Just call me King JammehBy LEE MWITI | Thursday, November 18 2010 at 14:44
People should leave The Gambia’s His Excellency Sheikh Prof Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh alone.
Sure, he may be a veritable rascal, but in a continent once termed hopeless, it really should be unfair for idlers and layabouts in western capitals to again want to take away just about the only bright spot we have in Africa's dreary politics.
His love for the political theatre is well documented, so why can’t the critics and gloomsters view the latest instalment of the “Jammeh Show” with a light touch? People can be so grumpy.
What is latest from his bag of patented antics, you ask? Well, early this month, Jammeh allegedly made a staggering announcement that seems to have caught out even the most avid of Africa watchers.
In power for 16 years, he announced that he would not stand for President in a national election scheduled for 2011. We could find no ad verbatim of this, but oh, well.
It seemed to be another nail in the coffin of an exclusive club that counts Robert Mugabe, Paul Biya, Yoweri Museveni, Meles Zenawi and Eduardo dos Santos as long-time members. (These are leaders who should be emulated for their staying power, but for some reason, the idea remains a tough sell).
Democracy purists in Western capitals would still have been exchanging high-fives and prolonged fits of back slapping, as they guffawed and choked over branded Cuban cigars in celebration of yet another African “despot” having seen the waywardness of his ways, but our Jammeh is wiser than he looks--he has again outwitted the haters.
Reports are that traditional chiefs in the oddly-shaped country are, with his blessing, furiously fanning out lobbying for support to—wait for it-- crown Jammeh as a king, hence the angst.
Okay, he may be a bit weird and recently took a 21-year-old as his second wife, but what's wrong with wanting to enjoy the same privileges as Swaziland’s King Mswati III? Africa’s last absolute monarch, Mswati is one of the world’s most envied leaders— one of his official duties involves ogling nubile topless girls and picking (up) one of them as a spouse.
Mswait III: Role model?
Mswait III: Role model?
But now even Jammeh’s own citizens have joined in the act. “We have heard of a monarchy turning into a republic. But we have never heard of republic turning into a monarchy, an audibly distressed Aliu Cisse told the BBC’s Network Africa programme on November 17.
Mr Cisse is supposedly a member of the Campaign for Human Rights in Gambia, a group based in the United Kingdom, and presumably one of the many Gambians for some reason living in exile, maybe for want of a change in scenery. (We can’t understand why--Gambia is one of Africa’s more scenic countries, really).
The group is petitioning the British Foreign Office to “intervene” and “speak with one voice” against Jammeh’s newest show of what many call calculated erraticism. After all, as Cisse said, Gambia is a signatory to several international conventions and protocols.
But we still, however, fail to understand the commotion: Jammeh is only being consistent. His democratic credentials are not in doubt--his ruling party is progressively named the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction. Isn’t that proof enough of his conviction?
He also did (allegedly) say he was stepping down due to his conviction that “democracy should prevail” in the nation. We should not doubt him, when there's such a tidal wave of democratic elections sweeping across Africa.
We all know that what Africa needs is “guided” democracy, a concept that Jammeh strongly believes in, hence his strong leadership style, what others, however, prefer to call "iron-fisted" and "autocratic". Some have even dared utter that horror D-word: Dictator. The nerve.
But how many other world leaders can cure Aids-- and do so religiously every Wednesday? Even miracle man Barack Obama knows this is beyond him, and so Jammeh was perfectly within his rights to quickly deport a UN official who doubted this.
He has also won every multiparty election conducted since then, each more disputed than the preceding one, but then, which African election is not contested? Just look across at Guinea.
The conspirators also accuse him of holding nothing but disdain for the opposition. This is a charge hard to sustain, because it is not good manners to respect people who cannot fund themselves, yet still hold dreams of running a country. Look, Jammeh even has “tangible evidence” that opposition parties are being funded by foreign powers, especially former colonial power Britain: “I swear that the opposition will never win, and will not even get a ministerial post here,” he said early this year. What other incontrovertible proof do the naysayers want?
They have also accused him of owning arguably the patchiest record of respect for human rights in Africa, and of regularly gobbling up for lunch journalists and civil society activists who as much dream political plurality.
But would AU body, the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights, and the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies be headquartered in Banjul, the capital, if this were the case? Someone here is clearly being mischievous.
Recent attempts to move them should be construed as a case of Western countries—and some African ones—being petty and jealous of such recognition.
And for those who say the country’s media are nothing but propaganda outfits, what of the regularly published letters from diaspora Gambians who recognise the “undisputed quality” of his leadership? Jammeh has been very modest about his own abilities, but the media just won’t let him be.
Look at this from the Independent a, London daily: “The tiny nation is a basket case whose ruler is an embarrassment to his neighbours. Heavily reliant on peanuts, Gambia President Yahya Jammeh wants to rule a petro-state. Trouble is he can’t find any crude oil.”
How dare it term the country unviable? The bloody left wing paper! Africa will never be recolonised!
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Beyond the ballot