Sunday, February 12, 2012

2011: The Year of Living Very Dangerously

In 2011, Gbargbo falls, Ben Ali flees, stretcher-bound Mubarak docked, Ghadafi killed, Blaise temporarily vacates palace, Senegal, Greece, UK and US protest, earth quake strikes Japan and tornado hits US.  With the exception of the royal wedding that serves as a pleasant distraction of the news of unpleasant happenings that apparently make Gambian authorities jittery, 2011 has been an year of living very dangerously. Kissy Kissy Mansa writes…

But that was how Laurent Gbargbo himself came to power. Matter-of-fact, as a then-opposition figurehead, he directed Ivorians to take to the streets. Well, this was after military ruler General Robert Guei proclaimed himself winner of the 2000 presidential polls.
Remember how soldiers loyal to Gen Guei fired shots, but the unarmed demonstrators were defiant, swarmed through the streets of Abidjan and screamed for the General’s resignation.

Of course lives were lost, but eventually, Gen Guei fled for Cotonou, Benin. And Gbargbo was introduced as president. Don’t forget, he built a political capital from opposing Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Ivory Coast’s French-petted founding head of state.

History indeed repeats itself here, isn’t it? As the country where the ‘Millennium Coup’ occurred – Guei’s coup in Dec.1999 – Ivory Coast bade farewell to the first decade of the 21st century with deadly unrests.
The 2010 November presidential election, which was hoped to restore stability in this deeply divided brought about renewed clashes as Gbargbo, a former professor in History, as veteran Gambian journalist Baa Trawally puts it, ‘refused to learn from his own history.’ His failure to accept defeat to former prime minister, Alassane Ouattara thrust Ivory Coast back into the eye of the storm. Diplomatic talks failed. Brutality followed. In the end, like Guei, Gbargbo became the casualty.
He embarrassingly surfaced from his hideout in a Bunka and surrendered to an advancing militia. He was taken hostage to the republic of Rixo Hotel where Ouattara was condemned during the protracted political unrest. Ouattara was introduced as president. Gbargbo now faces trial at the Hague based International Criminal Court for the lost of thousands of innocent lives.
But Gambia government condemns …? Gambia did what! Damn it! Who cares…? After all, Ivory Coast is not Cuba or Taiwan! 
Undoubtedly, the dramatic political unrest that gripped that hitherto economic powerhouse and beacon of political stability in West Africa sets the stage for what would become a dramatic, eventful, but also an year of living very dangerously.
Infact, Tunisians did not wait for the unrest in Ivory Coast to die down to mount a spontaneous uprising that was not sparked by any political leader or movement nor was it an uprising influenced by external forces.

Ultimately, when 26-year-old venerable Mohamed Bouazizi, Tunisia’s modern day martyr sets himself on fire on Dec17, when officials prevented from selling vegetables – his only means of survival – his action prompted nationwide protests, unmasking a deep-seated widespread discontent that has been for far too long masked by Tunisia’s ‘Economic Miracle’.

Similar protests soon erupted in a fellow Arab and North African country, Egypt where political oppression and widespread unemployment was alive and well with the people was it was with Tunisians.

Like Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak’s regime was brought down to its painful end. He sneaked out of the office he had been majestically stepping in and out for 32-years. The former Egyptian strongman is now stretcher-bound. But no amount of pain he endures would make Egyptians forgive him. He is facing criminal charges for the murder of the peaceful protesters and diverting of tax payers money. His sons are not spared. All in 2011? What an year!!! 

Even before Mubarak fled, the oligarchic regimes of Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Jordan all in the middle east face the greatest test on their long comfortably-held crowns. They are bound to fall.

The Arab Spring, as the mass revolution became popularly named, spread to Ghadafi’s oil rich Libya, which unfailingly turned out to be the most controversial.

As expected, Ghadafi would not fall easily like his comrades Ben Ali and Mubarak. This was a man who had not only ruled Libya for a life-time 42 years, but had a firm grip on affairs. He enforced his doctrines, and crushed those who challenged his political beliefs.

Unlike Ben Ali and Mubarak, Ghadafi greeted the peaceful protests that demand political reforms with brute. He branded the protesters rats. When he no longer had the loyalty he sought from his military, he resorted to using mercenaries.

But the wind of change that was blowing was much more powerful. AU moribund, but NATO intervened, controlling the air space and the invincible leader was eventually conquered. He was captured in his home town of Sirte while on the run and died in the hands of a mob. For many, that was less than the justice he deserved.
The Sub-Saharan Spring

With the mal-governance tendencies that inspired the Arab Spring more serious in sub-Saharan Africa, a number of countries witnessed protests in 2011, though the effects fell short of the Arab Spring.

