“A person shall not be qualified to be appointed or hold the office of a Secretary of State if, he or she is a member of the National Assembly or if he or she holds the citizenship or nationality of any country other than The Gambia. In addition, a person shall not be qualified to be appointed Attorney General unless he or she is a legal practitioner of at least five years standing at the Gambian bar.” The Constitution of The Gambia, Chapter VI Part 2, 71 (2).
The Gambia and the United States of America are fundamentally different in many respects. Despite the dissimilarities between the two countries along the vast Atlantic coastlines separating the African and the American continents, one of the world’s smallest and the most powerful nations share the tragic history of the most barbaric encounter between human races. That historic injustice was conditioned by one people’s incontinent desire for material possession thereby arrogate itself the right to ownership over the other. The asymmetric differences in fortune between the two societies continue in natural progression as each embattled nation embraced its manifest destiny— one a free society and the other a bounded people who never have been truly freed from want and oppression. If the two societies had evolved organically, absent their accidental encounter, they would have peacefully interacted as free agents in commercial and cultural exchanges or even mutual defense pacts. Instead, they have consistently interacted in cauldrons of epic violence and turbulence.
The Americans — or their earlier European predecessors — landed in The Gambia to raid “slaves” to secure economic prosperity. The latest consignments of Gambians disembarked on this side of the Atlantic Coast not from human cargoes but as escapees from the harsh economic realities and political oppression engineered by the transgression of their leaders. Encounters between people of these two nations have always implied a question of life and death for the African stock. Recently, we are once again haunted by nightmarish historical events as extensions of crude realities of the current oppression in The Gambia. Evidently, a solitary soul unites the worst tendencies in the two societies, but in a unique way that only he could machinate in one persona. That man is none other than Dr. Amadou Scattred Janneh — a dual citizen of The Gambia and the United States of America and one of the featured speakers at the conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, organized by Gambian dissidents in the United States.
Dr. Janneh’s charge sheet against Pharaoh Jammeh is lengthy, but illuminates nothing new for those even remotely familiar with the current dispensation in The Gambia. In his indictment of his former master, Dr. Janneh alleges that the Pharaoh makes “mockery of both our national laws and international obligations” by hiring “cronies to amend the Constitution to his tune” and “manipulated the Constitution to ensure that he becomes Puppet [Master]-in-Chief.” From the vantage point of the ultimate insider in the Sultanism, Dr. Janneh sums up the oppressor’s attitude to his subjects thus:
“President Jammeh treats Gambians with disdain and the nation’s coffers and resources as his own. Despite constitutional prohibitions, Jammeh is actively involved in virtually every sphere of economic activity in the country — from selling diapers, used clothing, bread, and beef to vegetable gardening. In the process, he has used not-so-subtle bullying tactics to stifle competition in the economic arena. From targeted tax audits to outright theft of private property, the President blatantly uses state power for the advancement of his narrow, private economic interests.”
In his self-adulatory memoir titled “Standing up against Injustice” Dr. Janneh paints himself as not only the most wronged victim of the Pharaoh but as the altruistic freedom fighter. As much as his observations and accusations may well be accurate and true, they constitute only half of the story. Half-truths concerning matters of the regime do not suffice; in fact, they are tantamount to blatant lies. Dr. Janneh in his own accounts, which were collaborated by news stories, holds dual citizen of the United States and The Gambia. According to our Constitution as quoted above, he should not have been appointed Secretary of State for Communication, Information and Technology. Were Dr. Janneh a man who respects the Constitution and the rule of law, as he would have us believe, he would have declined any offer by the Pharaoh to serve at a cabinet level post in The Government of The Gambia on April 4th, 2004. It is needless to say that were he of any moral acumen, he would have resisted any attempt by the Pharaoh aided by his “puppets” in the National Assembly to amend reasonable, fair and just clause of the Constitution without a plebiscite solely to accommodate Dr. Janneh. That needn’t be the case. The lawless Pharaoh trampled on the Constitution and Dr. Janneh helped him desecrate it for personal political benefits. On that fateful day in April 2004, both men stood on the bank of River Gambia not to obey but to give law to The Gambian people.
