Comrade Julius Malema is the former radical intrepidly-outspoken leader of the youth wing of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. Ever since he was eased out of the party he has been a thorn in the flesh of the ANC leadership led by the randy corrupt President Jacob Zuma. On many occasions he has taken on Zuma on the floor of the Parliament during the polygamous President’s appearances. Malema, the founder of the Economic Freedom Fighters, (EFF), is a parliamentarian and using the legislative platform and podium he has often unloaded on the embattled President calling him unprintable names (from mediocrity to mendacity, cronyism to outright graft).
Recently Malema had directed his sarcastic tongue towards no other than the celebrated nonagenarian sit-tight President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. Reacting to the positive democratic development in Banjul where the ECOWAS leaders had risen in unison diplomatically and militarily to insist and persist that Jammeh must quit in deference to the will of the people expressed openly in the December 1 presidential election which he lost Malema had accused the good old Bob in Harare directly of nursing the inordinate ambition of dying in office and taking Zimbabwe down with him! Urging him to quit in the interest of the future generation Malema mocked him as a grand-father who has become too old to want to continue dominating and ruining the future and economy of his country.
The muddling Mugabe instantly took offense and fired back angrily through his Information Minister Christopher Mushohwe. Describing Malema as a “political charlatan” he asked him literally to mind his business. Sounding supremely arrogant the Mugabe man was singing the praise of the old Bob maintaining that Malema was too small to join issues with him! Some ruling ZANU-PF politicians whom Malema had labelled “cowards” had described him as ‘the little irrelevant man”. Last December Malema had lambasted Mugabe saying he could not even lift a shovel as a result of old age!
The truth is that the irrepressible Malema, no matter how uncouth or undiplomatic he may have sounded in his anti-Mugabe tirade, was saying what majority of Zimbabweans wanted to hear about their long-serving leader. Mugabe has since overstayed his welcome in power and all the goodwill that ushered him in post-Rhodesia has been squandered on the alter of power lust and longevity. When a leader overstays his welcome performance is eroded and the wrong impression created of him wanting to transform the state into his personal fiefdom. Mugabe may be a strong leader in a nation without strong institutions but he has failed to improve the lives of his compatriots over time.
Mugabe is a bad example of leadership in Africa. And Jammeh must have drawn some inspiration from his obduracy towards retirement when the ovation was at its loudest (and now at its lowest). But Mugabe is not alone in this graceless club of African leaders refusing peaceful transition from the old generation to the new. We have got Museveni in Kampala, Biya in Yaounde, Dos Santos in Luanda, Mbasogo in Malabo, Afewerki in Asmara and Derby in Ndjamena. Mugabe surely remains an inspiration to these authoritarian elements in power holding the destiny of their various countries captive! But West Africa has become an exception with the sound defeat of Jammeh.
When Jammeh came to power by martial means in 1994 he looked haggard, ugly and dark-goggled. The great pictorial difference between then and now testified to the power of money and good life. Much like the late Samuel Doe of Liberia Jammeh was a barely-educated low-ranking military officer who had the audacity to challenge violently the political establishment or status quo and succeeded in an ambitiously dangerous quest. Unlike Doe though Jammeh preferred to live rather than die in power as that fate would have certainly happened to him if he had stubbornly stayed longer than the ECOWAS ultimatum had recommended. But he left Banjul with looted millions of Dollars, state-owned state-of-the-art cars, his mother, wife and hordes of bodyguards for Malabo where Obiang Mbasogo has offered him refuge and security.
Jammeh represented many things to Gambians: the traditional or native doctor who claimed he could cure HIV/AIDS with plants! The lustful polygamist who married wives including the beautiful Moroccan lady! The deranged Imam who turned his Republic into an Islamic one -without the consent of his people) clutching the Holy Koran at all times! The shrewd businessman who cornered the wealth of the nation and became emergency billionaire like Olusegun Obasanjo in Nigeria! The comedian whose theatrics around the African continent and beyond conferred on him the deserving title of a presidential clown! The marabout who allegedly used mystic powers to hypnotise everybody commanding and controlling everything!
The socio-economic and political challenges facing Barrow are huge indeed. For 22 odd years ex-President Jammeh tortured and imprisoned and killed hundreds if not thousands of Gambians forcing the best and brightest as well as the miserables to flee abroad for succor. Some of his young compatriots that fled to Europe via the Mediterranean sea in Libya never reached their destination as they died in the process of doing just that! He confiscated power and freedom of his people manifesting his abhorrence of the opposition. Free speech and free enterprise were almost abolished with him and his family and cronies prospering at the expense of the people! He created a delusional cult of personality portraying himself as a god in whose court everyone must bow and tremble!
Last week Thursday President Adama Barrow triumphantly returned home from Dakar where he was sworn-in as President a week prior inside his country’s embassy in the Senegalese capital city. The Gambians, in their thousands, thronged the streets and roads in the capital to welcome home the one that ended non-violently decades of the worst form of despotism by a psychotic man suffering from the delusion of grandeur! The Gambia post-Jammeh is a changed landscape indeed! With people openly talking about freedom from oppression and state terrorism under Jammeh it is a thing of joy for a people liberated from living in modern bondage.
President Barrow has formed a cabinet comprising some politicians and technocrats including the veteran opposition leader, Ousainou Darboe, who was in prison during the presidential poll, something that forced the opposition coalition to choose Barrow as their flag-bearer in the election. Darboe was named the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Besides, President Barrow has promised a decent state ruled by laws. He has equally promised to reform the dreaded National Intelligence Agency (NIA) a notorious security outfit used by Jammeh to prosper his state terrorism. He must hit the ground running if he wants to change the terrible system left behind by his murderous predecessor.
Recently it was reported widely that Switzerland had detained the former Gambian Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko, who is accused of committing grave abuses under the regime of ousted President Yahya Jammeh. The arrest, confirmed by Swiss prosecutors, came as The Gambia welcomed their new President. Sonko, it would be recalled, had been one of Jammeh’s top allies serving in his presidential guard before leading the interior ministry from 2006 to 2016. Jammeh sacked him in September of last year after few differences forcing him to flee to Sweden where his request for asylum was rejected. Sonko was detained in the Swiss capital city of Bern following a complaint filed by the human rights group TRIAL.
President Obiang Mbasogo had vowed never to hand Jammeh over for trial anywhere. As a fugitive Jammeh is in good hands given Mbasogo’s antecedents. Giving him the Charles Taylor treatment, therefore, could be said to be out of the question for now. Equatorial Guinea is not Nigeria and Mbasogo is not an Obasanjo. But Jammeh may one day be cornered by the international justice system to answer to the atrocities he committed while in power. Justice is patient and it strikes at any moment in time. Jammeh cannot escape justice here on earth before answering to the blood he shed in the Gambia hereafter.
The celebrated conquest of state terrorism in The Gambia marked yet another milestone in the West African democratic evolution. From Abuja to Abidjan, Dakar to Accra, Bamako to Banjul we celebrate the fall of the last Idi Amin standing in the sub-region. Yahya Jammeh was an Idi Amin in many ways but the only possible difference was that the vanquished Banjul tyrant did not openly employ cannibalism as an instrument of state terrorism! But his brutish style, cruelty, crude and rude methods matched those of the late Ugandan hit man.