How African Leaders Generate New Conflicts in Africa: the Case of The Gambian  Presidential Election.


Africa is permanently in trouble because African leaders can no longer
see clearly where their problems are. Since the times of general
independence in the 1960s, development aid has been given to Africa by
European countries, and yet, it has been more of economic growth than
economic development. Many scholarly observations point to
colonisation as a major handicap to Africa’s development. In fact, how
Europe had undermined Africa was also pointed to in an academic

If Europe undermined Africa and is still believed to be undermining
the continent, what about the roles of African leaders in the
undermining processes? The best African leaders have been able to do
is either to rely on outside help or copy extra-African tradition for
imposition in Africa. The making of the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing
the African Economic Community was largely patterned after that of the
European Economic Community. Whatever changes made in the EEC, Africa
will do the same. When the EEC introduced ‘commission’ to replace
secretariat or introduced president/chairman to replace executive
secretary, ECOWAS simply followed suit.

Put differently, it is not clear whether African leaders can be
original and objective in their thinking processes. This observation
is made against the background of the December 1, 2016 presidential
elections in The Gambia. The incumbent president of The Gambia, Yayah
Jammeh, accepted defeat on the basis of the 263,515 votes won by the
opposition leader, Adama Barrow. the votes represented 45% of total
votes cast according to the Electoral Commission.  President Jammeh
had 212,099 votes, representing 36.7%, while the third candidate with
the next highest votes, Mama Kandeh, had 102,969 votes, that is,

Deductively, President Jammeh might have considered the margin between
45% and 36.7% to be wide enough to concede defeat to Mr. Barrow.
However, when the Electoral Commission eventually came up with a
review of the official election results, Mr. Barrow won with 43.29% as
against 39.64% for the incumbent president. The first implication is
that what the president-elect lost is what the outgoing president had
in addition to his scores. Impression is therefore given that there
might have been manipulations rightly or wrongly.

In this regard, on Friday, 9th December, 2016 in a television
broadcast, President Jammeh reneged on his acceptance of initial
defeat, arguing that there were evidences of serious electoral
abnormalities. In his words, ‘after a thorough investigation, I
(Jammeh) have decided to  reject the outcome of the recent election. I
lament serious and unacceptable abnormalities which have reportedly
transpired during the electoral process.’

In other words, some factors prompted President Jammeh to initially
accept defeat and some new factors must have also informed his new
decision to contest the victory of Mr. Barrow. When President Jammeh
talked about ‘unacceptable abnormalities’, what are these
abnormalities? Are they not measurable? If they are, why are they not
verifiable? If they are, why is President Jammeh being compelled to
accept defeat on the basis of an argument that he had already accepted
defeat and there should no longer be any revisiting of his position?
President Jammeh has suggested a ‘fresh and transparent elections
which will be officiated by a God-fearing and independent electoral
commission.’ The questions to address, in this regard, include whether
the abnormalities are abnormal enough to warrant a fresh election;
whether the Jammeh administration has the financial capacity to
organise another election, and whether voter turnout can go beyond the
59% recorded in the contested election or it will be reduced.

In fact,
with the contested election result and the would-be new election
result, will democracy be further legitimised or not? Which of the
election result has the potential to entrench political stability in
The Gambia, the smallest country in Africa with about two million
population? These are some of the questions that ECOWAS Authority of
Heads of State and Government should first address rather than seeking
to persuade Jammeh not to renege.

Where, precisely in Africa, is election not rigged or election result
not contested? Is it not really for reasons of force majeure that
candidates concede defeat, particularly in Africa? Even in the United
States, the terra cognita of democracy, is there no election
manipulation? The fundamental difference between US election and other
elections in developed countries is that election rigging is
scientific in the US and developed world, while it is ‘raw and
brutish’ in Africa. But rigging is rigging.

In the last US election, for instance, President-elect Donald Trump,
made it clear during his political campaigns that election would be
rigged and that was why he would lose. He did not expect to win,
especially in light of opinion polls favouring Hilary Clinton.
However, Donald Trump won and the question of rigging does not matter
for Trump anymore, especially that he even said he would not accept
the result if he lost.

But the Green political party contested the victory of Donald Trump in
some areas and therefore referred the matter to the court for decision
to authorise recount. The court ruled in favour of recounting but
subject to the payment of more than a million US dollars as required
costs of recounting. The party could not afford to pay and that ended
the quest for political fairness, equity, and justice.

