Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Calls to contain Yahya Jammeh gains momentum

Sometimes it appears as though our memories fail to serve us well. We either seem to overlook the significance of history or we are guilty of deliberately ignore it altogether. But it so happens that catastrophes that have resulted from bad governance have never happened spontaneously; we have overtly watched them built up over the years and … boom! It all happened.

When, for instance, the rogue Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel leader, Foday Sanko, sauntered his way to destroying his country Sierra Leone, he baffled the whole world with words like ‘my country’, ‘nationalism’, ‘freedom’, ‘peace’, ‘development’, lock, stock and barrel. Even when his roguish forces showed initial signs of going out of their way, engaging in extrajudicial killing, the demented chief of Africa’s most notorious insurgents clung on to his continued denial of the obvious. And interestingly, the whole world continued to look on as Sanko and his men forced their way all through, leading us to what we all ended up witnessing.

This is how rogue elements elsewhere in the world, like Sudan’s Beshir, and even Hitler, hypnotized the world and settled down to halting progress in favour of a period of annihilation.

One character very common with such people is their impregnable belief of superiority that they are the only way through which development of their generations is attainable. This is a trait that is so true about Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia, described by the London based News Time Africa as ‘a senior mem­ber of the African Club of rul­ing Dic­ta­tors’.

Jammeh view of the ‘July 1994 Revolution’ idea he continues to nurse appeals more important to him than what February 1965 means for the country. The set of illusory beliefs he has accrued over the past decade and a half have molded him into a potential threat to not only the Africa region but the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, very few people are seeing him in this light. Perhaps because of Gambia’s insignificant role at the international arena, very many significant pronouncements he has made has gone largely unnoticed or ignored. And he has apparently been taking this silence as a sign of inability or indifference on the part of the civilized world, giving him more reason to continue. This might have well played a role in what is arguably his most criticized statement, which he made last September, threatening to kill any one in the country affiliated with human rights defenders.

But if anything, that statement has altered the image of this former army lieutenant turned tyrant in one of Africa’s poorest nations. Jammeh’s infamous September death threat continues to hunt him, as the free world continues to rally against him for a remark he feels so big to retract despite growing calls for him to do so. Knowing very well the egoistic nature of the man, I am no surprise at that.

But calls for the international community to reign on the Gambian leader have assumed an intensified state with Common Wealth affiliated human rights bodies calling on the grouping of former British colonies to ban him from attending its forthcoming heads of states meeting in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago.

The Common Wealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has petitioned the Ugandan president, who is the outgoing chairperson of the grouping of former British colonies, urging him to call the defiant former Gambian military lieutenant and coup leader turned president to order.

In an open letter to the Ugandan leader, which appeared on the Sunday Vision, the Sunday version of The New Vision, a pro-government news paper in Kampala, Maja Daruwala, India based Common Wealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) Director, said ‘‘Jammeh’s statements flout the jealously guarded Commonwealth principles.’’
“In view of the universal condemnation and concern at the statements of the President of Gambia, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) strongly urges you to seek a clear repudiation of his statement and a strong re-affirmation of his commitment to the values of the Commonwealth…,” the CHRI Director’s letter reads.
And he added, “In the absence of this, we recommend that no invitation be extended to the President of Gambia to attend the upcoming CHOGM in Trinidad.”
There are indications, however, that Jammeh may have already received his invitation. According to Trinidad’s Newsday, when asked on Monday 16 November if the Gambian dictator has been confirmed for attendance at the meeting, Trinidad’s Minister of Trade and Industry, Mariano Browne, who is the head of a Cabinet committee charged with organising the event, said, “I don’t know but I’ll check.”
The minister went on to say that any such decision is entirely rest in the hands of the prime minister and the Common Wealth.

The CHRI have had a similar statement published on The Gambia Echo, a Gambian owned online newspaper based in the US, effectively attempting to spark a debate among a growing online dissident community on the issue. Although there is no sign yet of this happening, it will be crucial to reflect a much desired action from the very people who wants a change in the status quo in Gambia.

Trinidad’s Tuesday, November 17th edition of Newsday, headlined: ‘BAN GAMBIA FROM CHOGM,’ highlights an additional voice at the international front.

In this article, the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights (CCHR)’s executive director, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt, said Jammeh’s violent declaration should not be condoned by her country.

“Jammeh’s statement openly repudiates the commitment which this country has always upheld, to adhere to the rule of law and the judicial process,” Mahabir-Wyatt said in a press release issued on behalf of the CCHR, which lists a highly respectable Justice Rajiv Persad as a director.

“It is also a violation of the principles that the Commonwealth stands for and to which Trinidad and Tobago and the Gambia have subscribed by signing the Harare Declaration,” the former independent senator said.
Accordingly, a letter has already been sent to the Trinidadian Prime Minister, Patrick Manning, as host of CHOGM, “asking him to withdraw any invitation to Yahya Jammeh to attend a meeting in this country unless he withdrew that statement.”
This latest campaign looks like the beginning of a change in approach to Yahya Jammeh’s attitude to international treaties. But given the records of an organization like the Common Wealth, there is very little reason to hope for what the free world expect.
If there is going to be any action in favour of the request by the human rights organisations, the Ugandan leader, who unfortunately is part of the shameful breed of self imposed dictators on the continent, will have to be behind it as the outgoing chair of the Common Wealth. But this is not likely.

Weather a serious debates ensues on this matter or not, it remains to be seen what the Common Wealth, an international grouping that seems desperate to assert itself, will do to restrain a looming catastrophe in the latest repressed nation on the African continent.

But members of the Common Wealth and any other responsible international body must realize that they owe a fundamental obligation to at least safeguard the principles they set for themselves. Jammeh’s presence at a meeting bringing together a group of people that include responsible leaders will send an unfavorable message to the rest of the world, and such institutions will be effectively stripped off their natural authorities of safeguarding the interest of the hundreds of millions of people they are out to represent.

To people like Musevine, in spite your record as the head of state of Uganda, one will be inclined to believing that as outgoing chair of such a respectable international body, you will want to leave a legacy much stronger in conviction than ever before and will not want to be remembered for failure to act. Yahya Jammeh’s government is a nightmare for Gambians; he ought to be restraint.

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