The Gambian Dilemma – Irrational Rationality

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Rat!  Rat-tat-tat!  Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat!  Rat…tat…tat.  As the staccato of the bullets ricochet on the walls of The Gambian statehouse at Marina Parade in Banjul, a similar Shock-And-Awe military campaign was launched simultaneously against the military fortress at Kanilai. The quarry is none other than Yaya Jammeh, the despot who had ruled The Gambia with an iron fist for 22 excruciatingly intolerable years. The mission was to remove him from power, to quote Malcolm X, “by any means necessary”, for brutalizing his people for over two decades and refusing to cede power after losing a democratic election on December 1st, 2016. Formerly known as the Switzerland of Africa because of her peaceful disposition to law enforcement, Gambians who have lived under the throes of the yoke of Yaya Jammeh awoke on the dawn of Thursday, January 19th, 2017, to a flurry of gunfire and tomahawk cruise missiles in what the natives later described as hell-on-earth. Though the military targets were few, the intensity and the sonic boom of the opening salvo of the invading coalition forces was deafening. As it turned out, the unrelenting ferocity was tactically designed to intimidate the enemy into pusillanimous submission. It worked!

Backed by aerial superiority from the supporting French and American fighter jets armed with precision guided missiles, several thunderous explosions could be heard by people tens of miles away from the epicenters of the military targets in and around Banjul and Kanilai. At the fortress in Kanilai, several hundred greedy sycophants who pledged loyalty to their messianic leader soon wilted when faced with the fury of the attack. With over 300 of their comrades dead within the first hour of the invasion, proving no match to the well-armed invading forces, the survivors dropped their guns, changed into civilian clothes and sheepishly formed a procession line two miles long, waving white flags. Where did the flags come from? Nobody knows, but one can only surmise that the will to resist was not too strong during the planning phase of the defensive strategy to be mounted in the event of an invasion.  Resistance around the capital city, Banjul, was expected to be stiffer, but that too turned out not to be the case. Nevertheless, there were over 1700 casualties, and an equal number of people maimed by the time the kinetic forces of the invasion subsided.

Around Banjul, naval forces from the coalition fired cruise missiles at the State House while the fighter jets attacked the main escape route, the single roadway out of Banjul. For years, Denton Bridge was celebrated for providing the only way out of Banjul by land. Armed with this not-so-secret information, the coalition forces, determined to cut off any military supply or escape routes, dropped a score and three 10,000 ton bombs on the bridge a few seconds apart. A cloud of dust rose from the rubble and blurred visibility. Without night vision goggles, the escape out of Banjul had effectively been suffocated and nullified, akin to the way Yaya Jammeh had nullified the election results that led to his ouster. Through the billowing smoke, a journalist with a pair of binoculars revealed the charred remains of a dozen or so armored vehicles. Without an effective Fire Department to battle the fires, the embers burnt for several hours. Next door to Denton Bridge at the prison at Mile 2, the stench of the Sulphur from the resulting explosions was so pungent that people had to use their shirts as gas masks. With the wailing soldiers retreating from Denton Bridge on foot, panic ensued. The prison guards, not to be outdone by their more heavily armed compatriots, fled on foot as well. In the ensuing melee, the prison gates flung open, and many of the prisoners who had been wrongly jailed, headed to Banjul to exact retribution against Yaya Jammeh and his coterie.

There are no adjectives appropriate enough to describe the mayhem that followed, but historians have argued that it resulted in carnage the likes of which the world had never known. First, while Denton Bridge was being set aflame, a few cruise missiles rained down on the state house at Marina Parade and set it ablaze as well. As in any war, a couple of stray missiles also did their damage. One hit the neighboring National Museum, and the other landed at the gas station next door. Banjul is on Fire, and all its curated history has vanished in the inferno at the National Museum. Having lost his presidential palace, Yaya Jammeh decided to surreptitiously join the crowds leaving Banjul. Driving was not an option. The drones in the sky would spot his motorcade, and the events at Denton Bridge earlier had exposed him dangerously. A couple of teenagers see him and shake him up for a wad of cash; dollar bills that is. He had to give in. Without any armed protection, he has to buy his way to safety. It doesn’t get him too far, but not before a couple of kids became a few thousand dollars richer. Captured by the escaped prisoners as he tried to blend in with the crowd and flee on foot from the advancing flotilla of armored ships, the dictator was beaten and dragged on the streets before the coalition forces could get to him. Destined to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, he wouldn’t be so lucky. He didn’t make it there. He succumbed to his injuries the next day.  A year later, at the conclusion of the commission of inquiry instituted to delve into the atrocities committed by the deceased Yaya Jammeh, it was universally accepted that while war is dirty and dealing with its aftermath in a peaceful way is a predictably unrefined science, that ridding The Gambia of Yaya Jammeh was a necessary evil, though avoidable had the tyrant listened to the sagacious counsel of many in and out of his inner circle.

