When Gambia’s long term ruler and strongman, Yahya Jammeh accepted defeat in the December 1, 2016 elections and gracefully placed a call to the president-elect, Adama Barrow, congratulating him on his victory, many greeted the statesmanship from Jammeh with a mixture of relief, excitement and point-blank caution.
This was due to the fact that since seizing power in 1994, Jammeh has ruled the Gambia with an iron fist. He has once vowed to rule the Gambia for a billion year if Allah willed. One thing Jammeh has thrived on is the carte blanche which the International community has accorded him “a semi axis of evil, a mad tyrant – without a nuclear threat ” and so should not be taken seriously.
This has led Jammeh to commit gross human rights abuses in The Gambia – imprisoning and killing political opponents, stifling freedom of press and speech while the International Community looks away. All we’ve seen are annual dossiers release by leading Western governments and institutions chronicling his atrocities, short of any concrete action. Jammeh’s rejection of the election results on December 9, 2016 is a grave insult to the sensibility of Gambians and an affront to Africa, a continent which is carving up its effigy as a bastion of Democracy.
Jammeh’s callous act of walking back on his pledge to turn over power to the democratically elected President of Gambia should be reproached with a firm stance; a line in the sand – calling on him to relinquish the Gambian presidency or face the same fate as Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo – who has been dragged before the International Court of Justice for leading his country into bloodletting and suppressing democracy.
Though President Obama is in the winter of his Presidency, he is in a better position – as an African American to leave Gambia and Africa a little better than when he came to Power. There is a risk of any intervention from Obama in Gambia resulting to national outcry from the American populace, especially from the loudmouth political commentators on the right. However, this will not be the first time an American President uses American power to restore sanity to a troubled country.
After years of callous abdication of the traditional relations between Liberia and America by successive American Presidents- George H. W. Bush (41) and Clinton-which led to mayhem and deaths in Liberia, George W. Bush (43) was clearly a different man from his predecessors. He intervened in 2003 as Liberia to salvage peace and secured an enviable and prestigious place for him in the heart of many Liberians. At the time, many Africans and a fringe segment of the Liberian society backing the embattled President Charles
Taylor decried Bush’s intervention in ending the 15-year brutal civil which killed 250,000 people as a Western ploy concocted to wither away Liberia and, by extension, African sovereignty.
Taylor then told fellow African leaders to watch out. He made a vain attempt to garner support, claiming he would not be the only one to be forced out. He was only being the first and other head of state could be next. Africa, he said, faced greater danger when crucial decisions on the continent were being made in foreign capitals. Like so many African dictators, Taylor made no mention of the mess he was leaving behind in Liberia, a broken country, wrecked to its knees by 15-years of civil war and rebellion, launched first by him and, since 1999, by his determined armed rivals which left many Liberians homeless, wounded, hungry and distraught. Like many Africans, I too have raised questions on the imposition of western customs and regulations on the continent. However, I am much more inclined to see lives spared than hold on to sovereignty. It is illogical to preserve power to a minority segment of society, putting at risk the prosperity whilst trampling on the majority’s rights, a basic element to good governance.
Others may employ why can’t the African Union or regional body like ECOWAS intervene? Well, in addition to their lack of resources to undertake such mission, there is always intra-conflict in the regional bodies, especially on the fraught colonial line; Francophone and Anglophone divide which in most cases leads to proxy war, exacerbating an already perilous situation. President Bush’s intervention did not require American boots on the ground. He persistently called on Taylor to abdicate the Executive Mansion, the seat of the Liberian government, and leave the country.
The President also deployed approximately 1,800 soldiers off the shores of the Liberia capital Monrovia along with a couple of military airplanes, which roamed the skies of Liberia – bringing the years of mayhem and bloodletting to an end. President Obama could institute the same in The Gambia by issuing both carrots and sticks to the Gambian leader and military. The American president should sternly warn Jammeh and his military of the profound ramification of illegally holding on to power. He should offer armistice to those soldiers who will respect the will of the Gambian people by siding with the legitimately elected President.
Obama cannot leave this work to his successor who has demonstrated interest in dictatorship and tyrannical rule. This would rather be a lifewire for hardened dictators as Jammeh, who would go at length to disregard the wishes of their people. Off course, there is much noise about what did not go right in Libya but that will not be reason enough to allow other dictators to abuse freedoms and get away with it. This should not take US boots on the ground. It should take strong US influence and persuasion to halt Jammeh’s possible madness.