Yahya Jammeh in a recent interview claimed to be the father of the nation. Ahem…allow me to clear the lump that forms in my throat while I revisit this absurdity. Father of the nation huh? Isn’t he taking bigmanism to the extreme here? Yeah Jawara had the same title bestow on him by his supporters (baba Jawara they affectionately called him), but he has more claim to the title than Yahya Jammeh ever does. He was part of the Gambia’s independence movement and eventually became for most of us the only ruler we have come to know growing up. This might sound authoritarian, and authoritarian some of mister Jawara’s edicts are, but the end of his rule has been anything but good for Gambians. Murder, arson and corruption to the hilt has become a familiar cliché. But the single biggest development since Yahya came to power is the growth of a new class of “Bigmans”. Bigmanism is not a new phenomena in Gambian society, but this new crop are far more arrogant and brutal in their operations… does Baba Jobe before his fall from grace ring a bell?
The big man has become a government unto himself. He lords it over others for the simple reason that he can afford a balanced diet where millions are cap in hand begging for food. The big man triumphs because he can afford mansions, in a country like ours where countless people are homeless, sick and naked. And there is no form of social security to cater for unemployment, old age or ill health. A caring government can do so much by creating an enabling environment to work a majority of our people out of want and by so doing melt the chasm between the uncaring rich and the shackled poor.
The big man is an embodiment of human rights abuses. When he employs you, in his company, he will make you work like a jackal and pay you peanuts. If you are a woman, your case is different. Your growth in the establishment will be dependent, not on what you can offer, but on how willing you are to compromise your dignity and give in to his unreasonable demands. He does not take “no” for an answer and the fact of marriage, means nothing. After all, he has the cash and for him, it is “cash and carry”.
Furthermore, the culture (bigmanism) encourages corruption and in fact it is the main cause of corruption in the Gambia. The rich and liberated that, more often than not, find themselves in positions of trust have been feasting on the common wealth in order to maintain their status. Politics for them has become a do-or-die affair. This is the main reason for violence and election malpractices. The rich have hijacked the ballot box, which should be used to elect people to occupy positions of trust. The votes of the shackled poor no longer matter. That is, if they are allowed to vote at all, since even the village alikalo (head) and district chief are imposed on them…
Another evil effect of this bigman culture is that it obfuscates the greatness in all of us. We undervalue people, because they are poor. By doing this we deplete the development energy in our country and raise serious question about our understanding of citizenship. This uncalled for divide between the rich and the poor has made some people to believe that we do not have equal stake in the country. This is dangerous. The critical question, to ask is; do we have a remedy to this malady? Do we have the will to confront this indefensible culture of bigmanism that is impeding development in the country? My answer is yes… a change in the political landscape and an adherence to the rules of fair play as laid out in NADD’s MOU will go a long way in eradicating this cancer, since judicial independence will be the corner stone to creating a just society.
Law, I mean, the rule of law is a potent antidote to the excesses of the conscienceless rich. If we can strengthen the legal and judicial system and solve the problem of judicial corruption, we will be doing a lot of good to the Gambia’s development. We need to demonstrate on a consistent basis, that one’s wealth or poverty means nothing to the law.
In the Gambia today, many people question if mother justice is not faking “blindness”, since the rich exudes confidence that the law will be silenced even when they do wrong.