On December 1st, 2016, Gambia, the small West African country bound by Senegal, whose population is about 2.1 million people went to the polls. On the 2nd, the President, Yahya Jammeh conceded defeat to his opponent, now President-elect Adama Barrow. Jammeh stated that the election was “the most transparent election in the whole world” and that he would respect his people’s decision. A week later, Jammeh went back on his word saying that he would not cede power until a case filed at the Supreme Court to contest the election results was heard and decided on. While that remains on the back burner, the regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) continue in their quest to get an adamant President Jammeh to step down.
The African Union has stated that it will cease to recognize President Jammeh on the 19th and asked him to step down or face serious consequences. A delegation of the ECOWAS, consisting of Presidents Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and former President Mahama of Ghana failed in their attempt to get the president to give up his current stance. ECOWAS has also taken a decision to intervene militarily and make President Jammeh give up power.
The Supreme Court has indicated that it can only sit in May. President-elect Barrow’s inauguration is set for the 19th of January 2017 and African leaders are already set to attend. How the day will go or the days prior is a game of wait-and-see. While it is commendable that the African union and ECOWAS have been vocal about the importance of the sitting president respecting the process, the decision to play the military intervention card was hasty. ECOWAS should have first pursued all peaceful ways of ending the stalemate before issuing the warning that they will send troops to make President Jammeh step down. All that that possibility does is increase the chances for a war, the brunt of which will be borne by the people, especially considering that the army has thrown its support behind him.
An observation of the practice of democracy in Africa shows that whenever elections are held, the winner takes it all. It is arguable that the president is reluctant to step down because of fears of himself and his people being left behind. The solution to the current situation lies in striking a deal where everybody feels included. It is also arguable that the president would be afraid of the repercussions that follow his being adamant and his refusal to smoothly give up power. The president has been offered asylum in Nigeria, which could be said to be the solution to addressing his fears of repercussions. However, the same was offered to former Liberia President Charles Taylor, but his ending up behind bars is clearly not a good end to that story and thus does not quell the fears. Maybe, another country altogether should propose the idea to grant him asylum.
Furthermore, on the continent, there are many cases in which the pot could be said to be calling the kettle black. There are many leaders that could be said to be in power unfairly, have taken power by force or have, as well refused to hand over power. It is, therefore, difficult for such leaders to intervene in Gambia and be listened to. The answer could lie in picking African Union members that are good or better examples of democracies to try again and have talks with the president and convince him to yield power. President Jammeh has also stated that “leaders are chosen by Allah,” which means that religious leaders also stand a chance to succeed should they intervene and make their voices heard. Traditional African leadership, such as that offered by the Council of Elders in different countries also remains relevant today, despite the move into modern day governance. They too should be involved in trying to solve the problem in Gambia.
All in all, ECOWAS, the AU and the international community should, by all means, pursue a peaceful means of solving the ongoing power struggle and should only resort to military intervention if completely cornered. However, the Gambian people should come first and, should push come to shove, all should be done to ensure their protection.
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