President Yahya Jammeh wants to become King
President Yahya Jammeh (in photo) of the Gambia, notorious for heaping bogus titles on himself, is yet again embarking on another ego boosting trip, by playing another wild card. While he maneuvers to be anointed King. The Gambia is the smallest West African nation on mainland Africa. It’s agriculturally rich and the economy is dominated by farming, fishing and tourism, with a population of about 2 million people. The Gambian borders mirror the meandering Gambian River. Although the country seems relatively stable, but quite apparent are the machinery and fabric of dictatorship: who’s leader rules with an iron fist remain equally and visibly entrenched.
Jammeh may soon be heaped with a new title in this tiny nation: His majesty. Tribal chieftains are now touring the country, galvanizing support for Jammeh’s coronation. “The president has brought development to the country, and for that he deserves to be crowned King of The Gambia,” said Junkung Camara, chief of the western region of Foni Brefet.
“This is the only way the Gambian people can express our gratitude to a leader who has done a lot for his country.” Jammeh, now 45, has chronic diabetes, this worries his immediate family. Like other neighboring African leaders, he came to power in the whirlwind of a military coup. He was elected president two years later, and he’s now serving a third term in this small country surrounded on three sides by Senegal. If he were crowned king, he could dismantle the formality of conducting elections altogether.
For a ruler who likes to be called His Excellency the President Sheik Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya Jammeh — identifying himself as a doctor, scholar, and elder, among other honorifics — “king” would suit him well. “It’s image construction,” said Abdoulaye Saine, professor of political science at Miami University, who specializes in Gambian politics. “He’s not a scholar, he’s not a doctor, and he’s not a professor. But he covets these titles.” Saine says Jammeh’s coronation would give him a new title but would not change anything politically.” Jammeh is already king,” Saine said. “He practically owns the country of Gambia. He controls the press, the opposition, the clergy, and the coffers of the state.”
Africa, beneath the Sahara has one remaining absolute monarchy — in the southern African nation of Swaziland — other leaders have similarly tried in solidifying their roles. Idi Amin, the brutal dictator who ruled Uganda during the 1970s, titled himself His Excellency President for Life. And Central African Republic’s Jean-Bedel Bokassa crowned himself emperor in 1977.
A patronizing campaign for Jammeh’s coronation is the latest among a series of controversial episodes that have hallmarked his presidency. In 2007, the despot claimed that he had developed a cure for AIDS, and insisted that patients should stop taking their antiretroviral medications, so that his presumed cure could be effective. Jammeh’s administration arrested about 1,000 people last year in a witch hunt that spanned the nation of 2 million. Authorities forced the accused witches to drink a hallucinogen that caused them diarrhea and vomiting. The unidentified concoction also caused serious kidney problems, and two people died after the mandatory treatment, according to international rights group Amnesty International. Sam Sarr, editor of the main opposition newspaper Foroyaa, says Jammeh’s maneuver to be crowned king will never work. ”It’s unconstitutional,” Sarr said. “According to the constitution, his position is an elected position. Sovereignty resides in the people. “Not that making Jammeh king would change much. His presidency is already like a monarchy,” Sarr said. “As far as power is concerned, he has absolute power.”
Jammeh has one of the most terrible records of human rights, including freedom of speech in West Africa, both in oral and written form. His relationship with the press has been very hostile and turbulent, with one of the worst records of imprisoning journalists who write critical articles or stories that do not sing his praises. He has already cemented the foundation of becoming one of the worst dictators in West Africa. Therefore, his recent ploy should not come as a surprise to most people.
Roland Bankole Marke © 2010
Roland Bankole Marke is the author of several books. His poetry, essays, commentaries, and short stories have appeared in numerous publications. Most recently, his short story was anthologized in Speaking for the Generations –An anthology of Contemporary African Short Stories. His poems are included in the following anthologies: War Against War, Whispers in the Whirlwind, and We Come from One Place, published by Mensa Press. His website is on www.rolandmarke.com
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