Letter to editor

The Gambia: Is it sliding towards Anarchy?

23 March 2009 at 18:04 | 1105 views

By Scott A Morgan,USA.

Since the recent events in Guinea-Bissau which led to the deaths of both the country’s President and the head of the army, West Africa has been on the radar of most activists. Now there is another country in the region which will soon be facing international scrutiny for its internal politics.

Over the last few weeks the online media that covers Gambian issues have been rife with articles regarding events in that small West African country. First of all there is a crackdown going on inside the country. Who are the people that are considered to be threats to the Gambian nation? Are they independent journalists who report on these incidents as they take place? Hardly. Are they members of the political opposition? Not at first however. The leader of one party was arrested after going to investigate these reports for himself. But who are the protagonists of this new effort?

Believe it or not they are Witch Doctors. For the sake of discussion the term Practitioners of Traditional Medicine will be used to describe them. A recent press release by an opposition party stated that "the average Gambian believes that witches and witchcraft do exist." This happens to be an interesting label one can place on a person. This label can also be transferred to that individual’s family as well. This issue is the root cause of the current rift between President Jammeh and the Head of the Gambian Army General Lang Tombong Tamba. The stepfather of the Army Chief was reportedly seized by the witchhunters.

Once can ask is there any room for optimism within the Gambia? This week, Amnesty International released a report indicating that roughly 1,000 people have been detained during this crackdown. They have been forced to drink concoctions that have led to serious kidney problems. At least two people are known to have perished after drinking these dangerous cocktails. People who have been taken into custody reported that the " Witch Doctors" were accompanied by police, members of the army and national intelligence agency members. In some cases the "Green Boys" the personal protection force for President Jammeh were escorting the "Witch Doctors" as well.

What could the end results be of this crackdown? Could there be a border clash or outright hostilities with Senegal? Some of those currently in flight from this government action have fled into the Casamance region of Senegal. On March 17th some members of the Gambian military were detained by Senegalese security forces as they were chasing reported witch doctors across the border. Currently there are reports that villagers have approached the United Nations seeking redress in this matter. Another result is that the political opposition could form a United Front to capture the Presidency. This appears to be a viable option as several political parties have condemned the arrest of the head of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development.

There is a wild card in this situation. In recent weeks a new group has been formed in the United States. This group, the National Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in the Gambia (NMRD-G) was founded by a Gambian journalist in exile. It seeks to restore, nurture and form the institution of democracy in the Gambia. In the short term, the group plans to purchase air time to broadcast information into the Gambia from Dakar. The long term goal is to set up and run a radio and television station to broadcast into the Gambia. The group also seeks the assistance of the United States in this matter.

This region(West Africa) is once again becoming unstable. The narcotics trade is using several countries as a transit point to ship narcotics from South America to Europe. Recently there has been a series of coups in the region as well to further highlight the general instability of several governments in the region. The actions by the Gambian security forces will just add more fuel to the fire in an impoverished region. That alone should be reason enough for concern. But is it?

The author(photo) publishes Confused Eagle on the internet at morganrights.tripod.com and also comments on US Policy towards Africa.