By Ousman Jobe
Since the arrest and the subsequent detention of the executive members of United Democratic Party and its youth on April 14 and 16 respectively, there has been imperative sequence of developments in the political landscape of the Gambia. For the first in his 22 years of his ruling, Yahya Jammeh’s legitimacy as the president of the Republic of the Gambia has been severely tested by the protestors who defiantly call upon him to resign and to spare the life of innocent Gambians. The protestors, who also insolently commit themselves to secure the release of the opposition members, including the Secretary General of the UDP Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, unprecedentedly demystified the omni-feared Gambian leader in the Highway of Kairaba Avenue in a broad daylight. While this sudden eclipse of fear among the Gambians about the proclaimed Babili mansa (bridge builder) has been above the comprehension of many, the regime’s response to such protests and the verbal attacks against the once dreadful president has been quite indecisive and characterized by mutation over the scale of the protest.
Nevertheless, the peaceful match of the people on May 8, 2016 was marked with violent confrontation between the protestor and the members of Para military as considerable number of people, including elderly people and nursing mothers, were brutally beaten and injured and subsequently arrested. Although this incidence mirrored the fatigue of Yahya’s Jammeh and his intolerance with the unparalleled weekly protests in Banjul and its outskirts, it could also mark the beginning of his departure from the state house. This is because the violent response to the peaceful match or protest only triggered parallel mass demonstration, and the detention of many Gambians would also lead to the increase protest in scale and scope.
On the one hand, the systematic and excessive use of force and violent response to a peaceful match in the Gambia could backfire against Yahya Jammeh’s regime. This is ascribed to the fact that protests in general tend to escalate and turn into violence when police officers use aggressive tactics, such as approaching demonstrators in riot gear or lining up in military-like formations. Under this, circumstance, such protests continue until the demands of the people are partially or completely met by the government.
In 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian revolution, small scale of capital based protests against Bin Ali of Tunis and Mubarak of Egypt turned into a fiery national spectacle when the police and army aggressively reacted to these protests; such protests in Egypt and Tunis did only subdued when both Bin Ali and Mubarak vacated the presidency. This positive relation between the use of force against protestors and escalation of protest is understood in the context that once governments use force indiscriminately against its people, such irresponsible action tends to catch the attention of international community, and it wins a eclectic media coverage while the sympathizers with governments and passive participants in the protests become active in the protest.
Thus, the legitimacy of such government deteriorated in the eyes of its people and the international community, as the eclipse of the protest become tied to the departure of this governments. The case of Egypt, Tunis and Burkina Faso are the typical examples of this. Accordingly, as the Yahya Jammeh regime has embarked on the indiscriminate use of violence, the protest could crumble gradually to reach provinces; and the passive participants in the protests and sympathizers with Yahya Jammeh could turn against him amid mounting pressures from international community and extensive international media coverage. This would lead ultimately to the demise of his 22 years of ruling as the protest will remain vivid on the streets until the raised demands are met.
On the other hand, As the regime in the Gambia has resorted to the mass arrest and unlawful detention of the protestors, this could reflective positively on the forthcoming protests. This is even acute when we put into the account social structure in the Gambia, nature of the families ties that characterized relations between people, and communal responsibility of showing solidarity with neighbors and friends. Gambia is a traditional society in which social norms which- are internalized through socialization- continue to structure social relations and to dictate and shape the responsibility of the members a community towards the community and its people. The fact many of the protestors who so occupy streets leading to Banjul high court are drawn for the family, relatives and friends of the opposition members, who are being detained and tries illustrates how the internalized social norms are dictating these people to show their solidarity and sympathy with the detainees.
Therefore, as Yahya Jammeh devises violent means to arrest and detain large number of people, this will positively contribute in turn out of any subsequent protest as the relatives, families and friends of the newly detainees will turn out to fulfill their social responsibility of showing sympathy and solidarity with the detainees. This is more acute, if we bear in mind value attached to family networking through intermarriage and sense of neighborhoodness in the Gambia, which bring people from diverse tribes together as one family.
Therefore, as Gambians at home and abroad show their intolerance with Jammeh’s 22 years of ruling characterized by mysterious killings and disappearance of people, corruption and tribalism, his recent device to silence people will backfire. The systematic use of force by the Gambian para military and soldiers would not only lead to the escalation of the protest in scope and scale, it would also lead to the ultimate demise of Yahya Jammeh regime sooner or later.