(JollofNews) – When Yahya Jammeh came to power in July 1994, his Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) that overthrew the PPP regime of Sir Dawda Jawara promised to be soldiers with a difference.
With the motto accountability, transparency and probity, they promised to act and do everything different from the typical military governments we have seen in our continent.
Jammeh told Gambians that he had no interest or desire to stay in power and his military junta only took over power to free the Gambian people he claimed were ruled by a corrupt, despotic and retrogressive government that lived on flamboyant life styles while the average Gambian lived in abject poverty.
20-years on, all the sweet talk of making a difference, accountability, transparency and probity is dead and buried. The regime is not accountable to the electorates, nor is it transparent and trusted by the very people it claims to be serving. The regime has become a curse to Gambian people with President Yahya Jammeh transforming himself into a super god that is expected to be worshipped by every Gambian in the country.
Despite the return of the country to ‘civilian rule’, the Gambia is far from being democratic. It has become more tyrannical with President Jammeh continuing to tighten his grip on power everyday. While he often claims to be a democrat, the president rules the country with an iron hand, showing no mercy to his political opponents.
To him, western form of democracy is inapplicable in the Gambia and has instead introduced the Jammehcracy ideology- a government of Yahya Jammeh, by Yahya Jammeh and for Yahya Jammeh.
In Jammehcracy, while the three arms of government exist, the president gets total control of their activities. He uses parliament which is dominated by members of his party to manipulate the country’s constitution left, right and centre and a parliamentarian who refuses to vote for any bill drafted by the executive gets expelled from the house.
As a result, parliamentarians now put the president’s interest before national interest and would hastily passed draft legislations into laws without a second thought. The Gambian National Assembly is now transformed into an APRC bureau where President Jammeh is regarded as a puritan, perfectionist and prophet who will never eat until every Gambian has eaten.
The executive is also under firm grips of President Jammeh. Ministers are hired and fired without any explanation. Civil servants suspected of being opposition sympathisers are sent packing out of the Quadrangle. Police officers, armed forces, NIA and other security officers openly manifest their loyalty to the president and they never hesitate to harass opposition supporters and critics of the regime. Many security officers have been sacked for merely being impartial in the execution of their duties.
The Gambian judiciary has lost its independence to administer justice in a free and fair manner. President Jammeh is responsible for the appointment and removal of judges. Many judges who pass judgements against the state have been unceremoniously removed.
Although the Gambia holds periodic elections, they are never free and fair as they are designed to favour the president and the ruling party. The president is responsible for the appointment and removal of members the electoral commission who are responsible for conducting elections and vote counting.
While the Gambian constitution guarantees rights and freedoms of the citizens, the government continues to violate them without giving a monkey. Freedom of expression is not tolerated as journalists and other media practitioners are persecuted left, right and centre. And in a bid to prevent Gambians from establishing private newspapers, the government has still refused to repeal military Decree 70/71 from the country’s laws. Government has also introduced the criminal amendment code under which journalists risk receiving long jail terms for publishing false news and caricature.
Private media houses are shut down by the state without any court order and journalists are killed, arrested, tortured and detained well over the legal 72 hour period. President Jammeh himself has described African journalists as illegitimate sons of Africa who are brainwashed by the West to cause trouble and instability in their countries. Lashing out to journalists in one of his interviews he said: “Journalists are sh..t. You don’t need to go to toilet to know that it stinks.”
Today, journalism in the Gambia is a risky business. A journalist is ten times more likely to go to jail than a minister who swindles thousands of Dalasis from the state. As a result many Gambian journalists are fleeing the country living behind their children, parents and wives.
NIA officers at the Banjul International Airport now have a classified listed of innocent journalists and writers abroad not because they looted the Gambian economy or attempted to assassinate the president, but for telling the regime the unpleasant truth.
Freedom of association and assembly is also strictly restricted. Opposition parties intending to hold gatherings are required to seek a permit from the Inspector General of Police, who is appointed by the president.
Gambians also need a permit from the police to hold any demonstration. Gatherings and meetings without a permit are termed unlawful and the police and armed soldiers are often sent to disperse such gatherings. These security officers are immune and cannot be held liable for prosecution for any force they used to disperse such gatherings.
The government also seriously violates privacy of Gambians. As a result of its intolerance to criticisms, the lethal National Intelligence Agency (NIA) similar to the German Gestapo, tap the phones of innocent Gambians without any court order. Gambians cannot talk about Yahya Jammeh in the streets without looking at their backs to see who is listening. Political discussions in schools are now well out of the way with many students recruited as NIA officers to spy on their colleagues. Anyone found criticising the regime is whisked away to the NIA headquarters where they are merciless tortured. NIA officers are protected by law and can get away with anything including murder, kidnapping and torture.
Pressure groups in the country have all become voiceless and toothless. Their rights have been taken away and their leadership doesn’t even have the balls to criticise any law or government policy that is not in the interest of their members.
Gambians are today living in constant fear wondering who is next on the NIA list. Power belongs to the president and him alone.
The Jammeh regime continues to violate rights and personal liberty of Gambians. It also fails to protect political opponents from inhumane treatment to the extent of even depriving them from their properties. People who fall out with the president are often arbitrarily detained indefinitely at the Mile Two Prisons.
While the constitution guarantees the right of Gambians to join any political party of their choice, opposition sympathisers are stigmatised and treated like outcasts. Opposition figures and their children cannot get any job in the civil service. They are always presumed guilty anytime they clash with APRC supporters. Law enforcement officers are always on fishing expeditions to arrest and charge opposition sympathisers who refuse to defect to the APRC for the slightest wrong doing.
The Gambia today is like an open prison and there is no sign that President Yahya Jammeh will embrace western type of democracy anytime soon.
Last week, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe was elected chairman of the African Union. I am not surprised at this ridiculous decision because the union is dominated by politicians of the past, like Mugabe, Jammeh, Obiang, Biya and others who have taken power hostage and are governing their countries like their own personal estates.
How the heck does the AU expect an internationally isolated ape-looking tyrant like Mugabe, who has a habit of falling asleep at state functions to effectively conduct his duties as its chairman?
Men like Mugabe are intoxicated with power and a desire to lord over others at all cost. They are not the type of men to lead Africa in this century.