I dare say, prior to July 22 Gambian revolution, our history has proven to be peaceful (hence smiling coast) provocative and culturally resonant for 30 years. 2016 marks 22 years since Yahya Jammeh took our beloved country to war with itself. The war began with swearing/insulting our imams, traditional leaders and village chiefs but it soon spread to become a tribal attack, destructions of social/cultural institutions such as village and district councils by firing our traditional chiefs/Alkalos and hiring his supporters.
This self-inflicted war on our social fabric, overstretched its resilience and consequently led to a complete breakdown of our safety nets such as families, villages, districts and regional social institutions. The chiefs no longer represented the interest of the villagers as they were used as political tools to victimise villagers who happened to differ in their opinions to the one sanctioned by the APRC. The division and hatred nurtured in our villages and regions undignified Alikalos/chiefs and rendered their positions poisonous to the development agenda engendered by the 3rd republic. They were then used by Yahya to grab lands further impoverishing/crippling them for his personal gain.
The strategies of inducing hatred, discriminations and inflicting poverty on the masses helped Yahya to establish a dependency syndrome, where people had to rely on him as a resource to survive the hardship induced by his government. He used this as a machinery to restrict people access to resources to fulfil his fantasy to dominate, intimidate, control and enforce loyalty on people. He coerced masses across the spectrum to compromise their intelligence and dignity for what lawfully belongs to them.
Yahya’s war on Gambia did not only conquer the social institutions, but also went to the extent of attacking our public institutions, firing and hiring on grounds of hate and discriminations. He replaced competent with incompetent people and in the process humiliated and destroyed the careers of so many young and older professionals. Many of these professionals had families to feed, nurture and schooled. These families too were destroyed in the process. Allahu Akbar.
As the firing and hiring continued, what was clear was the reciprocal relationship between Yahya and certain institutions. For certain staff to retain their position they had to give Yahya what he wanted. The minister of health had to be a great advocator of Yahya’s quasi – AIDS treatment regime. The interior minister had to fulfil Jammeh’s mandate of arresting and detaining innocent people without trial. Finance minister had to finance Jammeh’s dubious investments. The list goes on. Whilst these people could have resigned or resisted any temptation that would have compromise their professional integrity, the consequences of any attempts to deny Jammeh his wish could be detrimental. Many decided to engage with the culture nurtured by his regime. We all knew what had happened to those who refused to sanction that culture.
The biggest problem for me and many Gambians was and continued to be the poisonous legacy for the 20th and 21st century left behind by Yahya Jammeh. The legacy has the potential for some unresolved issues to be exacerbated by people’s apprehensions of the activities of the new government as it rightfully continues to advocate truth and reconciliation.
Jammeh’s biggest war, was of unprecedented scale and brutality on innocent Gambians. This war, on civil servants, oppositions, security forces, media personnel, mums and dads, left a very bad legacy behind. The consequences of his tortures, detentions without trials, disappearances and killings of dads, mums, aunties, uncles, brothers and sisters is here to stay and will remain in public discourse in my lifetime and beyond. Perhaps, the worst dictator in African history.
Despite the pain endured by the families of victims of Jammeh’s regime, their lost was shrouded in secrecy and their emotions were bottled and internalised. The Gambia is a country in grief and was refused the opportunity to mourn. The consequences could be detrimental. Now that opportunity has been created for Gambia to mourn, she needs to mourn as a country and as individuals in the country. I challenged the new government to observe national mourning on the inauguration day. The victim support team also needs to be strengthened with professionals that understand emotional processing and adaptation to help victims overcome their emotional problems.
This preamble will be followed by a few write ups to help the Gambians in their mourning processes. I have a special interest in helping out the mourning process of children.
Dr. Abdoulie Sanneh
(Health Promotion/Public Health)
People’s Health Trust Project
West Itchen Community Trust