Op-Ed: President Jammeh Must Immediately Enter into Talks with the Political Opposition and Diaspora Gambian Dissidents

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President Jammeh Must Immediately Enter into Talks with the Political Opposition and Diaspora Gambian Dissidents

By any measure, the August 2nd, 2014 political protests that greeted President Yahya Jammeh’s US-Africa Summit visit, was unprecedented in its skillful execution, scope, and success. Gambian dissidents traveled, at great financial and personal expense to Washington, D.C., from far-flung states like Alaska, California, Arizona and remaining states, to register their dissatisfaction with Jammeh, who has since 1994, ruled this tiny and impoverished country with an iron-fist. Jammeh was holed-up in his hotel-room at the prestigious Hay Adams hotel for well over ten hours, and was physically and psychologically prevented from attending all formal White House functions except the official dinner, and photo opportunity with President Obama and his wife, Michelle. Armed with placards, dissidents chanted and cajoled Jammeh- calling him a “terrorist,” “rapist,” “pedophile,” “drug-dealer,” and “murderer.”

Numbering over a hundred, the show of unity among dissidents was remarkable, as they effortlessly drowned out chants of pro-Jammeh supporters that included several non-Gambians. Under D.C.’s sweltering summer heat, protesters that included children, also shouted out to Jammeh and his entourage and any who cared to listen: “Yahya Jammeh, must go”; “what do we want”? “Justice.” When do we want it”? “Now!” And, before long, a throng of curious spectators gathered, and protesters were only too willing to explain their purpose, which many endorsed with a high-five, a thumbs-up or a cool nod.

The environment was simply electrifying, as protesters from various organizations that included the protest’s organizers, DUGA, and Gambia’s umbrella organization, CORDEG, mingled in solidarity with members of CCG, GDAG and STGDP, other protest groups, and numerous individuals without political affiliation to upstage Jammeh’s visit. It was truly a sight to behold, a reunion of “Who is Who” among longtime Gambian dissidents, who sang in unison: “Na demm, na demma dema dem, su demme beh dem nu deffar Gambia.” (translation: Let Jammeh go, when Jammeh goes, and is really gone, we will then remake Gambia [into a better place]).

Four hours or less into Tuesday’s protest, the pro-Jammeh group, now lacking resolve, and clearly outnumbered, evaporated into thin air. And, as the dissident ranks swelled most remained undaunted, in spite of Jammeh’s seemingly menacing yet toothless security detail and underlings. They too, became the targets of insults, and were vigorously denounced as enablers. In the end, Jammeh was hurriedly and unceremoniously pushed by his handlers into a black van amid louder jeering by protesters- a major victory had just been registered.

On Wednesday, August 3rd, a smaller group of dissidents marched in front of Jammeh’s hotel, displaying placards that denounced Jammeh and his dictatorial ways, when Jammeh, and his entourage arrived. In a flash, and without warning, members of his so-called “Black Boys,” charged into the ranks of the protesters- physically assaulting both Fatou Camara, and Ousainou Mbenga, as well as, Sam Fatty and Ndey Daddo Njie. Before long, the entire vicinity was under lock-down by the D.C. Police, who came out in full-force to stem the violence and secure the premises and begin independent criminal investigations for these unprovoked physical assault.

Apparently, the Wednesday demonstration, was the last straw- following the humiliating showdown on Tuesday. It was a last ditch-effort by Jammeh and his “Boys” to redeem what little shattered pride they had left. The news of the attacks brought in more protesters, reporters, ambulances and needed airtime on the D.C.-ABC affiliate at 11:00PM. Thereafter, the news went viral, and Ms. Camara, and Mr. Mbenga, stood out as the faces of revolt and revolution- another victory for the protesters!

Jammeh’s humiliation last year in New York City and this year’s unprecedented demonstrations in Washington, D.C., are clear indications that Diaspora Gambians can no longer be ignored in the political and economic affairs of The Gambia- doing so would be at Jammeh’s own peril.

Consequently, Jammeh has no choice but to enter into talks with diaspora Gambians and opposition political leaders at home, and address their concerns over meaningful electoral, and political reforms immediately, as the status-quo is odious, and untenable.

Jammeh can no longer continue to ignore these legitimate demands in the face of growing diaspora protests and dissatisfaction with his regime at home. Otherwise, what sense is there in holding elections when victory over a splintered opposition is almost assured?

Jammeh must take the initiative, and use the good offices of newly appointed Secretary-General, Dr. Kalidu Bayo, a widely respected technocrat, to do the leg-work, and possibly call on Senegal, and ECOWAS, to broker the talks. Failing this, Jammeh risks facing a bigger and more menacing group of diaspora Gambian protesters the next time he ventures into the US or any European country, and a spontaneous revolt at home.

Dr. Bayo must not squander, but seize this opportunity to broker the much needed, and long overdue truce between diaspora Gambians, and Jammeh. He must drum-up the needed national, and regime support, more importantly, for this initiative. Otherwise, he too, risks being rendered ineffectual, dismissed and disrespected, as yet another enabler in a long list of cronies. Only then would Karl have redeemed himself, especially, among Gambians who received news of his appointment as the new SG, with disquiet.

Diaspora Gambians and the different groups that won such great success against President Jammeh in Washington, D.C., last week, must also use the momentum generated by these demonstrations, to foster greater unity and to strengthen effective future collaborations, in order to make Gambia’s case to the international community. The struggle continues!

Professor Abdoulaye Saine

Chair, CORDEG

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