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Why we need a truth and reconciliation commission

Mar 8, 2017, 12:04 PM | Article By: Baba Galleh Jallow

It is hard to contemplate but should by no means be dismissed out of hand that wherever he is, Yahya Jammeh is nursing hopes of making some kind of triumphant return to The Gambia. He must be scheming and plotting and exploring just how he could use whatever financial muscle and local human capital he has to return to Banjul, even to State House so he can teach Gambians a lesson they would never forget. Some of us would think that this is too far-fetched to merit serious consideration. But in my humble opinion, it is not at all farfetched that Jammeh is certainly dreaming of making a return to Banjul sooner rather than later. Whether he does so or not depends on how our political situation evolves over the next three years and the extent to which the real Jammeh is brought out into the open for all to see and recognize.

Of course, Jammeh cannot possibly return to The Gambia without some spectacular developments of a political kind. In the few short weeks since he was forced into exile, enough grime about him has come out to get him arrested as soon as he steps foot in The Gambia. And as time goes on, the very minions he used to commit his crimes are going to pile more and more grime upon his head. Every single crime the NIA, the Jungulars and others have ever committed will all be heaped on his head; and forgood reasons too. Under tyrannical regimes like Jammeh’s almost no civil servant or employee of the government dares do anything without explicit nods from the head of state. The NIA had a term for it, “orders from above.” Anytime I was picked up by the NIA, I made sure to ask why innocent people were being harassed and arrested for absolutely no good reason. The NIA agents would always retort that they were “acting on orders from above.” Of course, things had gotten so bad in Gambia in the final years of the Jammeh regime that people took it upon themselves to torture or kill other people or commit terrible crimes in a bid to please the despot. And so ultimately, they could say they were acting on orders from above; that Jammeh ordered or sanctioned whatever crime they committed. The bottom line is that within a very short time, Jammeh would be accused of committing so many horrible crimes that he would immediately be seized should he decide to step foot on Gambian soil. In his sick mind, Jammeh could perhaps be dreaming of engineering another military coup by his remaining minions in the army. He would be dreaming that they could seize power and invite him back home. This is another illusory pipedream if for the simple reason that ECOWAS and the United Nations will no longer tolerate such military lawlessness in The Gambia. And they especially would not stand by and watch Jammeh come back to power in Banjul.

The almost impossible scenario of Jammeh coming back to Gambia should not however lead to a sense of deja vu on the part of our current government. In a less democratic environment, the APRC which Jammeh still owns and sponsors would have been banned and prevented from seeking any public office in the land. That has not happened in The Gambia and we can reasonably believe that since Jammeh is pulling the party’s purse strings, he must be doing everything he can to make sure that the party remains a force to reckon with in Gambian politics. The opposition parties were able to win the December 2016 elections only because they pooled their resources and filed a single candidate. If that coalition crumbles, there is nothing to prevent the APRC from strengthening its position, possibly filing a candidate for president in the next presidential elections, and even winning the presidency again. And in the event that an APRC candidate for president wins, what would prevent him from granting Jammeh a total pardon and welcoming him back to the Gambia as an honored guest and “father of the nation” as he liked to be called? One hopes that this never happens; but in order to prevent it, the coalition must make it their deliberate responsibility to remain strong and avoid the kind of fracturing that could give a simple majority to the APRC or the APRC in coalition with another party in any subsequent election. For that would mean they could welcome Jammeh back to The Gambia and grant him full amnesty from all the crimes he has committed against the Gambian people. And who could do anything about it in such a scenario? It would be legitimate political action unless the laws of the land explicitly forbid it. And since laws and constitutions could be amended, there really is nothing to stop it in the final analysis.

Making it impossible for Jammeh to come back to The Gambia or the APRC from coming to power ever again requires practical realpolitik from Barrow’s coalition government. Appropriate and rigorous enquiries into the activities of the ousted despot, his enablers and his party must be started immediately, and findings of any and all wrong doing must be vigorously and consistently publicized and discussed on national media. Jammeh’s crimes are so horrendous that when they are exposed and laid bare for all to see, even some of his most die-hard supporters might think twice about ever associating themselves with him or his party. The much touted truth and reconciliation commission needs to be established without delay, its deliberations opened to the public and streamed live on public and social media. No detail should be so gruesome or outrageous to merit censorship and both victims and perpetrators must be encouraged to just say it as it is, exactly how it happened. The public must not be shielded from anything at all that happened under Jammeh’s brutal watch. The large amount of hidden history created by Jammeh and his brutal regime of thugs and killers must be unearthed and meticulously recorded for both current and future generations. People who know things about Koro Ceesay’s brutal murder, the November 11, 1994 incident at Yundum barracks, the April 2000 student massacres, the deaths in custody of Sadibou Haidara and Daba Marena among others, the shooting deaths of Deyda Hydara and Lt. Almamo Manneh, the disappearances of Chief Ebrima Manneh and so many others must all be made matters of public knowledge. Gambians must be made to understand the nature of the brutal crimes and grave sins the man who pretended to be the greatest Muslim in the world was committing right under their noses.

In essence, the coalition government must not only strive to remain strong and united, it must consider it a matter of top national priority and long term security to expose Jammeh for what he is. It is not unreasonable to suggest that until December 9, 2016 when he started showing his true colors, many Gambians believed Jammeh to be the pious sheikh and defender of the faith that he pretended to be. His habit of invoking Allah’s name at the beginning of every speech, making endless references to the All Mighty Allah, carrying around what many people believed to be a copy of the Holy Quran and prayer beads, and dressing as an Imam even under the hottest of temperatures had the effect of stamping an image of him in the minds of many Gambians as a true man of God. Exposing his brutal crimes and his nauseating corruption through a truth and reconciliation commission will help shatter whatever remains of that illusory image and lay his character bare for all to see. Jammeh needs to be known for who and what he is by each and every single Gambian both alive and unborn. His religious hypocrisy and political jingoism need to be exposed for what they were, not only through credible narratives of his evil deeds, but by full physical exposure in national and international media.

We call upon the Barrow administration to immediately establish a truth and reconciliation commission or other commission of inquiry that will set in motion the process that will bring out the real Jammeh for all Gambians and the world to see and understand. If the coalition government does not act quickly and decisively, Gambians may yet witness the day when Yahya Jammeh will step proudly off a plane on to Gambian soil, walk on a red carpet and brag about how he told them he feared nothing but the All Mighty Allah. And if our political culture does not undergo radical transformation in terms of mass political enlightenment and empowerment, what would prevent Jammeh from seeking and winning the presidency again, especially if our political parties are fractured and engaged in endless bickering that projects an image of them as totally unequal to the task of running our country?