Saturday, November 9, 2013

Jammeh fatigue grips Gambia

Gambians seem to have had enough of the excesses and unreasonable demands of their president, and including but not limited to his failed promises to make life better for Gambians in general and his supporters in particular.  The ultimate response which took them 19 years of misrule has been passive resistance, a phenomenon that used to be referred to as "foot dragging" in 1994-96 by the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC), regarded by the then Ruling Council as a crime that sent many a civil servant and cabinet ministers to the unemployment lines or to the notorious Mile II prisons.

In the early stages of the transition from civilian to military rule when the regime has not firmly imposed itself on the population as all military regimes do, any semblance of delay in implementing a decision of the military or the directive of its Chairman was immediately characterized as foot-dragging leading to immediate dismissal and/or detention.  Given that it was Gambia's first experience with a military regime, other than a brief brush with a failed attempt in 1981, the brash military style was seen then by many as a means of stabilizing a regime that was unsure of its ability to hold on to power.

What was thought of as a transitory means of maintaining power became institutionalized.  The civilian population shaped into a highly regimented, regularly receiving orders from the military council through the state-controlled media as to their next assignment.  The population was organized into the supporters of the military regime, especially the youth who were promised more schools,  more scholarships, jobs and economic development in exchange for their political support. These kids became part of the regimes rent-a-crowd brigade who ran behind Jammeh's motorcade chanting slogans in support of the military regime, and voicing opposition to the deposed civilian regime - a regime now viewed and remembered in nostalgic terms after 19-years of political and economic regression under a dictatorship that has failed even its staunchest supporters in many respects.

The kids who ran behind the Jammeh motorcade are now grown men with families of their own only to discover nothing has changed.  In fact, it has grown worse.  They are discovering, however late, that jobs are as elusive today as they were in 1994 despite promises of an impending oil boom that will not only transform Gambia into a Singapore of Africa, but will create jobs for every Gambian who wants one.  The resultant effect of these broken promises is less youth participation in regime-supported activities.  In the old days they would have been guilty of 'foot-dragging,'  Because of reduced level of youth participation, civil servants have been slated to fill in gap by being urged via threatening official memo to either attend APRC party functions or face dismissal.  This is how bad things have become.

The youth were not the only group that fell victim of a military regime that promised much and delivered little. Banjulians who have always played a critical role in the political life of the Greater Banjul area, and of the country as a whole, did not only see their political stock devalued by the Jammeh regime but they were deliberately transformed from a respected group of political operatives and king makers of sorts into a support group, cheer leading for the AFPRC/APRC regimes.  Jammeh gave them the new title " Banjul Elders".

The group cheerleads and act as validators of every political action and decisions of the dictatorship.  These range from tacit support of the abduction and torture of Muslim clerics by not speaking out in opposition to providing religious justification for the execution of nine death row inmates.  Some of those executed have not exhausted all the legal remedies guaranteed under the 1996 Constitution, including one prisoner who should not have been executed because his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when the death penalty was abolished by the Jawara government.  These elders are regularly paraded before national television to display their blind support of an increasingly unpopular regime.  Stripped of their political influence and economic power, these elders are viewed with suspicion by the dictatorship because of their previous support of, and prominence in the Jawara government. Their only function and usefulness to the regime is to act as validators of an increasingly violent and corrupt regime.

The rural community represented by the farming community has not been spared by Jammeh.  Upon seizing power, the regime went straight for the jugular by dismembering the farmer-owned and civil servant-operated Gambia Co-operative Union (GCU) that served as the apex of 82 cooperative societies spread across the country to buy groundnuts on behalf of the now defunct GPMB.  These cooperative societies belonged to farmers who did not only sell their groundnuts to the societies but these societies also acted as credit societies that extended loans to farmers to see them through the planting season.  These societies also acted as channels for the provision of farm inputs like fertilizers to farmers.  Under Jammeh, and despite his promise to make agriculture his government's top priority, he has presided over the decline of the most important sector in the economy.  The groundnut marketing mechanism that was dismantled by his regime has never been replaced with a comparable or better system since resulting in marketing realities that only made farmers worse off than ever before.  

Despite the disbanding of the GCU, and the obvious lack of extension and marketing support, the farming communities continue to lend political support to a regime that pays lip service to agriculture.  As a result, under the dictatorship of Jammeh, the incidence of rural poverty has risen to alarming rates when the same period saw a drastic decline in groundnut production.  The discontentment of the farming community was on full display during this year's annual tour of the rural areas by Jammeh when many refuse to show up at his meetings.  He was visibly disappointed at the low turnout in many of these meetings signalling an end of an era when farmers tried very hard to conceal their disdain at an increasingly repressive and intrusive regime.

It is true that the deplorable and frequent human rights violations of the regime has played a key role in the new perception of the regime by the citizenry.   Of equal importance is the poor management of the economy by an increasingly incompetent regime.  Gambians are worse off today than they were in 1994.  Both rural and urban poverty are higher now than when the military seized power.  Shortages of basic foodstuffs and local inflation are taking their toll on a population that were, and are still being promised, better lives for themselves and their children by a regime that seem to be more interested in the welfare of the inner cabal of a regime than in the welfare of all Gambians regardless of political or tribal affiliation.

Faced with crumbling urban infrastructure especially in the Greater Banjul area, both business and residential communities have suffered from intermittent electricity supply, taxi operators as well as private car owners have been hampered by high fuel prices resulting in huge transportation fares increases among many other problems facing Gambians, including supporters of the regime who are now openly calling for a change in the modus operandi of the Jammeh regime or risk losing their support.  In fact, the threat is not an empty one. The youths of Banjul voted in an Independent candidate as their Mayor and several Independent rural Counsellors have also been successfully competed and won against candidates of the ruling party in the Area (rural) Council elections this year.

The governing style of Jammeh has also come under sharpe international focus following the recent New York protests and his withdrawal of Gambia's membership in the Commonwealth.  These two events left many Gambians wondering whether the dictator should continue to lead the country into further isolation from the international community.  His suitability as a leader became an immediate cause for concern to both his opponents as well as his supporters.

The bad press Gambia has received off late as a result of Jammeh's shenanigans both at home and abroad has been a contributing factor.  His unpopularity is undoubtedly on the rise, and it is being displayed in the variety of ways including a decreasing numbers of Gambians responding to his invitation to greet foreign dignitaries and to attending party-sponsored events.  The numbers keep dwindling.  Only time will tell whether he can survive such open hostility from a once friendly crowd of supporters who now feel lied to and then abandoned by a group of army soldiers who promised to make life better for the approximately 2 million Gambians only to succeed in making it worse.