Gambia’s presidential vote is just a few days away but in the run-up to the December 1 polls, the opposition is gaining a huge wave of support whilst simultaneously suffering an onslaught of arrests.
The wave of arrests shows that disloyalty perceived or real comes with a high cost in the west African state. President Yahya Jammeh, who has been in power for almost 22 years since he wrested power in a 1994 coup, is continuing to target opponents that include several of his own ministers.
President Jammeh has in the past survived multiple attempts made to remove him from the Presidency and he appears to be even more on guard now that the presidential vote is just around the corner.
The months prior to Gambia’s presidential vote had seen a former minister, an ex-ruling party MP and two journalists with the state broadcaster among a number of people detained, most of the time without any clear reason.
A leading women’s rights campaigner and a member of the opposition coalition that is fielding a single candidate against President Jammeh, Isatou Touray, says that the arrests have become all too familiar. She said as she spoke at a rally in a village outside the capital;
“This has been the norm in the Jammeh regime. You can never predict whether a minister is going to be there for three months or even three days.”
In April when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had questioned President Jammeh on deaths that had happened in custody, the President had told the UN secretary-general to “go to hell”. President Jammeh has also described dying while being detained or during an interrogation as “really common”.
Anyone who intends to leave President Jammeh’s government is also taking a huge risk but a few deputies have joined the Gambia Democratic Congress, a grouping of mostly former ruling party officials.
Most of the top officials from the leading opposition United Democratic Party are still in jail, serving out three-year sentences for holding protests. The arrests even go beyond the political sphere. Journalists have been arrested and several were detained in the sensitive weeks ahead of Gambia’s presidential vote.