Saturday, October 5, 2013

The political cost of arresting Ousainou Darboe

It is now evident that the luster has worn off the Professor's carefully cultivated image, especially among his supporters in The Gambia, and to some degree, to his supporters in the diaspora.  There is discernable disquiet even among those kids who in 1994 ran behind the Mitsubishi Pajero 4x4 singing "we don't need no old Pa" while the 29-year old Chairman of the revolution projected his head through the sunroof in broad smiles.  Those very same kids are now young men and women roaming the streets of Banjul and the tourists areas, some driven into prostitution and drugs for lack of employment opportunities. They are tired of the promises of a regime that seem to be interested only in their votes.  Now, more and more of these former supporters are expressing their disappointment at Jammeh and are quietly advocating change.  They want to see the back of Jammeh and the APRC.

These young men and women formed the base support of Jammeh's Revolution because (i) they were told that the regime they replaced was corrupt and incompetent and (ii) Jammeh will transform Gambia into a fairer and more prosperous country. Those who were at the bottom end of the economic spectrum were promised by Jammeh that they will emerge at the top of the heap, and those living on Pipeline and Fajara will have a taste of the nivaquine, as promised by Jammeh's uncle, the late Ambassador John P. Bojang.  It took these kids a generation to discover the bitter truth that these rogue soldiers neither had the intent nor the wherewithal to deliver on their promises which seemed to grow with time.  We have discovered oil.  We will soon have a railway system connecting Banjul to Basse.  We have mineral deposits which will soon be exploited.  Vision 20/20 will transform Gambia into a middle income country in a decade. Of course, none of these promises were transformed into reality but that didn't prevent the regime from adding to the promises. Instead they continue to compound their problems by adding to the list of promises while at the same time siphoning off the country's treasury at an alarming rate in full view of a poorer population - making the Gambia and Gambians poorer than they found us when Jammeh seized power in 1994.

It took the supporters of the Revolution that never was, and was never intended to be, a generation to realize that they were being lied to.  These renegade soldiers were just that, renegade soldiers out to fill their pockets and put anyone in jail who dares challenge their authority or question their riches.  Then came New York, and everything crumbled.  Jammeh's purported invincibility fail to extract him from Ritz-Carlton Hotel - his temporary prison for 48 hours - even though there were many exit doors and other escape hatches.  His supernatural powers failed him which made it possible for the wearing off of whatever luster was left.  He returned to Banjul only to be further humiliated by the lukewarm airport reception he received. His Commonwealth stunt didn't go well either.  So he decided to try one more stunt - accuse an entire tribe as power hungry and vowed that they will never elect a leader of their choice, especially if that leader happens belongs to a given tribe.

The arrest of the Opposition UDP treasurer was the opening salvo.  Now, Jammeh appears to be gunning for Ousainou Darboe, the party leader, which will be one of Jammeh's gravest misstep to date for the following reasons: Gambians have had enough of the abuses they endured for 20 years, and they will see the arrest of the UDP leader to be a political act of intimidation.  Jammeh had insulted an entire group of people who are probably more Gambian than Yaya Jammeh.  To put their party leader in jail is pushing the envelope beyond what Gambians will accept, and this coming at the lowest ebb of Jammeh's popularity is inviting trouble.  People will be out in the streets.  Enough is enough.