Perhaps, more interestingly, the Russians were thereafter
accused of hacking US presidential election in order to ensure Donald
Trump’s victory. What is hacking at the level of internet
connectivity? Is internet not an instrument of rigging in this case?
The hacking allegation has already become a diplomatic issue in
US-Russian relations to the extent that President Barack Obama
promised to retaliate. Without doubt, what is happening in the US is
nothing more than the advanced level of election rigging.

It is not about physical snatching of election results or voters’ boxes being
carted away the way it is done in Africa. It is not about the use of
thugs. It is about the use of technological know-how by political
parties in a competitive, decent, but unacceptable, rigging.
Consequently, Africa’s general attitude towards the election
controversy, raises more critical issues in intra-African
developmental relations. It should always be borne in mind by
electoral analysts and advisers that no national presidential election
is really national. It can be national in design and organisation, but
it truly is an international election. Every country is always
interested in the presidential election of other countries, especially
from the perspective of how its bilateral ties would be impacted upon
under a presidential candidate. The international politics of the
presidential election in The Gambia is a good illustration, and
therefore quite interesting. African leaders must therefore not lose
sight of the major dynamics of, and various vested interests involved,
in the election.

The Politics of the Election
Former ECOWAS Commission president. Dr. Ibn Chambas, currently United
Nations Regional Envoy, visited The Gambia and noted that President
Jammeh would be ‘strongly sanctioned’ if he opted to stay in power. In
the same vein, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon requested the
Gambian Security Forces to vacate the Electoral Commission Office
which they occupied following President Jammeh’s decision to reject
the election result. The reason given for it is most unfortunate like
that of his envoy: taking over the electoral commission building is an
‘outrageous act of disrespect of the will of the Gambian people and
defiance towards the international community at a time when a
high-level delegation was in the country to broker a peaceful transfer
of power.’

First, at the level of envoy Chambas, why should President Jammeh be
strongly sanctioned if he is complaining about possible election
rigging? Who says that the United Nations and the United States that
have asked the Gambian Security forces to vacate the office of the
Electoral Commission could not have aided and abetted election rigging
in The Gambia? What prevents first looking into the complaints of
President Jammeh? Dr. Chambas would have been most welcomed if, after
UN or ECOWAS re-investigation, President Jammeh does not have a good

At the level of Ban Ki-moon, he talked about outrageous act of
disrespect for the will of the Gambian  people. One major deficiency
of democracy, especially when it is not based on proportional
representation, is when too much emphasis is placed on ‘winner carries
it all.’ When we talk about the will of the Gambian people, it is not
simply the will, in terms of majority, that is involved. The will of
the Gambian people includes that of those who voted for Jammeh and
Mandez. If the issue is to respect the will of whoever is a Gambian,
then the interest of everyone should be reckoned with. Reckoning with
the Barrow voters only cannot be enough. This is a major deficiency of
democracy that must be looked into Explained differently, if the will of the majority is being contested
by the will of the minority, the logic of fairness simply requires
that no imposition of policy should be allowed without having
investigated the complaints. Imposition of ultimatum without first
seeking to address the legitimate complaints by President Jammeh is
how African leaders and the international community consciously create
new crises and conflicts in Africa only to come thereafter to be
preaching the sermons of conflict resolution, peace building and
humanitarian assistance.

The argument of the African Union is most unfortunate. It is a
reflection of poverty of ideas. As reported, the African Union  called
President Jammeh’s rejection of the election result ‘null and void’
because he had already accepted defeat. Does it mean that it is
illegal to revisit a decision if there are compelling evidences to
back it up? If the evidences had been made known as at the time of
concession of defeat, would President Jammeh have accepted defeat. It
is well known in law that if one is induced into error in accepting an
obligation that would not have been accepted under normal
circumstances, the very day it is known that one had been unduly
induced into error, that obligation cannot but be questionable.

The African Union is therefore only seeking to fish in troubled waters or
to foment unnecessary trouble in The Gambia, generally referred to by
international tourists as the ‘Smiling Coast of West Africa.’
Without jots of doubt, many world leaders have different onions to
grind with President Jammeh. At the domestic level, President Jammeh
is not liked by many but many Gambians also believe in him. In the
eyes of the president-elect, Barrow, Jammeh is a ‘soulless dictator.’
Many world leaders want Barrow because of his promise to undo some of
Jammeh’s policies, such as Gambia’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth
organisation and the International Criminal Court.

Domestically and internationally, Jammeh is not liked for more
reasons: his crackdown of opposition leaders months before the
election could only antagonise the US and its allies; Jammeh banned
international observers and post-election public demonstrations; he
switched off internet connections on the day of election allegedly to
restrict access to information on electoral activities. For instance,
it is on record that the European Union and the ECOWAS observers did
not participate in the election monitoring and that Gambian officials
also opposed the presence of Western observers.

