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OJ: He broke out of the shadows to bend the arc of history

By Mathew K Jallow.

Unlike many of his countrymen, he never succumbed to the abstraction of reality in order to escape the heavy moral burden weighing down Gambia’s political establishment. And nor did the state’s use of brutal force lull him into fear and hopelessness. OJ was awake to the demonic forces the Gambia faced and was glued to the concept of slowly flaming out the military junta in the effort to return the Gambia to civilian rule. In political terms, his was a war to restore sanity to a country teetering on the edge of political anarchy and economic collapse. OJ was loud without being threatening, passionate without being aggressive, and easygoing without being a buffoon. In Gambia, OJ reached the pinnacle of political power and became a servant to those who pushed him to bask in the veneration that glorified his name. When it came to personality, his was that of a simple down to earth person. He wasn’t an incoherent rambler of the Hamat Bah mold, nor blusterous of the Henry Gomez variety, and unlike Adama Barrow, his swagger was animated by the perennial excitement and hope for a better future. At the height of the military rule, OJ defied convention and refused to be goaded or intimidated into silence. For that, he paid dearly. OJ was arrested and incarcerated a total of 22 times, but even that wasn’t enough to prod him into deviating from the moral principles that define his nature. More than alarmed by the military takeover, OJ was more apoplectic and flew into psychotic rage. But in time, the smoldering bitterness that took over, gradually dissipated into concern for an Orwellian dystopia in Gambia. The stigmatization of Gambia as a pariah nation, for deviating from its bedrock political orthodoxy, has terrifying material ramifications beyond the arc that the eclectic horde of coupists could envision. OJ knew this. And it terrified him.

But hearkening back, to high school, to be more precise, it would seem OJ would be an unlikely person to flourish the way he did. OJ had a debilitating stuttering that was frustratingly persistent and painfully obvious, but he never wallowed in self pity and everyone in class was forbearing about his predicament. And in time, through sheer force of will, he overcame, he thrived and became a force to reckon with. It would not be far-fetched to extrapolate that his experience as a young man, as traumatic as it was, orientated his growth into a transcendent paragon of wisdom. If OJ had a flaw, it was political in nature; more precisely, his devotion to the late President, Alhagie Sir Dawda Jawara, was at once comical, slavish, and excessive; an extravagant form of flattery that was exceedingly boring. But it wasn’t this that defined OJ the man, the politician, the father. As a political figure, OJ wasn’t averse to criticism, but even he had a limit of tolerance beyond which the primeval survival instincts take over. Such was the case when KerrFatou News wrote a withering story linking OJ to some criminal activity under his ministry. OJ maintained it was a sweeping accusation that was detached from any sense of reality. As an experienced politician, OJ cherished democracy, and had a reverential commitment to human rights, that way, he was an antithesis to many Gambian politicians, a paradox that set him apart as the singular political sage worth emulating. OJ, not unlike most Gambians, was vexed by Yahya Jammeh’s nauseating and arbitrary use of force, which over time rose to the level UN defined genocide. And to him, Yahya was the embodiment of the mythical Satan, whose ham-handed threats demonstrated his craven politics and fickle mindedness.

But despite his low intellect, or in-spite of it, Yahya Jammeh, largely due to the recapitulation of Gambians, developed a Jedi complex, which drove him to make outlandish Hitler-like statements about thousand-year reign. It was the same Gambian complacency, cynical as it was, that became the blueprint for Yahya Jammeh’s slow drift towards absolute power and introduction of political assassination as a deterrent against opposition. But this did not faze OJ, and he had made that clear in more ways than one. With the existing wide chasm between some political parties, OJ became the avatar of reason to coax the political establishment into coalescing around a central theme of national interest. In the 2011 elections cycle, OJ stood alone to unsuccessfully try to convince Hamat Bah of the NRP to join a coalition with UDP and PPP. Thus, his failure was a factor that predetermined the elections results of that cycle. Throughout the Yahya Jammeh dictatorship, OJ was never once rattled by his insidious power overreach, on the contrary, he saw Yahya Jammeh as a toxic embodiment of crippling political dissonance. OJ’s intellectual acuity provided both a calming and reassuring effect to a Gambian population under the grip an apocalyptic regime. Even though OJ was unable to change the circumstances for the Gambian people, it is safe to say that he inadvertently became Yahya Jammeh’s krypotnite by sheer force of his will. All through Yahya Jammeh’s era, OJ cunningly leveraged his political stature and popularity to insulate himself from Yahya Jammeh’s worst excesses. In many ways, he was the metaphor of fearlessness, and paradoxically, a harbinger of things to come; the formation of the political coalition that forced Yahya Jammeh out of power. I do not know very much about OJ family matters, but I am certain, judging from is public persona, he’d be a terrific husband and a loving dad. What more could anyone ask for? By his actions and deeds, OJ bent the arc of the moral universe for which he will forever live in our hearts and minds. And now that the sun has finally set on Omar Amadou Jallow (OJ), we say our final words of admiration. RIP brother OJ.

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