“Everyone is free. You can do whatever you want, because this is a democratic country. You can express yourself. No one can kill you.”
Yahya Jammeh, the former President of The Gambia was born in May 1965 and by 29 was already occupying the top office in his country. He was a young, vibrant lieutenant who had delusions of a utopic Gambia which he could create and then “retire to the barracks”. In 1994, he is remembered for saying the coup would be a “coup with a difference”. He went on to claim that his soldiers would return to the barracks as soon as they had “set things right”. He never returned to the barracks with his soldiers and maybe things were not right yet. Interestingly, his departure from office does not see him return to the barracks but flee to Equatorial Guinea after an embarrassingly desperate attempt to remain in charge.
Yahya Jammeh’s political career was a result of militaristic muscle and he failed to fully legitimize his leadership by winning an election without complaints of repression, violence and opposition party activist disappearances. In the very first election after the coup, there were reports that “Mr. Jammeh’s Government outlawed the country’s main opposition parties, muzzled the press, forbade meetings between rival candidates and foreign diplomats and used soldiers to attack opposition rallies. Three people were killed and dozens wounded in one such attack against Mr. Darboe’s (an opposition candidate) final rally in a suburb of the capital.” As if the run-ups to elections were not gruesome enough, the his leadership was generally marked by suppression of fundamental rights like expression and association. A head of a newspaper that was highly critical of the President, The Point, Mr Deyda Hydara was shot by the Gambian secret service after sustained criticism of Jammeh and Hydara’s son was told to leave if he did not want to end up like his father. The ECOWAS tribunal found against The Gambia’s secret service saying, “Justice would not seem to have been done in this case as the very body which was accused of complicity was the very one charged with the responsibility to investigate.” Another journalist, Chief Ebrima Manneh was nabbed and detained incommunicado by the Jammeh regime. With more people detained and some even killed, the Jammeh regime is not one to miss. It perpetuated a reign of terror and election results were always questionable.
At a point, it seemed Jammeh was going to use Gambians as human shields after he was threatened with military action by ECOWAS. He had intimated that he would not back down but after talking to the Mauritanian and Guinean leaders, he had a change of heart and left the country. Announcing on State Television, he said, “I have decided today in good conscience to relinquish the mantle of leadership of this great nation with infinite gratitude to all Gambians.”
This is great news but there have been claims that Jammeh has been given immunity which is the end of all the atrocities he committed. Howevee, a Senegalese minister and Adama Barrow, the new Gambian leader denied that Jammeh had been offered immunity in exchange for leaving the country. It is still confusing to imagine what is going on because there is a document that pledges that Jammeh’s property will not be seized and his rights as a former leader and citizen will be respected. Barrow has again said this document, though undersigned by ECOWAS, the African Union and the United Nations is not binding. He said this after revealing that Jammeh may have cleaned out the country’s coffers. This is a man who must be punished. He cannot and should not be rewarded for attempting to outmaneuver democracy. If he gets immunity, he could serve as an inspiration for more brutish dictators to crush citizens at will and trust their stubbornness to rescue them in the end.
Reuters reports that thousands of people are returning to their country and one Hawa Jagne’s words are sure to have captured the entire country’s sentiments, “Everyone is free. You can do whatever you want, because this is a democratic country. You can express yourself. No one can kill you.”
Evil has fled the country on a plane to Equatorial Guinea!
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