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When a murderer goes scot-free

A deranged dictator — cornered by the masses and scared stiff — decides to loot millions of dollars from the state treasury, hops on a private jet and literally gets away with murder in The Gambia. Bizarrely, everyone is suddenly hailing the “triumph” of democracy. What democracy?


From where I am seated, Africans have set very low standards of good governance. What is the life of an African worth?

As Africans, we must stop lying to each other. Who really wins when a murderous tyrant flies off with a planeload of US dollars? Amilcar Cabral counselled against such misguided thinking: “Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories …”

The dramatic developments in The Gambia are no cause for celebration. I will only shift my stance when Africa’s mass murderers are not only booted out of office, but also brought to justice for their heinous crimes. The recent jailing of former Chadian despot Hassan Habre by an African court, on African soil, gives me hope that the days of impunity could indeed be numbered.

In 2013, Yahya Jammeh vowed to rule for “a billion years”. Four years later, he has been ousted. Although his exit may allow a traumatised nation to somewhat breathe easy, it is scandalous that he walks away scot-free while many of his victims will suffer for the rest of their wretched lives.

How come nobody is talking of justice, accountability and genuine healing? Some world leaders and multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and African Union have fallen over each other in a frenzy of congratulatory messages.

But spare a thought for the women who were raped by Jammeh’s marauding goons, the children whose parents were slaughtered in cold blood, the opposition supporters who were killed or maimed, the families of disappeared activists and countless other victims of state-sanctioned terror.

The butcher of Banjul is now leading a life of luxury in exile. His last-minute looting spree gave him an additional US$11 million cash and expensive luxury cars, including two bespoke Rolls-Royce marques.

In Western media, there is often an attempt to portray the Gambian dictator as an eccentric, bizarre and therefore benign autocrat who is more of a clown than a murderer. The brutal reality, of course, is that Jammeh was a cold-blooded killer.

Like other African megalomaniacs — past and present — he ran a ruthless intelligence agency, death squads and a mass terror network whose tentacles reached every nook and cranny. He ruled through fear. The despot was so feared that even exiled Gambians, staying thousands of kilometres away in neighbouring countries, discussed his excesses in hushed tones as if Jammeh’s spooks had extra-territorial powers.

When it became increasingly clear to Jammeh that the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) was resolutely determined to kick his butt, he resorted to a time-worn tactic by seeking succour in “sovereignty” — the last refuge of scoundrels.

Achille Mbembe, one of my favourite living thinkers, says the ultimate expression of sovereignty resides in the power and capacity to dictate who may live, and who must die. To kill, or to allow to live, constitute the limits of sovereignty, its fundamental attributes.

Make no mistake, the decisive intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) in defence of the democratic will of the people of The Gambia gives me a glimmer of hope for better days as an African. But I am gutted by the thought that the victims may never see justice.

Prominent Harare lawyer Fadzai Mahere echoed the opinion of many when she tweeted: “We need an Ecowas in Southern Africa!”

Perhaps we do. But more importantly, we need justice for traumatised societies. I will celebrate when that happens. For now, impunity reigns supreme and the life of an African is worthless in the eyes of the world.

Crazed dictators who slaughter the innocents must be brought to justice. The carnage has to stop.

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