Why Unrest in The Gambia Matters to Americans
Few things stir the passions of most Americans more than the struggle of oppressed people fighting for their freedom against a tyrant, a dictator, an authoritarian government, or a totalitarian regime. And to be sure, those feelings are greatly amplified when the uprising represents a potential blow to a rival whose rulers constitute a clear danger not just to their own people, but to the United States. Every Prague Spring, Tiananmen Square and Green Movement, an Arab Spring in North Africa and the Middle East, a Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, or an Orange Revolution in Ukraine will touch the mystic chords of American memory. That's why iconic images like one man stopping a column of Chinese tanks in Beijing, fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi setting himself on fire in Tunis, thousands of Egyptians in Tahrir Square, and the fallen Neda Agha-Soltan bleeding to death on a Tehran street seized Americans' imaginations--and heartstrings.
But right now a nascent movement is underway in a tiny country on the west coast of Africa--The Gambia--against "the worst dictatorship you've never heard of." And what happens next should matter very much to every American.
The protests against the brutal, despotic rule of President Yahya Jammeh aren't just about ending rigged elections, unmuzzling the press, stopping the round-up and murder of opposition leaders, and restoring the rule of law to the once-placid and democratic nation of two million. Increasingly, The Gambia finds itself near the nexus of almost every disturbing trend--wholesale migration to Europe, economic disruption due to climate change, the expansion of terrorist organizations, and even drug trafficking--plaguing West Africa. The dangers won't be limited to the Gambian people and won't end at the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Both American self-interest and American values require the United States to pressure Jammeh to avoid a bloodbath and instead move toward a democratic breakthrough.
Oh, and one other thing. There is the often unspoken connection that binds us: The legacy of 250 years of slavery. For millions of Americans today, family "Roots" ultimately begin on either bank of the River Gambia.
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