A United Democratic Party (UDP) member who was stuck in an impasse with Jammeh’s military police at Fass Njaga Choi described dictator Yaya Jammeh as “the most unfair wrestling competitor, as he ties your hands and legs, then ask you to wrestle with him in the ring”. The statement summing up totally and very aptly the problems the Gambian opposition face trying to compete against Jammeh in Gambia, totally repressed, unable to hold meetings without a permit and facing arbitrary arrest and detention for opposing Jammeh.
Symbolically the Gambian opposition have both their hands and legs tied, by being denied access to the only state controlled TV and media, denied coverage by the other “independent newspapers and radio stations” due to self censorship by the journalist, required to apply for a permit to use a public address system to address constituents at meetings, refused avenues to negotiate much needed electoral reforms, their members threatened with arrest and torture for supporting the opposition, sacked from government jobs and totally weakened by design and not offered any help or recognition by the International community. Thus they continue to fight a loosing battle against dictator Jammeh and his state sponsored terrorism, until recently when diaspora groups and media amplified the plight of the Gambian opposition through social media like twitter, Facebook and online diaspora radios.
Two weeks ago, President Jammeh denied the UDP the major opposition party a permit to use a public address system as they embarked on a nationwide tour to sensitise the population as part of activities leading to the 2016 presidential elections. The news of the permit denial was immediately picked up by Gambian diaspora radios and newspapers, who ran the story of the permit denial and the UDP’s determination to continue with their tour regardless of the denial to use a public address system. Hours later, news began filtering through that the UDP entourage has been intercepted at Fass Njaga Choi by the police and military police who barricaded the road using their cars so that they could not continue on their tour. The police insisted on the UDP returning to Banjul the capital to seek for a permit but lawyer Darboe, the UDP leader insisted that it was their constitutional right to tour even if they are denied a permit to use a PA system. Within minutes of the impasse, news was on social media as well the diaspora radios and picked up by International news media that Yaya Jammeh has deployed armed military police to intercept the UDP caravan and the UDP are refusing to backdown and return to Banjul.
The impasse finally ended on Monday 20th April 2015, with many claiming victory for the Gambian opposition because they were not only finally granted a permit to use a PA system, but they showed resistance in the face of a real threat in a face off with armed security personnel whose record in April 2000 include the killing of 14 innocent and unarmed school students and the maiming of countless others. The single act of defiance by the UDP by refusing to return to Banjul and the five day non violent sit-down resistance that followed with members of the entourage including the elderly sleeping outside in the open on concrete floors highlighted the struggle the Gambian opposition face daily trying to uproot the dictatorial regime of Yaya Jammeh. What was even more galling is that the security forces deployed to block the opposition were not sent any food by the Jammeh administration and in the end the opposition had to share their food with the security forces sent to intercept them, showing the goodness of the Gambian spirit with that single act of sharing of food with your oppressors.
The irony of the situation was further highlighted by the fact that when the Jammeh government denied the opposition UDP a permit to use a public address system on their nationwide tour, their aim was to deny the opposition a platform to talk to Gambians. What the Jammeh regime did not count on was technology and the determination of dissidents in the diaspora to give the opposition the much needed platform to talk to Gambians. People called their families in Gambia to inform them of the blockage and urge them to support the UDP, International media reported on the impasse and the online diaspora radios opened an international platform. Many even argue that if the blockage did not happen, perhaps the likes of Fatoumata Tambajang would have never surfaced or become the face of the resistance to dictatorship in Gambia. Tambajang through her single act of going to going to Fass to show her solidarity with the opposition, opened the floodgates for women to shed fear and standup to denounce dictatorship.
Observers therefore said that through Yaya Jammeh’s misguided attempts to silent the opposition, he inadvertently gave them a global platform to not only channel their message but also expose him for the tyrant that he is. The funds also mobilized in the diaspora within a short time to support the opposition is clear indication of the need and wish for change.