For the Love of The Gambia by Martins Agbonlahor

“Jotna!” they shouted vehemently. But for those not familiar with the Gambian politics of today, the phrase means ‘It’s time’ in the language of Wolof. Put succinctly, the rioting people are telling their embattled president, Mr Adama Barrow, that it’s time to vacate the throne or face a showdown.

Mr Adama Barrow

But how did The Gambia’s nascent democracy come to this?

It all began after the former president, Yahya Jammeh, was defeated in an election held in 2016 and he refused to concede defeat to the victorious amalgam of parties. He breathed fire and brimstone, threatening to “deal mercilessly” with opposing politicians who were trying to “steal” his political mandate. To resolve this impasse, a relatively unknown Adama Barrow, a member of the victorious parties, who had become head, made a pledge that he would govern for a transitional period of three years, after which he would organise a fresh election which he himself would not be part of. But tempusfugit (as they say in Latin), and President Barrow, still enjoying the trappings of power, had forgotten to tick off the given years on his fingers, as THREE YEARS suddenly showed its face like a lurking vampire. 

Therein lies the conundrum. 

While he believes he has the constitutional right to remain in office for five years – even though that standpoint flies in the face of the agreement reached in 2016 – the Gambian people believe he is spinning a web of tangled lies in the mode of Yahya Jammeh, that intensively corrupt and high-handed ex head of state who, in his coup speech, promised to “stabilise the country within months and return to the barracks”, only for him to install a reign of terror that destroyed every facet of the Gambian economy. At the same time, he was assuming megalomania in his crass deception of being able to “cure HIV-AIDS”, in the face of his country and its people wallowing in abject poverty, filth and degeneracy. That man will, without doubt, make a fascinating case study for a psychiatrist.

The current impasse appears to be in defining the line of demarcation between what is morally binding – as per the agreement reached verbally in 2016 – and what is legally binding, as per the provision of the constitution.  This is the crux of the matter. But ordinary Gambians, not wanting to be carried away by legalese, believe it is time for President Adama Barrow to vacate the throne. They know better, having previously fallen prey to the sugar-coated promises of their past leader. Only last week, the streets and alleyways of Serrekunda and Fajara were like a beehive, with people shouting themselves hoarse, and armed with machetes, frying pans and cooking spoons in an apocalyptic clatter. Some held stones and rocks with rough edges. “We will pull the president down,” they threatened. 

This writer implores the rioting Gambians to give peace a chance. It is barely a month since the country recorded the death of 62 citizens, whose boat had capsized off the coast of Mauritania on their way to Europe. The agony is still fresh in our minds, and the pain, excruciating. Of course, they were fleeing the lack of jobs and the unavailability of basic infrastructures; that is why the politicians, who are currently at daggers drawn with the president, should resort to constructive dialogue, which I think, is more effective than the present diatribe in resolving the country’s problem and moving her forward. 

More so, The Gambia is a small country, which thrives chiefly on tourism. We do not need a stargazer, therefore, to tell us the after-effects of these disturbances: a ripple which may snowball into a tidal wave if not well managed, forcing the teeming yearly tourists – the source of the country’s main revenue – to a staycation. This will spell doom and have deleterious effects on The Gambia and its people. The Yellow Vests Movement in France, the Hong Kong’s student protest, the Bolivian skirmish, as well as the Venezuelan uprising, should serve as a silent reminder that anarchy looms around a country that cannot resolve their problems amicably.  

President Barrow is still sitting tight, assuring the intransigent opposition parties and the disaffected populace that he would hold a general election in 2021, after his ‘political mandate’ (that word again!) has expired. This appeared to have further infuriated the people, who saw his statement like adding insult to injury. It is desperate times in The Gambia, and whether the people would wait another two years amid the various accusations of constitutional jiggery-pokery levied against the president, remains the million-dollar question. 

Until then – and as events unfold for good or bad – let’s keep The Gambia in our prayers.

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