On December 1st 2016, the Gambia was reborn, and a new republic began anew. From that day on, a great deal of excitement filled the vacuum that came to symbolize our single most significant collective aspiration of the past 22 years – freedom, many will call it. And, from that day on wards, many have advanced different scenarios of what ought to be our way forward.
Personally, I am not sure we can even begin to talk about a way forward without revisiting how we got to the past 22 years. I admit it will be much easier to assign all blame to the person of the Ex-President Jammeh and anyone we could identify as being his associates during this period. However, I believe it will be a mistake to completely absolve the collective conscience of our nation as a whole from what many people have called the darkest period of Gambian Self-rule.
Yayah Jammeh was a 29-year-old idealistic young Gambia who, some 22 years ago, claimed, and was entrusted with the responsibility of running a sovereign nation with no more than a high school certificate and zero governing experience to speak of. Then, this happened?
With many other Gambians, over 2 decades, through 4 presidential elections, he killed people, he made other disappear, he wasted resources, he violated our trust, insulted our elders, and divided our people, as a brutal dictator. So many have charged at least this much.
Yet, because we all have different ways of looking at things, still there are also many who thought he did some great things for Gambia and Gambians.
My position is simply this – whatever our individual feelings, perspective, facts and beliefs may be about what happened and how we should move forward, the following questions are worth considering.
1. How did Yayah Jammeh became the man we believe him to be today?
2. How did the last 22 years awaken the spirit of every Gambian to care about our beloved nation?
3. Looking at history and the paths of other nations, can what happened in the Gambia in the last 22 years, be considered a reasonably natural evolution of a young democracy?
4. Did that young 29-year-old make Gambia into something it never was, or was the last 22 years a hard lesson of the ugly tendencies of independence and self-governance we needed to experience first-hand and learn from in order to be a better nation and people.
5. Was Jammeh a seasoned leader and ruler, or was he merely a subject of a socio-political evolution amidst a much more advanced and complex global reality?
6. How did he make Gambians torture and/or kill other Gambians?
7. How did he make neighbors who have never met him in person hate each other?
8. How did he make neighbors report one another to authorities, often with lies?
9. Was it out of fear? Was it for power or influence? Was it greed? Or was it simply self-interest? Was it jealousy or was it out of necessity?
10. Who are all the victims?
11. And who are the culprits? Are these all brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, etc. of many more other fellow Gambians?
12. Do we want these people to feel that they have a stake in the new Gambia, or that they are a liability in it?
13. Should we hold ex-president Jammeh and some of his associate accountable, or should we bring our collective conscience to bear witness to what might have happened in the form of self-reflection and national healing?
14. Can we resolve the last 22 years, in part, by the asking the state to recover significant portions of all known resources belonging to the ex-president and his close associates to build a national memorial that would display the names of all politically motivated victims of violence of the last 22 years? And/or establish a compensation fund for the families of the victims?
15. Can we honor some by naming streets after them?
16. How does what happen in the Gambia in the last 22 years compare to what happened in South Africa during Apartheid?
17. If the late Madiba Mandela can heal South Africa through reconciliation, can Gambia do the same and emerge an even healthier and more prosperous nation?
18. What should be the ultimate goal of any course of action? Revenge, Accountability, or national reconciliation?
19. How should the new government, during this transitionary period, engage with the segment of the Gambian society who otherwise sincerely believe that the ex-president was a good person, and should be honored and respected for his accomplishments, and be excused for his errors?
20. Most importantly, how do we heal the nation, especially those that were most tragically impacted by the events of the last 22 years, without further fracturing the collective-self Gambians have always pride ourselves of being – The Smiling Coast.