Wednesday 28 June 2017

Dancing in the dark with Jammeh's diehard supporters

Dancing in the dark with Jammeh's diehard supporters
(AFP 04/06/17)

They came to dance in green t-shirts adorned with Yahya Jammeh's grinning face and to sing the old songs of adulation as though he never went away.

The Gambia's former ruling party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), could once expect legions of paid supporters at rallies, bolstered by a phalanx of soldiers showing off the odd anti-aircraft gun.

But APRC supporters were notable by their scarcity on the final day of campaigning on Tuesday night for legislative elections, the first poll since Jammeh was forced into exile in January after 22 years in power.

All the way down a quiet street in Bakau, a suburb of the Gambian capital, a few dozen of the faithful gathered in almost total darkness due to a power cut, bemoaning life on the other side of the political divide but adamant their party was far from spent.

""The APRC is the biggest party in the country whether people accept it or not," said Bibi Darboe, part of the campaign team.

"It is here to stay, and it will stay forever." he added against a background of drumming, whistling and screaming.

Others had dark conspiracy theories to explain the party's stunning loss in December elections, when a coalition of opposition parties propelled new President Adama Barrow to power in a stunning upset for Jammeh and his party.

"That election, I don't think we lost, truly," said Haddy Gomez, a young woman whose eyes narrowed as she described voters being turned away for having incorrect identification, in a case Jammeh tried to bring to court after the election.

Under Barrow, Gomez lamented, "things are getting worse every day," notably with rising food prices.

- Shock and glee -

The country's eight other parties have at times found it hard to contain their glee while observing the APRC's rapid fall from grace since Jammeh went into exile after initially refusing to cede power to Barrow.

"They are going to die a natural death. They will not have more than two seats in the parliament," said Madi Ceesay, a candidate for the United Democratic Party (UDP), the largest traditional opposition grouping.

Ceesay is standing for the first time in Serrekunda, the most populous area of the country that sits along the coast from Banjul.

In the last legislative elections in 2012, most opposition parties boycotted the vote, meaning the APRC currently holds 48 of the country's then 53 parliamentary seats.

The APRC could once rely on state television and radio to pump out their propaganda day and night, but Gambians are freer than ever in their criticism of the party's former leader and the new government is intent on prosecuting alleged killings and torture by the security services once under his control.

"Before they were dipping their hand in the government coffers, using government vehicles, resources, that's not the case now," Ceesay said.

Others were more pointed. "He's a killer, we don't like that one. We want justice," said Alhagie Jibba, 70, as he walked home after stopping by Ceesay's rally in Serrekunda.

But back in Bakau, women sporting green facepaint in the party colours tried to whip up the crowds with another chorus of "Yahya, Yahya!", just like in the old days.

"If he (Jammeh) wants to come back, no one will stop him," said Darboe, the campaigner.

"Yahya Jammeh is the president!" yelled a woman in the distance.

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