Let’s start by getting something straight outright: we do not have a national army in The Gambia. What we have is what Essa Bokar Sey calls “a criminal gang masquerading as an army.” Some prefer the term criminal Syndicate. I’ll use Ethnic Militia because I believe it’s what more accurately describes the mindset of the people heading our various armed and secret services. The irony is, armies generally tend to help countries bind together to grow into stronger nations. Because the very nature of their work involves life and death issues and the survival of the nation-state, armed services tend to be strong instruments of national cohesion. In the case of the Gambia, probably because we’ve never been to war with any foreign adversary, this isn’t the case. And the reason is the devil call Yaya Jammeh!
Just imagine the insanity of the past fortnight: the Gambia had an election that one person contrary to the constitution single-handedly laid down ALL the rules of the contest to favor him (the Who, How, What, When, Where.) Further, he chose the umpire, and never let Gambians forget that he is the one funding the electoral commission with HIS own funds. Plus, he has a standing army at his beck and call with a history of carrying out his illegal orders of visiting death and violence on defenseless citizens. All his opponents had and have is faith and grit. Their only request was they be allowed to witness the counting of their votes. And oh boy. The Allah of Small People finally heard Gambian peoples’ cry and prayers. Despite all the bluster and chest-thumbing, this person who designed the current electoral system to suit his personal interest and who loudly proclaimed beforehand to the whole world Gambia’s electoral system is rig-free, this man – Yaya Jammeh, lost in the first certifiably transparent election under his rule. Caught flat-footed, he conceded and congratulated the winner as any normal leader defeated in an election should within twelve hours of the results’ declaration, only to rescind that concession eight days later. Thus, the current high stakes drama.
But of greater concern is the attitude of the Gambian army in the current crisis. When Yaya Jammeh conceded defeat, the Chief of Defense Staff Ousman Badjie – his kinsman also called President-Elect Barrow the victor and went on national TV to pledge the allegiance of the armed forces to the people’s choice as he should. Ousman Badjie’s older brother was put through a brutal ordeal some years ago, by Yaya Jammeh – something I wrote about recently. The fact that someone like Ousman Badjie can throw his own brother under the bus to try to back an irretrievably doomed leader like Yaya Jammeh reflects the power of ethnic nationalism Jammeh has imbued his native community with. A sergeant who gives me updates on Badjie calls him an expletive chameleon because barely two days after pledging allegiance to the President -Elect, Badjie after huddling with Jammeh inside State House for hours emerged a totally different person. But according to this NCO, Jammeh doesn’t trust the man one bit and would sacrifice him the minute he doesn’t need him. A mutual friend of thirty years is shocked that the man is throwing away his future for someone who doesn’t care for anyone but himself.
That Ousman Badjie’s loyalty still nominally lies with Yaya Jammeh for no other reason than ethnicity is no longer in doubt. When I saw the video of him from the mass army officers’ promotion with the bundle of jujus around his neck, I took it to be a message from an unsettled CDS to Yaya Jammeh to back off. Given what we now know, it is a clear Tribal signal to all Jola ethnic nationalists to rally around Yaya Jammeh no matter what their individual feeling about him. You see, the juju bundle Ousman Badjie has around his neck are made in Kusamai. ALL real Jolas know this. Also, non Jolas like myself who have been to a Futamfaff in the Fonis in the 80s during the days of the famous Apollo and his group of warriors know this. By donning the Kusamai juju bundle over his official Gambian military uniform, Ousman Badjie was intentionally summoning his fellow Jola members of the army to rally around one of their own. None Jola soldiers need to know and understand this. If Yaya Jammeh refuses to leave, and they stick with him, they’ll die for a cause they’re not part of. People need to tell their non-Jola relatives in the armed services to abandon Yaya Jammeh. It’s exactly what the smart Jola boys will do when things get to a head.
This of course is the immediate. A more thorough review of the role of the Gambian army – one that invites public debate and discourse should be initiated by the incoming government and hopefully complimented by subsequent ones. There are certain basic questions that require public discussion:
1.Should a country where no single public hospital has adequate medications, functioning diagnostic or therapeutic equipment (MRI/scan machine, incubator or even oxygen tanks) spend millions on an army that has done more harm than good since its inception?
- Do we really need a standing army at all in The Gambia? Why not consider the Swiss option where people could be trained on an on-going basis in civil defense, and rescue missions in case of natural disasters and other calamities? Currently while we’re wasting millions annually on the army, Gambians caught up in natural disasters – be that floods, or winds, are left to the vagaries of nature. With the effects of climate change becoming more pronounced, the Swiss model would probably serve us better than an army that can NEVER realistically defend Gambia from any country that wants to fight us in a real war. Despite the infantile bragging of Yaya Jammeh about the greatness of his army, the Senegalese can easily take out the Iranian arms Yaya Jammeh has stored in Kaninlai and two other locations. The reason being very few people like Yaya Jammeh. All his secrets are matters his own generals brag to their countless girlfriends about!
- Education especially STEM as in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is a bigger priority. There is more to education funding than building physical schools. Teaching kids is better than keeping an army. The Gambia is in dire need of help in several important professional fields especially in the medical arena. The negative effects of Yaya Jammeh’s misrule has been widespread and profound. I am middle -age and I have a hard time watching some of the images I sometimes receive regarding the atrocities committed by Yaya Jammeh and his thugs against innocent Gambians. Even listening to some of the graphic stories about what these monsters do to Gambians get to me. So, Gambia is a country that really needs to go through a catharsis. We would need psychologists, psychiatrists and other medical professionals for years to come to help the Gambian population navigate through what we have been put through by these group of animals lead by Yaya Jammeh. What has happened in Gambia is an entire generation has not only been lost, but has grown up with a very twisted sense of what is normal. It is now incumbent on the new authorities to try to correct this deformed sense of normal. Those trying to shoo us quickly past this trauma without recognizing the significance of the damage that has been done
Circling back to the Gambia army, the problem there goes beyond the overt ethnic nationalism. It is an institution full of barely literate youth that is rotten to the core. And it has only been getting worse. For pointers, one need not go further than its two most high profile public intellectuals or as I like to call them the Two Funny Colonels. Alternatively, one can call them, the “Young Colonel” and the “Old Colonel.” The “Old Colonel” is a sad pathetic figure who needs no introduction and is generally held in contempt by Gambians these days. For that reason, there’s no point in giving him the attention he craves.