Dear reader,

That was an excerpt from the opening chapter of a book that should never be written. “You big fool! Then why did you write it?”, a wise reader asks. I chuckle, having understood full well the genesis of the remark. The book is titled The Melancholic Fall of the late Gambian Dictator, Yaya Jammeh. The purported book and the excerpt is intended to show that while many Gambians living in the Diaspora are clamoring for an invasion of The Gambia by Ecowas to dislodge Yaya Jammeh’s grip on power, we should all remember that war is ugly and ALWAYS has unintended consequences. We will succeed in getting him out of office, but I argue, vigorously, that a military invasion of our beloved country by any foreign force, is calamitous and the wrong first approach to resolving the conundrum we are faced with. Military force must remain an option, but should be used only as a last resort. By last resort I mean the military invasion should not commence any time on or near January 19th, 2017, the deadline on which Yaya Jammeh should hand over power to the coalition parties.

One doesn’t even have to venture too deep into the annals of history to uncover a treasure trove of evidence supporting the case why war is the wrong approach to our problem. If the hypothetical casualty figures I presented in the war I concocted for Banjul and Kanilai do not scare you, then maybe a reminder of the Liberian and Ivorian civil wars will. While The Gambia is a much smaller country than either, and is therefore an easier military target for an invading force, we should not cajole ourselves into thinking that because of his egregious and wicked nature, that Yaya Jammeh will have no supporters ready to fight and die alongside him. Remember that while Yaya was the paymaster, he had willing surrogates who carried out his atrocities. Some of those people, convinced they have a certain dance with the International Crimes Tribunal at The Hague for the remainder of their lives, or unemployment, ridicule, excoriation, and flagellation by their fellow citizens if they remain in The Gambia, may conclude that they have nothing to lose. It would be tantamount to them saying that “if we are going down, we are taking everyone with us.”  When people are faced with such solitary hopelessness, their wickedness, and thus their propensity to escalate and dole out their heinous crimes to unsuspecting victims, increases exponentially. If that happens, too many innocent lives and property will be lost before Yaya Jammeh eventually falls. He cannot, and he will NOT win any war against any foreign invasion. However, with our limited national resources, it may take us decades before we recover from the carnage.

Some of you may think that Yaya’s ouster is worth the price. I don’t share that opinion. In any case, in the case of Liberia and Ivory Coast cited earlier, both much wealthier countries than ours partly because of their production of rubber and coffee respectively, they are still reeling from the impact of their civil wars. Sierra Leone offers another evidentiary goldmine against war. While I can cite more examples, or expound on the vestiges of war within the three countries I cited for my argument against war, I think all three civil wars are recent enough that most people reading this missive are fully conversant with the individual storylines. “Okay APRC sympathizer, what do we do now since you want Yaya to stay in power?”, another wisecracking bloke retorts. Well, I’m not APRC, but I have certainly thought about our problem at length before I decided to wade into the conversation and share my opinion.

First, please allow me to register my opposition to the usage of the term impasse to describe the situation in The Gambia. While I was not an English major, an impasse means a deadlock. It means there is no way out of the given situation. That is not the case in The Gambia. It may well turn out to be an impasse on January 19th if Yaya still refuses to cede power, but until then, we should all refrain from glorifying Yaya’s petulant rant about annulling the election results. He cannot. It’s that simple. Now, I realize the semantics of my argument are trivial when taken in the context of our national security, but I just want us to calm down and take one step at a time. Yaya Jammeh has to do what he is doing right now. He has no choice. He has to do it for his ego and for his safety and security. It is his only way to get a favorable deal from prosecution and confiscation of his loot of our national coffers. So let’s recognize his antics for what they are.

First, the easy way out of this unfortunate situation is phase one. We should all recognize and accept that Yaya Jammeh has a constitutional right to contest the election results. He has done that, and his case will be heard on January 10th, 2017. Yaya Jammeh must use this occasion to save face and leave gracefully. All he has to do is to instruct his newly appointed Supreme Court judges to rule against him. When they do, he can claim the high road, go on national TV and tell the nation that he, as the primary guardian of our constitution and a fervent adherent to the rule of law, will respect the verdict of the Supreme Court. He would be the savior of the nation, and thus refurbish some of his much maligned reputation. He would be the “General” who averted war for the sake of a nation he loves. His ego would receive a jolt of caffeine. We must accord him this face saving grace. Yaya Jammeh, if you are reading, please accept this unsolicited advice as a way out of this conundrum. Of course, his supporters can spin it any way they want. We don’t care as long as war is averted and Yaya Jammeh is no longer president.

Tamsir, that’s very optimistic. In fact, it’s utopian. That will never happen. Yaya Jammeh will never ask the Supreme Court judges to rule against him. Even if they do, he will defy the ruling, some detractors contend. Well, that’s when phase two kicks into high gear. Under that scenario, we know we are inching dangerously close to conflict. Therefore, it behooves every peace loving Gambian to abrogate the incendiary remarks and the banal regurgitation of Jammeh’s tribal collusions at the expense of the larger population. We all know his tribal inclinations, but there is more important fish to fry than to catalogue his crimes and mistakes every time we talk about him. At this point, we have to plan for a protracted battle. We must use our heads, but most importantly, we must also use our resources. Yes, I’m talking about everybody in the Disapora. As a collective unit, we are an emasculated bunch. We are academically rich, but strategically disoriented, and tactically bankrupt. Yes, that is a serious indictment of The Gambian Diaspora, but I stand by it. Not everyone is equally guilty though. Some of us will absolve themselves when the history is written, but the majority of us will have to cower in ignominious shame for being nonchalant and indifferent to the many atrocities perpetrated against our people. We have been given another chance at redemption, so all of us who know we have been less than what we can proudly profess publicly should step up and put our money where our mouth is. Talk is cheap. Let’s back up the chatter with our resources, regardless of how infinitesimally small ours may be. What do I mean?

