Monday, February 17, 2014

Let the Archbishop rest peacefully

West African Archbishops and their wives, Westminster Abbey
The late Archbishop
On the eve of the interment of Archbishop Solomon Telewa Johnson, we pay our final respects to the man who stood up for the Constitution of The Republic of The Gambia, the rule of law and the dignity of every Gambian, Christians, Muslims, agnostics, and animists alike, and for which the dictatorship tried to extract as many pounds of flesh as it could with little discernible success, except, perhaps, the story you are about to read.

Sidi Sanneh

Bishop Solomon Telewa Johnson became the first Gambian to be elevated to the level of Archbishop of the Anglican Church of the Province of West Africa in September 2012.  He met his untimely death last month on the tennis court from an apparent heart attack while engaging in one of his favorite pastimes.

While the nation and the entire Anglican community around the world were in shock and eulogizing the Archbishop in their own individual ways, the dictatorship in Banjul under the active leadership of Yaya Jammeh, continue to engage in, what can only be described as, disdainful acts, yes, even in death, against the Archbishop, his family, his Church, his countrymen and countrywomen.

The Archbishop ran afoul of the dictatorship for being the only IEC Chairman to take the regime to task for failing to comply with the Local Government Act governing the conduct of elections.   He also insisted on on-the-spot counting of ballots and not to have them transported distances from the polling stations, inviting vote tampering, ballot stuffing and other shenanigans.

This single action by the then Chairman may have protected the vote but it also succeeded in placing him within crosshair range of a regime that had no intention of continuing Jawara's democratic tradition - a tradition the Archbishop obviously shared and cherished. His actions clearly displeased the anti-democratic regime whose leader didn't hesitate to remind the Anglican Church, the Christian community and Gambians of his displeasure by refusing to receive him at State House when he was elevated to the post of Archbishop.  Jammeh's most reliable sidekick named Isatou Njie-Saidy did the honors instead.

It is an open secret that the regime of Yaya Jammeh has been at war with this man of God since his unceremonious removal from the Chairmanship of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) for exercising his duties, under Gambian Law, to ensure a free, fair and transparent election.  He was on the verge of seeking redress from the Supreme Court of The Gambia for the regime's none compliance of the country's electoral laws when he was preemptively dismissed by Jammeh.

While preparations for the Archbishop's funeral is underway, indications from Banjul are that the regime of Yaya Jammeh is not ready to call a truce in a war he declared against the Archbishop even in death.  The Church has tried and failed to secure the permission Yaya Jammeh to hold the funeral and Requiem Mass at the McCarthy Square close to the Anglican Church located on the corner of Independence Drive and Allen Street.  Since Banjul is expecting to welcome a huge crowd, including Bishops from the West African region and other dignitaries, to pay its last respects, they cannot all be accommodated in the Church, and thus the McCarthy Square venue.  When the Church bells toll, it will within ears reach.

Yaya Jammeh personally refused the request and suggested that the Mass be held at the Hostel of the Independence Stadium, away from public view.  The denial is not only a slap in the face of the Anglican community but it is an insult to every decent Gambian regardless of religion or tribe.  By forcing the Anglicans out of the middle of Banjul, and exiling them to the boondocks, the Church is being forced to hold the viewing of the corps at Christ Church in Serrekunda and the Requiem Mass at the Independence Stadium Hostel instead of the Archbishop's own Anglican Church and McCarthy Square in Banjul respectively.  It is, in our view, a funeral arrangements unbefitting the Head of the Anglican Church in The Gambia.

The refusal of the regime to accommodate the wishes of the family and Church poses will further inconvenience by posing unnecessary logistical challenges - easily avoidable otherwise - to the thousands of people expected to attend the funeral of the Archbishop.  They will now have to move from Serrekunda to Independence Stadium and an additional six miles trek to Bishop's Court in Banjul for the interment. Expression of condolences to the family will then move to Marina International Hall across the Banjul highway.  The whole idea makes no sense.  But nothing makes sense anymore in Jammeh's Gambia.

In death, as in life, the regime has carried on with his private war against the venerable Archbishop.  In case, skeptics and supporters of this repressive dictatorship still need further evidence of government campaign against the Archbishop here are few examples:  He's never received a national honor from the regime of Jammeh, and there's no reason to expect on posthumously.  There has been no official mourning period for the first Gambian Archbishop of the Anglican Church of the Province of West Africa - not even the symbolic lowering of flags at half mast in honor of one of our own.  Not a single official delegation higher than members of the so-called Muslim Elders of Banjul since his death has been sent to express condolences to the family.  There has been no Vice President and no member of Cabinet to visit the family to expend their condolences on behalf of the government.  How low can this regime go to show disdain for the Archbishop.

Here, there's more: This regime deprived the Archbishop and his wife of travelling abroad on diplomatic passports which were taken away when he was illegally and constitutionally dismissed by Yaya Jammeh instead of the National Assembly as prescribed by law. And when the then Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission reminded Yaya Jammeh that the power of dismissal rests with Gambia's National Assembly, the was threatened with jail.  If it weren't for the intervention of the late Mustapha Wadda in his capacity as Secretary General and a senior Minister, the Archbishop would have been jailed, illegally, of course.  Shame on Yaya Jammeh and his callously vindictive government.

To conclude: May the soul of the first Gambian Archbishop of the Provence of West Africa rest in perfect peace.  To those he left behind, it's imperative to continue celebrating his exemplary life as a person of God and as a full-blooded Gambian.

DISCLAIMER:  The views expressed herein are those of the and, thus do not necessarily represent the views of the Anglican Church, family members, colleagues or friends of the late Archbishop.

Correction:  Date of publication:  For the record, this piece was finalized and published, Thursday 20th February 2014. The drafting started Monday, 17th February 2014.  My apologies for the sequencing of the blog.