Monday, March 10, 2014

Yaya Jammeh : The lunacy of a nut

Gambians woke up last Friday to a national surprise, yet again.  To be more precise, there were multiple surprises in a single swearing-in speech for The Gambia's third Chief Justice in a little over six months.  The previous occupant is serving a mandatory two-years prison sentence, together with the previous occupant of the post of Attorney General and Minister of Justice.  The two were previous charged with bribery and corruption but ended up with a different charge of providing false information to a public official.

Jammeh used the swearing-in of Chief Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan, an internationally known and respected jurist to display his crude form of diplomacy wrapped in a package of threats to stick it to the usual suspects - Britain and the United States as the bastions of "imperialism and neocolonialism" which "Gambia will not tolerate any more."

Swearing-in ceremonies the world over, Kim Jun Un's North Korea included, are solemn occasions that focus on the person being sworn to oath and his/her professional accomplishments and what is expected in his/her new assignment. The occasion is generally and exclusively to the person being sworn-in and his or her family, colleagues and friends.  The focus is never on anything else, except when the presiding officer is Jammeh and the venue is the Cabinet Room in the presence of cabinet Ministers who interrupted every sentence, it seemed, with clap of hands of approval of Professor Jammeh's lectures.  If they don't, they will be fired.  In fact, if you get the sequencing of His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhajie Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jamus Junkung Jammeh's name wrong, you will be verbally reprimanded and/or fired.

The occasion was used to announce that Gambia will forsake the English language to be replaced by a local language or languages.  The Sheikh was not clear, and understandably so because the dilemma selecting one language over another will pose Jammeh, the politician.  So when in doubt, keep it nebulous.  There was little doubt that he also realized the impracticality of his wish.  As the final arbiter of any budget decision, he is very aware of the state of Gambian education in general, and the uselessness of the Curriculum Unit in particular to oversee the transformation.  It poses real problems that even the recalcitrant Jammeh realizes. So, he knows, it's not going to happen.  The announcement was Jammeh's way of rubbing the British nose, and the stiff upper lip, if you will, into the sand.  It also serves a useful purpose of diverting attention from the impending economic disaster that awaits his regime, resulting from a poor harvest, bad marketing arrangements for Gambia's groundnut and the continued depreciation of the local currency, further widening the fiscal and current account deficit.  All of this sounds like a "neocolonialist" plot hatched right out of No. 10 Downing Street with some African-American guy in Washington DC.

Jammeh is a master at diverting national attention.  Anytime bad news is expected, he'll pull a stunt to get people occupied inspecting the shiny object.  Just to illustrate how effective this can be, especially in a country like The Gambia where the illiteracy rate is high and access to information for the literate is limited - and that includes internet access : I received an inquiry from someone in rural Gambia who wanted to know if Jammeh was telling the truth when he claimed that the "British rule The Gambia for over 400 years", and all throughout this period "built only one high school, and the worst hospital in the entire British Empire."  The hospital in question was the Royal Victoria Hospital (since renamed Francis Small Teaching Hospital) and in the good judgement of Jammeh, the hospital "was appropriately named because Queen Victoria was the worst rule you can ever think of.  She was the bloodiest of all bloody monarchs." The anti-British vitriol which started a few years ago, reached the high water mark last October when the Gambian dictator abruptly withdrew membership from the Commonwealth calling it a "neocolonialist institution"

At least, this gentleman had the means to communicate with someone in America about an avalanche of historical revisionism targeted at unsuspecting Gambians, and was also able to get advise on the facts as well as receive information on the latest soft-wares designed specifically for dictatorships like the one we have in The Gambia.  Unfortunately, majority of Gambians do not enjoy the luxury of an iPhone with the latest app that "unblocks" and reroutes all internet-based calls around Jammeh's attempts at blocking access.

