The Trial and Betrayal of Madi Jobarteh
If there is a dictator’s creed, it is “For my friends everything, for my enemies, the law.” Tyrants dutifully invoke the law, not as an instrument to do justice, but as a tool of repression which they often masquerade as a bulwark against threats to national security. The deception is complete when the victim goes through a sham trial in the name of a due process towards upholding the rule of law.
What the prosecution of Madi Jobarteh has revealed is that the hopes that propelled Gambians to depose a tyrant took a back seat in one mad rush for a power grab and all the trappings that came with it. For these aspirants, the spoils of victory were more of a priority than the commitment to toil over the repeal of draconian laws and other reforms on which they campaigned under the coalition’s 2016 Memorandum of Understanding. And it is not as if the democratically elected leaders are not up to the task. But the laws they sought to change and did amend turned out to be wholly self-serving. As for amendments that would serve the people’s best interest, well, those can wait for another day, if at all. It was a classic bait and switch.
Many people are outraged by the actions of the Barrow administration, and we should be. But how did we get here? The arrest of Dr. Ismaila Ceesay over a year ago for expressing an opinion was an early warning that the instruments of coercion in Jammeh’s toolkit are still intact and ready to be used with impunity. Were we so oblivious of the fact that President Barrow can deploy them to harass and intimidate his detractors and political rivals when it suits him?
Sometimes, I wonder why our elected officials could not summon the political courage to do the right thing that is in the interest of the population. What level of moral failing does it take to cede power to Barrow when they have a chance to restrain him by repealing the odious laws being used to persecute Madi? Only a thought bothers me. Perhaps there is a more tragic reason behind this abdication. Maybe this is who we are, after all, a people unmoored to any core principles relating to the fundamental respect for individual freedoms, including the freedom of self-expression and promotion of the national interest. In this realm, everything becomes a transaction. And so, our freedom of expression now rests on Barrow’s goodwill? Do we now exercise these fundamental human rights at our peril?
Yes, we are all Madi Jobarteh now. He represents the best of us as Gambians, for he is patriotic, independent, and brave. Dictators count on people to cower in fear when they strike at dissent. His trials are ours too. But let us apportion responsibility for the current malaise where they belong. And in doing so, apply a rare commodity in The Gambia today: candor.
When we condemn Barrow and his police henchmen, who are now drifting into Yahya Jammeh’s orbit, we should, with equal measure, do so for those who betrayed Madi and the Gambian people. The leadership of the political parties and their representatives in the National Assembly – UDP, PDOIS, GDC, PPP, and NRP are failing to uphold their oath of office by remaining silent and devoid of any legislative agenda. We know where Barrow stands. What is the opposition’s excuse for inaction? Or do they hope to one day use the same laws against their critics and prevent our collective progress?
Cherno M. Njie is a real estate developer based in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Sweat is Invisible in the Rain – A memoir of an African Childhood, An American Life, and My Quest to Topple a Dictator. He is a proprietor of The Chronicle.