We have often in this column recalled how in 1975 Time Magazine published a cover story on Africa entitled, “In Africa, Things Always Go Backward.”
This highly pessimistic title made many of us Africans angry. But then, the magazine had earlier that same year put on its cover the Nigerian Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, calling him and Nigeria “The First Black Power.” It had just been revealed that Nigeria had US$7 billion in reserves in London banks, at the time one of the highest in the world. However, in July that year Gowon was overthrown in a military coup d’état while attending the Organization of
African Unity Summit in Kampala, Uganda!
And remember, barely four years earlier, peaceful and progressive Uganda, the world’s second largest coffee producer, had been rocked by Idi Amin’s coup overthrowing democratically elected President Milton Obote! That immediately sent millions of Ugandans, including top politicians, civil servants, army personnel, bishops and ordinary folk fleeing Amin’s murderous and widespread brutality. Uganda lost its coffee clout to the Ivory Coast. Amin soon expelled thousands of Indian businesspeople who had dominated the business sector, causing the collapse of the country’s commerce.
We yet remember that around the same time of Gowon’s overthrow, Angola and Mozambique gained their independence from Portugal, and immediately entered civil war!
We all know what happened in Liberia five years later, when this African citadel of peace and stability was rocked with its first coup, overthrowing and murdering President William R. Tolbert and his top officials, plunging the country into 10 years of terror, leading, worse yet, to civil war.
Doe was in his last days of power when Yahya Jammeh joined the ECOMOG’S Gambian peace keeping contingent deployed in Liberia. Did ECOMOG stop the war? No. Following the All-Party Conference in Banjul in September 1990, Dr. Amos Sawyer, who was elected Chair of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), entered Liberia shortly thereafter. Dr. Sawyer, along with Dr. Togba Nah-Tipoteh and others, as members of the Movement for Justice in Africa (MOJA), were among the political movements that gave political consciousness to Liberian youth across the country, as well as the Liberian Armed Forces that staged the 1980 coup d’état. Did the coup set things right in Liberia? No. It led to 10 years of terror, leading to civil war.
Sawyer and his team arrived here in September to early October, 1990 and remained in control of the Interim Government for over four years. Did things “go backward” in Liberia? You bet! The war continued for 10 more years.
Meanwhile Jammeh, after completing his tour of duty with ECOMOG in Liberia, returned home and quickly, on July 22, 1994 staged a military coup d’état against the elected government of President Sir Dawda K. Jawara. Jammeh immediately started doing the same things Doe had done following his 1980 coup—embarking upon a repressive and murderous rule that has lasted 22 years.
But something good happened on December 1, 2016, when the Gambian opposition united, defeated the tyrant and elected Adama Barrow as the new President. The defeat was so convincing that Jammeh immediately conceded.
But determined that things will, once again “go backward” in Africa, Jammeh a few days later alleged election “irregularities” and called for new elections!
The ECOWAS leaders, led by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the President of Africa’s most powerful nation, Nigeria, has so far paid several visits to Banjul, pleading with Yahya Jammeh to step aside and allow the scheduled January 19 inauguration of the new President to be held.
But Jammeh, assuming that ECOWAS, the African Union, the United Nations and the rest of the world are fools, is now insisting that his Supreme Court should decide the matter, which has already been decided by the December 1 elections. This has led ECOWAS to the extreme, threatening force to remove this intransigent and unreasonable tyrant.
Now, for the first time in its history, Gambia’s peace has been seriously threatened, and thousands of citizens as well as tourists, the backbone of the economy, are fleeing the looming apocalypse.
It is our prayer that military force, if it becomes necessary, will be swift, decisive and bloodless.
We have another prayer: that Adama Barrow, The Gambia’s long awaited liberator, will not disappoint. We pray that he will have the common sense, humility and political will to lead The Gambia forward, and save it from going “backward” again.