“Whoever can conquer the streets will one day conquer the state and any state ruled by a dictator for every form of power politics, and any dictatorship-run state has its roots in the streets,”
By Alagi Yorro Jallow
The Gambia is going through a reawakening. The country has ushered in a new political agenda free from fear. At last, Gambians have shattered their illusions of fear. The “core values and principles of democracy with respect for human and people’s rights” which Gambians have been denied for decades under a brutal dictatorship has induced us to prepare to defend our nascent democracy with or without help from the international community.
The Gambian people should take pride and defend our democracy and refuse to be a nation whose citizens lack national consciousness and patriotism. As a nation that has lost its soul and fallen prey to both internal and external shocks, the Gambian people must now be ready to defend our democracy, sovereignty and territorial integrity without fear and the need for external help.
If fear does not wane, we cannot be masters of our own destiny. As Franklin Roosevelt aptly reminded us: “Fear is an enemy of faith and the greatest enemy of fear is fear itself”. Fear leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering. Let’s combat our fears by finding solutions that dispel the lies and arrogance of the outgoing President Jammeh and take to the streets to chase him away.
President Jammeh’s illegal decision to cancel the election is a duplicitous attempt to wrap in legal terms what is in effect, an indefinite extension of Jammehism. He has never shown any regard to our constitution and laws. All his use of legalese are nothing but ploy to shore up his dying regime. And any further attempt by Jammeh to derail the transition process could further plunge the country into anarchy.
Jammeh’s Machiavellian nature must be stopped with people’s power as demonstrated in other parts of the world. For example, in Turkey in July 2016 the military staged a coup and despite their overwhelming might, the putsch was mostly crushed within 24 hours with the help of citizens defying the soldiers in support of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and democracy after he called for popular resistance in a FaceTime call aired on TV.
The mutinous soldiers, some of whom had been running over people and cars with their tanks, were lynched by the civilians. The defiant Turkish civilians reclaimed their country from the military when they helped to end a coup by the army to overthrow President Erdogan, who called on the people to remain on the streets over fears of a fresh uprising.
Ordinary Turks confronted rifle-wielding soldiers, climbed atop tanks and lay in front of military vehicles to take back control of the country, ignoring a curfew imposed by the coup plotters designed to allow the army to bring down the government unopposed.
The defiant Turkish civilians helped reclaim their country from the military when they actively participated in ending the attempt by the army to overthrow President Erdogan.
President Erdogan called on the people to take to the streets, leading to reports of groups of soldiers surrendering at several key locations in Ankara and Istanbul, including on the Bosphorus Bridge, where 100 rebels laid down their arms and submitted themselves to advancing civilians and the police.
Erdogan emphasized the importance of faith in defeating the soldiers. “If they have guns and tanks, we have faith,” Erdogan told his cheering supporters. This is a lesson for Gambians that citizen engagement and civil disobedience are patriotic duties to embark on in defending democracy against its enemies.
Taking part in civil disobedience is not only a privilege but also an obligation which each citizen of a democracy must show pride in defending that democracy. And every Gambian who respects the country’s democratic pioneers and feels a sense of responsibility in defending the country’s hard-won democracy should not allow themselves to be cowed by outgoing President Jammeh’s anti-democratic rhetoric. Every proud Gambian should not easily abandon this sacred duty by forsaking their democratic rights.
It is dumbfounding how easy it is for outgoing President Jammeh, in today’s democratic Gambia to disregard the voices of the Gambian people in such a casual way. Democracy is a system in which no one can choose himself, no one can invest on himself with the power to rule and therefore, no one can arrogate to himself unconditional and unlimited power to rule.
The Gambia is in danger. It is abundantly clear that Yahya Jammeh and the military are leading The Gambia into a political crisis of immeasurable proportion.
After decades of dictatorship, finally the Gambian people have voted for a government of their choice. The election of December 1 was free and fair. It was one of the freest and fairest that had ever taken place in that country. But unfortunately, the results of the elections were dishonored by no other than the outgoing President Jammeh himself.
If the Gambian people had not voted, the world would not have known that they wanted democracy. And by refusing to honor the election, Yahya Jammeh has also made it clear to the world that he does not want democracy. And with a very tiny but powerful cabal on his side, he is toying with the future of the nation.
Under Jammeh, Gambians have been struggling for democracy and during these years, there have been many casualties and untold human suffering. Our politics has been increasingly unhealthy and the regime had disregarded our clamor and agitation for democracy. However, democracy cannot be installed at gun point any more than love or empathy can.
Citizen engagement is the heart of democracy; when the citizenry engage in democratic practices in the form of civil disobedience in a non-violent manner, they are bolstering democracy and showing the rest of the world a better model that can be emulated as shown in the December 1 election by dislodging decades of authoritarianism. The true “arsenal” of democracy is not a hell fire missiles raining death from the sky but the citizens’ engagement.
Research has shown that no government could survive if just five percent of the population revolted against a dictator. Research further shows that civil disobedience campaign has never failed after the people achieved the active and sustained participation of just 3.5 percent of the population. The importance of getting 3.5 percent of the population to protest is to bring down a government through non-violent resistance and the best and most effective way is getting more people into the streets without fear.
Uprisings can often cause a crisis of legitimacy within a government; particularly if the relationship breaks down between an unpopular leader and the military or the security forces. They can cause the government to fall. A Joseph Goebbels’ quote suggests that the best way to chase out a dictator like Yahya Jammeh is to take to the streets.
“Whoever can conquer the streets will one day conquer the state and any state ruled by a dictator for every form of power politics, and any dictatorship-run state has its roots in the streets,” said Goebbels.
People’s power or citizens’ engagement is the alternative to any possible foreign military intervention in The Gambia. International military intervention is only sanctioned under conditions where there is violence in a country and lives are being lost. There is no record of foreign military intervention in African political studies where a foreign military intervened to kick out a recalcitrant leader in a country where there is no violence. Any foreign country to have a legitimate mandate to deploy military troops in another country, lives must be lost first and not only a few lives but many lives.
Non-violent struggle is a strategic campaign to force a dictator like Yahya Jammeh to cede power by depriving him of his pillars of support. This can only be possible without fear. As Andrew Cuomo, an American politician brilliantly puts it: “Fear is a powerful weapon. It can excite and motivate and it can get people to yell and scream. Fear can even bring you into power but fear has never created a job, educated a child and it has never built a nation or a community. Fear is no strength; fear is weakness and no matter how loud you yell.”
Civil disobedience that takes place in a repressive autocratic regime like that under dictator Jammeh is more likely to cascade into a successful uprising. If citizens, take to the streets despite significant risks of imprisonment, injury or death, their protest would be a more informative signal of the intensity of anti-government sentiments and the underlying weakness of the regime than where protest is routine.
In The Gambia, today, compared with other countries, we are particularly infatuated with (people “ NYEMEN YALLAH RAGAL NIT), hypocrisy, egoism, self-glorification and attention seeking. Those negative traits have brought us nothing but dictatorship. Solidarity and humility as modes of thoughts and actions that can reign in a ruthless dictator are not yet so evident in The Gambia.