The people of the Gambia have instituted a truth and reconciliation process to try and exorcise the demons left behind by one of the most obnoxious rulers of an African country, Yahya Jammeh, the madman who brutalised his country for 22 years before his people somehow managed to kick him out of power and out of the country.
Jammeh — full name Yahya Abdulaziz Jemus Jumkung Jammeh — took power in a coup in 1994 as a junior officer, and proceeded to turn his tortured country into a minor hell till his overthrow in 2017.
Like other dictators before and after him, Jammeh rejected the election results that had shown his opponent, Adama Barrow, to have won.
After a lot of complications and manoeuvres, the concerted efforts of Gambia’s neighbours managed to extract him out of the country and into exile, and to date he lives in Equatorial Guinea courtesy of another dictator’s largesse.
Since his ouster, Gambians have worked hard to put together a catalogue of his crimes in the context of a TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Committee), which aims to understand what the country went through and then leave all that behind and seek a future free from the weight of the ugliness of the man. That catalogue includes torture, murder of political detainees, execution of prisoners on death row and the rape of innumerable women.
In the style of all the other African tyrants who treat their birthplaces as some kind of shrine on which sacrifices have to be offered, Jammeh had his native village of Kanilai, where on a number of the alleged atrocities of the man were authored.
In one reported incident, Jammeh ordered his goons to “chop” his prisoners “into little pieces,” and in another, the victims were “driven deep into the ground” until they suffocated. In a TRC testimony one of one of the killers, said “our team was a hit squad. We had blind loyalty to Jammeh”.
As do many of our miserable little men who assume powers too big for their brains to contain, the usual delusions of supernatural powers visited this man as well.
At some stage he thought God himself had given him the ability to cure HIV/Aids, and he used his own countrymen and women as guinea pigs.
Unfortunately for Africa, Jammeh is no exception; he is just one of many who occasionally come to power (some even via more or less credible elections), and behave for a time as if they owned their country, and do all sorts of terrible things to their people, and then die or run into exile, unpunished.
But in this case we are in luck. Jammeh still lives, and someone in his entourage recently suggested he might want to go back to Gambia. This would be a welcome move, I think, because then he would not have to be tried in absentia.
He would face his accusations personally and be able to defend himself, and maybe, if he has any conscience at all, try and see if he can atone for his crimes and face the prospect of reckoning.
Maybe we could learn something from such a scenario? Maybe. Any which way, Africans should learn to accept responsibilities for their actions, because as long as we do not own up to what we have done, we always find a way of outsourcing our problems.
When we are sick we have been witched, not because we have exposed ourselves to an insalubrious, or a disease-ridden atmosphere. When we die it is the same thing made worse. If we are poor it is because the witch next-door has cast a spell on us, not because we have not found a way to work hard and smart.
If we do not pass exams, it is because we have not seen a good mganga; if we do not get the wanted pregnancy it is because of the “evil eye” of the neighbour. We always want to outsource our problems.
Sometimes we even want to allow our brutal rulers to outsource their problems; we outsource their problems for them, by saying things like, “It was his advisers.”
If we understood these simple lessons, I believe we would not find ourselves in the situation where, for instance, the Tanzanian parliament was made to pass a law that ostensibly grants amnesty to any and all transgressions some high officers of the state may commit while in office at any time in the future, effectively granting them proforma impunity.
The way matters stood before this law was passed in the last months of the Magufuli presidency, there was speculation as to whether the president of the republic could be made to answer for his crimes at any time when in power or after he left office.
Not even deigning to answer this only slightly thorny issue —there are several interpretations depending on what one lawyer or the other thinks —the parliament found wisdom to add more office bearers to be exonerated from responsibility!
Why do they even try?
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]