“Dictators are leaders who always look good until the last ten minutes” – Jan Masaryk
I was in Brikama on Saturday night to cover the political rally of President Adama Barrow and his supporters. What struck me the most were the statements issued by the speakers. I stood there till midnight, less than 10 meters away from the podium, and what I heard from many of the speakers, particularly those with authority, should scare the crap out of every peace-loving citizen of this country.
From the word go, the issue of Three Years Jotna or anybody who plans to protest in December for President Barrow to step down, took center stage. It started with ordinary Barrow supporters from local communities. One after the other, they had a go at those they claimed were planning to take to the streets at the end of Barrow’s third term in December to protest. One may argue these are just ordinary people and what they do is just militant politics and they’d say anything to impress the president and his inner circle. I won’t waste too much time on this.
What baffled me were the threats by senior government officials. The Interior Minister in particular, threatened that protesters would be sprayed with ‘hot water’ from the anti-riot water cannon truck recently imported to deal with protests. That statement was childish, irresponsible, unnecessary and dangerous.How could he forget so soon? We came out of one of Africa’s most brutal and notorious dictatorships just a little over two years ago. During the two decades of that brutal dictatorship, such threats were very common, and they resulted to widespread reign of terror. Minister Ebrima Mballow might not have been affected directly by the Jammeh regime, but he must have had relatives or friends who were victims of heavy-handedness at least. And for him to threaten the citizens in such an irresponsible manner was scary and painfully depressing.
Mr. Interior Minister yes you have a responsibility to protect the peace and stability of the country, and I have no problem with that. But that responsibility does not give you the carte blanche to issue such irresponsible threats.
This is not an issue of whether or not people should protest for Barrow to step down after three years. No it’s not. This is about a regime showing signs of dictatorship. For this government to come to power, Gambians put their lives on the line. People took to the streets in the face of dictatorship. People were arrested, imprisoned, tortured and killed just so this country could be free at last. How could we forget so soon?
For a president who came from a political party that suffered from dictatorship for two decades to preside over a government that now wants to sow the seed of dictatorship is baffling, disappointing and unfortunate.
For the Interior Minister and other senior officials to accuse Diaspora Gambians of fueling protests against Barrow was even more nonsensical and ridiculous. Those who stood against Jammeh for two decades and paid the price didn’t stand up because Diaspora Gambians asked them to do so. The students who took to the streets on April 10/11, 2000 didn’t protest because Diaspora Gambians asked them to do so. When Solo Sandeng and co. gathered at Westfield on that fateful day in April 2016, they did not do it for the Diaspora. When thousands and thousands of Gambians finally decided to say enough is enough and Jammeh must go, they didn’t take that bold decision for the Diaspora. When thousands of thousands more rallied behind Barrow in December 2016 in the face of brutal dictatorship, and got him the votes to become president, they didn’t do it for the Diaspora. They did everything they did for the love of The Gambia. So for this government to say that people are now protesting or planning to protest because of the influence of the Diaspora is comical.
The president and his inner circle should take a quick trip down memory lane to the resilience of Gambians during the regime of Yahya Jammeh. We must not forget so soon. A government that was directly put in place by people’s power must always remember that power belongs to the people. Yes the authorities might be worried or even paranoid about the prospect of riots in December. But that doesn’t warrant the use of threats against the citizens. Any responsible government would instead use dialogue and sensitization to engage its citizens.
Dictatorship died in The Gambia after the exit of Jammeh and there must not be any form of it anymore.
Sheriff Bojang Jr.