Strong International Coalition Must Back ECOWAS to Resolve Gambian Crisis

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From the moment Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh, on the morning of July 22, 1994, led four other lieutenants to overthrow President Sir Dawda Jawara’s government and started harassing innocent citizens, the media and ex-government officials, it became clear to most people that this young man had an evil heart.

He quickly developed the uncompromising resolve to hit at critics, beginning with the media, especially the Gambian Daily Observer, the country’s only media institution that had the professional and technical capacity to tell the story of the coup to the world. And even those in Jammeh’s inner circle, who quietly expressed reservations against the rash way in which he was handling power he quickly imprisoned. They included his own Vice Head of State and Interior Minister, both of whom Jammeh used to have the Daily Observer Publisher Kenneth Y. Best deported from The Gambia on October 30, 1994. Both the Vice Head of State and the Minister soon died in prison. Jammeh’s first Finance Minister was later found burnt to death in a car in a town he had never visited; and The Point newspaper publisher and Gambian Press Union President, Deyda Hydara, was shot in the head on a street in Banjul.

Jammeh also forced into exile scores of the country’s best known journalists and continued to rule the country with an iron fist.

It was in response to Jammeh’s tyrannical rule that the resolute Gambian people bravely voted to defeat him in last week’s elections.

The defeat was so decisive that Jammeh, to the surprise of most people, quickly called President-Elect Adama Barry to concede defeat.

And yet the evil in the man’s heart persisted. It was so intense, so rigid that it could not permit him to do the right thing. With equal swiftness he reversed his concession and declared that the vote had been faulty, so he was holding on to power.

It was at that point that the international community intervened. Senegal, The Gambia’s closest neighbor, condemned the reversal, followed by other nations, including Liberia, the United States and most especially the Economic Community of West African States(ECOWAS), the African Union and the United Nations.

At the weekend Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is also President of ECOWAS, attempted to lead an ECOWAS delegation to Banjul to resolve the crisis, but the arrangements were not concluded. So first thing Monday morning President Sirleaf and her delegation bravely entered Banjul in attempt to resolve the crisis but received a cold shoulder from the young tyrant.

Why would Jammeh challenge the entire international community? What makes him think that he alone can challenge the entire international community?

The Gambia is very attractive to tourists, who flock their by the tens of thousands each year, bringing in the lion’s share of the country’s foreign exchange. Does Jammeh not realize that the international community could stop tourists from entering there? This would lead to immediate economic collapse, especially when the international community blocks the country from buying anything from The Gambia.

We call on the entire international community to back ECOWAS by imposing diplomatic and economic blockade against Jammeh to force him to concede. The UN Security Council must impose a no-fly zone over

The Gambia, making sure that no tourists visit the country. Hopefully this will bring Jammeh to his senses and compel him to realize that he is fighting a losing battle.

But the world cannot sit idly by and permit him to do this to his people and country.

We call on the UN, the European Union, the United States, the People’s Republic of China, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the entire European Union, Russia to put their political, diplomatic and economic weight behind ECOWAS to force Jammeh to step aside and prevent him from any attempt to perpetrate violence against his people.

If he fails to do so, he should be arrested and turned over to the International Criminal Court just as Laurent Gbabo has been dealt with for the exact same reason—rejecting the will of the people who, through their vote, ousted him from power.

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