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July 24, 2010 | Political

Gambian president celebrates 16 yrs of development, as world protests his excesses

President arriving at the Arch 22
President arriving at the Arch 22

Last Thursday marked 16 years since President Yahya Jammeh came to power in a bloodless military coup that ousted one of Africa's longest serving leaders, independent leader Sir Dawda Jawara.

July 22nd is now called 'Freedom Day' in Gambia.
For supporters of President Jammeh, this is the day he put his life on the line and rescued the country from the brink of failure. Jammeh's supporters insist he is the solution to Gambia's problem. And in terms of infrastructural development, they have a lot to show for this. His mark on the country also extends to the sectors of education, health, the economy, etc... President Yahya Jammeh himself never misses an opportunity to stress his indispensability in the country's development strive. In fact, some two weeks back, he went as far as warning that he would never develop any region in the country where the people do not vote for him.

He said if Gambians wanted development they must “join the majority and support me but if any area chooses to be with the opposition, let them go ahead and expect no benefit from my government.”

For Jammeh's opponents, however, such statement only corroborate fierce criticisms against his “anti-democratic” credentials and aversion for civil liberty.

Like many other tightly controlled African nations with the hallmarks of autocracy, you can hardly hear any dissenting voice from within the Gambia, not that it doesn't exist. Jammeh's uncompromising attitude towards dissent has effectively transformed the country into a one-party state.

When there are no elections, no political party, other than his APRC, convenes any gathering. The campaign manager for the country's main opposition United Democratic Party is serving a one year jail term for defying that order. Femi Peters was convicted for organizing a political rally. As Mr Peters defended himself in court, the APRC National Mobilize was on a countrywide tour, holding rallies ahead of the 2011 elections.

But despite the endless genuine complaints against his APRC government, President Yahya Jammeh has solid reasons to argued in favor of his “July 22nd Revolution”, despite having clearly broken so many of his promises. From education to health, to infrastructural development, etc, Gambia has seen an enormous leap from its 1994 status. References to such are what characterize all major national occasions, much so 22nd July anniversaries.

16 years on Thursday since he assumed power, President Yahya Jammeh's opponents say his government has become the most culpable in light of his famous accusations of 'corruption' and 'nepotism', among others, leveled against the ousted PPP regime. But the strongest charge he faces, especially among the international community, is his alleged human rights violations.

Worldwide protests
On the eve of 'Freedom Day' celebrations, Amnesty International issued a statement, calling it “a shameful travesty.”

As he presided over what is arguably the biggest annual party in the country, the rest of the world protested against Yahya Jammeh's excesses. There were demonstrations in 14 countries across the world.

Arbitrary detentions, unfair trials, appalling prison conditions, persecution of journalists, witch hunting, are just a few amongst the charges leveled against the Gambian president and his government. 87 civil society organizations signed a petition, under the auspices of Amnesty International, calling on the Gambian government to, among other things, “stop human rights violations and comply with obligations under the African Charter with regard to the right to liberty, freedom from torture, right to fair trial, freedom of expression and of association.”

While there are enormous evidences against him for these charges, President Yahya Jammeh hardly make references to allegations from people he has previously referred to as “enemies” of Gambia (human rights defenders and journalists).

Last Tuesday, a Senegal based human rights group made an unusually scathing attack on the Gambian president, describing him as a “paranoid” leader who “sees coup everywhere.” This followed the sentencing to death of eight (8) former senior members of his government on charges of attempting to overthrow his government. One of the men on death row, former Chief of Defense Staff Lt. General Lang Tombong Tamba, faces another coup charge allegedly attempted earlier in 2006.

"Since the accession of Captain Yahya Jammeh to power in 1994, the state of democracy and human rights in the Gambia continues to deteriorate… in a country where everything has been clocked and where there is intimidation and terror that spares no political actors (opposition and ruling party),” the Dakar based Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, known by its French acronym as RADDHO, said in a statement.

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