In Senegal, efforts by defiant Senegalese president to force his son on Senegalese was greeted with widespread protests. Wade survives, so far, but its not all over.

Elsewhere, Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore, who has been in power since a 1987 military coup had slipped out of Ouagadougou in the middle of night for his hometown Ziniare as presidential guard members took to the streets, firing into the air in protest against the non-payment of promised housing subsidies.
This was shortly after the 60-year-old leader was re-elected in the first round of an election in November with more than 80 percent of the vote.
Infact, Compaore has faced a series of protests since February 2011, staged first by students, then by the National Coalition against the High Cost of Living (CCVC), an alliance of trade unions, consumer organizations, rights groups and small businesses, and finally by soldiers.

                                                        Europe and US

Europe was not spared by the spate of mass protests as people took to the streets in England, Germany and Greece, over among others, economic hardships. The latter was the hardest hit as its government got cash-strapped, sending the people of this once comfortable nation into scavenging for food.

But who is Europe to expect less, when the world’s economic superpower, who bailed it out through the Marshal Plan after it was devastated by Second World war, was itself feeling the pinches.

Infact, the dramatic events that grab headlines on United States in 2011 were not only the Occupy Wall Street protests, but also a record breaking number of weather disasters.

There was walls of fire burn, Texan farmers lost livelihoods to a record-breaking one-year drought, tornado tore apart towns and massive flooding.

But there have been weather & climate tragedies elsewhere: East African drought has caused the first UN announced famine in Africa in 30 years and heavy floods in Thailand have caused politicians there to suggest moving the capital.

Perhaps worst weather disaster in 2011 occurred in Japan where a 8.9-magnitude earthquake -- the world’s fifth-largest since 1900 and the biggest in Japan in 140 years – struck, triggering a tsunami that is believe to have threatened much of the pacific
The DSK conundrum

But 2011 was not marred by revolutions and weather disasters alone. It witnessed a high profile case of Dominic Strauss-Khan, a former chief of IMF, who was accused of sexually assaulting a Guinean, Nafisatou Barry. The former IMF boss was freed and the table was turned on the Guinean. Also, the embattled Italian prime minister, Silvia Berlusconi, also resigned over sex scandal.

Moreover, fortunately or unfortunately – depending on one’s political belief – 2011 witnessed the creation of the world’s newest country.
Pan Africans would argue that the bisection of Africa’s largest country is unfortunate as came at a time when Africa, more than before needs to fulfill the dreams of Nkrumah and his likes to unite.

Nonetheless, almost a 100 percent of eligible South Sudanese voted for independence. Crowds cheered as Sudan’s national flag was lowered and the new flag of South Sudan was raised.

Furthermore, other dramatic events that caught the attention of the world was the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the pulling out of American forces in Iraq.

Perhaps the only event that serves as a pleasant distraction in the international news media coverage of unpleasant events was the Royal Wedding. Monarchy is no longer famous, but the wedding of Prince William and Catherine was. May be because it was in 2011.
Sweet motherland

Back to sweet motherland, one the of most significant events in  the country’s 2011 calendar was the Nov. 24 presidential elections.
After months of kingship campaign led by chiefs, the Independent Electoral Commission sometime in mid-2011, broke silence, allayed fears, and released the electoral calendar.
 There was a nationwide voter registration exercise using digitalised system. The opposition parties engaged in talks for a united front to create chances of unseating incumbent Yahya Jammeh in a system of first-part-the-post, but failed once more.
Then, there was campaign. Proud president Jammeh made a u-turn, toured the country under the guise of fulfilling his mother’s wish.
On Nov.24, 83 percent of registered Gambian cast their votes. Jammeh was re-elected in a landslide victory of 72 percent. But main opposition-UDP-led alliance dismissed as results as bogus and fraudulent. Independent candidate backed by a coalition of four parties also says the polls were unfair. These was after ECOWAS boycotted the polls on grounds that there was no level playing field.
Yet, president Jammeh was declared winner by IEC. At the time of going to press, preparations are in high gear for his inauguration for the 4th mandate on January 19.
Other dramatic events that caught the attention of the national media was the arrest and detention of a former High Court judge Moses Richards. He would be convicted and sentenced. The Bar would protest. But the former no nonsense judge would be released only after he dissociated himself from the protest and fell on his knees, seeking for mercy from president Jammeh. All in 2011? What an year!
Furthermore, a ban was lifted on a controversial Gambian Islamic scholar Gambian president Yahya Jammeh once slammed: “Even the shoe I wear is closer to Allah [God] than you are.”
 Imam Ba-Kawsu was banned from preaching on the state radio last year following his sharp criticisms of The Gambia Supreme Islamic Council over its decision for The Gambia to observe Muslim feasts of ‘Tobaski’ and ‘Ramadan’ on the same day with Mecca.
The protracted controversy had led to temporal closure of Imam Fofana’s Islamic school that enrolled over 500 students.
  Gambia’s only neighbor, Senegal has also shut doors at it as Senegalese transporters restricted Gambian vehicles entry into Senegal. Then there was the crisis at GNOC over the presidential seat. The saga would be protracted. Sports authorities would intervene, but they would be reprimanded by the parliament. However, parliament would ended up apologising to Gambian president Yahya Jammeh for it. All in 2011? What an year.
The Gambia Court of Appeal has dismissed former Chief of Defence Staff, Lang Tombong Tamba and co appeal against their death sentence in by the High Court in Banjul for treason. In a similar vein, Gen. Tamba and former navy chief, Sarjo Fofana, were convicted of treason. Also, former Gambian information minister Amadou Scattred Janneh, 48, was arrested and is currently facing charges of treason. He denied wrong-doing. The judgement is due this month.

