After Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh took over power in a bloodless coup in 1994, many Gambians rejoiced the ouster of the country’s three decades leader Sir Dawda Jawara.
Gambia was sinking in nepotism, favoritism and corruption. But in the midst of celebrations welcoming a young 29-year-old Lieutenant Jammeh, a majority of Gambians did not foresee how bloody his rule would be.
Yahya Jammeh ran the country like a cartel. He and his henchmen maimed, killed, tortured, raped and kidnapped political opponents, activists, journalist and anyone perceived to be his enemy.
President Adama Barrow defeated Jammeh in the polls in December. Jammeh refused to cede power threatening to plunge the country into civil war. More than 75,000 people fled and 150,000 others internally displaced.
Jammeh fled the country after regional troops advanced towards the island capital, Banjul but he left behind the marks of his brutal regime.
Gambians are just beginning to unearth the brutality of Jammeh and are far from coming to terms with it. It is, therefore, disturbing to see Barrow and his officials sharing a table with those that aided and abated Jammeh in his crimes against the Gambian people.
“It is disdainful and insulting that the new government will share a table with old….when we are yet to come to term with the brutality and the tyranny of the former government; when we know some of these [Jammeh] ministers stoke the fire with their silence or incendiary remarks, which nearly consumed us and we are yet to hear the true story of the role they played in upping the dictatorship,” said civil society activist Njundu Drammeh.
The inaction of the Jammeh ministers aborted the transition but Barrow said not having the transition after the standoff “seriously affected the functioning of the administration and the lives of thousands of citizens.”
It is farfetched for Mr. Barrow to think that the absence of the symbolic transfer of power has damaged the image of the country and created fear and panic in the people, two factors he hopes Wednesday’s meeting will help end.
In all honesty, the fact a bully like Jammeh was chased out without anyone dying on that day was what restored our dignity as a nation.
It makes this so-called transition meeting a wrong photo op for the international community. Jammeh’s ministers cannot give the Barrow administration the true state of their ministries and the nation; only the technocrats in these ministries like Permanent Secretaries could.
Gambians support Barrow’s call for a truth commission, especially after a visit to the Mile II detention center was televised. They want those that are culpable to be arrested and made to face justice. Barrow, however, says he is calling for reconciliation.
“Well our stance is to set and name a truth commission as soon as possible and give them the subpoena power to find out what happened instead of these photo ops,” said political activist Pa Modou Jobe.
Jobe is not the only person unhappy with the coalition’s latest publicity stunt. He and other like him, who had campaigned and raised millions of Dalasis for Barrow to face off with Jammeh now say the new leader is being naive enough to allow those that connived with Yahya Jammeh to brutalize Gambians to steal victory out of the jaws of democracy.
Former Jammeh ministers and aids are being detained in other nations. Former Interior Minister Ousman Sonko, who calls himself a diciple of the ousted leader was overseeing the police and detention centers. He is being held by Swiss authorities for crimes against humanity. His asylum has been rejected by Spain and Sweden.
The commander of Jammeh’s hit squad, the Jungulars and former head of the notorious prisons dotted around the country, Lt. Gen. Bora Colley has been detained by authorities in Senegal, while trying to flee to Equatorial Guinea, where Jammeh is now holed up.
At least three former presidential guard soldiers who fled with Jammeh and were attempting to return to The Gambia are also being detained in Senegal.
But Barrow on the other hand, on his reconciliation agenda, failed to arrest the former head of the National Intelligence Agency, Yankuba Colley; and the current head of the prison department Essa Colley, who are both as culpable as Gen. Bora Colley and Minister Sonko for the many deaths, tortures, rapes and forced detentions.
As if that was not enough a problem, today saw those that defended Jammeh’s killing of opposition activist Solo Sandeng sharing a table with Barrow. I am talking of former Information Minister Sheriff Bojang.
It was painful seeing these folks walking out of a meeting with the new government showing their 32s in a wide smile when Isatou Njie-Saidy has not answered any question regarding the death of 14 students, and the human rights abuses under her watch as chair of Jammeh’s National Security Council.