Monday, December 14, 2015

"This is not about Islam, but (about) his survival" says a former confidant of Yaya Jammeh

Yaya Jammeh surrounded by military bodyguards  
It's been exactly one year since the Gambian dictator last ventured outside the country's borders.  For someone who loved globetrotting, giving it up must be the ultimate sacrifice.

The reason  for his self-imposed quarantine is he's petrified of the possibility of another attempt to oust him from power as dissidents resident in the United States and Europe tried to do in December 2014 further reinforcing his reputation among his former military colleague of being a coward.

His political opponents resident in the U.S. and Europe, who attempted to oust him, have not relented in their determination to see him exit the scene.  They are more determined today than ever before to this endeavor.

The pressure Jammeh faces is not limited to the diaspora Gambian communities abroad.  Political and diplomatic pressures also appears to be coming from regional sources such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) whose recent attempt to pass a resolution that would have imposed term limits on the 16 heads of state that constitute its membership failed by two votes - the two opposing countries were are Gambia and Togo.  All indications are, the heads of state will try again to pass it, with Togo joining the majority, further isolating Jammeh.

The European Union had earlier blocked the country's access to development assistance fund, upwards of $ 36 million, because of the deplorable human rights record and the chronic corruption culture that has permeated the regime and thriving.  Lack of development funds has forced Jammeh to look towards the Arab and Muslim world and, as we have said in an earlier blog, declaring Gambia an Islamic Republic is part of that strategy.

Development expenditure, mainly financed by external credits and grants, has slowed significantly as a result thus forcing Jammeh to resort to domestic borrowing to continue to finance his pet projects at tremendous cost to the economy.  Many businesses have either closed their doors or have moved to more friendly business-friendly environments in neighboring countries.  Unemployment is high, especially youth unemployment, and cost of living has skyrocketed with no signs of abating.

The resultant effect of all of these problems facing the regime is heightened anxiety among an increasingly restive population that must contend with the effects of living in a repressive environment under a brutal and corrupt dictatorship.    

Therefore, the pronouncement by Yaya Jammeh that The Gambia is now an Islamic Republic must be seen in the context of the new realities of a country that has been significantly transformed, in our opinion, for the worse.  The Gambia, though small in size, was once a highly respected country with an enviable track record, internationally.  The situation today is significantly different and Gambians have finally come to realize that the regime of Jammeh is bad for the country who has tarnished the image of the country so extensively that it will take a generation or two to restore.

The isolation of the country is being felt within the regime.  Therefore, every effort is being made internally to engage the population by deflecting their attention, hopefully, away from the problems. At the regional level, Jammeh is barely on speaking terms with his immediate neighbor - Senegal - and the larger grouping of ECOWAS.  Gambia has effectively reached a pariah state status, if not a failed state.

Jammeh's options a limited and he knows it.  A former close confidant of Jammeh when asked what was the dictator's real motive for the decision to proclaim Gambia an Islamic Republic, his response was " had been part of his greater agenda to get rid of credible opposition in the country."  The same source continued "[M]ark my word, he's not serious about [creating] an Islamic State.  It is a ploy to arrest and silence opposition figures under Sharia law."

Jammeh's strategy appears to be "to use every bit of Sharia to humiliate, arrest and jail them" according to our source. "This agenda", the source continued, " will affect everyone from [members of the] security forces to civilians."  When we recalled that Jammeh's Justice Minister Mama Singhateh visited Malaysia earlier in the year to seek technical assistance in drafting Gambia's Sharia laws, the former Jammeh aide said "it is not about Islam but his survival." Luckily, "people know his tricks now," he concluded.