The Freedom Newspaper in the country, claimed to have had an access to
an intercepted circular from President Jammeh, who it described as an
‘unhinged dictator’ and who only wanted to rig the election. The
newspaper has it that ‘the intercepted circular spelt out a game plan
designed by the dictator to keep Gambians both at home and abroad from
reporting happenings on elections day. Our trusted and dependable
sources at Gamtel have alerted us about Jammeh’s plans to rig the
polls and cover up the atrocities he intends to wage against the
opposition.’ As good and credible the Gamtel sources might have been,
the truth of the matter is that there was no rigging. If there had
been rigging, there would not have been any basis for Jammeh to have
lost or to have accepted defeat. And if there had been rigging, it
only meant that the coalition opposition party might have also done it
better than the incumbent president.

President Jammeh’s policy on same sex marriage cannot endear him to
the West. He condemned at the United Nations General Assembly in 2013
the equation of homosexuality with human rights. As he put it: ‘those
who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence. It is
becoming an epidemic and we Muslims and Africans will fight to end
this behaviour… Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations
which though very evil, anti-human, as well as anti-Allah, is being
promoted as a human right by some powers.’ In fact, in 2008, President
Jammeh reportedly told gays and lesbians to leave The Gambia or ‘face
beheading.’ With this type of policy disposition, no one should expect
any international support.

Expectedly, support should be for Barrow who is proposing a two-term
limit for the presidency and who wants to introduce a three-year
transitional government to be made up of members of the opposition
coalition. In fact, Barrow wants to revive the economy that is forcing
Gambians to seek economic refuge in Europe.

Perhaps more shockingly, the unexpected acceptance of defeat cannot
but be a major source of another fear and non-predictability of what
President Jammeh might be up to. He had once said he would rule The
Gambia for ‘one billion years if Allah willed it.’ His concession of
defeat means his ruling is no longer a resultant of the will of Allah
or that his reviewing of his initial position is not sanctioned by
Allah. As noted by Alieu Momar Njie, the electoral commission chief,
‘it’s really unique that someone who has been ruling this country for
so long has accepted defeat.’

Now, the acceptance of defeat is no longer unique. Jammeh is now
asking for a God-fearing and independent electoral commission. Why was
the commission not independent and God-fearing before now? Could it be
that the commission was not God-fearing because it did not do the
biddings of President Jammeh?

The ECOWAS and the Gambian Question
An ECOWAS delegation, comprising the Chairperson of the Authority,
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, outgoing president of Ghana, Mr. John Mahama,
Sierra Leonean president, Ernest Bai Koroma, and Nigeria’s leader,
Muhammadu Buhari went on reconciliation mission to The Gambia.
Initially, the Premium Times, quoting the Senegalese Foreign Minister,
had it that ‘Gambia refuses entry to ECOWAS heads amid election
dispute.’ However,  record has it that the ECOWAS leaders met with
President Jammeh at the Coco Ocean Resort and Spa in Banjul and that
the objective of mission could not be achieved.

Why? One possible explanation may be the fact that the ruling party has
referred the matter to the Supreme Court. Another reason may be the
partisanship of the United Nations, which  again, is most unfortunate
here. Dr Ibn Chambas said the legal process is separate from President
Jammeh’s mandate as president and he has to step down when it ends on
19 January 2017.  In the words of Chambas, ‘for Mr. Jammeh, the end is
here and under no circumstance can he continue to be president.’ Dr.
Chambas statement is manu militari as an ultimatum. It is wrong to
tell a sitting president that ‘under no circumstance can he
continue…’ Can Dr. Chambas or Ban Ki-moon issue such a manu militari
order to a US president?

Even though many have raised many obstacles at the level of the
Supreme Court’s handling of the election dispute – only one of the
seven judges is in post; uncertainty of court decision before
expiration of President Jammeh’s tenure, etc – the head of the
electoral commission, Alieu Moman Njai, had said that the corrected
election results do not change the overall outcome and that Mr. Barrow
is still the winner. If this is so and if there are challenges at the
level of the Supreme Court, all that the ECOWAS could do is to accept
a special independent inquiry into the allegations of President

Whether anyone wants to accept or not, The Gambia is a sovereign state
and President Jammeh still has a large crowd, and for that matter a
22-year old loyal military to make the political environment unstable.
Consequently, in the extraordinary summit being contemplated by the
Authority following the failure of the meeting with President Jammeh,
efforts should be quickly made to prevent the crisis from degenerating
into a conflict which the ECOWAS, and even the African Union may not
be in the position to control if it occurs.