Jammeh’s unrelenting grip on the Gambia ahead his fifth term ambition
It is not by accident that the Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh is listed as one of Africa’s most erratic and unpredictable leaders. Since July 22, 1994, when he seized power, Jammeh has stumbled from one crisis to another, including allegations of gross abuse of human rights. His 22 years in power is increasingly stories of slayings, crackdowns, detentions, and various heinous offenses. Two weeks after the disclosure of death in detention of the National Organising Secretary of the Gambia’s opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), Mr. Solo Sandeng, the world seems to be growing less concerned. Sandeng was arrested together alongside 18 others, while protesting on April14, 2016.
When the government failed to produce four of the protesters in court on Monday, fear of their death or serious incapacitation became heightened. They are identified as Lamin Ceesay, Fatoumatta Camara, Fatoumatta Jawara and Nokoi Njie. The last three are women.
Yet, if events go according to plans, and there is little doubt they would not, President Jammeh would be seeking his fifth term in office by December. This aspiration is increasingly putting him at loggerheads with the opposition. Increasingly, Jammeh, believed to possess some diabolical powers, is responding with trademark brutality, aiming to incapacitate the opposition and paving his way. Several senior opposition leaders have been arrested after demanding answers from the authorities on Sandeng’s death.
For the first three decades of its independence, Gambia did not fare differently from the sub-Saharan African rule, given its long rein of its only two leaders, Dauda Jawarah and Jammeh. Gambians have found themselves subjected to the whims of an eccentric figure who seems divorced from reality. Jammeh’s cure, herbs and banana, for HIV/AIDS works only on Thursdays, he claims. The President also claims to have homemade asthma remedy, which is efficacious only on both Fridays and Saturdays.
While these idiosyncrasies often pass on as comical relief, Jammeh’s alleged predilection for extra-judicially killing of political opponents, military officers, administrators, civilians and even family members has proved rather less whimsical.
The April 2000 massacre of student protesters and journalists has followed by the butchery of 44 Ghanaian and other African migrants by members of the Gambian gendarmerie in 2005. There was also the allegation of abduction and poisoning of hundreds of individuals by government-sponsored witch doctors during a bizarre 2009 sorcery scare.
Jammeh has survived a number of attempts to oust him, including a December 30, 2014 presidential palace invasion, in which he accused former head of the Palace Guard as the mastermind.
On the economic front, Gambia, whose main industries are agriculture and tourism, ranks 165 out of 187 countries on the UN development index.
Developmental aids from Western donors have been experiencing decline in recent years due to poor rights record of the administration.
Recently, Jammeh has turned to China for succour. But even the Chinese are wary of relationship with the unstable Gambian leader. Analysts believe that part of the reasons for turning to Beijing was to spite Taiwan, after the Taiwanese rejected his alleged blackmail for increase in developmental aid money.
How long Jammeh would succeed in keeping growing discontent in check should become more evident in the coming days to the December polls. This is despite the Indemnity Law the President signed in 2001, giving him sweeping powers to prevent security forces from being prosecuted for quelling what he described as “unlawful assembly.”
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