West Africa: A Triumph And Defeat For Democracy In 2016

Nishtha Sharma

West Africa has witnessed both a win and a loss for democracy in the region since national elections were held in both Ghana and Gambia. While Nana Akufo-Addo, the leader of Ghana’s opposition New Patriotic Party won the nation’s seventh election since its return to multiparty democracy in 1992, Gambia’s long-serving ruler Yahya Jammeh initially accepted his defeat in Gambia’s national elections, but then launched court action to annul the result. While Ghana, the poster boy for democracy in West Africa will witness another peaceful transition of power, Gambia on the other hand, has not had a smooth transfer of power since independence.

In December, Ghana’s President-elect won the elections with 54 percent of the vote, and is expected to be sworn in as Ghana’s next president on January 7, after spending a lifetime immersed in Accra’s politics. Akufo-Addo won Ghana’s presidency by pledging to fix the economy. “I make this solemn pledge to you tonight: I will not let you down. I will do all in my power to live up to your hopes and expectations,” Akufo-Addo told a jubilant crowd in the garden of his residence, according to Reuters. Ghana’s president-elect joined forces with President Mahama to create a transition team for another peaceful handover of power

Meanwhile, the Gambian election was also being lauded as a blueprint for a peaceful transition from authoritarian leader Jammeh to democracy, Jammeh seized control of the country during a coup in 1994, but narrowly lost the election to Adama Barrow in early December. However, just 10 days after Gambians went to the polls, President Jammeh reversed his decision to concede defeat and called for fresh elections in the country and challenged the outcome in Gambia’s Supreme Court.

According to the ABC, the United Nations representative for West Africa has reiterated that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh cannot remain in power after losing the election under any circumstances. UN envoy Mohammed Ibn Chambas warned the President would be strongly sanctioned if he clings to power. “For Mr Jammeh, the end is here and under no circumstances can he continue to be President,” he said. “By that time, his mandate is up and he will be required to hand over to Mr Barrow.”

Mr Chambas had accompanied a delegation of presidents representing the regional bloc ECOWAS to Gambia but failed to reach a deal that would see Mr Jammeh step down.Instead, Gambian president Yahya Jammeh claimed he would not step down and condemned efforts by West African regional leaders to get him to hand over power. “I am not a coward. My right cannot be intimidated and violated. This is my position. Nobody can deprive me of that victory except the Almighty Allah,” Jammeh said, according to the Guardian.

Gambian security forces stormed the Electoral Commission and forced its chairman to leave, a takeover described by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as an “outrageous act of disrespect of the will of the Gambian people”, according to the Guardian. However, it is expected that West African troops will oust the Gambian president if he does not step down when his term ends in January.

In a message to his supporters, election winner Barrow urged “all peace-loving Gambians to advocate, pray and work for a peaceful transfer of executive power for the first time in our history since independence.” “If the colonialists could peacefully hand over executive powers in accordance with the dictates of the people of The Gambia, we, the citizens, should be able to show a better example to our children,” he said, according to the BBC.

Meanwhile, the election of Ghana’s opposition leader Akufo-Addo won Ghana’s national election cemented Accra’s image as the torch bearer of democracy in the region that has been devastated by civil wars and coups. Akufo-Addo promised to create jobs, build dams and factories in every district and give each constituency the equivalent of $1 million per year to pursue development projects, according to the Reuters. He also aims to maintain a tight fiscal stance as Ghana is mid-way through an International Monetary Fund program aimed at restoring balance to an economy facing elevated inflation and other problems.

The elections in Ghana and Gambia reflect the best and the worst of democracy in West Africa. Thus, it seems that the political landscape in West Africa could change in unexpected ways, shaping the future of democracy in the region in 2017.