Is Jammeh Willing to Go?

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The tragic consequences of Presidents who refuse to accept friendly interventions, particularly in West Africa, with references to Presidents Samuel Kanyon Doe and Charles Ghankay Taylor should be enough to convince defeated Gambian President Yahya Jammeh that he must spare his tiny nation of any “unnecessary eventuality” and allow democracy to prevail.

However, the Gambian dictator is bucking against pressure to keep his word, having originally accepted the decision of the Gambian people who on December 2, in the country’s Presidential Elections, voted for his opponent, Adama Barrow. A week later, amid celebrations of his defeat, he announced that he would no longer accept the election results.

As head of the Authority of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led a delegation of Presidents from the sub-region to who visited Banjul, The Gambia yesterday and held important discussions with outgoing President Jammeh.

President Johnson Sirleaf’s high powered delegation included Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma, ECOWAS Secretary General Mohammed Ibn Chambas and outgoing Ghanaian President John Mahama, among others.

Pictures from the meeting yesterday revealed a relaxed Jammeh in an all-white gown, seated before his four colleagues in his opulent Presidential Office, known there as State House.

It is not clear what President Jammeh wants now since, during his original acceptance of the results, he pledged to retire from politics and become a farmer. However, President-elect Barrow in initial remarks, days after being declared winner, pledged to open the country for free speech, release political prisoners and reinstate The Gambia’s membership to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

With Jammeh’s human rights record being on the radar of the ICC and even that of Gambian human rights advocates, the prospects of retiring on a farm may be distant or slim. No doubt, therefore, Jammeh may be demanding immunity from prosecution both at home and abroad. However, the precedent that granting such immunity will set for peace and reconciliation, especially in a country which many believe Jammeh has divided among tribal and family lines, will be a tough pill to ingest.

Though described as Peace Talks, President Sirleaf and delegation are charged with the responsibility to encourage the Gambian dictator to accept the election results, as he originally did.
Scanty reports from Banjul that reached the Daily Observer last night stated the delegation’s “Mission” was accomplished and the Nigerian jet left Banjul.

However, pressed for further details, the report said, “The delegation refused to speak to the anxious press and just stated that a meeting in Abuja is necessary before it would divulge any information.”

Many political observers, familiar with political conflict resolution in West Africa, told the Daily Observer that the signs are not good that Jammeh would want to go willingly. But whether West Africa (ECOWAS) will allow him to play with the peace of the sub-region is a question that many are struggling to answer.

“If the delegation’s mission was accomplished, why will they want to have another meeting in Abuja?” one asked, responding to a question from the Daily Observer. And many followers of the early days of the Liberian crisis could identify with the first series of peace meetings that did not bring the required relief and subsequent meetings across the world.

Of course, the source of the Liberian crisis is evidently quite different from the current Banjul Crisis, but remember that since taking power in a 1994 coup, President Yahya Jammeh has ruled The Gambia through fear, force and a clenched fist on free speech. He prefers that Gambians address him by his full name — His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh — and once said he can cure AIDS. He is also reported to have imprisoned people for alleged witchcraft and has threatened to decapitate all homosexuals, because they are “anti-God and anti-human.”

Perhaps many Gambians who are dissatisfied with events at home could see the similarities with events that led to the bloodshed in Liberia and this could be the outcome that President Sirleaf and her delegation are working to avoid.

The international community, led by the United States, has condemned Yahya Jammeh’s action and has called on him to respect the wishes of the Gambian people. Nevertheless, it is a tall order this visit by the ECOWAS presidential mission to Banjul, West Africa may be burdened to grapple with a man who is determined to rule over those who are not willing to submit and the results could be very devastating.


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