By David K. Dahn
The attempt of this paper is threefold: first, to mull through the question of military professionalism vis-a-vis the conduct of Yahya Jammeh as a military officer (retired Colonel) in The Gambia. Second, to tout the valor demonstrated by the Gambian Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) chairman, Mr. Alieu Mamar Njai – in actualizing the much publicized rhetoric of speaking “truth to power.” And lastly, to highlight the timely intervention of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in mitigating the political issue which many had thought was on the brinkmanship of military intervention.
Attention in this article is drawn to the recent political development in The Gambia. The spontaneous response of ECOWAS delivered the people of Gambia from the dungeon of tyranny thereby bringing to an inglorious end on January 21, 2017, the 22 year-reign of Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh. Jammeh’s political role in The Gambia points to him as a bloodless coup maker who toppled Sir David Dawda Jawara on July 22, 1994, and declared himself as the chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC). He later became President of The Gambia on September 29, 1996. Following, Jammeh won intermittent elections in 2001, 2006 and 2011 but lost to Adama Burrow in the December 7, 2016 election. Jammeh dramatized the election result by firstly conceding defeat and secondly reneging on his words. Interestingly, he took flight to the Gambian Supreme Court to annul the election result due to what he described as fraud in the electoral process. Jammeh’s action brought him under the reflection of military professionalism, since indeed he is a retired Colonel. According to Doctor Emile Ouedraogo’s piece, Advancing Military Professionalism in Africa, “there are values that distinguish the action of a professional soldier such as discipline, honor, commitment, service, sacrifice and duty.” Samuel E. Finer, as quoted by Doctor Ouedraogo (2014), argued that “The level of democratic political culture in a country is determined by the extent to which there exists broad approval within society for the procedures of succession of political power and recognition that citizens represent the ultimate sovereign authority.” Jammeh faltered as a military man to take cognizance of the incontestable fact that citizens (in this case the Gambians) represent the ultimate sovereign authority (of the Republic of Gambia). Inconceivably, Jammeh presented himself as a reflective image that characterizes African entrenched and creeping dictators who have flagrantly bastardized presidential term limits, personalized power, wrecked state institutions, failed on planning exit strategy, and shunned building a cream of trustable successors. Analogically, this was the same faulty course trekked by Blaise Camporare whose 27-year rule in Burkina Faso crumbled under the weight of violent popular uprising on November 1, 2014. African dictators have left in their trails references of fragile states, incalculable human misery and excruciating genre of political tragedy. Following over two decades each of dictatorship, Camporare and Jammeh have their paths crossed and theirs was a woeful end. These issues, being flagged, it is hoped, will serve as lofty exploratory treatments for fractured political infrastructures and failed leadership by dictators and would-be dictators. The action of African military dictators has further steeled Plato’s assertion over some 2500 years ago in his book, “The Republic” and recently amplified by Dr. Ouedraogo (2014) that the meddling of soldiers into other professions will “bring the city to ruin.”
The decade of the 60s was marked by liberation struggles in Africa. The decades of the 70’s and 80’s recorded military foray into politics through coups and counter coups. The decade of the 90’s witnessed sharp contradictions that faded out rampant bloody coup d’état in Africa but marked the birth of “constitutional coup d’état.” With the advent of this new form of ‘coup,’ dictators trampled on and abrogated national constitutions thereby allocating onto themselves unlimited presidential terms never granted by the consent of the people, who are the true custodians of constitutional power.
While deference is paid to all actors for their gingerly role in the Gambian political crisis, it took a courageous Alieu Mamar Njai to break the jinx of blinking ‘constitutional terrorism.’ The wheels of dictatorship in Gambia crumbled because the IEC chairman refused to bury his conscience in the dustbin of history. Implicitly, the initiative by chairman Njai and the collective will of Gambians combined, has helped to once again inculcate a shared sense of Gambian identity. Speaking to the international media following his declaration of the elections’ result, Mr. Njai articulated clearly by interpretation that the role of the Gambian IEC was not to manufacture results but to convey the expressed will of the people as reflected by evidence based data. He quipped the caveat that “this should serve as a warning to Africa and to all dictators.” In this 21st century, one can reasonably ask the question, why would anyone occupying the presidency ever refuse to leave power and submit to the genuine will of the electorate? It would seem the second wave of liberation bell is tolling, whimpering on the continent that Africans must demonstrate their collective intelligence by uprightly rejecting the rein of dictators in any portion of the continent.
The sub-regional grouping ECOWAS has over the years marshaled up the courage in dealing with a litany of security and political issues ranging from human security, militarization of politics, politicization of the military, the restoration of constitutional democracy, among others. ECOWAS faces the challenge of unfurling the shackles that dictators have used, in sundry instances, in insulating themselves from electoral defeat even where the results are unquestionably obvious. One notable African dictator is historicized for sadly saying, “We don’t organize elections to lose.” This statement amounts to a clear solicitation of what Dauvergne and Lebron (2015) referred to as “corporatization” of vote rigging on the continent. By parity of reasoning, how does such ‘paradox of wisdom’ from a ‘sage’ mentor young cadre of leaders and edify democratization on the African continent? The time has come for repressive and retrograde ideas to be banked off for fresh and penetrating thinking so that attitudinal change can berth political opportunity on the continent.
ECOWAS deserves a lavished ovation for mitigating Gambia’s political imbroglio on grounds that it closed the political window for engagement with Jammeh without discharging a single bullet. This has demonstrated to other regions of the continent and other continental partners that regional collaboration capped by good neighborliness remains the panacea in tackling regional issues. However, the key take away of this paper is, should the Gambian scenario play out hypothetically in other powerful West African states, say like Nigeria, Ghana or Senegal, wheeling preponderance of military power, is the replication of the method used by ECOWAS not highly plausible? Granted the unsolicited happens, who bells the ‘metaphorical cat’? It’s about time that early warning goes hands in gloves with early strategic thinking so as to better situate regional actors for eventual early response.