The angry protest that turned riotous by residents of Kanilai and supporters of Gambia’s former dictator yahya Jammeh is a national tragedy no matter how you look at it. What could have been a simple means of expressing citizens’ frustration with a situation in a free and democratic society turned violent leading to the tragic death of one Haruna Jatta and several injured. He was allegedly killed when West African Soldiers tasked to maintain the peace in Gambia open fired on the violent protesters who were reportedly armed with “traditional weapons” and were defiant to the ECOMIG forces. The protesters turned rioters were demanding that ECOMIG forces be removed from Kanilai – a village former President Jammeh turned into a future nation’s capital. Many believes that the crowd were angry because Jammeh’s assets were frozen by the government last week and all free services that the villagers were enjoying are being taken away. The rioters were heard chanting and demanding the return of the former President who was forced out of power after refusing to concede defeat at the polls.
The Kanilai incident should be considered national tragedy for several reasons. First, in the new Gambia believed to be in a position to nurture democracy, champion peace and reconciliation after 22 years of dictatorship is witnessing an incident that could make achieving these goals difficult. It is rather unfortunate that a great opportunity to build bridges and bring about true reconciliation and Democracy in tiny Gambia could easily slip away if such situations are not handled with political maturity. The situation in the Gambia as in any other nation after two decades of dictatorship is very fragile and toxic both politically and socially. The Gambian people unfortunately have not enjoyed peace and stability that comes with a free and open democratic society. Instead, the nation has been marred with unprecedented state sponsored violence against its citizens during the last two decades including residents of Kanilai and the greater Foni region. The people have therefore been living in fear, anger and resentment of each other as a result of the kind of leader the Gambia have had.
Secondly, fair minded Gambians who see issues beyond cheap partisan politics and ethnic divide are very much conscious of the mental and psychological damage that has been inflicted on the Gambian people for the last two decades. Looking beyond one’s own personal horizon, one cannot fail to see that the people of Kanilai, the Fonis to a large extend and generally the whole Gambian nation has been subjected to moral degradation and political persecution for no apparent reason. Collectively the nation has become a subject and victims of political violence regardless of their political affiliation. In fact, members of the APRC have become as much victims as other parties despite the euphoria that surrounds support for the former dictator. Behind the scenes many were political and economic victims.
Third, the situation is tragic because when you consider that all Gambians regardless of political leaning have a fundamental right to life, liberty and equality before the eyes of the law, then one must see both supporters and opponents of various factions as victims of an undeserving bad governance by the former dictator. In other words the people of Kanilai are equally victims of their own son who contrary to what many of them see, humiliated them and reduced them to beggars and servants on his farms. Jammeh literally reduced his own people to mere dependence on him for everything. He made his people and a large number of Gambians believe that he was their divine intervention and without him they could not live a dignified life. As a result, he literally took away from the rest of the country and gave to them for free while threatening to cut off their heads should they ever dare question his greatness. Jammeh in essence turned his people into subjects and made them believed that they are nothing without him and his blessings. This is far from the truth but is the consequence of mental slavery and control mechanism to keep him in power.
The situation is even more tragic Mr. President when you read on social media and commentaries from people who supposedly fought for freedom and restoration of democracy rejoicing over the tragic death of a citizen. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the death of Hurana Jammeh in the hands of the ECOMIG forces, the Gambia has lost a soul possibly an innocent soul who has a fundamental right to be protected by his government. It is not as if Hurana has been tried by a competent court of law, put through due process of the law and legally condemned to death. This man is possibly a father, an uncle, a husband who has left to express his frustration only to meet his untimely death. Even where as the use of force by the security forces was justified under the circumstances, decent citizens must worry about what could come next. They must recognize history that the brutal killings with impunity of hundreds of Gambian citizens started with the tragic death of former Finance Minister Ousman Koro Ceesay and the brutal killings of innocent students which many try to justify as legitimate use of force by the government. Are Gambians conscious of our recent memory of lives we lost to political violence whether justified or not?
Mr. President Gambia is in a very critical transition period and leaders must be conscious of the fresh wounds and lack of political evolution our society is still going through. They must see beyond the partisan divide and the political correctness that dominates the airwaves and social media. Gambia’s political leaders must exercise maximum sound judgement when dealing with a nation that is yet to begin healing. It is under these circumstances that we believe that the time is right for you as the moral leader of our tiny nation to address the people of the country. Mr. President while we do not favor you venturing into every small issue which should be rightfully addressed by your cabinet representatives, incidents such as the one in Kanilai has a national tragic symbolism if not recognized and addressed urgently might spiral into unknown territory.
As a result, we join many Gambians who echo the call for you to address the nation and appeal to those who are and will probably never come to your side to think about the country first and self last. Reassure the people of Kanilai and beyond that you do understand their situation and would appeal to their conscience to be patience and know that better days are ahead. That Jammeh will never come back but that Jammeh was only one out of millions of Gambians who could better preside over the unity and economic prosperity of the Gambia. Forewarn your supporters Mr. President that one Gambian life lost under your watch is unacceptable. Lead by example by reaching out to perceive opponents and unite the country. While the law and accountability must take its natural course, certain situations should not and will not be compromised. Counsel your ministers of Interior and others to temper their language and the way they address the people of the Gambia. That power in one’s hands could lead to arrogance and unwarranted actions. Convene a meeting of elders and experts in the Kanilai region and reassure the people that you will serve them all regardless. This may look weak to others but trust us sir, it will make you no less of a man and leader to extend an olive branch to people who are already under the mercy of state power. Democracy is messy Mr. President but it works if nurtured with compassion and genuineness. May the victim’s soul rest in peace and may our country be prevented from such tragic events.
Filed by Demba Baldeh Associate editor… For comments and or rejoinder to this editorial please contact firstname.lastname@example.org