Young people of the Gambia, now is your time. The time has come for you to fulfill your responsibilities to your people and to yourselves. I am speaking about the young people below the age of 30. For the most part of your life, you have been denied to effectively express and meaningfully contribute your quota to national development, as you should because of the Dictatorship.

You were eight years old when full-blown Dictatorship germinated in our society. In the past 22 years, as you grew up in both physique and cognition, you know of only one narrative. A narrative that distorts reality and generates illusion; a make-belief of a drama of lies and calumny. A narrative that epitomizes a single person who has been projected as the alpha and omega of our society. One person who has been said to be the rainmaker, the bridge builder, the defender of the Faith, the best farmer, the medical myth buster, the bravest, the smartest, the peacemaker, the defender of Africa and the conqueror of the White Man, the best leader ever to emerge in our motherland, the one and only Yaya Jammeh, Ya Nasurudeen, the Babili Mansa! Behind all of these false accolades, the incontrovertible facts are that he is the world’s most immoral, clueless and crudest Misleader. He is the worst that any nation could wish for and have.

As typical of Dictatorship, the reality and its truth are always suspended and then distorted to make white, black and make black, white. To subject a person therefore to Dictatorship in itself is a crime that has no boundaries. It is a crime because Dictatorship looks at you in the face and grips your mind, faith and truth and turns them upside down, inside out and then slams falsehood into your brain and heart as gospel. Dictatorship destroys one’s faith in God and country and damages the very values and standards without which one cannot be called a decent, dignified and sovereign human being who is an embodiment of self-esteem.

Dictatorship misinforms, miseducates, misleads and disorganizes a person and a people against their own individual and collective self-interests. Dictatorship strengthens its deceptive nature with violence to inject fear and cynicism into you such that you either resign to become a tool for the Dictator or you flee away from the Dictator by either leaving your country or remain in perpetual silence, sorrow and anger. To live in an environment of Dictatorship is itself torturous, inhuman and degrading even if you are on your bed in your bedroom. Dictatorship is a cancer. This was the environment in which you grew up.

Many of you may still be in doubt of this freedom. In fact many of you may still be asking how does freedom feel like or look like because you were never socialized and nurtured in an environment of freedom. And if it is true that one’s environment is one of the major factors that shapes one’s experience and outlook of life, then we can conclude that our young people have no idea about freedom. They know only oppression and exploitation due to Dictatorship. Hence it is urgent that our young people redeem themselves – body, mind and soul in order for them to live and breathe freedom to be able to reposition themselves to better contribute to national advancement.

In redeeming yourselves, young people must know and understand the past first in order to understand the present to be able to carve out a future for their society and themselves. Without the knowledge of the past, it is like a tree without roots. Knowledge of the past and your experience is what prepares you to know your responsibility and assume the leadership role that is required of you to fulfill, otherwise you shall continue to be a tool to be used and misused and then discarded in the dustbin of history.

That young people have been the leading casualties of this Dictatorship is clear as noonday. We all recall the torture, maiming and massacre of several school children on April 10 and 11 in the year 2000. We recall the rape of the schoolgirl and the beating to death of the schoolboy that sparked that peaceful demonstration turned violent by the Dictator. In the commission of inquiry held over the incident, it came to light that the Dictator Yaya Jammeh gave the orders to the paramilitary forces to shoot. Yet Isatou Njie Saidy, a despicable tool of the Dictator, without shame or fear said firing come out from among the school children. Yet until today no one has been apprehended for being the shooter among the children, but the Dictator and his disgraceful parliamentarians at the time went ahead to pass a law to protect the murderers of our children.

We have seen the lack of opportunities and the exploitative programs that young people have been subjected to. Young people were the Green Boys and Green Girls, a whole generation misused and abused as singing and dancing slaves without remorse to the satisfaction of the Dictator. Young People as students from our various educational institutions from primary to tertiary level as well as from our villages and towns have been used as farm labourers in Kanilai and the many other ill-gotten farms of the Dictator.

Hollow slogans such as ‘Eat What You Grow, Grow What You Eat’ were bombarded on our youth to make-belief that there was indeed a national crusade for food self-sufficiency. Coupled with another illegitimate slogan, ‘Operation Feed the Nation’ was propagated as a genuine national program when in actual fact these farms and gardens and their produce belonged only to the Dictator who continues to make himself richer at the detriment of the youth while the masses get poorer and more hungry. Dishonest policy makers and technocrats allowed themselves to become pawns as they promote the biggest lie of the century, ‘Vision 2016’ that by the end of the year there will be no importation of rice. Shame on them!

We have also seen how joblessness, voicelessness and powerlessness characterize the lot of our young people to the point that the Gambia has become the second country in Africa after Eritrea with the highest number of its young people embarking on illegal migration. Lack of hope and liberty has forced thousands into dangerous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea to seek better lives and freedom in Europe. Hundreds of our young people have perished in those journeys while many more hundreds are in camps in Libya, Italy, Malta, Spain and other European nations in difficult conditions. Yet at home, despite the high sounding yet hollow slogans and fanciful programs of the Dictator, the fact remains that youth related initiatives, institutions and programs are under funded and lacking in priority. The Ministry of Youth is the least funded ministry, while the NYSS, GTTI, PIA, NEDI and NYC are continuously starved of resources, constrained and neglected. One is always appalled at the dilapidation of these institutions when you visit their hapless offices. Even where you held your biennial NAYCONF, your recommendations could not go any further but treated with contemptible disregard, while you had no freedom to vigorously advocate and hold to account the relevant stakeholders.