Were Gambia a society that hold people accountable for their actions, crimes and malfeasances, Dr. Janneh would have set or be set an example for the Pharaoh to confess his crimes, take responsibility for them, pay restitution for the wrong he has committed by returning to Gambians all the financial remunerations with concomitant material benefits and royalties he’d received from his illegality. He would have repent and sincerely ask for forgiveness. His memoir would have been appropriately titled “I am Sorry, Forgive my Transgressions” for having violated the Constitution and participated in the entrenchment of the kakistocracy wreaking havoc on the nation. But because The Gambia is the land of impunity where the privileged act as they wish, even when the Pharaoh violates the sacred Constitution to reward his sycophants who claimed to work for him in the name of national development, they are considered heroes. Dr. Njogu Bah and Mr. Momodou Sabally are the latest cast members to join this never-ending tragicomedy of such self-serving rationalization. Sadly, however, when they fall out with him, the desperate dissidents who seem to be more obsessed with let’s-all-get-along team spirit than be concerned with the truth and substance, celebrate them as icons of human rights and freedom fighters as Dr. Janneh’s self-reincarnation typifies. Some of our dissidents behave like they are overdosed on the sedative drug of accommodation risking the all too dangerous existential threat of collective amnesia.
Commenting on the proceedings of South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the indefatigable Prof. Wole Soyinka reminds us that “Justice constitutes the first condition of humanity” and “assigns responsibility” which the South African process negated through “a priori exclusion of criminality.” He adds that:
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Reading Dr. Janneh’s statements at the Raleigh Conference, at the Amnesty International Seminar in England, and his aforementioned memoir gives no impression of admission of wrong, guilt; or indication of an apology, sincere atonement or remorse on his part for having served as a cabinet minister for Yahya Jammeh. His self-absolution is arrogantly presumptuous and patently offensive. But even worst, it’s also an indictment of some in the political opposition. The Raleigh Conference, if one thing, exposed a vacuum created by much of The Gambian political opposition. It suffers from the poverty of clarity, vision and shaky moral compass — even against the Pharaoh. By embracing Dr. Janneh to the point of elevating him to a signatory of The Raleigh Accord and subsequently in the proposed Steering Committee when he is the other coconspirator in the violation of the Constitution without any admonition, the organizers stand to be accused of supreme hypocrisy of monumental proportion.
Recounting his prison story, Dr. Janneh tells his listeners he was optimistic that he would be released and set free. Even though his incarceration could be justified on the claim that he was accorded due process and had his day in court, as opposed to many prisoners who do not know the crimes they have committed, Dr. Janneh saw himself unique on a just cause above all else. He summed it as such:
The more I reflected on all these factors, the more determined I became to expose and fight against injustice, particularly in The Gambia. I did not despair; [I] remained hopeful that with the kind of light shed on my case by groups such as Amnesty International, and just ordinary people, that my freedom was merely a matter of time. I simply had to persevere and be patient.
The ordinary Gambian prisoners Dr. Janneh met in Mile II and left behind there are not so optimistic about their future. His privileged citizenship in the United States — just like the slave raiders before him centuries ago — allowed him to adventure into the heartland of Africa, violate our just laws with impunity with the complicity of local chief now a Pharaoh but only cried foul after they turned on each other. Some of the prisoners he met in Mile II were abducted — in addition to “the killings, arrests, disappearances, etc. of journalists and media practitioners” he alleged — by the government he dutifully served when they were unleashed on the people. Notwithstanding his protestations that he did not commit a crime against the Pharaoh, Dr. Janneh has so egregiously done one against us. For that he must profusely apologize to the nation and incessantly to the victims of the regime.
The most difficult challenge for public figures who think they have earned the right to write autobiographies, biographies or memoirs is to resist the temptation of projecting oneself to a godly saint thereby claim way too much credit for things than one truly deserves. Dr. Janneh wallowed deep into the muddied waters of that self-adulation. The following passage in his memoir is a classic illustration of such narcissist claims:
The spate of arrests, forced disappearances, concocted trials, and massive corruption increased. With the government’s blatant disregard for even the most basic democratic processes, it was very clear that change could not come through the ballot box. Opposition party leaders like Ousainou Darbo, Halifa Sallah, Hamat Bah and Mai Fatty may have realized this. Fear of the regime, personal considerations, and other factors could have prevented them from publicly acknowledging that conclusion and adopting a different approach. CCG’s hands were not tied by those elements.
