Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Gambians bury their heads in the sand while Jammeh wreaks havoc on the country

"From the sublime to the ridiculous" was how a friend put it to me recently, talking about my country - The Gambia.

The remark was prompted by the recent decision by Gambian dictator to proclaim the country an Islamic Republic, contravening Gambian law.  The Yaya Jammeh- inspired 1997 Constitution is very clear as to the status of the Gambia as being a Sovereign, Secular Republic.

His proclamation came without national debate or warning and thus came as a surprise to many Gambia despite the idiosyncratic and erratic behavior of one of the remaining old-style African dictators in the Idi Amin Dada mold.  If Gambians were surprised at the declaration, the Christian community appeared to be in a state of shock.  It was reported that church attendance was higher than normal on the Sunday following the declaration, suggesting a disquiet (however suppressed) in a community that has lived harmoniously and side by side with the Muslim majority.

Jammeh's contempt of the Constitution that legitimized his military-turned-civilian rule is legendary. His declaration of the Gambia an Islamic Republic was immediately followed by a bizarrely crafted government circular - the first of the new year - informing civil servants "are no longer allowed to expose their hair during official working hours effective December 31, 2015."  "Female staff are urged" the circular continues "to use head tie and neatly wrap their hair."

Personnel Management Office (PMO), the issuing agency, has been sidelined by the dictatorship in the human resource management of the civil service since Jammeh seized power in 1994.  All civil servants are hired and fired by the dictator.

The sublime, according to my friend, was when the country was considered one of the few multi-party democracies in Africa in the company of Mauritius and Botswana, swimming in a sea of single-party dictatorship.  Gambia took her rightful place in the community of nations under its first President in the 60s through the 90s when he was deposed by Yaya Jammeh in 1994. Gambia was the smallest country on the African continent but had one of the best managed free market economies. The country's human rights record earned it the headquarters of the African Union's (then OAU) African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

Under Jammeh, The Gambia has descended into the ridiculous with bizarre pronouncements and threats to his enemies, real and perceived.  He sees nothing wrong with threatening to slit the throats of gays and lesbians and the claim to have discovered the cure for AIDS.  His medical quackery extended beyond AIDS to include the cure for diabetes, high blood pressure and numerous other diseases.

Jammeh unilaterally withdrew Gambia's 48-year membership of the Commonwealth without consultation, neither with Gambians nor with regional leaders.  His reason for leaving was that the Commonwealth was a colonial relic that belongs in the dustbin of history - a withdrawal that was preceded by his abrupt and unceremonious severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan that shocked diplomats in both Banjul and Taipei.  Jammeh's Ambassador in Taipei only learned about the diplomatic breakup when he was summoned to the Foreign Minister to be served notice to leave the country.

On the human rights front, Jammeh had murdered, extra-judicially executed, tortured, maimed, imprisoned and exiled journalists.  He'd gunned down 14 unarmed school children who were demonstrating against renegade security elements who had caused the death of a young student and had raped another student.  He had inflicted so much pain and suffering on Gambians, they have been traumatized into submission.

Gambia's economy, the crown jewel Jammeh inherited from Sir Dawda K. Jawara, has being degraded to a level that it now ranked 16th in the 16-Member ECOWAS from 3rd position behind Cote d'Ivoire and Cabo Verde when he seized power in 1994, transforming the country in the process from being the "supermarket of the sub-region" to its current economic basket case status. .