Last Friday, leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demonstrated an uncommon resolve when, following their meeting with a recalcitrant Yahya Jammeh, they asked Mr Adama Barrow to move with the Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to Monrovia. It was from the Liberian capital, according to an impeccable source, that Barrow was ferried to Senegal despite the tragedy that struck back home with the dog bite that would claim the life of his 8-year old son, Habibu.
Against the background of the dinner chat I had with President Mackay Sall penultimate Sunday in Dakar, part of which I reported in my column last week, https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2017/01/12/buhari-sall-and-jammehs-defiance/, I am not surprised that Senegal is playing a crucial role in the bid to oust Jammeh. I recall President Sall saying categorically that it would be untenable for Jammeh to remain President of The Gambia by today. He even added a joke he said President Muhammadu Buhari shared with him about the situation. It is therefore safe to conclude that ECOWAS leaders had prepared their minds for a scenario now playing out in Banjul and they already have their own solution.
With a population of 1.8 million people, The Gambian National Army (GNA) boasts of just about 2,500 officers and men comprising two infantry battalions, an engineering squadron and smaller logistics, signals and intelligence units as well as the presidential guard. Ordinarily, that is not a force that can protect Jammeh from ECOWAS onslaught led by the well-drilled 19,000 men Senegalese military with support from Nigeria.
Last night, Senegalese troops were seen moving to the Gambian border. “We are ready and are awaiting the deadline at midnight,” Col Abdou Ndiaye, a spokesman for the Senegalese military. “If no political solution is found, we will step in.” At about the same time, the Nigerian Air Force also announced a deployment of a standby force as part of the contingent of ECOWAS Military Intervention in Gambia (ECOMIG). “A contingent of 200 men and air assets comprising fighter jets, transport aircraft, Light Utility Helicopter as well as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft” were deployed and are expected to “forestall hostilities or breakdown of law and order that may result from the current political impasse in The Gambia” the statement said.
To compound the problem for Jammeh, the African Union (AU) has also turned its back against him by the declaration that from today, he will no longer be recognised as the legitimate president of Gambia. In a statement after their meeting at the weekend, the AU Peace and Security Commission went further to warn Jammeh 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”.
However, there is nothing to suggest that Jammeh understands the message that the market is over. On Tuesday, “Sheikh Professor Alhagie Dr. Yahya AJJ Jammeh Babili Mansa”, as the dictator addressed himself, declared “a state of public emergency throughout the Islamic Republic of Gambia” to counter “the unwarranted hostile atmosphere threatening the sovereignty, peace, security and stability of the country”. Yesterday, he raised the stakes even higher by getting the rubberstamp Gambian parliament to extend his stay in office by 90 days. The import of those two actions is that Jammeh is not prepared to surrender power without a fight which ECOWAS leaders seem prepared to give him.
Before I continue, let me also share an interesting perspective from the Principal of the Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja, Father Joe-Stanis Okoye. A discussion with him last weekend somehow dovetailed into the situation in The Gambia and while he didn’t overly disagree with my position, he was nonetheless of the opinion that Jammeh has a valid point that nobody seems interested in listening to. He followed up with a mail. Having secured his permission, I will share his view before I conclude with mine:
“Aside his well recorded excesses, one of the reasons being advanced as to why Jammeh must go (irrespective of the integrity of the election results) is that he has ruled the Gambia for 22 years. That may well be a valid point but let us also examine a few issues, even if only in the academic sense. First, can Jammeh’s complaints (and the potential postponement of the inauguration of a new government in the Gambia) find justification in the minds of objective onlookers/bystanders?
“By objective bystanders, I mean persons of goodwill who care equally about what is just for all involved in the matter, including for the political process, for Gambians, for Jammeh and his party on the one hand; and for the opposition party/parties on the other hand–in short, persons who care deeply about all the parties to the conflict and yet do not really have a dog in the fight, as it were.
”Now let us juxtapose what is happening in The Gambia with another scenario: If America, for instance, finds out today (as it is increasingly reasonable to believe) that it is the Russians that have “elected” Mr. Donald Trump as their next president, would we have a major problem agreeing with Mrs Hillary Clinton or some other Americans who might object that Trump should not be sworn in as the next president of the United States? Would people argue against Hillary simply on the grounds that she had previously conceded defeat to Trump or that those Americans had previously accepted the outcome of the election?
“I think the major challenge is that Jammeh appears to be a judge in his own case, given that he is currently the sitting president. Therefore, no matter how he goes about his current complaints regarding any anomaly in the way the presidential election was conducted, it would likely seem to most observers that he is angling to sit-tight, not minding the merits of his complaints. Had it been he was not in power, perhaps the election umpire and/or the courts would/could have looked into his complaints and judged them according to their merits -whether he had previously conceded to his opponent or not.
