ECOWAS should use any available means to remove the dictator
With the expiration of the deadline of last night set by leaders of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) for the Gambian dictator, Yahya Jammeh, to vacate office, he has ran out of options, especially with the Monday ruling by The Gambian Supreme Court, declining to entertain his application to prevent the installation of Barrow as president. The problem is that he has in the process instigated a needless crisis for his people, except of course common sense prevailed at the last minute.
Having rebuffed all entreaties for him to go, after losing the December 2016 presidential election, Jammeh will from today face an unprecedented push by his colleagues who now seem poised to use military might to force him out. “I dare to hope that African wisdom will convince our brother to understand the greater good for the Gambia, which does not need a bloodbath,” said the President of Mali, Mr. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last weekend.
For a second time last week, President Muhammadu Buhari led a delegation of ECOWAS leaders, including chairperson and Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as well as John Mahama, former Ghanaian President to The Gambia. But Jammeh insisted he would not hand over power to Mr. Adama Barrow who defeated him. Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) has said that from today, it will cease to recognise Jammeh as Gambia’s president. In a statement issued after a meeting in Addis Ababa, the council also warned of “serious consequences in the event that his action causes any crisis that could lead to political disorder, humanitarian and human rights disaster, including loss of innocent lives and destruction of property”.
Aside the position of the AU, West African leaders have also insisted that Jammeh would have to go. “If he is not going, we have stand-by forces already alerted to intervene to restore the people’s wish. Senegal has been selected by its peers to lead the operations but we do not wish to start a conflict”, said ECOWAS Commission chairman, Marcel Alain de Souza. “If he loves his people, he has to be able to negotiate an exit door calmly. If it doesn’t happen, the most radical means will be used.”
As we argued in previous editorials, Jammeh who once said he would rule for a “billion years” personifies much of the contradictions in Africa’s emergent democracy, having come to power as a junior military officer who toppled the civilian government of Sir Dawda Jawara. When military autocracy fell into global disfavour, he quickly metamorphosed into a civilian politician, organised and predictably won a succession of controversial elections. On the eve of his defeat at the polls, Jammeh had so elevated religious and ethnic bigotry to a level where he renamed his tiny nation Islamic Republic of The Gambia. But that did not help him at the election which he lost. Initially, he conceded defeat, even calling to congratulate his opponent before he changed his mind.
There is no doubt that ECOWAS has a strong sense of regional identity and a track record of political co-operation in times of crisis vis-a-vis the deployment of regional intervention forces in Liberia and Sierra Leone. That Senegal will lead the push against Jammeh is understandable given its proximity. However, so much is expected of Nigeria not only as the leading regional power but also because ECOWAS has saddled President Buhari with the responsibility of resolving the logjam.
With a military force of less than a thousand troops, The Gambia should pose little problem for ECOWAS even though there is still the challenge of civilian casualties in case Jammeh insists on dragging his country through a needless crisis. We hope that common sense will eventually prevail.