Among many Gambians in the Diaspora, President Yahya Jammeh is seen not just as a dictator but an uneducated fool who used the power of the gun to ascend to the presidency. This by far has been the biggest mistake of Gambian politicians and many ani-Jammeh activists.
When Jammeh came to power, politicians hoped, especially in the PDOIS that after the ban on political parties, they will be able to easily sway out of the State House, “a naive young Lieutenant” struggling to construct a proper English sentence. Jammeh was no Valentine Strasser. He surrounded himself quickly with not just intellectuals that were self-centered but took advice from Nigerian military commanders leading The Gambia’s military. They (the Nigerian commanders) are masters at the art of military coup. It was a time when Africa’s biggest oil producer was plagued by coups.
Nigerians commanding a sovereign nation’s military merged with low wages was the reason Jammeh easily took over the seat of the government. But he was so smart, he still used them to his advantage. To date, Jammeh relies on Nigerians, not in the military, but in the judicial system to entrench himself in power.
The mercenary judges are not the ultimate keepers of President Yahya Jammeh in the State House, but The Gambian people. President Yahya Jammeh is a graduate student of Gambian politics from the “University of the State House.” His professor is Sir Dawda Jawara. Evidently, he is a Jawara on steroids.
Suntou Touray, a Gambian political activist has put it right: Jammeh was an understudy of Jawara.
“Among the young men he seized power with, Jammeh was the only one who had higher experience of how the Gambia operates, whilst the rest of the junta were naïve soldiers who missed the ‘green snake on a green grass’ in their midst,” Suntou Touray.
President Yahya Jammeh was President Sir Dawda Jawara’s trusted bodyguard for nearly a decade. He observed closely and learned keenly the power structure and Sir Dawda’s political maneuvers. One may say Jammeh is not peaceful as Jawara. That is true and as violent as he is, that is how much he borrowed the sermon of peace from Jawara’s playbook.
Not often times, but always Gambians fall for it.
Gambians are peace loving and very forgiving and many in diaspora, where Jammeh faces the biggest threat to his rule, are yet to realize this causing a divide between them and the locals back home. Jammeh successfully sold to Gambians that Diasporans are “enemies of the states that want to plunge the country into civil war” whiles enjoying their air-conditioned apartments in Europe and the Americas.
At least a handful of former dissident soldiers attempted to overthrow Jammeh in 2014. Gambians were not angry at the attempt. They were saddened that it failed, but it also helped solidify Jammeh’s claim. For The Gambia, peace is so jealously guarded, they will “leave it to God.” They will not even protest where necessary. In their own words: “God is good. He put him there and he will take him out.” And so, President Yahya Jammeh has now gone from relying on the votes of “jinnehs” to “Allah’s one vote” to extend his 22-year iron-fist rule.
Even the peace rule from the Jawara playbook is being successfully used by a newcomer, a charmingly quite former ruling party parliamentarian Mama Kandeh to gain support by portraying the main opposition party and a newly formed coalition as “violent non-peaceful” group of disgruntled politicians.
Jammeh has preyed on the ignorance of Gambians. He has relied on this more than the fear his private paramilitary force and intelligence agency instilled in the people. Trump may have learned from him – a man who acts holier than thou yet is the most corrupt and paganistic bigot. He will kill and comes out on Friday spraying highly educated Islamic clerics with a supposed holy water he blessed with verses from the Koran. It helped to mystify him. Gambians ignorantly see him as being given powers by God. Like the Sheikh grand marabout his has turned out to be, Jammeh claims he can cure AIDS, infertility and sickle cell.
The Diaspora has not helped make it any easier with its chauvnism and authoritarian condemnation of those with a different approach. They have called those in The Gambia “hypocrites” and “enablers” for their silence and taking jobs in the government. They have in effect made themselves less effective by alienating those they could be working for. That is further compounded by the prioritization of the fight for freedom of speech, which most of them are not respectful of those with an opposite view, over economic freedom.
Jammeh has a handful of development successes under his belt. He has used these few development projects – the airport, some few roads, and bridges, a hospital, and schools. But unemployment, poverty and the price of goods and service are at an all-time high; forcing a mass exodus of the country’s youth through the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean into Europe.
But Jammeh, whenever seeking re-election with his surrogates repeatedly talk of these few APRC projects, mostly funded by the EU, to get him re-elected. Jammeh presents himself as an anti-Western strongman, blaming colonialism and the western world for his failures. He accuses them of undermining him and trying to depose him but he owns mansions in eastern Europe, the United States, and France.
Gambians will cheer for Jammeh and believe he has their best interest at heart. His anti-Western rant and his marginalization of Christians and other minority groups have gained him more support in majority Muslim nation. This is not because Christians are hated but Gambian people have deep connections with their religion and would identify themselves with it before their citizenship.
Donald Trump has done the same in America – used racism and religious bigotry to rewrite the rule of U.S. elections and politics in general. He will flip-flop and make promises that he knows he can’t fulfill or are unrealistic. Trump was considered a “fool and an idiot” by all, but here he is being the president-elect because he preys on the people’s ignorance. He disrespected women, did not pay taxes and said he is smart for it, yet gets to be the commander in chief. Jammeh does the same with Gambians with his anti-colonial propaganda and Gambians ignore the fact that he has homes and businesses in the “White man’s land.” He will make unrealistic promises. They are call visions: vision 2016, vision 2020, vision 2025 – making the country self-sufficient in food, middle income, and economic superpower. And the people believe it.
When I heard U.S. President Donald Trump say he would build a wall, I knew right away that was not going to happen. I was not even born here. I migrated to this country barely a decade ago, but I knew better than those that were born and educated here. It comes as not surprise to me that Jammeh would get a standing ovation and get votes for say this:
“By July 2017, White people will come here as refugees looking for jobs. I swear to you,” President Jammeh.
And yes, the people I happy at the mention of this and sees him as the strongman doing everything possible to stop their recolonization.
If the ignorance of Americans can be preyed upon with the chants of lock her up, build that world and ban Muslims, I do not see why we have to take Yahya Jammeh for a fool. After all, he served nearly a decade observing and learning from President Jawara and serving as president for two decades, Jammeh is indeed no fool. He is playing the laws of power as it fits the nature of Gambians with the very help of Gambian Diaspora intellectuals who think they know better than him or can take him for a ride.