Sunday, April 27, 2014

The precipitous decline in Jammeh's popularity

The precipitous decline in Yaya Jammeh's popularity is commonly traced to his decision of August 2013 to execute nine prisoners who were on death row.  The significance of executions is indisputable.  It certainly drew international attention to the dictatorship in The Gambia, and it may have sparked internal self-examination among the ardent supporters of the regime, especially when the bodies of the victims, which included a Senegalese women, a mentally-incompetent and a prisoner whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the government of Sir Dawda Jawara.

The regime's refusal to hand over the bodies of those executed extra-judicially to respective families for proper Muslim burial rites revealed the very dark side of this regime to ordinary Gambians.  It sets Jammeh apart from Gambians, supporters and opponents, Christians and Muslims alike, whose religion teaches that bodies of the executed should have been returned.  Questions started being asked in APRC quarters about Jammeh's fundamental moral beliefs, especially someone who claims to be a pious Muslim.  Many began to question his faith, especially in rural Gambia.

Jammeh's popularity began to wane within the business community when he introduced the pre-inspection scam that forced importers to pay inspection fees in U.S dollars in 1999 when foreign exchange was already scares.  This scam led by his late father-in-law led to the collapse of the transit trade, and the beginning of what is now the exodus of foreign and local investors to neighboring countries.  The seizure of ALIMENTA's properties the following year, set the pattern that was to be replicated elsewhere by the seizure of private properties owned by private individuals and companies.   It did not only cause resentment among the business class, it also started businesses contributing less to the APRC coffers.  As a businessman told me back in 2001, "the future of The Gambia is bleak with this man in control."  When I asked him why, he responded "the man behaves as if Gambia is as rich as Nigeria with his heavy demands on us."  He has since left Gambia for Senegal.

Jammeh's gradual dominance of the business sector with businesses directly competing with others became another source of resentment and frustration which increased, over time, with every push by the dictator into other sectors of the economy.  From his lowly farm he started in his native village of Kanilai in 1997 to bakery to his taking over monopoly power in the importation of petroleum products, his supporters and political allies began seeing themselves as victims themselves of the regime they helped prop up since 1994. His recent closure of the border only adds to his problems, not only with Senegal but with the Gambian business community.

The privileged class, for the first time, began experiencing the same repressive nature of the regime that many Gambians have been complaining about, including farmers who by 2001 have started feeling the pain being inflicted (deliberate or not) on them by the regime by subsidizing farm input in one year and removing them the next year.  Credit buying of the regime of farmers groundnuts became prevalent.  By 2003, the practice of buying produce on credit has resulted in millions of dalasis of outstanding amounts owed to farmers by the regime.  Figures are hard to come by because of the secrecy surrounding the regime's groundnut-buying operations.

The human rights abuses contributed to the regime's unpopularity, but they took longer than normal for the abuses to reach international dimension because of the weak human rights organizations on the ground, in spite of the fact that Banjul in the home of the African Union's Human and People's Rights.  The mounting of a coordinated international campaign by rights organizations, including Gambian diaspora groups did help shine the international spotlight on the regime's human rights record.   However, it was the execution of the nine death row prisoners that finally did the trick, so to speak, to draw local attention to the vicious nature of a regime they help create by supporting it to nearly twenty years.

Jammeh's medical quackery put him on the international stage permanently as "that African dictator who claim to cure HIV/AIDS" even if many around the world cannot remember his name and the few who does cannot pronounce it.  Locally, the resentment is within the medical and public health communities who have spent a good part of their careers putting Gambia on the map in the fight against the dreadful disease.  Family and friends of those suffering from HIV/AIDS felt threatened if they refuse to commit their loved ones to Jammeh's treatment which is performed in public and in full view of television cameras.   Resentment from families and relatives is very strong and a source of opposition, especially from those who have lost loved ones who would have otherwise survived if they had continued their antiretroviral therapy.

All of the above are self-inflicting, unforced errors that led to his current predicament.  Jammeh, in short, is his own worst enemy.