But none of the above mentioned events appeared to be more shocking than the death of president Yahya Jammeh’s former ally. Baba Jobe, a former majority leader of the national assembly and head of state-backed youth movement called Green Youth died when he was due for an early release from Mile Two where he was condemned for economic crimes after he split with his master Yahya Jammeh in what many saw as a betrayal to the ‘Jarra Mansa’.
The man who helped strenthegend APRC has died after days in hospital. The circumstances surrounding the death are still controversial especially with the lack of a post-mortem.
Gambian Spring?

The Arab Spring has spill over effects, not only in the Arab world, but also in black Africa. Truth to tell, one of the black African countries commentators believed would experience a Spring, if there was to be a Black African Spring, was sweet motherland, The Gambia. Infact, this prediction appeared even more looming after the protests in neighbouring  Senegal.
Talk to anyone and he or she will tell you: ‘ah Senegal has done it deh, when are we having our own Spring? This was not an issue of mistaken identity nor a misplaced prediction. That seemed to be the reality on the ground. For the situations that forced the people of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia to rise up against their leaders are alive and well in The Gambia.
That is, high unemployment rate, rising costs of living while income levels remain unacceptably low, rising hunger and poverty, restrictions on the fundamental rights of citizens, seeming self perpetuating rule and corruption.
Infact, keen followers of events in and outside the country would attest that, at the time, especially during the unrest in Libya, hardly the government would convene a meeting without mentioning the protests.
Imams mentioned it in their sermons and asked their followers to join them in prayers. Those helped by government to escape the wrath of both Ghadafi’s and rebels’ forces have been cautioned against any similar movement.
Whether advertently or inadvertently, president Jammeh himself could not avoid making references to it and threatening to crush it. When he invited the country’s independent journalists for a meeting, for the first time ever in his 17 year-rule, he said: do you think I am moved by what’s going on … This was despite the fact that no one at the meeting made reference to what was going on…
Besides, there were moves made by individual Gambians to stage protests here in The Gambia. The ‘Balangbaa Day, - day of resistance - as they called it was well published in Gambian online newspapers.
Prior to this publication, sites such as Jollofnews and Gambia Eco were accessed, but cyber walls have been put up against them since then.
More revealing evidence was how president Jammeh conducted himself throughout the electoral campaign period. Instead of threatening voters, as typical of him, he preached peace, tolerance and forgiveness. Many wondered whether it was the same president Jammeh. But Jammeh was concerned about the votes. What kept him awake all-night was what elections could bring about. He even threatened that anyone who attempted a protest will never witness it. In fact, according to him, some people have been saying that what happened in Ivory Coast would happen in The Gambia during elections.

The future

2011 has been a king-destroyer year, but whether or not 2012 will be equally brutal on despots will depend a lot on the attitude of governments towards the masses as well as the environment.
Less than mid-way into the first month of 2012, protests have began to grip nations. Senegal for instance have been protesting against Wade and Nigerians seem that have changed their campaign tone from “no to fuel subsidy removal’  to that of ‘Jonathan step down.’
 Whether or not Wade and Jonathan will survive the protests is a matter of time. Surely, time will tell. But if the words of infallible analysts are anything to go by, this is the new world order – a real democracy – a government of the people, for the people and by the people.
The doctrine is a simple one: “Do as we wish or face our wrath. There shall be jobs for us and our rights must be respected.”
With this new world order, heads of state and governments are trapped between a deep blue sea (the public) and devil (military). For the latter was used to suppress the former. Now, leaders have to satisfy both.
But that’s not all, its also: “Leave office like Nelson Mandela and his many likes or Ben Ali and his many likes.” A fair choice for leaders, isn’t it? Yea, civilians too can kick you out for real!  


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