The Coalition for Change—The Gambia (CCG), with its so-called clandestine operative alias Kemo Conteh, is indisputably little known organization even among the Gambian dissidents. To idolize in self-abnegation, Dr. Janneh could not resist impugning on the admirable characters of the legitimate opposition who risk everything and had suffered more from the Pharaoh’s tyranny he helped entrench in power. By failing to take responsibility for his dishonorable participation in the abominable crimes against Gambians, he labored hard to tarnish the unimpeachable characters of the opposition party members as self-preserving wimps who “feared” the regime, are obsessed with “personal considerations” and preoccupied with “other factors”— whatever one could guess — as they continue to blackmail the people to a cause they have already concluded has and will fail.
From in the embassy building to the cabinet room, symposia halls to prison, Dr. Janneh paints himself as The Gambia version of Nelson Mandela but we all can attest, he is no Mandela. Malcolm X, Dr. King, Nkrumah and Biko are even mirages illusive in his horizon. Mandela made sure he’s not the first but one of the last political prisoners in South Africa to leave prison. Even more disturbing is Dr. Janneh’s account painting him as the Enlightened virtuous philanthropist in the heartland of Africa guiding and prodding the savages to democratic freedom. He, like the western missionaries before him who annihilated the savages and destroyed their institutions to ‘civilize’ them, helped dismantle the last legal instrument we count on, the Constitution, but claimed he had done so only in the noble cause to establish democracy for us. History repeated itself once more when even in Mile II prison, interaction between this Gambian-American and the autochthons who have legal claims in no other country, the former knew he can act with impunity as his survival, unlike the Gambian prisoners he might have helped incarcerate, was never really in jeopardy.
Dr. Janneh’s account, as stated in the mislabeled “Prologue” of the memoir, is “a riveting read.” It sounds too good to be true as it may have been manufactured and staged. Readers of the memoir may have been warned in the forward to take it with a grain of salt as “it’s rare for activists to document their feelings and activities at the times of their occurrence” because the story “is not a distant recall,” and the “documentation [is]in close proximity to the event.” Therefore, it’s the duty of those who are stakeholders in the future of the country to submit for public records the disconcerting evidence that Dr. Janneh swept under the rug. We owe it to our children to provide the full account of the occurrence of our time for they may as well inherit the struggle to end tyranny in our country.
Conscious of this fact, the issues at stake in The Gambia should condition us to always examine the words and evaluate the actions of all our public officials to align them with our goals. We must conduct an extensive scrutiny of all those who worked for the regime in The Gambia under the Pharaoh, as we too well know that mercenary appointees appear in different garments. They all fulfill their predestination of incarceration in Mile II prison on the termination of their employment. If it turns out that it was a subterfuge to enhance his personal standing and fortune, then his patrons among the dissidents would realize that they have allowed themselves to be swindled to once again make mockery of the noble sacrifices so many people have paid dearly with treasure, sweat, blood and life. The charges he levels against the Pharaoh are legitimate, as they constitute probable cause to apprehend and press charges against him. They include the Pharaoh violating his sacred Oath of Office, appointing “cronies,” “manipulating the Constitution” and even “disrespecting it,” “treats Gambians with disdain” etc. to make “mockery of both our national and international obligations.” The irony lost on Dr. Janneh is he, more than any other human being on the planet, is the quintessential poster boy of the “cronies” the Puppet Master-in-Chief hired by way of disrespecting the supreme law of the land. The entire mercenary judges the Pharaoh packs in our courts could justify their appointments as constitutional. But neither the Puppet Master-in-Chief nor Dr. Janneh could make such claim for his appointment.
There is something intriguing about Gambian elites who failed in their professional careers in Western countries. They are the first to kowtow to the Pharaoh for personal and material interests but shroud their selfish motives in the apparel of unparalleled patriotism and national development until the Pharaoh realizes that they are self-centered, unprincipled opportunists, and determines they are expendable. Incomprehensible however is that like masochistic bartered teenage girls, they keep returning to their tormentor fashionable boy they each calls the love of their lives as he plays one against the other. We need not labor for illustration as Dr. Njogu Bah and Mr. Saihou Gassama among many others are potent reminders — perhaps Dr. Janneh too should be considered a good candidate.
There are numerous forces opposing the Pharaoh, but so many of them are in disarray and confusion. Any of them could eventually prevail in uprooting that regime from power. The group that could usher in durable peace, deliver justice to the victims of the current dispensation, genuine democratic reforms with lasting institutions, respect for rule of law and the Constitution will be those who have sincerity and clarity of purpose, higher moral standing over the Pharaoh, and are bold to consistently examine the unpleasant activities of those — friends or foes — who have participated in the collective crimes against our people.