Recently, many learned Gambians in the Diaspora have called for the citizens in The Gambia to stay home and refuse to go to work as a form of civil disobedience. I find this advocacy to neither be strategically holistic, nor tactically shrewd. This is part of the rationale for my indictment of The Gambian Diaspora as strategically disoriented and tactically bankrupt. Think about it for a second. The largest employer in The Gambia is the government, and the largest buyer of service is also the government. In almost every Gambian family, it is also true that the primary breadwinner has a cadre of people that depend on him or her. Furthermore, with the prices of goods and services as high as they are, even when she works, the average Gambian cannot afford to feed her family, much less the extended family. So asking these families to sacrifice their livelihoods and the subsequent retribution sure to follow while we are ensconced in our air conditioned homes free from the reaches of Yaya Jammeh’s whiplash is not only confused, but it is also bereft of common sense and downright dishonest. I do understand the call, and I do agree that all things being equal, civil disobedience is the sharpest, deadliest, and most effective weapon in any campaign against any government. Once you realize that it’s the people who do the work that the government relies on to collect revenues and make payments, you begin to understand the power of the people. So if the civil service shuts down because people refuse to go to work, eventually, the government will fall. That is true. However, if the government does not fall precipitously, then the civil disobedience splinters, and the government may be able to resurrect itself by urging people to go back to work so they can get paid so they in turn can feed their families. This is why it is critically important that every Gambian in the Diaspora must pledge to contribute at least $100.00 monthly to a fund that would be donated to the coalition until Yaya Jammeh falls. If we establish such a fund, then we can call for our Gambian compatriots on the ground to stay home, knowing they can go to the coalition and get some remuneration to take care of their families while we battle for our country’s future in tandem with them. This allows us to share in the burden of our national liberation. We cannot just be armchair chest thumpers and still expect to be listened to by those who may end up making the ultimate sacrifice because of our urging. We don’t have that credibility. It is said that to whom much is given, much is expected. The people on the ground have given us a lot. They have sacrificed blood, sweat, tears, freedom, and their dignity for over two decades. They have brought us to the penultimate hour of liberation. We must now show them our support with our resources to get them to the Promised Land. Anybody in??? It’s a $100. Put up, or forever hold on to your thoughts.

See, after all, phase two wasn’t all that difficult, was it? But let’s say even after establishing the aforementioned fund and funding it right away, Yaya Jammeh still refuses to relinquish power. Now what? Well, that’s where the coalition and its international partners come in. Remember when  I registered my opposition to a foreign military invasion? Well, I was not entirely opposed to it. I wanted us to first accord Yaya Jammeh every possible opportunity to graciously surrender power to our elected leaders. Now that he has chosen to disregard the will of the nation, the coalition must be firm and resolute in forging ahead with the affairs of the nation. If we find ourselves in this scenario on January 19th, 2017, then the first order of business is to declare Yaya Jammeh a rebel, and to seek support from Ecowas, AU, UN, France, England, and the United States. Ecowas must not act unilaterally. It must receive its mandate from the new government, and the new government does not have the authority until January 19th. This is why I proclaimed that any kinetic military activity cannot take place on or near January 19th, 2017. This is the day when the new government is sworn in, when Yaya Jammeh effectively becomes a rebel, and when the coalition government spells out the mandate of Ecowas. I am not a military thinker, but here is what I have in mind that I think could work to force Yaya Jammeh out of office with minimal loss of life and property.

The Gambia is not a big country, and we are surrounded by Senegal. We hardly manufacture anything, and we depend heavily on our re-export trade through Senegal. So under the auspices of Ecowas and the other international backers, sanctions could be imposed on Yaya Jammeh and his rebels, with complete land and naval blockade. Ecowas troops can be deployed along the Casamance-Gambia border to prevent support or supplies from being transported in from Guinea Bissau. Yaya Jammeh’s assets worldwide will then be frozen, so he won’t be able to conduct any international business. The state house in Banjul and the Kanilai fortress can be easily disabled through the use of precision guided missiles. While on the run, with the help of the French and American drones, his motorcades and military machinery will be grounded permanently. Moreover, because of the embargo, without fuel to power his military vehicles and equipment, the rebellion will be short lived.  Should this happen, it will take longer than most Gambians in the Diaspora would like, but I believe within a couple of months, Yaya Jammeh will surrender or be killed either by the international forces, or by a mutiny within his own rebellion. Freedom at last!!!

Ndam dikana!!!

Tamsir A Mbai  Dallas, Texas

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