Monday, February 27, 2017

Bwiam: Political Crisis Left Neighbours Deeply Divided

On January 21, former President Yahya Jammeh left The Gambia a divided nation after more than a month of political anxiety (Photo Credit: LJahateh/FPI/Jan2017)
The election of a new president for The Gambia on December 2, 2016 brought renewed hopes for democratic governance, respect for rule of law and human rights. 

But the country is engulfed in deep political divisions following the post-election political crisis.

Ex-President Yahya Jammeh’s rejection of the results a week after he conceded defeat resulted in a political standoff between him and the winner of the election, Adama Barrow.

The impasse put the country under a month of anxiety during which more than 45, 000 people fled to neighbouring Senegal to escape an impending ECOWAS military intervention.

Time for revenge

In the small town of Bwiam in the Foni Kansala District of the West Coast Region, the population is deeply divided along political lines.

The town is situated more than 100 kilometers from Banjul and it is home to more than 5000 people; however, some neighbours are not in speaking terms since the post-election crisis.

“What the President Barrow’s supporters are claiming is that they have been provoked for 22 years during [President] Jammeh’s rule, so now is the time for them to revenge,” Ousman Camara, a presenter at the Bwima Community Radio, said.  “Anyone who puts on Jammeh’s T-Shirt will be insulted.”

He said some of Jammeh’s supporters refused to tolerate such acts and they would end up going to the police station.

Camara said: “People supporting President Barrow will come out and hold jubilations and we know that it is accepted for them to express their feelings, but in a civilize manner.

“You cannot just go in front of someone’s compound and start to utter insults or words that would hurt that individual.”

The Chief of Bwiam, Lamin Tombong Badjie, agreed. He said there have been quarrels between supporters of the ex-president and the current president.

Badjie said he has been receiving complains since the political crisis.

“Wherever there is change, some people will be sad and others will be happy – that is something we can’t avoid,” he said.

“Yes, some people are still not talking to each other, especially the women - they take these issues seriously. I am taking measures to keep this town untied by engaging the Council of Elders in Bwiam.”

Families’ being separated

The Bwiam community radio which broadcasts to seven districts in the West Coast region, is using talk shows and phone-in programmes to call for “peaceful co-existence.”

Radio presenter Ousman Camara said that “…because we have seen families being separated or neighbours being separated, I deemed it necessary to conduct such programmes on radio.”

He said the messages he sends are about the need for reconciliation and maintaining peace. He also allows for phone-ins for residents of Bwiam and its surrounding to be contributing to the discussion “because they are the people affected.”

“Some people will contribute positively but others will contribute negatively. But [I] may try because the main purpose of the programme is to change the negative attitude – but I think it is paying dividend,” Camara said.

Wider national problem

The Bwiam problem is just a fraction of a “wider national problem” of political divisions since Mr. Jammeh announced he will not step-down at the end of his mandate.

On February 20, fifty-one people including 26 children were arrested in the West Coast village of Kamfenda – President Jammeh’s stronghold - over allegations of provoking President Barrow’s supporters into a fight.

Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, a political analyst and a lecturer at the University of The Gambia, said “the nation has never been so divided.”

“I have always been emphasizing that the Gambian ‘nation has never been so divided’ along both political and tribal lines,” Dr. Ceesay said.

He said: “If you look at the past election results, it indicates that the Fula candidate, Mama Kandeh, won almost in all the Fula constituencies;

“The Mandinka candidate Adama Barrow won in almost all the Mandinka constituencies and the Jola candidate Yahya Jammeh won in all the Jola constituencies.

“…and that is a clear indication that the tribal factor is still an important equation in Gambian politics.”

Tensions are high

According to Dr. Ceesay, tensions are high as there are tribal differences. He said this is very apparent and some people are still angry following the December 2 presidential election that saw longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh defeated.

President Adama Barrow is yet to deliver on his election promise of setting up a truth and reconciliation commission.

He also promised to be the president of all Gambians, and the people, especially those in the former ruling party, hope he keeps up to that promise.

But Tuesday’s detention of a single mother accused of insulting him has left many in doubt.

Some critics said the mass arrest of ordinary Gambians is no different from the trend set in Yahya Jammeh’s 22 years of repression.

Journalist and blogger, Lamin Jahateh, said the Barrow-led administration has to work swiftly to address the rising tension and the deep political divisions before next month’s national assembly elections.

Gambians will vote for the first time in a post-Jammeh era on April 6 to select a new set of lawmakers.

Jahateh said the foundation has been laid for pre- and post-election violence except the new government find ways to settle the differences on both sides of the political divide before the polls.

“There are already deep divisions between supporters of Jammeh and those of Barrow or the coalition,” Jahateh, also an editor at The Point, said. 

“…and with the former ruling APRC party contesting in nearly 30 constituencies, there are likely to be clashes between both sides of the political divide during the campaign, at the polls and after the polls.”

He said the government has to start work on its promise of reconciliation and set in motion a long term peaceful-coexistence between neighbours, relatives and friends.  

“Bonds have been broken by the December elections and the impasse that followed,” he said.

Ex-President Jammeh was pressured into stepping down by ECOWAS forces. He left Gambia for Equatorial Guinea on January 21, 2017.

Written by Modou S. Joof

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