“The dictator is us”

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Book Review by: Basidia M Drammeh

Alagie Saidy-Barrow’s ground-breaking book, “The Dictator is Us, ” has laid bare Yahya Jammeh’s egregious human rights violations and unearthed his abhorrent atrocities masked by his pretentious display of religiosity.

The book contains harrowing tales of abuse of authority which got normalized under Jammeh amid deafening silence by many Gambians to keep their positions or protect their family members against a backlash by the dictatorship’s long and relentless hand. The author drove home that mini-dictators emerged from the overwhelming climate of despotism. As the book’s title insinuates, Jammeh’s extended stay in power was perpetuated by his enablers, who never relented and executed his unlawful orders no matter what.

In the process, countless Gambians were allegedly tortured, maimed, murdered, raped, exiled, and disappeared. “While Yahya Jammeh was the lynchpin of the 22-year dictatorship, he had many enablers who legislated, promoted, aided, and supported his maladministration and abuse of Gambians,” Alagie noted.

The author highlighted the obsession of Gambians with position, turning a blind eye to Jammeh’s excesses. He gave the nonchalant public reaction to the gruesome murder of former Finance Minister Koro Ceesay as a glaring example, with his colleagues moving on with their lives as if nothing happened and insisting it was the will of Allah only to maintain their positions and continuing to enjoy the attendant privileges.

Addressing the 1994 coup that propelled Jammeh to power, the author attributed the success of the military takeover to several factors, including Inadequate civilian oversight as far as the military is concerned, disconnect in the security service, intelligence failure, breakdown of control and command leadership low morale and the presence of Nigerian troops who were commanding the Gambia National Army, legalization of the coup by legal practitioners. Alagi singled out Ebrahim Changan, hailing his bravery and courageous decision to stand for his county and stand against the junta.

Using ethnicity, religion, and Panafricanism characterized Jammeh’s reign to drive his political ambitions. In Saidy Barrow’s words, Jammeh ethnicized politics and politicized ethnicity to maintain power, using the ethnicity card to empower his tribe members, who were largely disgruntled with the former regime and disparaging others, especially the Mandinka.

The author detailed Jammeh’s suppression of freedom of expression and media to ensure that the Gambian population only saw and heard what was favorable to him, enslaving their minds. To muzzle press freedom, Jammeh disappeared and murdered uncompromising journalists while launching attacks on others, with many eventually fleeing into exile. The author, however, equally noted the role of a section of journalists in making Jammeh the dictator he was, turning to praise singers rather than pursuing and uncovering the truth.

Ironically, Alagie noted that despite Jammeh’s abuse of power, his apologists would absolve him of wrongdoing; instead, they would blame the people around him. On the other hand, Jammeh’s ruthless security apparatus spinelessly executed his unlawful orders under the pretext that “they received orders from the top, noting that National security was used to abuse and restrain perceived enemies systematically. The “top,” in his words, used to mean the dictator, Yahya Jammeh. The author lamented that this term remains in use, highlighting that the tyrant might have left, but the apparatus of abuse he nurtured and the mindset that sustained it is still alive and well in the Gambia.

Alagie stressed the need for genuine reconciliation, warning that “politicizing reconciliation efforts or politicizing accountability may bode well for the politicians in the short term, but it will gradually erode the corroding pillars that distressingly hold the Gambia together.”

Saidy barrow’s book is worth reading to draw critical moral lessons from it and to prevent the reoccurrence of the atrocities and abuse of power that marred Jammeh’s 22 years of authoritarian rule.

Kudos to Mmajiki Saidy-Barrow!

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