Alagi Yorro Jallow
They say that it takes a village to raise a child. But to raise a dictator and groom him for more than two decades in national leadership? That takes a whole nation. It takes a whole nation to remember, but also a whole nation to forget. The struggle over memory is far from over. We continue to decide what to remember and what to forget. But we must remember that what constitutes our national collective responsibility reveals who and what we are as a nation. Let the dead bury the dead, and the living move on with life. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “The history of free men is never written by chance, but by choice – their choice.” Those meant to uphold the values of life and liberty cannot remain silent over atrocity and injustice. We have become a nation of lambs led to the slaughter but must utter no word, silence, under Yahya Jammeh for 22 years. We were cowards, hypocrites and wronged because our ability to tolerate barbarity and tyranny was stretched to its limits.
“He who doesn’t know where he came from doesn’t know where is going,” says an African proverb. The Gambian intellectual community are lost; they don’t know where they are going. I shook my head when I read “It’s a patriotic duty to serve your country.” Serving a tyrant. It seems they are way behind the curve, late to the struggle for democracy and good governance in the Gambia and are only playing “catch-up” with proposed conferences, “belly politics” and the lure for ministerial and diplomatic positions. What is strange in the Gambia is those who have usurped the role of identifying themselves as intellectuals negotiating for dominance in the public space. The nature and role of intellectuals include searching for the truth, interrogating the meaning and knowing the implications of both public conduct and policy decisions.
Afflicted with “intellectual astigmatism,” our intellectuals cannot see with eagle-eyed clarity the injustices perpetrated against the oppressed by the dictator. But they are hopelessly blind to the equally heinous injustices committed by the dictator against their own people. Too many of them sold off their integrity, principles and conscience to serve the dictates of barbarous Yahya Jammeh. He seemed to always find intellectuals and sycophants to serve at his beck and call. Some of them even preferred military to civilian rule.
When Yahya shamelessly pretended to return the country to civilian rule, religious leaders Compins, Youth leaders, community leaders and intellectuals began to point to the fact that military rule was the preferred option since civilians had not learned enough lessons to be entrusted with the governance of the country. Those people are called pseudo- intellectuals, individuals who take on the guise of the intellectual to promote embedded political tribalism.
Our faith in our nation is badly shaken. Our faith in the sincerity of the Gambian people to protect our diversity in a secular nation has been called to question over and over. Our optimism in our constitutional republic is like the proverbial frog boiled gradually to death in a pot of warm water. The willingness of the people to obey unjust laws exposes them. Their ability to perpetuate the mass murder of the Gambian people, burying them in unmarked graves or feeding their carcasses to the crocodiles, speaks volumes of reckless brutality.
Every citizen at every level should have spoken and denounced the illegality of a coup and the continued suppression of our human dignity and humanity to reassure the Gambia that is worthy of our sweat, blood and sacrifice. Every Gambian should have broken the long silence and prolonged spilling of innocent blood under Yahya Jammeh in the name of “solders with a difference” that came with a heavy price to our country. Our country is no more sacred that the blood of our children. The systematic humiliation, enslavement, subjugation and complete annihilation of a “lesser people” to allow for the forced acquisition of our land for whatever purposes – religious and tribal dominance and conquest – should be halted. Most Gambians remain silenced and continue to enable Yahya Jammeh in his thievery of our resources and killing of the people with impunity. Most Gambians, especially the police, the military and educated civilians who covertly sold their souls to the dictator, justified serving the tyrant in exchange of economic development toward civil liberty. Civilian intellectuals who commissioned, armed and appointed state ministers are just like the so-called Green Boys by doing these dirty jobs for the dictator; they must be brought to justice. Those silenced when Koro Ceesay and journalist Deyad Hydara were killed as well as during the arson attack on the Independent newspaper, the torching of Radio One FM and the closure of Citizen FM radio are today the very social media fame whores who seek attention just for attention’s sake. They are those who flood our Facebook feeds just to feed their ego. They post, repost, share, reshare and comment because there is a need to, now more than ever. How can we – you – be silent when the voices of malicious misinformation and populist historical revisionism have grown louder each passing day over 22 years.
“Silence is golden” is a proverbial saying, often used in circumstances where it is thought that saying nothing is preferable to speaking. Who is fooling who? I am usually defiantly optimistic when I think of the Gambia, but even that has not been spared “change.” When Yahya Jammeh detained the opposition leaders and held them incommunicado at the notorious Mile Two Central Prisons, seizing their liberty, we all remained silenced. Yahya continued to kill politicians and, despite several court orders, expose our collective weakness of silence and complicity.
The progressive extrajudicial extermination of the Gambia exposes our silence and complicity. The willingness of our people to accept and condone injustice is not the attribute of a great nation and cannot be expected to last forever. Self-defense and self-determination are fundamental and inalienable human rights and legitimate options which the Gambian people and indeed all citizens should have pushed to consider.
Counsel and bitter truth are worth their weight in gold. So, those who love this country, like the Gambian people, should not have remained silent for 22 years. When those sworn to defend us are perceived to be complicit with murderers, they keep silent or rein in our rage forever, especially those in the police, in the military, the youth and our intellectuals, who are prostitutes of the highest order. Many “untainted” political leaders and other journalists who were outspoken and challenged the dictator are detribalized, personable and humane. They have never remained silent; they broke their silence and joined great Gambians such as Halipha Sallah and his party, Ousainou Darboe and his party, Hamat Bah and Omar Amadou Jallow – those military people who resisted on November 11, 1994 – and some members of the private press to speak for restraint and challenge the dictator. They paid a heavy price but were never silent to the horror show of dictatorship.
The assumption that all military coups fit within this traditional, antidemocratic model pervades the legal literature of illegal and treasonable. According to the prevailing view, a democratic military coup is an oxymoron. For example, Richard Albert’s recent work on democratic revolutions states that “by definition, a coup cannot be democratic.” Military coups, according to Professor Albert, constitute “an affront to the democratic ideals of stability, consent, and legitimacy.” Andrew Janos likewise, has argued that a coup d’état “is the reversal hood’s or anybody else of the process of revolution.” Other examples of this academic view abound. Federal law in the United States reflects the same disdain for military coups by prohibiting, with certain exceptions, any financial assistance “to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.” The European Union made a similar commitment in 1991. Opposition political parties and some independent journalists never recognized the July 22 Revolution, but a section of civil society associations and groups all joined with their families and supported the bandwagon of the July 22 Revolution. Those supporters are the very people now distancing themselves from the dictator’s movement.
According to the proverbial saying, “you cannot divorce your husband and reclaim your virginity.” The July 22 Revolution has been illegal since day one. Why has it taken that long for the journalist, the police officer, the military officer and the fly-by-night activists who enabled the dictator and worked with the dictator to not question the illegality of the July 22 Revolution. Yet, our drama kings and queens of social media – those who lose their manhood and fertility for two decades – now become an apostle of democracy and constitutional governance. Therefore, it’s collectively profitable to stand up and speak out for a good cause. Silence may be golden, but not in the face of oppression and tyranny. According to Professor Wole Soyinka, “The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” Bishop Desmond Tutu also accents that, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.