Saturday, January 21, 2017 marks the day on which the suffering people of The Gambia were finally freed from the tyranny of their brutal and murderous dictator, Yahya Jammeh.
Ever since he assumed power in a bloodless military coup d’état on July 22, 1994, overthrowing the elected government of President Sir Dawda Jawara, The Gambia’s first President, this ruthless and murderous dictator, Yahya Jammeh, ruled that country with an iron fist, tolerating absolutely no freedom of thought or expression. Anyone who dared to speak out was immediately incarcerated and even murdered.
He commenced this brutality immediately following the coup, when he started arresting high officials of government, dumping them in the back of trucks and humiliating them. When the Daily Observer, The Gambia’s first professional newspaper and first daily, founded by Liberian Publisher Kenneth Y. Best and his family, started being critical of Head of State Jammeh’s maltreatment of Gambian citizens, Jammeh immediately moved against the newspaper and its staff.
He arrested Mr. Best and his senior editors, who were lengthily interrogated by the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Mr. Best and others were imprisoned, and 10 days later, on October 30, 1994, Best was summarily deported back to Liberia.
But not long thereafter, the same two officials whom Jammeh used to enforce Mr. Best’s deportation, the Vice Head of State and Minister of Interior, were imprisoned and both died in jail. Later, Jammeh’s Finance Minister was found dead in a vehicle in a village he had never visited!
Jammeh became even more ruthless with the press. The President of the Gambian Press Union, Deyda Hydara, who was also Editor-in-Chief of The Point, a weekly, was shot in the head on a Banjul street.
In his 22 years in power, Jammeh killed many more people, had people imprisoned indefinitely and he forced into exile several journalists who had been trained by the Gambian Observer newspaper, many human rights and pro-democracy advocates, politicians and ordinary people.
Jammeh managed to undertake some development projects, including the building of The Gambia’s first university and the building of the Banjul International Airport, but these came at a heavy cost to the people—total repression and subjugation. People lived in total fear and a poverty-stricken existence.
As for the Gambian Daily Observer, the Best family had to sell it for far less than it was worth and we understand the payment was arranged through the Central Bank of The Gambia. Jammeh quickly took over the newspaper and ran it as his personal property which, unlike the independent daily and “voice of the voiceless” that it was, soon became the mouthpiece of Jammeh and his government.
But something great happened in The Gambia in the past four months. As the people approached the 2016 elections, the country’s numerous opposition parties decided to unite, and they put forward ONE candidate, Adama Barrow, to stand against Yahya Jammeh. The lone opposition candidate won the election. The victory was so convincing that, to almost everyone’s surprise, Jammeh immediately conceded defeat.
But a few days later he reversed himself, alleging “election irregularities” and called for new elections. It was at that point that the Liberian Daily Observer, the mother newspaper of the Gambian one, called for the immediate intervention of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and the United Nations. All these organizations got busy. They were led by the regional power, ECOWAS, whose President, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, took the bull by the horns, vigorously assisted by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, outgoing President
John Mahama of Ghana and Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, UN Special Representative for West Africa. All of these eminent states woman and men paid several visits to Banjul, trying to persuade Jammeh to do the right thing. But he fooled himself by trying to play tough. It was, however, only a matter of time. When he continued his intransigence, ECOWAS quickly got tougher. Senegalese announced that it was ready to enter Banjul with full military force, backed by contingents from Nigeria and Ghana.
The President of Mauritania also flew into Banjul and persuaded Jammeh to leave. The Gambian army leader, meanwhile, openly danced in the streets welcoming the Senegalese forces. It was now no turning back.
Jammeh, the pretentious giant, soon melted, and within a few hours, he was gone! He was flown to Guinea, en route to Equatorial Guinea, in exile!
“How the mighty are fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” is the way the Prophet Samuel put it.
We must give praise and thanks to ECOWAS, most especially its President, Liberian leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nigerian President Buhari, Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma, Ghanaian outgoing President Mahama, and UN West Africa Representative Mohammed Chambas, for the gallant role they played in liberating this beleaguered and tyranny-stricken country without violence and bloodshed.
Truly, our leaders have risen to the challenge and their success in this particular exercise must ring a resounding bell to all Africa that the days of tyranny are over!
The international community must now decide what next to do with Yahya Jammeh.