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The Napoleonic syndrome of President Jammeh expressed through his recent withdrawal from the British Commonwealth conceals his gross human rights violations, executions of political dissidents and homophobic pronoucements – rather than any principled opposition against neo-colonialism

Recently in the month of October 2013 the West African state, The Gambia, withdrew from the British Commonwealth. The latter is the 54-member grouping including Britain and most of its former colonies. The reason which the President of Gambia gave as the collective rationale for withdrawal from the grouping is that the Anglophile interstate organization is a vestige of colonialism and hence neo-colonial in its political orientation.


President Yahya Jammeh executed this decision without consultation with his nationals. In the justification for this move President Jammeh argued that the government has withdrawn its membership from the British Commonwealth and decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism.


This is also a common argument used by most African states every time the western world criticizes Africa on matters of governance and human rights. African states often cite neo-colonialism, imperialism or lack of respect for African sovereignty in every eventuality of getting a diplomatic censure from the Western world. In Kenya and Uganda both presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and Yoweri Museveni accuse the International Criminal Court (ICC) of being neocolonial and imperialistic or being antagonistic to African sovereignty. This is usually false and contradictory to the political and democratic facts on the ground.

Neo-colonialism is not the main vice to African politics. Current failings in African politics have a lot to do with the homespun African political culture rather than Africa’s international relations with its former colonial masters.


For example, the Gambia joined the Commonwealth in 1965. The entry was a very promising and comely composition of a country surrounded by Senegal and Nigeria. The Gambia has been popular destination for European tourists. Many of them have been the British. This of course is an attribution to the Gambia’s tropical climate and white Atlantic beaches. But when President Yahya Jammeh came to power in 1994 through a coup d’etat, the political climate in this country automatically changed to a nationwide feeling of solemnity and solidified fear of the political unknown among the people of the Gambia. All these emanated as President Jammeh accused Britain of backing Gambia's political opposition. This categorical politics of jitteriness by Jammeh increased during some months preceding the 2011 elections. The human rights conditions in the country seriously dwindled at this time as seen in the then series of politically perpetrated lawless executions of opposition leaders.
The reasons behind Jammeh’s withdrawal relate to a number of factors. Firstly President Jammeh's government has performed poorly on matters of human rights, just like his counterparts in the current Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea.

The Gambia has often been reported by the Amnesty International as a ruthless perpertrator of persecutions against political opponents, homosexuals, lesbians, transgender people, unlawful detentions, press crackdowns, and discrimination against minority groups. Amnesty International has been reporting on human rights abuses in the Gambia for many years. The local media in west Africa has also uncovered many eventualities of illegal arrests and detention without trial , extra-judicial killings and politically compulsive disappearances of journalists and human rights crusaders. A recent incident of degradation in human rights happened in December 2012 when an eminent Muslim sheikh who is also a patron of human rights and crusader for democratic governance mysteriously disappeared for five months. The revelation has it that this cleric was severely tortured and finally released following intense pressure from civil society organisations. Such cases are many in the Gambia. Some time ago two journalists from Nigeria, Ayodele Ameen and Tania Bernath were taken into police custody. They were only documenting a story on human rights conditions in the Gambia. They had entered the country legally and had informed the Gambian authorities of their official purpose for coming to the country. On a further inquest the Amnesty spokeswoman Eliane Drakopoulos said that two Amnesty delegates were being detained in Banjul along with these journalists.


Alongside this horror, other encounters in the anti- human rights perpetration by the government were exposed by the managing editor of the opposition newspaper ‘Foroyaa’ His name was Sam Sarr. Sarr once complained against the government of the Gambia that his reporter Yaya Dampha had been arrested while covering the story on a journalist Deyda Hydara who was gunned down. Hydara was a fiery outspoken opponent of repressive media laws of the Jammeh government. During that same year the offices of the independent newspaper were ransacked and burned down. The home of the correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation was ruthlessly set on fire.

More recently, a UN official in the Gambia was unreasonably declared a persona non grata and ordered to leave the country after she boldly criticized President Jammeh's sham claim of having cured HIVs/AIDS by use of herbs and voodoo. Jammeh had melodramatically declared that he had discovered a herbal cure for AIDS after which he began treating patients inside the presidential palace using the same informal herbs.


These revelations show that it is not neo-colonialism that is a problem facing politics of Gambia. Instead it is political avarice and selfishness from the political corridors of the incumbent presidency. The Gambia does not only violate the rights of Gambians but the rights of foreigners on account of the Napoleonic syndrome of President Jammeh.

It is this internationalization of human rights violation by the Gambia that made Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in the last year send an appeal to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan urging him to use his influence within the ECOWAS to restrain the Gambian authorities from executing two Nigerians and about 30 Gambians on death row in the country. Arguments of SERAP in relation to this were that the threat of execution by the Gambian President was equivalent to multiple violations of the rights of the death row inmates. Their right to life and fair trial is guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as resolutions on moratorium on executions adopted by both the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. The resolution pushes that other African governments and institutions have to join hands with SERAP to guide Gambia on the course of democratisation. Otherwise President Jammeh will keep misusing the sovereignty of the state of Gambia in pursuit of soothing his tumultuous political emotionalisms.

*Alexander K Opicho is a social researcher with Sanctuary Researchers Ltd at Eldoret, Kenya and a lecturer in Research Methods in Governance and Ethics


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