President Yahya Jammeh should save his family and thousands of innocent lives by retiring to his Kanilai Villa and later face the International Criminal Court. But as it is, he has chosen a worse fate. No effort should be spared to take down The Gambian tyrant and to install President-elect Adama Barrow.
Only death can end both the spell to bewitch and the prerogative to dominate - and sometimes even death can snuff out power from a tyrant. The killing of a tyrant is especially designed to echo the leader’s vices (Jammeh is a narcissist, killer, bigot and misogynist). President Yahya Jammeh has ruled with an iron fist for the past 22 years. He is trying to remain in power by contesting the results of the nation’s presidential poll before the Supreme Court, after initially conceding defeat in December. Jammeh believes that he could bully the Gambian people into becoming the lifelong ruler of The Gambia.
President Yahya Jammeh became uniquely a sultan in his own right, notorious for his arrogance and foolishness. “The Gambian people have spoken and I have no reason to contest the will of the Almighty Allah,” said Jammeh, a proud dictator. “The country will be in your hands in January (2017) and you are assured of my guidance on your transition and in selecting your new government”, he said in a message to President-elect Adama Barrow.
Yet less than a week later, he did an about-face on national television, calling for annulment of the presidential elections, which he described as plagued by “serious and unacceptable anomalies”. President Jammeh is illegitimate to rule and deserves to be killed or condemned to prison for life.
President Jammeh is notorious for his bizarre and, at times, belligerent behavior. Scoring his own goal signaled the end of his pretension to Caesarian heroism and Casanova machismo for decades. Yahya Jammeh’s mistake is to place himself above all Gambians. His arrogance prevents him from realizing that he is not supported by most Gambians and non-Gambians. His actions will lead to his death because he is considered a tyrant. In the minds of the people a tyrant who wants to bring down The Gambia deserves to die.
“The terror inspired by Caligula’s reign,” wrote Suetonius, “could be judged by the sequel”. Romans were so terrified of the emperor that it was not enough to assassinate him. They wanted to see him dead. If President Jammeh refuses to step down and to hand over power to President-elect Adama Barrow, he will get the death he deserves because he will be killed and be thrown off at State House balcony for stray dogs to lick his blood.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is working hard to find a solution to ensure a peaceful transition of power or the possibility of deploying soldiers to The Gambia to force Jammeh to step down. The international community has the right now to override the sovereignty argument of The Gambia. Government has the obligation to protect its citizens. If it will not protect them or is unable to do so then the international community knows that it has an instrument to intervene to ensure that the situation does not deteriorate further.
“All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure,” wrote Enoch Powell, the controversial but often perspicacious British politician, “because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs”. But the political lives of tyrants play out human affairs with a special intensity: the death of a democratic leader long after his retirement is a private matter, but the death of a tyrant is always a political act that reflects the character of his power. If a tyrant dies peacefully in bed in the full resplendence of his rule, his death is a theater of that power; if a tyrant is executed while crying for mercy in the dust, then that, too, reflects the nature of a fallen regime and the reaction of an oppressed people.
This may be true of President Jammeh if he fails to hand over power peacefully: he will be killed and the dogs lick up his blood in a death as terrible as that of the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus I, who was beaten and dismembered, his hair and teeth pulled out by the mob, his handsome face burned with boiling water. It was more frenzied than the semi-execution, in 1989, of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausesu; but not as terrible as the ghastly lynching, in 1958, of the innocent King Faisail II of Iraq and his hated uncle, who were supposedly impaled and dismembered, their heads used as soccer balls. In 1996, the pro-Soviet former president of Afghanistan, Najibullah, was castrated, dragged through the streets and hanged.
President Samuel Doe of Liberia was captured and stripped naked except for his underpants. In a video, Doe is sitting on the floor and one of his tormentors holds a microphone to his face. He is begging Prince Johnson for his life. The rebels hold him back as one of them cuts off his ears. He does it almost casually, and when Doe can’t sit up again, he is earless and bleeding onto his naked body with his fingers and toes cut off. He finally died in ‘unclear circumstances’ – although it is said that President Doe’s body was later cooked and eaten by the rebels.
President Jammeh’s reluctance to hand over power and respect the people’s verdict in December 1 presidential election won by Adama Barrow could provoke an insurrection; yet there are sound political reasons for the international community to take down the self-proclaimed Mansa of the Gambia. President Jammeh’s tyranny is absolutist, monarchial and personal. The problem with such dictatorships is that if the tyrant lives, he reigns and terrorizes. As Churchill put it, “dictators ride to and fro upon tigers from which they dare not dismount.”
All tyrannies are virtuoso displays over many years of cunning, risk-taking, terror, delusion, narcissism, showmanship and charm, distilled into a spectacle of total personal control. Dictators are the greatest of all actor-managers - omnipotent impresarios. They will last only if prestige, prosperity and a vestige of justice are maintained. Uninhibited bloodletting can also work - as other dictators, have demonstrated - until luck eventually runs out in the shape of treason, outside interference or a tsunami of civil disobedience like the Arab Spring. It is hard to imagine that there would be anything but giblets left if those two now fell into the hands of their people.
If a dictator cannot die in his own bed, the best he can do is try to stage-manage his downfall, because such characters find it unthinkable to exist without ruling. President Yahya Jammeh is so narcissistic that he first denied the fact of that The Gambian people want democracy before embracing his own ruthless, heroic role, the drama of the last stand: “I have set my life upon a cast,” says Shakespeare’s Richard’s III, “and I will stand the hazard of the die.”
President Jammeh should save his family and thousands of lives by retiring to his Kanilai villa and later face the International Criminal Court. Yet the narcissist envisages his downfall only as a mise-en-scene featuring his followers, family and country, consumed in his bonfire of egomaniacal nihilism. President Jammeh must have planned to die in battle like Richard III and Macbeth, or to kill himself. Yahya Jammeh, this monstrous poseur, will totally bungle his own death.
The master class in death of dictators was given by Hitler who, even as Russian legions fought their way into Berlin, kept control long enough to plan and execute his testament, marriage and suicide: control to the end in a kerosene-fueled garden Gotterdammerung. But not even he achieved the brilliant dignity of the death of Charles I, denounced as a “man of blood” by his Puritan tormentors, whose grace before execution set a standard that President Jammeh could only dream of: “I am a martyr of the people,” he said before facing the axe. “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.”
The expectation of the Gambian people and the international community will not sit and wait for the country plunge into chaos resulting in loss of innocent lives and destruction of property. It is deemed necessary for ECOWAS to seek the endorsement of the AU Peace and Security Council to deploy troops in Gambia to force the will of the Gambian people to be upheld.
* Alagi Yorro Jallow is a veteran Gambian journalist.
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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