When he seized power in 1994 from a Democratically elected President, he did it in the name of stamping out public corruption, introducing accountability, transparency and restoring public trust. His tone in the early days of the illegal Coup Detat with slogans like “Soldiers with a Difference”, “We will never introduce dictatorship”, “we will return to the barracks” and his disdain against colonialism captivated audience beyond the shores of the Gambia. He reminded West Africans of young Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso who also seized power in his early 30s and became Africa’s most admired young leader. YahyaJammeh would prove to be far different from anything that resembles the young Thomas Sankara or anything AfricanS have ever seen.
Jammeh’smost powerful weapon for 22 years was Religion, Pan Africanism and hatred against White domination even though colonialism was long faded . Every statement he made was either related to his false religious believes, his ploy to exploit racial discrimination or his hate for anything that resembles his own accountability to the Gambian people. His resentment of anything related to freedom, liberty, equal opportunity for all especially Democracy would push him to do anything using state power to total domination economically and politically. He induced religious leaders and poor Gambians with their own resources so they would submit to his whims and caprices. While he held everybody else accountable with endless slogans of “operation no compromise” Zero tolerance for corruption” and “operation bulldozer” he continued to amass massive wealth through illegal seizure of public land, personal properties and businesses. He turned the Gambian state into his own personal empire and took anything and everything without regard to due process or basic honesty and integrity.
Jammeh’s quest for material wealth and total control of power would eventually lead to his arrogance, total isolation from the rest of the world and his own people. The lonelier he became the more greedy he got and worst, the more he thought he could use his illegal wealth to buy loyalty and happiness. He lacks basic human decency and therefore he could not relate to anything beyond material and power. He found fulfillment in acquiring more wealth and state power which he used effectively to dominate and got citizens to carry illegal deals and oppressions of their own people. Jammeh was so self centered that he hated to see anybody successful around him regardless of how hard they worked. As the saying goes “when you want it all, you lose it all” and that’s exactly what happened to Africa’s greediest dictator in the 21st century.
The announcement by the Justice Minister Ba Tambedou freezing the former dictator’s stolen assets in the Gambia is a long overdue welcome development. The report that Jammeh owned 88 Bank accounts and over 131 personal properties and businesses did not come as a surprise to many Gambians. What is hard to comprehend is how a head of state, a leader of an impoverished nation like the Gambia, could illegally acquire so much material wealth and bank accounts while his people continue to wallow in abject poverty. This is inhumane and there is simply no rationale that can explain the greed and hunger for wealth that led Jammeh to do so much damage to the Gambian state. The justice minister and the Barrow government must be commended for this incredibly courageous move which is the beginning of Jammeh’s accountability both on his economic crimes and human rights violations.
This move is so far the most significant step that sends a clear message that there is a new law and order in town. Former Jammeh loyalists and APRC remnants must not be allowed to use his illegally acquired assets to obstruct the administration’s efforts to hold the former government accountable and maintain peace in the country. This freeze must extend beyond Gambia and the government should make a strong case to ECOWAS and the International community that they are coming after Gambia’s looted assets by their own President. A clear message must reach Jammeh that Gambians will not move on in the interest of peace and reconciliation at the expense of justice and accountability. As we advocated on this paper numerous times, Jammeh’s assets and bank accounts must be used to compensate innocent victims of his regime. As much as Gambians want to move on by creating a Truth and Reconciliation commission, this cannot be done at the expense of justice and accountability. It is expected that Minister Tambedou and the government will create a strong legal team to go after these assets including all other assets illegally stolen by other public officials. An independent commission should be set up to look into how these assets were acquired and also make recommendations on how to handle the possible sales and or return of these assets to their rightful owners. Today, Gambians are once again reassured that their new government may not be slow but they are making efforts to correct many wrongs that occurred during the Jammeh regime. Such communication to the public will go a long way to alleviate fears that the Barrow government is not paying attention to some of the most crucial issues facing the country. On balance this is a good step in the right direction and a welcome development.
By Demba Baldeh
Associate Editor, Gainako