It is indeed hard for anyone to understand why the Gambia, being the smallest country on the African mainland and one of the poorest in the sub-region, should undoubtedly also hold the record of experiencing far more frequent coup attempts than any other country in the region. One would therefore wonder what is responsible for such a negative record; are Gambians such a bunch of ungovernable people or has it got anything to do with the style of governance of the Yahya Jammeh regime?
Whatever the case however, the problem appears more to do with the regime’s intransigence and belligerent attitude than any other factor.
Gambians should however thank our stars that the latest aborted insurrection on 29th December did not result in any carnage, although it is sad that some people lost their lives in the process and there are reports of arbitrary arrests, mainly of civilians. It is also sad that anyone should resort to armed insurrection in order to change the situation in the Gambia, undesirable as it is.
While we all have lost count of the number of coup plots and rumours of attempts to overthrow the regime, but it is certainly more than ten since Yahya Jammeh came to power in 1994. It is therefore high time that President Jammeh and his advisers (if he indeed he has any) sat down and had a thorough look at their administrative style that warrants all these attempts to get rid of them, some of which had been quiet costly in lives and property.
While it is still far from clear as to what exactly happened on that fateful night and how the group of alleged coup plotters were intercepted and killed or captured, but it has certainly rattled President Jammeh’s cage, regardless of what his regime says. Therefore, what we are hearing from Banjul is just one side of the story, but it is obviously much more than meets the naked eye. For instance, it is hard to imagine that those alleged insurgents could have brought into the country that large arsenal of sophisticated weapons without being intercepted at the port of entry. It is also hard to believe that with such arsenal in their hands, the alleged insurgents were all either killed or captured and yet there was not a single reported casualty on the loyalists’ side. Therefore, it appears that we are yet to hear the full version of what actually happened. May be someone would muster the courage one day to tell us the whole story.
If it is indeed true that such a large arsenal of weapons was brought into the country by the alleged dissidents without being intercepted at the point of entry, then it is hard to comprehend why President Jammeh would say that his security forces are loyal to him and that none of them took part in the insurrection because this is a clear indication that security is either very lax in the country or someone within the security apparatus colluded with them. There is hardly any other credible explanation for it.
President Jammeh has promised to firmly deal with anyone involved in the insurrection, and indeed reports of arrests of relatives and friends of the alleged dissidents have begun to circulate, but it is quite imperative that he also needs to look at his own style of governance which leads to such frequent attempts on his regime. Of course it is one thing to blame “terrorists” and “enemies” of the country and their “foreign backers” for plotting to destabilize his regime, but it is also important that President Jammeh turns the lens on his style of administration to see whether there is something he needs to change to make it more compatible with the views and aspirations of Gambians. There must no doubt be a reason why in this day and age of democratization, it is only the Gambia which continues to be rocked by such frequent attempts at regime change in the sub-region, especially considering the fact that the country has no strategic minerals or other resources to warrant such international attention. It is even harder to believe that any foreign power would invest any amount on destabilizing the Gambia when the country is hardly of any strategic importance to warrant it.
It is certainly neither in the interest of a majority of Gambians nor for the credibility of the regime that the Jammeh administration should continue with its belligerent attitude and being confrontational with the international community. For instance, while we can understand his personal moral stance on the issue of homosexuality, but it is definitely far from being a Gambian problem to warrant losing our most valued development partners in the guise of “protecting our religious and moral values”. Indeed some people see the crusade against homosexuality being vigorously pursued by the Jammeh regime as a mere diversionary tactic from the regime’s deficient governance and human rights record.
While it is still not quite clear what led a small group of former Gambian security personnel to risk their lives and take up arms with the intention of toppling the regime, but the obvious truth is that many Gambians have some genuine grievances against the style of the Jammeh administration. However, whether that is enough reason for anyone to take up arms to want to change the regime is a personal opinion.
It is also a fact that such frequent attempts to destabilize the regime do not auger well for investor confidence and therefore, President Jammeh needs to moderate his hard line stance on a number of issues in order to regain the confidence of not only the Gambia’s international development partners, but also ordinary Gambians most of whom feel quite intimidated by his uncompromising attitude.
One thing which is also very clear is the fact that we live in a very different world order which no longer accepts sit-tight leaders. Therefore, President Jammeh and other leaders of his ilk in Africa need to understand that the longer they hang on to power by whatever means, the more they invite insurrections against their regimes. Being in power for more than 20 years, it is certainly time for President Jammeh to consider giving way to someone else to take over the mantle of leadership in the country. Twenty years in power is certainly more than enough, especially when we can recall that President Jammeh himself declared in 1994 when he newly assumed the mantle of power as a military leader that no Gambian leader would again be allowed to remain in power for more than 10 years. Therefore, by being in power for more than 20 years, he seems to have gone against the very pronouncement he made in 1994.
Supporters of the regime would no doubt be quick to say that President Jammeh had been elected by the people and therefore he has the mandate to rule as long as he wins elections. However, the simple truth is that as long as the type of governance environment and the prevailing defective electoral system remains in place, it is virtually impossible to effect any changes through the ballot. Therefore, effecting changes through elections under such a climate is a very remote possibility and as such, the impatient ones may resort to some unconstitutional means to try to change it.
How do we avoid such a scenario? Of course that can only happen when President Jammeh and his regime accept to loosen their iron-grip control of the system and allow sweeping electoral reforms which give chance to those opposed to the regime to freely sell their messages to the people without being harassed and intimidated. The regime should also allow the local journalists to do their work without fearing being harassed and their media houses arbitrarily closed down.
What is happening in the country is like trying to bottle up people’s grievances and in every situation when those grievances no longer fit in the bottle, they are bound to explode. Therefore, the only solution is to allow the people to exercise their inalienable rights to free expression and those with opposing views to freely manifest them without being harassed.
It is quite obvious that as long as the people of the Gambia are not allowed to freely express themselves and manifest their political views without fear of being harassed for it, then such unfortunate incidents will continue to recur in the country regardless of the consequences. With the advent of social media, Gambians are daily exposed to the freedoms being enjoyed by people in other countries, particularly in neighbouring Senegal, one of the most democratic in the sub-region, and they would not understand why they should continue to live in such an out-dated system of governance where the opposition are still denied access to the public media and they are also constantly denied permits to hold meetings, the only other means available to them to sell their programmes to the people. It is only in the Gambia, for instance, where an opposition leader would go to jail for one year for merely organizing a meeting of his political party without a police permit. That sort of political harassment has certainly long gone out of fashion and it is now unacceptable anywhere else.