By Kemo Cham
The desire for change in Gambia appears unabated, despite pictures
often associated with the country which suggest otherwise.
A number of human rights bodies with specific focus on Gambia have cropped up over the years, influenced mainly by persistent reports of alleged human rights violations in the country. And like the media, these organizations are bound to be based outside the country. One such body is the recently launched Coalition of Human Rights in Gambia, UK. The members are concerned about the trend of alleged human rights violations back home and the increasing signs of indifference by the international community which appears largely unhelpful.
‘‘Humans are humans, violations are violations,’’ Malick Kah, the coalition’s newly elected chairman told the BBC in an interview, last Sunday.
The government of Yahya Jammeh has been likened to a few but largely ostracized governments with unfavourable records of antipathy for not just a free press, but the press in general – Libya and China, for instance, just two of the best known for their dislike for a free press.
Like these countries, the greatest force of opposition towards the Gambian government is naturally located outside the country, thanks to the new phenomenon of citizen journalism. But as it stands now, it is not only the media that offers a challenge to Yahya Jammeh’s government.
Traditionally, opponents of the Jammeh regime have directed their anger towards him by insisting on an uncompromising call for his removal, but this is not what it seems in the case of this Coalition, some of whose members are well known for their hardnosed opposition to the president’s style of leadership. This set it a bit aside from others.
According to Malick Kah, Arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, intimidation, etc., have becoming so commonplace in Gambia that even members of the country’s highly feared National Intelligence Agency (NIA) are not spared by the ‘’draconian treatment’’. Ngoor Secka, formerly Assistant Director of the NIA, for instance, has since been under custody without charge.. Two former Directors of the NIA ended getting a fair share of the harshness of the agency. One of them, Daba Marena, who was linked to the alleged March 2006 coup, disappeared mysteriously. The list goes on and on…
Is the leadership in Gambia scared? Is it just wedged in a state of paranoia that there are plans to oust it? These were all questions Kah sought to address. For him though, the international community needs to know that the issue in Gambia, just like anywhere else, is far above an individual government or leadership.
‘‘When human rights are violated in any part of the world concerns should be raised and that is why this organization is formed,’’ Malick said.
According to him, what they want to see is a dialogue between the government and the rest of the stakeholders in the Gambia.
Jammeh’s style of leadership does not appear to repel only his opponents, even members of his government often have reasons to complain. The president is well known for his inclination for sacking and recycling civil servants, yet hardly any explanation is given for these sacking of government officials. General Lang Tombong Tamba, the country’s former military chief, remains in custody alongside other big names in the army, and no reason has ever been forwarded for their arrest. And this, according to Kah, is what baffles majority of Gambians. ‘’It should stop,’’ he said.
Even though some people kind of find it hard to understand why Gambians clamour for change, there remains the fact that many of the officials who helped perpetuated the system in place one way or the other soon found themselves being defended against the excesses of the same system.