Beltway Briefing: Top stories from the US today

What do Mick Jagger and US voters have in common? | Are tax increases the answer? | Bachmann's boom

What do Mick Jagger and 84 per cent of Americans have in common? An absence of satisfaction. According to the latest Gallup poll, only 16 per cent of Americans were satisfied with the way things were going in the US. This is a huge drop from the heady days of Summer 2009, as the Obama administration found its feet and a whopping 36 per cent of Americans were happy with the way the US was going. Those days, however, seem a long time ago, while the 2012 Election is getting ever closer.

The US is in trouble financially. Many have been quick to blame the deficit on bailouts, wars and general government profligacy. The main cause, however, is something more simple: falling tax receipts. As Ezra Klein points out:

Revenues right now are less than 15 percent of GDP -- a 50-year low, and well below the 19+% that historically accompanies balanced budgets.

The good news is that US citizens are "open" to tax increases. The bad news (from the Democratic point of view) is that most voters would prefer to see spending cuts first, according to the below Gallup poll. 32 per cent want to see a mixture of spending cuts and tax rises; 30 per cent want mostly spending cuts to solve the deficit, and 20 per cent want spending cuts alone.

Gallup

Bachmann's support may be slightly soft according to a Beltway Briefing earlier this week, but it is still on the up-swing, according to a new poll in the Des Moines Register. Politico spotted it:

Among likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers, the poll found Bachmann had 32 percent support, holding a statistically insignificant lead over Romney at 29 percent.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had 7 percent; former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum had 6 percent; U.S. Rep. Ron Paul had 3 percent; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had 2 percent; retired Georgia businessman Herman Cain had 1 percent, while former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman had zero percent, the same as former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

The big mo is currently all Bachmann's.

The campaign group Right Wing Watch have created a video splicing clips of potential presidential candidate, the Texan Governor Rick Perry speaking to the nation in amongst various homophobic, anti-abortion, right-wing clips from Confederate groups he has ties with.

Perry's broadcast asks his viewers to join their fellow Americans at a prayer rally because "things spiritual in nature" are needed more than ever in a world where people are "adrift in a sea of moral relativism". News comes today that Perry is being sued by a group of atheists and agnostics for what they view as a violation of the constitutional principle separating church and state.

LORRAINE MALLINDER
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A dictator in the family: why Ebrima Jammeh wants retribution in Gambia

“I want to see Yahya Jammeh jailed and prosecuted in this country. Justice will finally come.”

On 21 January Yahya Jammeh left Gambia. Within minutes of the erstwhile dictator’s departure on a private jet, relieved crowds began to gather at Westfield Junction, a popular meeting point in Serrekunda, the largest town in the country.

For 22 years, Jammeh had cultivated a sorcerer-like persona, claiming he could cure HIV with herbs, ordering a nationwide witch hunt and magicking away countless dissenters to fates unknown.

After losing elections in December, he brought the country to the brink of war, staring down the West African troops waiting at the Senegalese border to remove him. Unable to conjure a way out, he eventually agreed to be exiled to Equatorial Guinea.

Leaning against a car at Westfield, Ebrima Jammeh (pictured above) watched the celebrations with a bitter-sweet expression. Shouting over blaring car horns, he said that he wanted justice for his father, murdered by the regime in 2005. His father, it turned out, was Haruna Jammeh, a first cousin of Yahya. The story of how Haruna and his sister, Masie Jammeh, were “disappeared” by security forces is well known here – a striking example of the former ruler’s ruthlessness.

Days after Yahya Jammeh’s departure, I met Haruna’s widow, Fatimah, with Ebrima and his sister Isatou. They recalled the early Nineties, when “Cousin Yahya” would drop by for green tea in his army officer’s uniform and brag about becoming the next leader of Gambia. “He was very arrogant,” Fatimah said.

Haruna and Yahya grew up on the family farm in Kanilai, on Gambia’s southern border with Senegal. They would play together in the fields. Haruna, six years older, would walk hand in hand with Yahya to school. They were more than cousins, Ebrima said. People called them “cousin-brothers”.

Once they were adults, Haruna remained protective of his cousin. He was working as a restaurant manager, and was a rising star in the Novotel group. Often, he helped out the then-impecunious Yahya with money or food. Few expected the hothead lieutenant to become the next president.

But in 1994 Yahya seized power in a coup. “I heard his voice on the radio and I was surprised,” Fatimah told me. “I phoned my mum and said: ‘Look, he did it.’” By 2000 Yahya had coaxed Haruna into ditching his hotel job and returning to manage the farm. The president had big plans for the farm, which grew into a huge enterprise that controlled many of the nation’s bakeries and butchers – thriving allegedly through land-grabs and subsidies.

Fatimah and the children stayed behind in Serrekunda, but would often visit. Ebrima had happy memories of meals with the extended family. Yahya was by now a distant figure, surrounded by bodyguards on the rare occasions when he visited. Ebrima remembered his uncle telling him to “work hard at school”.

In 2004, Haruna accused some soldiers of stealing fuel and food, and started to speak out against the regime’s frequent sackings and arrests. When he was removed from the farm, Fatimah begged him to come home. But he refused. “He was a strong character, a man of his word, a man of truth. He didn’t take nonsense from anyone,” Ebrima said. Haruna did not expect his younger “cousin-brother” would harm him.

In 2005 Ebrima, by then 21, spoke to his father for the last time after he was arrested in the middle of the night. “Dad said: ‘I don’t know if I’m coming back,’” he told me. “I was scared. I was devastated. I didn’t think I was going to see him again. I knew the kind of person Yahya was and the kind of rages he had.”

Shortly afterwards, Haruna’s sister Masie also disappeared. “My aunt was bold enough to approach the president, but she went missing, too,” Isatou said. “We stopped going to the village. We decided to be quiet because we were so scared they would come after us.”

In the years that followed, Fatimah and the children kept a low profile in the backstreets of Serrekunda. Questions about their surname were common but they denied all links to the president. For a long time, they had no idea whether Haruna and Masie were alive.

In 2014 Ebrima learned the truth from an interview on a Senegalese radio station with Bai Lowe, a former driver with the “Jungulers” (an elite presidential hit squad). Lowe said he had witnessed the strangling of Haruna and Masie Jammeh in July 2005. Their deaths were recorded in a 2015 Human Rights Watch report.

The interview was conducted by Fatu Camara, a former press secretary to Yahya Jammeh, who fled to the US in 2013 after being charged with “tarnishing the image of the president”. She said Masie had threatened to see a marabout, a spiritual leader with reputed supernatural powers, if Yahya did not reveal Haruna’s whereabouts. Having already set the Jungulers on Haruna, Yahya then targeted Masie, too.

On 26 January Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow, returned from exile in Senegal. He leads an unwieldy, eight-party coalition with differing views on how Jammeh should be held to account. Barrow, who claims to have inherited a “virtually bankrupt” state, has promised to launch a truth and reconciliation process to investigate human rights abuses during the Jammeh regime. In interviews, he has chosen his words carefully, avoiding any mention of prosecution.

But, like many of those who have suffered, Ebrima wants retribution. “I want to see Yahya Jammeh jailed and prosecuted in this country. Justice will finally come.”

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times