Once again, innocent Gambians were subjected to another barrage of insults and threats by no less a person than our own head of state. This time round however, President Yahya Jammeh seems to have crossed the red line allowed for a head of state by singling out the Mandinka ethnic group, describing them as “donkeys and vermin” and threatening that “I will kill you like ants and nothing will come out of it”.
That is indeed very scary as this is the type of language that the Rwandan authorities were using against the Tutsis during the run up to the 1994 genocide in which more than a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred, making it the worst genocide ever committed in Africa in living memory.
While in the case of Rwanda, even though the government was very much an accomplish to what happened, but the hate speeches and threats were being driven by the Interahamwe instead of the then president of Rwanda, but in the case of the Gambia, President Jammeh seems to be the one making all the hate speeches and issuing the threats. That makes it even much scarier because we all know that the Gambian police and security forces have allowed themselves to become mere zombies ever ready to carry out any orders he gives them without any questions. If he tells them to shoot and kill, they will never hesitate for a moment to carry it out. We all saw it happen in 2000 during a peaceful student demonstration.
In fact President Jammeh has threatened that next time round, he is going to send the soldiers to kill anyone who comes out in the streets to demonstrate. “This time around, no police will arrest and charge you. The army would be deployed to shoot and kill anyone found in the streets demonstrating. Just demonstrate and see what will happen to you. I will not send the police. I will send the army to wipe you out and see who is going to talk about it”.
Everyone had agreed that the Rwandan genocide happened because the rest of the world, including both the African Union and the United Nations ignored all the ominous signs in the horizon until when it was too late. Here we are again witnessing a repressive leader like Yahya Jammeh making such inflammatory threats against his own people and yet the international community is keeping quite as if Gambian lives do not matter. The world definitely cannot once again afford to sit and watch another Rwanda situation being played all over again and only act when it is too late.
Another issue that President Jammeh has got quite wrong is his ridiculous claim that the Mandinkas are not genuine Gambians but that they were chased away by the Bambaras in Mali and migrated to the Gambia in 1864. That claim certainly has no historical basis because there is enough evidence on record that the Mandinkas were in the area called the Gambia well before 1864. As someone has pointed out, he makes quite a lot of capital out of the annual Roots Homecoming Festival, which is based on the life of Kunta Kinteh, a Mandinka slave who was said to have been captured in the Gambia in the 1700s, which is a clear indication that the Mandinkas were in the country well before that time. Therefore, there is no merit in that claim. He even vowed that Mandinkas would never again rule the Gambia, as if he has the power to determine who would rule the country after him. “I swear to God: there will be no Mandinka government in the Gambia. Never! If that fails, let me go to hell if I die”, he was quoted saying.
Once again, this has confirmed President Jammeh’s penchant for making wild claims, most of which are often not backed by reality. Another good case in point was his recent claims that there are 950, 000 Senegalese in the Gambia, which is certainly not realistic because it makes no sense that about half of the Gambian population comprises of Senegalese.
It is indeed hard for any reasonable being to comprehend in this time and age that a head of state of a modern country would single out a particular ethnic group and subject them to such threats. That certainly can only happen in the Gambia, and nowhere else.
It would however be a big mistake on the part of the other ethnic groups to believe that they are also safe from such virile threats. Today it is the Mandinkas, but it could be any other group in the future.
As Pastor Martin Niemöller of Nazi Germany was once quoted saying about the cowardice of German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen targets, group after group.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Therefore, it is time for all Gambians, particularly our religious leaders, and indeed the rest of humankind to speak out and even act against such threats before he carries them out. He should not be allowed to continue to behave like he is God the Almighty.
Written by D. A. Jawo