Gambians have, off late, been subjected to a barrage of propaganda from Jammeh's ruling APRC party whose members are fanning the Gambia, armed with two books purportedly written by Professor Jammeh entitled "A million reasons to leave the Commonwealth" and the second which, I'm told has just made it to the Guinness Book of World Record as the longest book title entitled "How the tragic consequences of British looting and misrule in The Gambia inspired the founding of the United Nations and its drive for decolonization January 1943 and beyond."  There !!. During his swearing-in speech, he made mention of President Roosevelt describing the Gambian capital of Banjul during a brief stop-over at an Allied airstrip as a "hell-hole on earth."  Whether the American President drew inspiration from the sight of these wretchedly poor and malnourished natives of mosquito-infested Gambia to get the whole idea of a United Nations going or not is unclear from the title of Professor Jammeh's book.  You will have to buy it to get the rest of the author's story of the United Nations and how those looting neocolonialists Britons spurred Roosevelt into action.  It is presumptive of me to think Jammeh is referring to the right Roosevelt.  He could be referring to the other Roosevelt since both claim to be "experts on the African jungle."

As I write, there are two groups of National Assemblymen doing an oral book review of the books to an unsuspecting population across the country.  They are deliberately misleading Gambians by distorting Gambian history as well as British colonial history in the most vile and dishonest way.  British colonialism is certainly nothing to write home about but verifiable facts must be reported as such.  What these Parliamentarians - I am old school, and a British and Commonwealth history buff - are engaged in is historical revisionism designed to deflect attention from the worst economic melt-down in post-Independent Gambia.

It was during the swearing-in of the new Pakistani-born Chief Justice that Gambians were informed of the plight of Justice Mabel Agyemang, the Ghanaian-born former Chief Justice.  To provide context, Jammeh accused foreign embassies (read Britain, U.S and E.U. Delegation) of interfering in Gambia's judicial system, and "despite the fact that outside forces are talking about the judiciary being independent, they have no right to tell me how I should run my country or how to behave because I am not in their country."  He proceeded to remind Gambians that even though these embassy people are "not judges, not legal practitioners and yet, they sit down and tell you this case is politically motivated."

It was at this point that he made the starling revelation that the former Chief Justice "was nowhere to be seen despite the fact that she was being appointed by us...she was taking orders from elsewhere...a country, from an embassy whose country is hostile to our country."  The dictator assured everyone that Justice Agyemang's "life was not endangered" and that she was not being taken to court.  Jammeh told an obviously stunned Cabinet, in the presence of the new Chief Justice with the YouTube-look on his face, obviously embarrassed, that the former Chief Justice "was being hidden by a particular embassy...we are not in a haste."  He concluded this segment of the swearing-in ceremony with the assurance to all that his regime "will see the person, where she is, and we will deal with the embassy concerned because this is unacceptable."

By this time, the new Chief Justice of The Gambia may be questioning the wisdom of associating with a regime like the one headed by a nut who has no regard for the law or the judiciary, and who declared during the ceremony that 'there's no (such thing as an) independent judiciary - it's not true that the judiciary is independent."  The Commonwealth's CFTC is certainly not financing the position since Gambia's membership has been withdrawn by the dictator.  Therefore, the presence of the Pakistani Ambassador to the Gambia, resident in Dakar, at the ceremony suggests that the Chief Justice's salary is being paid by the Government of Pakistan, and since the dictator claimed close friendship with the Pakistani Prime Minister, the bilateral cooperation program between the two countries may be footing the bill.  If it is the Gambia government that will be responsible, expect an early fall-out between Jammeh and the Chief Justice Chowhan, first over money and then over his rulings, assuming that he will be independent of the Executive.

We will end by wishing Happy Commonwealth Day to the 2.2 billion citizens from the 1,7 million Gambians who were, unilaterally and sans notice, deprived of their right to membership to this great organization by a lunatic.   We look forward to returning to the family of Commonwealth of Nations once we get rid of the dictatorship, and return the country to sanity.