Dictatorship Redux: The Smoke and Mirrors of Operation Clean the Streets
By Modou Modou, Washington DC, USA
Dictatorship, as the classical Greek philosopher Heraclitus might whisper, does not announce its nefarious presence with ostentatious fanfare and razzmatazz; it creeps in silence and shadows like a stealthy cat burglar under the cloak of night. Budding dictators use smoke and mirrors, obscuring their actions behind the operations they claim to execute for the greater good. “Operation Clean the Streets” epitomizes this subterfuge, unfolding as a thinly veiled excuse for demolitions, arrests, and an unsettling suspension of normalcy. The once-vibrant streets, now witnesses to the heavy-handed actions of a government seemingly more interested in control than the welfare of its people, lay testament to the smoke and mirrors employed by Barrow’s administration. Employing the subtlety of British understatement, one might poetically posit that Barrow’s leadership is as effective as a chocolate teapot – appealing in appearance but fundamentally useless. It’s reminiscent of observing a Monty Python sketch, yet, instead of absurd humor, we are confronted with the absurdity of governance.
In the grand tradition of English literature, where characters face moral dilemmas and epic struggles, we find ourselves wondering if Barrow is the protagonist or the unwitting antagonist in this unfolding drama. It’s a bit like Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities,” but with fewer bonnets and more bureaucratic blunders. If only Gambia had its own version of James Bond – a charismatic and intelligent leader who could outwit the villains and save the day. Instead, it feels more like a third-rate spy movie with Barrow playing the role of the forgettable sidekick rather than the suave secret agent.
As George Orwell once aptly put it, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Barrow’s regime seems to be taking this quote to heart, revolutionizing our perception of what effective governance is by creating a masterpiece of misinformation and political tomfoolery. Small businesses, often the lifeblood of communities, bear the brunt of this so-called operation. They find themselves demolished, and the livelihoods of countless men and women lie shattered in the debris. In this grim theatre, the lead actors are not benevolent stewards of a nation but rather agents of a heartless regime, callously disregarding the toil and perseverance of citizens who built their enterprises from scratch.
In the midst of this epic, enter Lawyer Darboe, a distinguished Gambian legal luminary and political maverick—often regarded as the modern-day Solon of Gambia, evoking the wisdom and prowess of the famed Athenian lawmaker. Unlike other political leaders and intellectuals who decided to play a second fiddle or showed blind eyes to the winter of discontent, Darboe echoes the sentiment of another Greek sage, Sophocles: ‘All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.’ Darboe, in reflecting on the current sociopolitical nightmare in the Gambia, raised the alarm, drawing our attention to the looming telltale signs of dictatorship 2.0. Rightly so, Barrow is not only playing the Jammeh playbook, but he is worse at it. In a satirical twist on imitation, one might say Barrow has turned imitation into a dark art. In fact, comparing Barrow to Jammeh, one might say, is akin to comparing the hubris of Icarus to the wisdom of Athena. A modern-day Oedipus, Barrow unwittingly leads our nation down a path riddled with self-inflicted calamities. Unlike Jammeh, who was a nationalist, a patriot, a pan-Africanist, and a military strategist, Barrow is our Gambia version of sleepy Joe—seemingly out of sync with the essence of governance, allowing himself to be a pawn in the hands of demagogues and political misfits.
In the triad of Barrow’s governance—marked by inertia, intellectual indolence, and a conspicuous lack of acumen—it resembles the three-headed dog Cerberus, guarding the gates of Hades. Yet, there is no Persephone in this tale, only the heartlessness of targeting small business owners, as if Charon himself demanded an additional toll for passage. In the echoes of Aesop’s fables, it seems our president has mistaken the ant for the grasshopper, leaving hardworking citizens to suffer the winter of misguided governance.
As the government endeavors to manipulate the narrative and exert its influence on the minds of Gambians, a critical piece is conspicuously absent from the puzzle. This operation, under the guise of “Operation Clean the Streets,” appears not only ill-conceived but also ill-directed and misaligned with the principles of justice and fairness. It unfolds as if President Barrow seeks to settle political scores with the residents of the Kanifing Municipal Council and Brikama Area Council, presumably in retaliation for perceived electoral slights during the last local government elections.
However, the president seems to be barking up the wrong tree, oblivious to the fact that such actions carry repercussions that may take years to rectify. A more sagacious government, one might argue, would have meticulously considered the implications of such initiatives before unleashing them upon the populace. Even during the ruthless dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh, Gambian businesses were spared from such heavy-handed measures.
The predicament faced by those selling on the streets is not of their making. The stalls in Banjul, Serrekunda, or Brikama, allocated through corrupt practices, have contributed to this conundrum. Individuals with connections in the government would secure these stalls, only to sublet them to Senegalese traders, leaving the vast majority of Gambians with no outlet or space to conduct their businesses in local markets. To compound the injustice, born Gambian citizens hailing from rural settings, such as Touba Mourit in Niamina Dankunku, often find themselves marginalized, denied the opportunity to rent stores. An egregious firsthand account reveals the extent of this injustice, where a cousin from Touba Mourit, applying for a stall at a local market, was absurdly told he is a Senegalese and must purchase his way out of the bureaucratic quagmire.
The name Touba Mourit, though similar to a location in Senegal, is, in fact, a village in the Gambia. Renowned Gambian journalist Pa Nderry Mbai hails from this very village. The insidious nature of these bureaucratic maneuvers prompts reflection on the words of George Orwell, who astutely remarked, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In this labyrinth of political maneuvering and administrative machinations, Orwell’s words find resonance, underscoring the surreptitious attempts to mask injustice under the guise of governance.
As we navigate through this socio-political quagmire, let us not forget the power of satire and philosophy to unmask the absurdities before us. In the spirit of George Orwell’s admonition, let us question, critique, and reflect, for it is through such scrutiny that the seeds of change may sprout in the fertile ground of collective consciousness. In conclusion, dear readers, as we traverse this labyrinth of governance, let us not forget to take to the streets. For, in the echoes of ancient Greece, the agora was a locus for discourse and democracy. Perhaps within this Grecian drama, we will unearth the true essence of leadership or, at the very least, experience a cathartic release amid the comedic tragedy of our times.