The changing chess game in West African politics
The former President of ECOWAS, James Victor Ghebo, was a catalyst in the dawning of West Africa's changing political culture. And now, not to be out-done, the larger African Union body has come out swinging with jaw-dropping insinuations about the abominable political lethargy of the past. Africa's political leaderships can no longer expect safe shelter behind the infinite power and influence of their nondescript monarchical regimes or hope that their impunities, a hallmark of their cataclysmic reigns, will continue to fall on deaf ears. Africa's proverbial winds of change are blowing, but this time around the shifting sands of the continent's political culture are neither another fleeting adventure in the political grandstanding we have become accustomed to, nor is it a renewed manifestation of the numbing hypocritical indifference that has for so long be-deviled the continent's uneven political landscape. And, nowhere do these evolving political paradigms offer more promise and opportunity than in West Africa, where recent political history boasts the unenviable record of brutal civil wars, and the total and complete collapse of civil order. Ivory Coast, Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Mali, have all been mired in nightmares of whimsical political leaderships and the vicissitudes of endemic corruption, bureaucratic chaos and political paternalism.
In The Gambia too, an unorthodox political culture rules supreme; a place with a sad history of summary executions, forced disappearances, intimidation, murders, state sanctioned torture and a culture of tribal bigotry, nepotism and favoritism. Seventeen long years under Yahya Jammeh's tyranny have created a portrait of malignant political jeopardy in the country and turned the once fledgling democracy into a permanent state of political debauchery. In all the ECOWAS member countries, the one common thread that runs through is the capriciousness of its clueless political leaderships and wayward bureaucrats. The objectification of citizens in the region, an indication of politically motivated and selfishly tailored policy objectives has so successfully lulled citizens into painful conditions of gratuitous subordination, emasculation and helplessness. And today, by far the most poignant example of arbitrary use of brutal power is The Gambia, where the regime has compelled citizen apathy and maligned a whole nation through the constant threat of the use military force to suppress political dissension. For ECOWAS though, the post elections fiasco in Ivory Coast and the rejection of legitimizing The Gambia's fraudulent election were the testing grounds for a new approach to confront inherence to political irrationality and the indifference to public opinion. The result is a groundbreaking coalescing of ECOWAS leaders behind the long overdue sanitization of West African politics.
For the Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau sub-region, the election of President Macky Sall has instantaneously altered the political dynamics and ushered in the un-expected transmogrification of the most hated regional political pariahs of our time; Yahya Jammeh. And now, if politics was a sport, Yahya Jammeh's surreptitious change in political direction can be described as a foul but he has no choice. Senegal's new President Macky Sall came to Gambia to draw a line in the sand and dared Yahya Jammeh to cross it, but Yahya Jammeh will not dare court the wrath of Senegal under President Macky Sall. In the tripartite Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau cluster family of nations, Yahya Jammeh will be relegated into political oblivion if he jeopardizes sub-regional stability with his customary meddling in the affairs of Cassamance and Guinea-Bissau. For now though, his grandiose dreams of carving out a Jola hegemony in our region, will forever remain buried deep inside the psycho-pathological delusions of the man who has visited so much grief to so many families over the past decade and half. For us, the promises of peace in Cassamance and Guinea-Bissau are commitments Yahya Jammeh is forced to concede to, yet that alone would not be enough to indemnify him of his regime's grotesque atrocities in our country. For now, Yahya Jammeh has become the metaphor for everything that is wrong in Africa, all because Senegal's former President Abdoulaye Wada was impaired by the senility that clouded his judgment. His failed sub-regional policy created the vacuum that allowed the Yahya Jammeh menace to thrive, but Senegal's new policy in the region will reshape the regional geopolitics by removing Yahya Jammeh's grip on power and influence in Cassamance and Guinea-Bissau.
Today, due partly to his prolonged meddling in the affairs of Cassamance and Guinea-Bissau, Yahya Jammeh has come to represent the most tragic legacies of the military ignominy that has crippled Africa for half a century. Now, however, he is on a short leash and any misadventure in Casamance and Guinea-Bissau could result in calamitous consequences for his already maligned regime. Yahya Jammeh's bravado and chest beating days are over for there is a new sheriff in town. Senegal's President Macky Sall is determined to end the senseless so-called “rebellion” in Casamance and has no time for Yahya Jammeh's signature mind games and the foolish diatribes he often hurled at President Abdoulaye Wada. And now that Yahya Jammeh has been obscured by the charismatic shadow of President Sall, he has no choice but to subordinate his authority to a higher power; Senegal's President Macky Sall. President Sall's recent short visit to Banjul was a defining moment in sub-regional diplomacy, and his message to Yahya Jammeh is succinct and unambiguous, and conveys a strong element of seriousness that Yahya Jammeh understands all too well. For now, Yahya Jammeh's proclivity for deception, and his legendary use of violence for even the most innocuous perceived threat to his reign of terror, will soon come back to haunt him as Gambians increasingly lose the fear that has paralyzed them into total inaction for such a long time.
Today, the boomeranging of Yahya Jammeh's familiar threats is the result of the intense political activity in the sub-region, which has weakened Yahya Jammeh's strangle-hold and rendered his regime vulnerable to civil disobedience. Just when it seemed that Yahya Jammeh had cemented the will of the Gambian people in a permanent state of fear, citizens are revisiting the pride and honor of past generations to rediscover the humanity lost to Yahya Jammeh's parochialism. Fear as a psychologically debilitating tool has been used by Yahya Jammeh to devastating effect, but 2012 may turn out to be the year of his undoing. Across the world, Gambians are organizing and as this critical mass grows to embolden the soul and spirit of a people, the march to Gambia and through the streets of Serekunda, Banjul, Brikama, Bakau, Basse, Farafenni, Fatoto and in every town and village in between is becoming a likely proposition. For, if this nightmare is to end, we Gambians have to take the lead. There is so much goodwill built for our cause around the world; from the corridors of the African Union to the hallways of ECOWAS and the marble columns of United States Congress. President Macky Sall's ascension has disciplined Yahya Jammeh and he can no longer expect the deafening silence that has come from Senegal over the past decade and half. Today, the end of the Gambia's longest night may be upon us; the writing is on the wall, but we Gambians have to cease the moment and make that final push for the liberation of our country. It is now or never.
Mathew K Jallow is a Gambian journalist, writer, human rights advocate and political activist exiled in the US.