As a country, much of what shapes the politics we observe is not based on reality, but on the flawed way our brains process what we see around us. We draw conclusions that rely on limited information, which often result in a myopic representation of the reality. In my experience living in and learning about various totalitarian regimes, the one constant is their inherent administrative weaknesses and fragility. Because dictatorial regimes use fear as an instrument of gaining control and compliance, they are able to create a false sense of stability, strength and invincibility.
The truth, however, is far different from the perception and the Gambia experience is no different from any other dictatorship, past and present. The more the terror that a regime like Yahya Jammeh’s unleashes on its people, the more it will be consumed by a morbid fear of its population. Dictatorships, therefore, are able to survive only because they learn to create and manage the “cloud of suspicion and mistrust” that they plant among the population. Different regimes use a variety of methods to achieve their objectives, but the end result is always the same; the establishment of a police and military state as instruments of repression. The remaking of The Gambia into a police and military state has been a long time-a-coming, but with all intents and purposes, it has arrived now.
Having committed so much atrocity over the years, this was perhaps a foregone conclusion, because the alternative would be a violent and brutal uprising that would put the lives of Yahya Jammeh and his collaborators in mortal danger. Today, because Yahya Jammeh cannot undo the past, nor can he placate the present, the only other course of action available to his regime is to continue his brutal oppression. The big secret weapon the Yahya Jammeh regime has on its side now is no longer a secret. By leveraging the unconstitutional powers granted to the National Intelligence Agency and military to “plant fear and suspicion” among the population, the regime has managed to forestall any criticism directed at it. Additionally, efforts by civil society organizations to present a united opposition front against the regime are preempted by the looming presence of brutality from the regime’s agents of repression. But, so much has changed in the last ten years that it is difficult to imagine how we got where we are in the first place. The fear of the Yahya Jammeh regime is so pervasive, that families, neighbors and friends have been ripped apart as a result of the cloud of mutual suspicion that pervades all levels of our society. Political dissent can and does result to murders and disappearances and criticism of and complaints about regime’s failures could result to harsh punishment. It is these draconian measures that enable the regime to survive, but such a scenario does also present answers to a different reality for the dictatorship.
Rather than represent the true face of strength, stability and invincibility, the regime’s oppressive methods do more to expose its weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The regime’s show of strength and stability, expressed in the brutal and intolerant attitude towards citizen dissent, is actually a façade that masks its fear and vulnerability. As we have seen, one of the misconceptions surrounding the Yahya Jammeh dictatorship is the perception and aura of invincibility. While the vast majority of the Gambian population shares a lethal hatred of the Yahya Jammeh regime, we remain so suspicious of each other that we are unwilling to confess our frustration and hatred of the regime to each other. In this constant grip of this fear, we as a society have remained mute and unwilling victims of the regime’s abuses and excesses. If only we could read each other’s minds, it could be possible to start a spontaneous revolt that would have the ferocity and brutality unlike anything Yahya Jammeh could ever imagine. Today, even selective targeting of the regime’s interests could shake it to its foundation, since it will project a regime in loss of control. At this juncture, it is imperative for every Gambian to understand that what the regime projects as a sign of strength, is the psychological equivalent of staying calm even when one’s body is numbed by paralyzing fear. Once we as a nation come to this realization, we will begin to understand that only a handful military and security officers are willing to fight to keep Yahya Jammeh in power.
It is not a question of tribe, because Yahya Jammeh has hurt the Jolas as much as he has hurt the rest of us. As far as many of the Cassamance and Bissau Jolas who are the bulk of the Yahya Jammeh’s support are concerned, the road to Selete may prove to be a very long and hard one to travel in the event of a change of regime. For now, we as a country must realize that no one is coming to save us, and as the saying goes, it is we that we have been waiting for all these years. The time to begin organizing resistance is now. Such resistance must begin with a show of defiance that will include tearing down or defacing Yahya Jammeh posters around town. Once we start a campaign of defiance, it will be easy to observe how the regime will be crumbling like a sand castle, because despite Yahya Jammeh’s frequent show of bravado, his smiles really betray the reality of a man who is scared to death. His regime is unsure whether each day would be its last, yet it can sense the writings on the wall. We must save our country from further disaster, because we are the real saviors we have been waiting for. Let us stand up to this challenge. We are tired of the dying, the arrests, the detentions, the torture, the brutality, the dysfunctional government and the enslavement of our people. The time to begin resistance is long overdue. Yahya Jammeh’s regime is standing on one foot and overthrowing it is much easier than it appears. Let us get organizing for the final push to liberty.