By Mathew K Jallow,
Unlike many of his countrymen, he never succumbed to the abstraction of reality in order to
escape the heavy moral burden weighing down Gambia’s political establishment. And nor did the
state’s use of brutal force lull him into fear and hopelessness. OJ was awake to the demonic
forces the Gambia faced, and was glued to the concept of slowly flaming out the military junta in
the effort to return Gambia to civilian rule. In political terms, his was a war to restore sanity to a
country teetering on the edge of political anarchy and economic collapse. OJ was loud without
being threatening, passionate without being aggressive, and easy going without being a buffoon.
In Gambia, OJ reached the pinnacle of political power and became a servant to those who pushed
him to bask in the veneration that glorified his name. When it came to personality, his was that of
a simple down to earth person. He wasn’t an incoherent rambler of the Hamat Bah mold, nor
blusterous of the Henry Gomez variety, and unlike Adama Barrow, his swagger was animated by
the perennial excitement and hope for a better the future. At the height of the military rule, OJ
defined convention and refused to be goaded or intimidated into silence. For that, he paid dearly.
OJ was arrested and incarcerated a total of 22 times, but even that wasn’t enough to prod him to
deviating from the moral principles that define his nature. More than alarmed about the military
takeover, OJ was more apoplectic and flew into psychotic rage. Soon the smoldering bitterness
that took over, dissipated into concern for an Orwellian dystopia. The stigmatization of Gambia
as a pariah nation, for deviating from its bedrock democratic political orthodoxy, has terrifying
material ramifications beyond the arc the eclectic horde of coupists could envision. OJ knew this.
And it terrified him.
But hearkening back, to high school, to be more precise, it would seem OJ would be an unlikely
person to flourish the way he did. OJ had a debilitating stuttering that was frustratingly persistent
and painfully obvious, but he never wallowed in self pity and everyone in class was forbearing
about his predicament. And in time, through sheer force of will, he overcame, he thrived and
became a force to reckon with. It would not be far-fetched to extrapolate that his experience as a
young man, as traumatic as it was, orientated his growth into a transcendent paragon of wisdom.
If OJ had a flaw, it was political in nature; more precisely, his devotion to late President, Alhagie
Sir Dawda Jawara, was at once comical, slavish, and excessive, an extravagant form of flattery
that was excessively boring. But it wasn’t this that defined OJ the man, the politician, the father.
As a political figure, OJ wasn’t averse to criticism, but even he had a limit of tolerance beyond
which the primeval survival instincts take-over. Such was the case when KerrFatou News wrote
a withering story linking OJ to some criminal activity under his ministry. OJ maintained it was a
sweeping accusation that was detached from any sense of reality. As an experienced politician,
OJ cherished democracy, and had a reverential commitment to human rights, that way, he was an
antithesis to many Gambian politicians, a paradox that set him apart as the singular political sage
worth emulating. OJ, not unlike most Gambians, was vexed by Yahya Jammeh’s nauseating and
arbitrary use of force, which over time rose to the level UN defined genocide. And to him, Yahya
was the embodiment of the mythical Satan, whose ham-handed threats demonstrated his craven
politics and fickle mindedness.
But despite his low intellect, or in-spite of it, Yahya Jammeh, largely due to the recapitulation of
Gambians, developed a Jedi complex, which drove him to make outlandish Hitler-like statements
about thousand year reign. It was the same Gambian complacency, cynical as it was, that became
the blueprint for Yahya Jammeh’s slow drift towards absolute power and introduction of political
assassination as deterrent against opposition. But this did not faze OJ, and he had made that clear
in more ways than one. With the existing wide chasm between some political parties, OJ became
the avatar of reason to coax the political establishment into coalescing around a central theme of
national interest. In the 2011 elections cycle, OJ stood alone to unsuccessfully try to convince
Hamat Bah of the NRP to join a coalition with UDP and PPP. Thus, his failure was a factor that
predetermined the elections results of that cycle. Throughout the Yahya Jammeh dictatorship, OJ
was never once rattled by his insidious power overreach, on the contrary, he saw Yahya Jammeh
as a toxic embodiment of crippling political dissonance. OJ’s intellectual acuity provided both a
calming and reassuring effect to a Gambian population under the grip an apocalyptic regime.
Even though OJ was unable to change the circumstances for the Gambian people, it is safe to say
that he inadvertently became Yahya Jammeh’s krypotnite by sheer force of his will. All through
Yahya Jammeh’s era, OJ cunningly leveraged his political stature and political popularity to
insulate himself from Yahya Jammeh’s worst excesses. In many ways, OJ was the metaphor of
fearlessness, and paradoxically, a harbinger of things to come, formation of the political coalition
that forced Yahya Jammeh out of power. I do not know very much about OJ family matters, but I
am certain, judging from is public persona, he’d be a terrific husband and a loving dad. What
more could anyone ask for? The sun has finally set for Omar Amadou Jallow (OJ), but his name
lives on. RIP brother OJ.