22nd July is seen by many as the most important date on the calendar of Gambians. It is almost a household name in the country thanks to the “remarkable efforts” of the AFPRC and now APRC and its allies. On that fateful day, two decades ago, former President, Dawda Kairaba Jawara was deposed in what has been described as a “bloodless coup”. Jawara’s overthrow was masterminded by a group of soldiers led by then Lieutenant Yahya AJJ Jammeh. They identified themselves as the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) and Jammeh, 29 then, was the chairman of the AFPRC. As usual for putsches, the constitution was suspended, the borders sealed and a curfew implemented. While Jammeh’s new government justified the coup by decrying corruption and lack of democracy under the Jawara regime, army personnel had also been dissatisfied with their salaries, living conditions and prospects for promotion. The coup did not receive much resistance from home but attracted international condemnation. But twenty years on, Demba Kandeh tells us why the coup should not be celebrated.
President Jammeh has always likened his overthrow to a revolution; in fact, there are no 22nd July coup celebrations. What the soldier turned civilian president celebrates is the “22nd July Revolution” but what is the difference?
First and foremost, Jammeh should know that celebrating a coup sends a wrong signal. This is probably why the country has registered the highest number of reportedly foiled coups (not less five) during the twenty years under Jammeh as compared to only one under Jawara who was president for almost thirty years. It is time the putsches learn their lessons and understand that bloodless or not, a coup is a coup and is not worth celebrating at all.
Secondly, 22nd July celebrations are very expensive. Anybody familiar with celebrations in Gambia in general and the 22nd July in particular will but agree that it is far too expensive to celebrate. The budget for the 22nd July celebration runs in tens of millions of Dalasi, which is in hundreds of thousands of Dollars. For a weak economy like ours even spending a penny on celebrations tantamount wasting public resources. Here it must be noted that some people make the fanciful argument that funding for the 22nd July celebrations is private in its entirety.
Thirdly, the celebrations are a waste of time. 22nd July every year is a public holiday. So technical from 1994 to 2014, we have had 20 days set aside for us to do nothing. It is also worthy of note that the celebrations are also characterised by undue absenteeism of public servants all in the name of partaking in the celebrations, sometimes disguised as state functions. School children miss uncountable contact hours for unnecessary school holidays as “reward” for their “obligatory” participation. And more importantly we all know that time is money.
Fourthly, the celebration of the 22nd July undoubtedly reminds former president Jawara and his associates the “difficult moments” they were exposed to 20 years. Every year they are reminded that they did not do enough for the people of The Gambia and were a bunch of corrupt public servants who despised accountability, transparency and probity among their countrymen. Whether or not that is true is not the subject now but certainly the psychological effects of such will have a heavy toll on elderly people like Jawara himself.
Finally, despite all the progress and so-called development since July 1994 The Gambia is still among the poorest countries in the world. What is there to celebrate if more than 60 percent of the our population live below the global poverty line of $2 a day? Yes, progress has been made but is it proportionate to the celebrations held annually? No, so ultimately it is more important to work hard now than to celebrate, after all there is nothing much to celebrate.