After an initial resistance, the defeated dictator of 22 years, Mr Yahya Jammeh, finally accepted that the game was up yesterday morning. He agreed to leave The Gambia on exile, paving way for his successor and winner of the December presidential election, Mr. Adama Barrow to assume power. It is indeed gratifying that the political crisis which had the potential for violence was brought to an end without any bloodshed.
For this feat, we must salute not only the Mauritanian and Guinean Presidents who eventually persuaded Jammeh to accept defeat and leave the country, but also the Nigerian and Senegalese Presidents who gave military teeth to the laudable initiative of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) without which yesterday’s outcome might not have been possible. President Muhammadu Buhari especially deserves commendation for upholding Nigeria’s strategic importance in Africa as well as our responsibility for ensuring the entrenchment of democratic culture in the West African sub-region.
Although ECOWAS was established with the sole agenda of creating a common economic market and there are contentions as to whether it could dabble into the internal politics of member countries as it did in The Gambia, it is on record that the sub-regional body has helped solve the internal political crises in Liberia and Sierra Leone where some political warlords butchered hundreds of thousands of their own people. Incidentally, in those cases, Nigeria also played crucial roles. President Charles Taylor of Liberia was brought to Nigeria and before then, Foday Sankoh of Sierra Leone had been detained in Abuja. The restoration of law and order in both countries cost Nigeria a fortune – in terms of lives and materials.
It is also on record that ECOWAS successfully resolved the political crises brought about by coup plotters in Guinea (Conakry), Niger and Burkina Faso while it is currently involved in efforts to end the crisis in Guinea Bissau. And in dealing with the peculiar challenge posed by Jammeh’s intransigence after he was defeated at the polls, West African leaders are sending a strong message that leadership is essentially about service to the people and that those who seek and wield power must do so within acceptable limits.
The road ahead for The Gambia may nonetheless be bumpy. Jammeh leaves an unpleasant legacy of divide and rule that has not helped his country, having come to power as a junior military officer who toppled the civilian government of Sir Dauda Jawara. When military autocracy fell into global disfavour, he quickly metamorphosed into a civilian politician. He organised and predictably won a succession of elections. While his reign lasted, he personalised and privatised security and other national institutions to serve his political ends. In the process, he progressively built a typically African ‘big man’ personality cult that hovered menacingly over his tiny country.
Following his acrimonious departure yesterday, rebuilding the critical institutions that will help restore rule of law and good governance in The Gambia has become mandatory. That is the first task Barrow owes the people of his country, regardless of who supported him at the election that brought him to power. The new president has been saying all the right things even as we hope his actions will match his rhetoric.
“Throughout our campaign we promised to unify our diverse people so that each would take ownership of the country, irrespective of ethnic origin, religion, gender or any other differences,” said Barrow who promised liberty and prosperity to all citizens at his inauguration last Thursday in Dakar, Senegal. “We are now determined to build a Gambia where merit and what you know counts more than who you know.”
We can only wish President Barrow all the best in his assignment as he leads The Gambia into a new era.