Thursday, March 13, 2014

20 Years Is Enough

Yaya Jammeh has clearly overstayed his welcome.  All of his renegade companions who jointly staged a military coup d'etat against a constitutionally-elected government have either been jailed, exiled or murdered. The lone survivor is now practicing law in Banjul after he was fired from his ministerial post.

During the twenty year period of one of Africa's worst dictatorships, The Gambia has been transformed from the bastion of democracy on the continent to a highly repressive and very secretive society where the ruler, as he prefers to be known and aptly so, rely's on mystical powers to rule a despondent and extremely poor subjects. Gambia is closer in backwardness to Kim Jung Un's North Korea where everyone is a potential informer of the State.  The junta's first broken promise was not to turn Gambia into a dictatorship. Gambia is not only a dictatorship, it is a highly brutal one at that, where unarmed student demonstrators are mowed down with AK-47s, school girls raped by marauding soldiers, journalists murdered, opposition politicians tortured, regime opponents exiled and other made to disappear, women sexually molested and harassed as a matter of routine - all state-sponsored, as an instrument of control.

If any of the state instruments of repression fails, the regime resorts to the courts.  The daily newspapers are filled with reports on courts cases.  It seems like every Gambian, civilian and military, has been charged with one crime or another, as if the primary aim of the Jammeh regime is to make sure every Gambian has a criminal record, and as one radio commentator lamented recently "and we are not all criminals."  These charges are normally frivolous with the aim of putting the culprit behind bars because he is considered an opponent of the regime.  For instance, a former Minister was charged recently for improperly advising the dictator on whether to sign or not to sign a mining contract that was signed back in 2001.  All of this happened after the contract in question was breached by the dictator, and the case referred to arbitration by the aggrieved.  The former Minister, if convicted, will receive a two-year mandatory jail term.

Meanwhile, Gambia's economy has been damaged by mismanagement, ineptitude and high level corruption that have permeated the entire government and private sector alike.  Jammeh and his cohorts inherited a reasonably managed and thriving economy in 1994.  By 1999, the economy was on a downward spiral, with persistent deficits, a weak and depreciating currency, and an under-performing agriculture sector.  We watched as the economy lost most of its regional edge against its neighbors. The Banjul Port lost all comparative advantage over Dakar because of corruption and nepotism.  The regime appointed party supporters and Jammeh's tribesmen into key management position they were not qualified to occupy; some barely literate.  The same pattern existed at the telecommunications, utilities, transportation and social security and pensions agencies threatening the financial solvency of all of these once thriving organizations.

We had called for Jammeh to resign in 2013.  We are, again, calling on him to do so in 2014.  He has been a failure, and his experiment in governance has brought us nothing but misery.  It is, therefore, time to call it a day and allow Gambians to pick up the pieces from the rubble.