Young people must not forget the uncountable harassments, denials, arbitrary arrests, detention and enforced disappearances as journalists, students, and youth activists. We can remember some popular victims. Omar Barrow. Chief Ebrima Manneh. Sait Matty Jaw. Minah Manneh. Baboucarr Ceesay. Abukakarr Saidykhan. Killa Ace. Just to name a few of young people who have been hunted down by the regime.

Sadly, just across the border in Senegal, where young people are the beacons of hope and progress in their societies; leading and inventing ideas and initiatives, in the Gambia our young people can only define themselves when they flee out of our motherland. Every day and night, our young people are amazed at the wonders of the youth of Senegal as we watch them on TFM, Walf, 2sTV, Sen TV and many more places where they show their talent such as at the National Theatre or Daniel Sorano or in programs like ‘Sen Petit Galle’. Our young musicians can only break grounds if they team up with their Senegalese counterparts. This is all because the Dictator has closed the environment so much so that no independent private initiative could flourish unless it is centred on the Dictator to be praised and exalted as the pharaoh. Yet in Senegal, the young musicians can criticize their president and yet make even more sales of their records, with fear.

As it is with our musicians, journalists, and activists, so it is with our young entrepreneurs. Gambia has uncountable enterprising young people who have the capacity to initiate and produce great ideas and businesses. Yet our young entrepreneurs could not create a niche for themselves because of the towering figure of a pharaoh who wants everything only for himself at the detriment of the country. Thus instead of creating and supporting youth related institutions and programs with the right resources and guidance, the Dictator rather created uncountable platforms of waste and vanity such as open air parties and festivals in Kanilai, or at McCarthy Square illegally renamed July 22 Square and on the beaches to waste away the lives and future of young people.

These and many other unfortunate incidents have been the life of the youth in the Gambia over the past 22 years. On December 1, we gained freedom. What are you going to do about it?

I have lived half of my life under Dictatorship. When I am supposed to be in my prime, I could not contribute because I do not have the freedom and space to be independent and radical in my thoughts and initiatives. The barrier has been the Dictator. Thus many of my generation either had to flee their motherland or succumb to become abettors for the Dictator. Yet few of us remained to speak out as much as we could or keep quiet in order to torment ourselves with anger and sorrow.

Yet some brave ones stood up at the cost of their lives such as Solo Sandeng. I cannot count, how many times I had to bite and pinch myself for the stupidity and falsehood that were perpetuated daily in our society. On many occasions, I had even questioned whether Allah truly exists or whether I was not suffering from mental imbalance because I could not reconcile the imbecility I see in my society with what truth and God represent. Truly, Dictatorship can disorient a person!

As we usher in this new freedom, let the young people who were 8 years old in 1994 when the tyranny began, stand up to ensure that never should they allow another tyranny to spring up. Young people must see themselves as not only the leaders of tomorrow, but also as the leaders of today. Young people form the majority of our society. Never should you allow your children to grow up in tyranny. Tyranny makes a people immoral, dishonest, unpatriotic, and turns them into liars and thieves yet in their dishonesty and thievery, they celebrate the Dictator without shame while embellishing the untruth as the truth. Be responsible, patriotic and honest.

Organize yourselves into discussion groups, organizations, and movements. Strengthen your existing groups and activities. Get interested in what Pres. Adama Barrow and his government will say or do not say. Watch what he does or does not do. Be prepared to demonstrate peacefully, to monitor and to speak out on all and anything that you feel is not going in the interest of the nation and young people in particular. To get organized, you must have a mission first. To have a mission you must be enlightened first.

You have every opportunity to be informed and organized. The Internet alone has made accessibility to diverse sources of information possible. It was Frantz Fanon who said that each generation must discover its mission, to fulfill or betray. Young people of the Gambia, have you discovered your mission? Are you prepared to fulfill or betray that mission? Yesterday, Dictatorship might have denied you to discover your mission much more fulfill it. Today, that is not the case. There is no more any excuse.

My message to you is to remember that in every society under tyranny, the biggest victims and losers are always young people. They are victims and losers because their energies, talents and ideas are constrained, misused, exploited and stolen from them. They are victims and losers because they miss out several years in their age that they cannot get back. I am a victim.

My generation and I have lost 22 and half years of the primetime of our lives without being able to impact on our society, as we should have. Imagine at the age of 23 when I completed university and returned home, if I had found in place a free society, I would have contributed far more immensely to the Gambia’s development than has been the case. Thus if you are a young person, consider that for a moment and realize that if you fail to stand up for your freedom and for a free, open and just Gambia you will also become a lost generation to another tyranny. Never allow that.

Young People of the Gambia, Arise.

By Madi Jobarteh