we belonged to different ethnic groups which led to the creation of an environment where criticism is looked at based on whom it is coming from. If you do not belong to the “in” group, then your criticism is motivated by hate and if you are from the “in” group then you are self-hating. There was no guessing who the in-group and who the out-group was, criticism was not looked at for its merits but the focus shifted to who the critic was and how to categorize them. Self-censorship took hold, save for a few. It seems we’re still married to that way of doing things today.

We were pacified with fanfare and jamborees on a regular basis when we should’ve ben vigilant and dissenting, save for a few yet. Personal goals and the desire to get ahead of others no matter the cost to the greater community became the standard. Creating economic advantage for some while suppressing it for others through selective development, rewarding others financially with all the attendant luxuries that they can show off to all who care to look while they brag about their affinities to the powers that be to anyone who would listen.

A smokescreen was created from behind which lies and deceit were concocted to be sold to the public guised in all manner of religiosity and aimed at appealing to people’s biases. Meanwhile social and economic conditions were deliberately left to rot from the core with the goal of luring unsuspecting and vulnerable young people into carrying out heinous crimes all aimed at fostering the same system that has them down trodden.

Out of such a rot emerged the Junglars, men who saw their privileged position over the innocent lives they were asked to seize without question and without remorse. Their repeated complicity in multiple murders is testament to that lack of remorse. Tyrants and self-serving despots are adept at spotting vulnerabilities and tapping into them. Where such vulnerabilities are absent, they go out of their way to create one. Yaya Jammeh perfected that system.

Without regard to existing laws he created the Junglar outfit, without recognizing the chain of command as would obtain in a disciplined army, he set a unit outside of the command structure, splashed with money, cars, booze, women, drugs and made them answerable directly to him and in the process making very junior officers feel bigger than their superiors to whom they owed no respect or recognition of rank.

Nepotism became the order of the day strengthened by open tribalism and promotions or benefits in the army and security service was measured based only on one’s undying loyalty to Yaya Jammeh. To prove that loyalty, one has to go out of your way to demonstrate unmatched callousness and deviance; that coupled with inducements of all forms and fear maintained the culture of impunity that came to be the everyday reality of Gambians of all walks of life. The inducements still persist.

Yaya Jammeh’s deliberate strategy of marginalizing sections of the country was calculated to have the rest suck up to his whims and caprices which were deviant and decadent at the very best.

Eternal vigilance, speaking out when it matters, refusing to let those entrusted with authority to act with impunity, demanding accountability and above all adherence to the rule of law are the daily tasks of all. Political differences are inevitable but as long as all is in the open and debated with civility, we will see the best of us become the embodiment of our national character.

So while our fellow citizens remorselessly and shamelessly cling onto the bloody legacy of APRC, the party of Yaya Jammeh; and insist on shamelessly commemorating the anniversaries of the treasonous act of July 22nd, 1994, the rest of us get reminded of the callousness of Yaya Jammeh when he and his band of drunken renegades stormed our national scene to subsequently unleash terror as we never imagined possible.

As you celebrate without remorse, we are reminded of the lives of Ousman Koro Ceesay, of Deyda Hydara, of Chief Ebrima Manneh, of Ndongo Mboob, of Dawda Nyassi and countless other fellow citizens including the innocent children gunned down in April 2000 who’d have been alive today had July 22, 1994 not taken place. Citizens whom Yaya Jammeh felt did not deserve to have a day in court and be given a chance to defend any actions they were accused of; rather he chose to claim their lives with impunity and turn around to mock their cold blooded murder.

It is cowardly to prey on the weaker person; only a coward is afraid of their victims putting up a defense; Yaya Jammeh was, and remains a coward. Callousness is not bravery!

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