“For me, while I do not support the man, what is fair is fair. To that extent, I believe Jammeh’s complaints and his insistence that they be looked into before determining whether the scheduled presidential inauguration should go ahead, is rational/reasonable. Why? Because, according to Jammeh, the assumption that led him to concede defeat has been undermined by the electoral commission’s admission of error while tallying the figures. Under such circumstances, the result of the elections should not stand. What remains though is to investigate and judge the complaints/allegations that Jammeh has made. But we are well aware that could take a very long time and a process that might end up being inconclusive.
“At the end, that central virtue, truth or standard, which we are both pointing to, and looking for the best ways to articulate, is at the bottom of the present kerfuffle in the Gambia. Unfortunately, the same can be said of most other political conflict situations not only here in Africa but also in the entire world. The challenge really is that the problem is easy to understand, but the solution is not always easy to find.”
To address the point raised by Father Okoye, S.J., there is a saying that when you go to equity, you go with clean hands and on this matter, Jammeh’s hands are not only unclean, they are dripping with blood. While the flip-flop by the Gambian Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is shameful, three factors stand against Jammeh. One, he has been manipulating the process for 22 years and that he failed this time was because the opposition was able to rally the people to oppose his continued stay in power. Two, the IEC statement captioned ‘Error in the Total of Final Election Results’ which Jammeh uses as an excuse for his intransigence actually reaffirmed that Barrow indeed won the election despite also admitting that “when the total votes per region were being tallied, certain figures were inadvertently transposed”. Three, in as much as Jammeh is free to seek redress in court, he cannot stay in power beyond his mandate by delaying the inauguration of the man adjudged to have won the election.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, the challenge now is to ensure Jammeh goes without doing much damage to his country. That is where President Buhari and his colleagues have to be very careful, especially when ECOWAS has no protocols for dealing with a situation like this though how the Jammeh drama ends may very well provide the new template for handling sit-tight despots in future. But the situation in the Gambia is nonetheless still dicey, except of course Jammeh chickens out and flees to Morocco where, President Sall told me, he has already been offered asylum. He could also flee to Mauritania where, I understand, he will find refuge.
Who knows, when the heat is turned on him today and perhaps in the coming days if he is still holding on, Jammeh may yet flee the Gambia to go and enjoy his loot, especially with Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy joining the Minister for Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr. Aboubacar A Senghore among other cabinet members that have resigned and fled The Gambia. But Jammeh could also decide to stay and play Laurence Gbagbo with dire consequences for himself and his country.
Like all desperate dictators versed in divide and rule, Jammeh has for long been playing the eight ethnic groups in the Gambia against one another. These are: the Mandinka (about 41% of the population); the Wolof (15%); the Fula (19%); the Jola (10%); the Serahuli (8%); the Serer (2.5%); the Aku (0.8%) and the Manjago (1.7%). But most of the critical appointments are from his minority Jola tribe: From the Inspector General of Police to Chief of Defense Staff to Minister of Interior to the Director of the National Intelligence agency (NIA) to head of the presidential guards etc. If Jammeh therefore decides to go for broke, he will likely cause a serious crisis in his small country, having already laid the foundation for that.
At a campaign podium on 1st June last year, Jammeh threatened an ethnic cleansing war against the majority Madinka tribe to which his main opponent (and eventual winner of the election) Adama Barrow belongs. “In 1864, there were no Madinkas in this country. You came from Mali. I have solid evidence that the Madinkas are not from this country. I will wipe you out and nothing will come out of it. The first demonstration, they were all Madinkas. The second demonstration was by the Madinkas and two Fullas. The Fullas have joined the bad guys, welcome to hell. I urge the Madinkas to repent to Allah for your bad deeds. The Madinkas, who the hell do you think you are?”
Jammeh ended his rambling campaign speech with a threat, before placing a ban on demonstration in The Gambia: “This time around, no police will arrest and charge you. The army would be deployed to shoot and kill anyone found in the streets demonstrating. Just demonstrate and see what will happen to you. I will not send the police. I will send the army to wipe you out and see who is going to talk about it. Wallahi Tallahi, I will kill you like ants and nothing will come out of it.”
When such a desperate dictator is cornered, as Jammeh now evidently is, he will use any and every weapon to stay afloat. That is why the ECOWAS leaders must not play into his hands. But to the extent that this is the first internal political problem they will try to resolve on their own without being instigated by Washington, Paris or London, there is so much at stake for them too. I hope they can get the tyrant out of Gambia without doing damage to the people. Yet, even with all the uncertainties about how the current drama will eventually play out, one thing is already sure: the era of Sheikh Professor Alhagie Dr. Yahya AJJ Jammeh Babili Mansa is over!